What can the outsider see?

I’d like a phone number to your coffeeshop please.

No phone? (The ‘phone on the website was a field for employee applicants)

Today I had to drive into Raleigh for an event. I had to drive a little earlier to be there in time, and needed to take a call near my destination. So I looked for a coffee shop nearby. There was one within a block! But Google Maps told me they’re also a Sake Bar.

I couldn’t be sure they had Wifi now, and it wasn’t listed on the Google Maps info. No problem I’ll call them.

No phone number. ..

There’s a website! ……and no phone number there either. I hope the owner updates their information both on Google and on their own webpage soon, I cant be the only potential customer they’ve lost due to this.

But more importantly, what can we learn from this? We can learn to try to remember our own biases and curse of knowledge. What does a complete outsider know about us? Is it what we want them to know? Lets make sure the presence we have on the web conveys what we want others to know! (To that end, here’s my contact info).

Feelings about fractures

(the avulsion kind)

It was only a little bit broken, and its healing all the time!

I injured my ankle yesterday. It was around 6 AM. The leader of the day’s workout had us doing burpees, sprints and sit-ups in a field. Then he wanted ‘all you got’ sprints up and down the field. Then he wanted an ‘all you got sprint’ down the quarter mile back to the clubhouse. And I was damn well going to give it to him. I had pulled well ahead of the group sprinting down the darkened street past the sleeping houses. I was chanting a little motivational cadence in my head. Moving fast and feeling proud of getting back into my early morning workouts after a while off. I misjudged the height of that curb. I heard a little crunch and fell. Not the graceful kind of fall where you tuck and roll, or even have time to think. It was a crunch and then my hands stopped the pavement inches from my face. I tried to get up and the ankle insisted that was a terrible idea.

I’m sure I have a lot more to learn about this and new experiences and empathy to grow around. But I have a few things to share right off the bat.

  1. Gratitude
  2. Empathy
  3. What’s important
At VA Med center, triaging email as I’m triaged.
The Ortho. evals the swelling. It does not normally look like this.

Gratitude? For an ankle injury that means 4 weeks at least in a boot before we find out if there’s need for surgery?

Definitely! Everyone I’ve interacted with has been doing their utmost to help. From my workout buddy ‘Ice’ walking me to the car on his shoulder, and all of them checking up on me on slack. To the medical pros assessing me, providing treatment and fitting me into full schedules. To my family with my wife taking on more work than she should have to.  My daughter being a big girl and carrying her own dishes. And heart meltingly, telling me as I put her to bed ‘Daddy, you be really careful with your ankle and don’t hurt the other one, and if you do get hurt and you need me you yell and you say “Kiddo, I need your help!” and I will come get out of my bed and I will come and I will help you.’ I can’t say or write that without getting misty eyed.

Empathy? When It took an extra 20 min driving around the VA med center looking for any parking spot not just a handicap one close to the door. Followed by booking it dangerously through the half-mile breezeway on crutches to not get my appointment cancelled for being 5 min late-so I can see a primary doc to get referred to ortho.  Even after seeing urgent care and radiology because VA systems don’t work with civilian ones well and I cant just go see ortho?

Sure! I needed this reminder. Going through life uninjured and without any handicaps is difficult to appreciate without a brush with another experience. I’m a young healthy 34 year old who got a boo boo on my ankle working out. If getting to my appointment on time is hard for me, imagine a 60 year old Vietnam vet without legs! It’s outrageous we don’t have better parking and systems for them. I can’t take out the trash, carry food to and from the table easily so much as move about the house. And again, I’m 34 healthy, with good health insurance, a job that grants time off and/or work from home privileges  and have a boo boo on my ankle. Imagine what others must persevere through!

What’s Important? Other than what’s hurting this very moment?

Not the daily commute in to work to see the few people that are actually in office that I usually interact with. Not the stress I feel about this meeting or that email or another conversation. Not who said what when. What’s important is protecting my health to keep things from getting worse. To be willing to rely on my colleagues who offer to take customer meetings for me, but to still do what I can remotely. And with family, to do all the things I still can. Like take my daughter to the park on my little knee scooter so my wife can relax for an hour or two alone, since she’s been sick. What’s important is using this as an opportunity to protect and learn and grow. My kiddo now gets to learn to be more of a helper, carry more things, be carried less. I now get to learn what it can be like for others with less advantages than I have every day.

And smiling. Everyone I interact with at the doctors office or the VA medical center, they deal with people who have it much worse than me every day. They need to know I don’t need anything extra, just the help to take care of what’s injured right now. They need their psychic reserves for people more challenged than me. And you know what? Those lessons, all of them, really apply all the time. Like something that’s always been there but harder to see behind a tree until you shift your perspective just a little.

So I’m fine, thanks for your concern and for reading this. I’m excited about this opportunity to reflect on Gratitude, Empathy and What’s Important. Want to join me?

Flanking the Competition: Using Military Strategy to Inform Competitive Intelligence

[Note, this post originally appeared on ProductCraft]

Holed up during a sandstorm with a platoon in a small abandoned farmer’s hut on the main route into Marjah, Afghanistan

It was 3 am, ten kilometers outside of Marjah, Afghanistan, and just a few nights after the start of Operation Moshtarak (the largest offensive since the fall of the Taliban). I was a 26-year-old Marine Intel Lieutenant, huddled with a platoon in some abandoned farmers’ huts on the main route into Marjah. In the dead of night and in the middle of the desert, we heard occasional explosions and gunfire in the distance. And we were delighted. The enemy was only following their most likely course of action, not their most dangerous.

Ten years later, while working for IBM as a product manager on API Connect, I was reading a blog post by our most dangerous competitor and had a familiar feeling. Why was that?

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

―Sun Tzu,The Art of War

I spent the first eight years of my professional life leading operations and intelligence in the US Marine Corps. Since then, I’ve studied business strategy and led product management initiatives. Some of the techniques from one context can apply well to the other, and this series is an effort to outline when and how they can. 

The Three Lessons of Competitive Intelligence

There’s a long tradition of business leaders drawing on military thinking. Terms like “campaign, rally the troops, follow the leader, keep your powder dry, recruitment, etc.” permeate the business world. One of my professors at UNC Kenan-Flagler, Mark R. McNeilly, wrote an entire book connecting the writings of Sun Tzu and business.
I won’t be undertaking a full book’s worth of analysis here. But I would like to share a few points from my personal experience that echo across the two contexts. One of the most valuable areas of similarity is that of competitive intelligence. By studying both military and market intelligence, we can find three helpful lessons:  

  1. Use maneuver warfare: Apply our strengths to our competition’s weaknesses. 
  2. Understand the competition: Identify their strengths and weaknesses, predict what they may do, and plan how to respond.
  3. Know the limits: Understand where these military concepts can lead us astray in the PdM world.

Maneuver Warfare

Unlike what you may have seen in war movies, military commanders don’t look at an enemy’s forces and shout “charge.” Attacking directly into the teeth of an enemy’s defense is a desperate, risky, and extremely difficult move. Instead, the vast majority of successful military leaders practice maneuver warfare. They look for “surfaces and gaps” in the enemy’s preparations. Then they maneuver their forces to concentrate their strengths against the enemy’s weaknesses.

“SURFACES AND GAPS. Put simply, surfaces are hard spots—enemy strengths—and gaps are soft spots—enemy weaknesses. We avoid enemy strength and focus our efforts against enemy weakness with the object of penetrating the enemy system since pitting strength against weakness reduces casualties and is more likely to yield decisive results. Whenever possible, we exploit existing gaps. Failing that, we create gaps.”

-Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication 1: Warfighting
Flanking the Enemy

In the Marine Corps, we invest heavily in training young officers in the principles and practices of maneuver warfare. These lessons are grounded in ancient military wisdom and tempered by the latest experience in combat. The simplest and most concrete example is a flanking attack. After locating an enemy, we engage them where they appear to be strong: their front (their “surface”) to control their attention, but then attack strongly where they are weak: into their flank (their “gap”).

A basic flanking attack modified from a Basic Officer Course manual.
Out-Maneuvering the Competition

When I interned as a PM at Amazon, I worked in the Marketplace Technologies Business. We helped third-party sellers sell their products on Amazon.com. For years, Amazon recognized eBay as a competitor. eBay was extremely strong at individual purchases. They could process payments easily, facilitate trust, and mediate transactions. However, they were much weaker at scaling that interaction. 

Amazon met the minimum to match eBay’s surface: facilitating trust, processing payments, and facilitating search. Then they doubled down on their relative strengths: Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) as a service, Brand Registry to help protect sellers’ brands, advertising to help sellers position their products, and additional seller services to grow third-party sellers’ businesses.

There are many analogies we can use: surfaces and gaps, flowing like water through the best path, or the Judo strategy of using the “weight and strength of [your] opponent to [your] own advantage.” Regardless of which label we choose, it’s clearly preferable to reinforce your own strengths vs. a competitor’s weaknesses. However, you first need to know what these weaknesses are. 

Understanding the Adversary

Military intelligence uses a set of frameworks, heuristics, and acronyms to quickly understand what an enemy is, what they are capable of, and what they are likely to do. While training as an Intel Officer, I studied military intelligence using templates based on the Soviet Army. The Soviets had an analogous organizational structure, goals, and tactics to our own forces. They had published doctrine and verified observations on how they behaved. And it was possible that one day we’d once again need to contend with a behemoth like the Soviet Union. 

David and Goliath

Speaking of behemoths, a good analog for anybody working in technology is Amazon. Having spent time there, I can assure you that if you think you’re not competing with Amazon, you’ve probably missed something somewhere.

I saw this error once. After I finished my internship, I watched the founder of a startup that shipped subscription air filters pitch a room of fellow MBA students. One student asked, “How will you compete with Amazon?” The founder answered confusingly. He disputed that Amazon’s prices were lower (easily verifiable in a room full of laptops) and claimed that his startup would provide superior customer experience (possible). And he stated that Amazon was “too big and inflexible” to compete with his “nimble and scrappy” startup.

This last statement represented a potentially disastrous misunderstanding of the adversary. He viewed Amazon as a metaphorical Goliath when really it’s an army of Davids — numerous, nimble, and driven teams that can coordinate and scale. 

Defining Your Enemy

Amazon is famous for its two pizza teams. Keeping groups small allows for autonomy and flexibility. In the Marine Corps, we would have called a two pizza team a squad (reduced). To describe an opposing group, we would use a SALUTE report, which specifies Size, Activity Location Unit Time, and Equipment.

In addition, we’d examine the adversary’s capabilities and limitations. Can the enemy DRAW-D: Defend, Reinforce, Attack, Withdraw, or Delay? Can the two-pizza team in Seattle match prices? Call in assistance from another team to enhance customer education? Could they withdraw from the market? Could they hold market share where it is?

After considering what an enemy can do, we need to consider what they’re likely to do. This is where we consider the Enemy’s Most Likely Course Of Action (EMLCOA). It’s important to have a plan to address an EMLCOA but also to think about the Enemy’s Most Dangerous Course Of Action (EMDCOA). To do this, we “turn the map around” and imagine what we’d do in the enemy’s position. 

Analyzing the Enemy

As multiple battalions prepared to launch from our base for the invasion of Marjah, they prepared for the likely enemy reaction: improvised explosive devices and small arms fire. What really worried us Intel Marines, huddled around maps in our plywood huts, was what we knew we would do if we were in the enemy’s sandals. We would have rocket-propelled grenade launchers ready at all of the potential landing zones. Then we’d plan to down multiple helicopters as the invasion began. This would force Marines to respond hastily and recklessly — think “Black Hawk Down” but at a greater scale and with better-prepared defenses. Thinking this way led to detailed planning for dangerous contingencies — “turning the map around.” 

Analyzing Your Competitors

An article by organizational psychologist Adam Grant outlines a technique used by Lisa Bodell where she encourages executives to “kill their company.” Imagine you are recruited by your biggest competitor and tasked with destroying your current company. This technique has been shown to unleash offensive creativity and reveal areas for improvement.
Years after my time in Afghanistan, I joined the product management team working on API Connect at IBM. Each PM had been assigned one or more of our main competitors to assess. By distributing the work, the team was able to put together the EMLCOAs of this set of adversaries. One of these was Amazon’s AWS API Gateway. 

We determined that Amazon’s AWS API Gateway team would continue to drive prices down, provide basic function at scale, and maybe build out additional features. They would focus on their core strength: providing basic and essential levels of security to the native AWS APIs. 

It turned out this assessment has been largely correct (so far). Amazon’s AWS API Gateway team has kept prices low, scaled geographically, and added some functionality to their basic strengths. What they have not done is take a radical EMDCOA: embracing hybrid cloud, on-premise data centers, and third-party cloud capabilities. 

Pitfalls of Using These Techniques in Product Management

If a PM blindly applies these military techniques to the tech world, they will almost assuredly fail. These assessments are quite involved and time-consuming to do right even for one enemy. In the military context, there are few enemy organizations, often just one large one with sub-units.

In the product world, we typically have dozens of competitors. We can try to handle this like my PM team at IBM did, by splitting up competitors between PdMs. This can mitigate but not solve the challenge. API Connect alone has over fourteen direct competitors as assessed by industry analysts (though of course none of them come close to our capabilities 😉 ). 
However, there’s an even more important problem than mere scale. In the business world, we’re not trying to kill anyone. Despite the militaristic jargon used in business, we’re actually engaged in trade. In trade, it is important to provide value to others. We must meet the needs of our users better than anyone else. Both military and product organizations have discovered that too much focus on the adversary can take attention away from where it really belongs: on the needs of the people we serve. 

The Takeaways

Let’s summarize which 20% of the practices we’ve reviewed can deliver 80% of the value to PMs: 

  1. Understand the strengths and weaknesses of your organization and those of your competitors. Remember the concept of surfaces and gaps. Apply your own strengths to your competitor’s gaps. Don’t try to become strong where they already are.  
  2. Consider what the adversary’s team consists of, what their capabilities and limitations are, what their EMLCOA is, and most importantly, what their EMDCOA is. “Turn the map around.”Never forget that the real goal of a business is to meet the needs of our users.
  3. Don’t allow an obsession with your competition to replace an intense focus on the customer.

So, when I read that blog post about the AWS API Gateway why did I get the old feeling I had in that hut in Marjah? Because the competition was following their most likely course of action, not their most dangerous. At least not yet.

Mindfulness of these principles and of when, where, and how they can apply across contexts can enhance our competitive analysis. Try applying these heuristics the next time you’re evaluating the competition and let us know how it goes!

What Can Product Managers Learn From Military Veterans?

[Note, this post originally appeared on ProductCraft I am re-posting it here as I tear down another site and post-dating it to when it was first posted there. ]

What can this guy……possibly teach this guy about creative product work?

A least a thing or two, as it turns out!

I am a product manager at IBM; in a past life, I led Intelligence and Operations in the US Marine Corps. During my military experience, I learned some valuable lessons that have helped frame my work in product. I’d like to share some of those key learnings so other PMs can apply them to their own careers. 

There is a fairly common misconception that those with military experience are extremely strict or require excessive structure. People tend to think of veterans as “order takers” who aren’t comfortable, confident, or experienced with applying creative thinking and collaborative approaches to changing conditions and/or unanticipated problems.
It’s one of those strange misperceptions that’s understandable on its face and yet very far from the truth. Hopefully, by the end of this article, we’ll have explored how similar product and military leadership are, how they both innovate through massive conceptual change, and why veterans often have a special advantage in the PM field.

An Officer and a Product Manager

If you had met me in my days as a young officer candidate, striving to complete the Marine Corps’ Officer Candidate School in Quantico, Virginia as diligently and obediently as possible, you might have found the “overly structured” stereotype very apt.

Four years later, you might instead have seen military creativity and collaboration in action. I was in Dehmazang, Afghanistan, sitting with a mixed team of soldiers, sailors and Marines, both officer and enlisted, in the plywood shack we’d built with our Afghan colleagues. We were bouncing ideas back and forth on how best to train our Afghan mentees, bring security to local villagers, and govern our own operations.
With no external set of rules to rely on, we had to create our own. We collaborated to set our own goals and build our own communication framework, mixing information and advice we had brought from training and previous experience. The structure we created freed us from indecision and endless analysis, consideration, pondering, and debate in moments of crisis. It even allowed members of our team to perform heroically when needed. 
So, why am I telling you all this? Because military professionals and product managers actually have a lot in common and plenty to learn from one another. We’re all in the business of meeting human needs by creating an experience, product, or service; then we test whether our solutions meet those needs as well as, or better than, other options.

A History Lesson

In the past, the most capable and successful military units focused on the enemy. Leaders ensured that units didn’t “turn inward” or get by doing what was easiest for the unit to do. That was how you lost battles to the enemy. 

Hey, did you notice we could have re-written the previous paragraph to describe companies?In the past, the most capable and successful companies focused on the competition. Marketing and product leaders ensured that the company didn’t “turn inward” or get by doing what was easiest for the organization to do. That was how you lost market share to your competitors. This “beat the competition/adversary” mentality may have worked at some point in time. But that is no longer the case.

Both military and product leaders must innovate around new technologies, even though they may spend their early training learning from those who went before them. For example, I spent many hours training in the dense undergrowth of Quantico, an analog for the jungles of Vietnam. 

It’s often said that armies are always preparing for the last war. Likewise, companies often optimize for the era in which they first became successful. In business school, we poured over how companies like General Electric had organized and deployed resources. These previous generations provide newcomers with frameworks, a structure with which to understand the world. But what happens when the world has changed? Let’s take aviation as an example. Suddenly, there was literally a new dimension to warfare. What did this new paradigm impact? Scouting and intelligence, armor, artillery, infantry, logistics, naval and special operations … basically everything.What about the effect of aviation on business? Communications, transportation, negotiation, sales, finance … basically everything. So, massive changes forced both sets of leaders to adapt to new conditions. But what tectonic shift could have occurred to drive military and product leaders to new innovation in the last decade?

A Focus on People

In the military, this is called “counterinsurgency.” In the product world, it’s known as”user focus/customer obsession/consumer delight” (or some mashup of these terms). What drove this change in paradigm was the fundamental realization of a new, true goal: To meet the needs of the population better than the adversary and to have the people’s confidence, trust, and expectation that our team would always be best able to meet their needs.

Understanding this concept led us to radically reform our efforts. (Hey, was I talking about the military or product teams there?) And it’s not enough to observe the surface behavior or requests of our users. The very famous quote from Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs illustrates this: “Some people say, ‘Give customers what they want.’ But that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, ‘If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, “A faster horse!”’ People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.”

A lot has been written and spoken on the topic of how to dig deeper into real user needs (including this great Product Love Podcast episode featuring Eric Boduch and Cindy Alvarez). I experienced moments, both in the military and as a PM, when this lesson was truly critical.

Learning to understand people’s need even more deeply than they do themselves can be as crucial in Afghan villages (I wrote another article specifically on this) as it is in the modern software field. I’ll take Slack adoption as a software-related example. At IBM, employees moved from the previously mandated in-house instant messenger to Slack. Why? Simply put, it met their communication and collaboration needs far better. Thus, we see the recent paradigm shift to the individual and his or her needs affecting both military and product leaders.

Three Key Lessons

So, there are some very interesting similarities and likely lots of parallel and transferable skills and both must adapt, but what are military leaders uniquely qualified to offer to product leaders as insights? I’ll contend that there are three key lessons we can offer (and I plan to write an article on each one):

  1. Leadership
  2. Knowing and responding to your adversary 
  3. The lesson of this introductory article.

So what is the lesson of this first article? Remember the myth we started the article with: that military members are too strict and always need too much structure? Well, there’s a kernel of truth there. We do have an appreciation for structure, rules, and playbooks. Because we’ve been trained in both structure and chaos, we’ve observed when and where to apply more or less structure and what types of frameworks or sets of rules best fit the situation. As we’ve innovated through one of the largest paradigm shifts in recent history, we’ve become very experienced in balancing structure, creativity, and culture to accomplish our missions in service of people.

Want to start a great conversation with a military veteran that might yield further insights on how to manage products? Ask them which rules they’ve found most helpful to apply to different circumstances, and which have been most useful to break!

Andrew Yang 2020:

EDIT : I’ve added a more updated post on Andrew Yang here but I’ll leave this historical post up too!

“since it is a revolution, it is better to start it ourselves than to suffer of it.”

-Andrew Yang: attributed to Otto Von Bismark

I’ve become a big fan of Andrew Yang.

Why: Because our children deserve a future where they don’t face the bleak consequences of becoming unemployable through no fault of their own. Because we deserve, as we the people, the owners’ right in our Nation. Owners have the right to vote themselves a dividend, to benefit from the accrual of wealth of their common enterprise. Because this is the best chance to help secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.

After listening to Yang speak for a total of nearly 5 hours on 3 different unhurried podcast interviews (Sam Harris’, Freakonomics and Joe Rogan Experience I am convinced his ideas are the right ones for our Nation’s future.

In these interviews he addresses economics, automation, the coming tidal wave of disruption in work, valuing contributions to society outside of ‘traditional’ markets,  immigration, suicide, mental health substance abuse, drug policy, and money in politics, and tough hard lines on foreign cyber and info ops

I’d like to hear him talk more (and be asked) about his positions on climate change and nuclear weapons. Though his policy page outlines clear points on them.

My action plan for helping his ideas reach as many neurons as possible is:

Donate now?
  1. Listen to his views in podcasts listed above.
  2. Promote it to others that care what I think, and encourage them to listen and reflect on it, social media, direct messages, conversations, this blog!
  3. Donate what I can afford to his campaign, once a candidate gets 65,000 donors they must be admitted to the Democratic Debates. Even after admission every additional donor signals more and more support for the ideas, even $1 sends a signal. UPDATE – Yang has surpassed the required 65k donors. and has set a new goal of 200k to send a message heading into the debates. Lets do it!
  4. I have a couple hacks to get you money you can donate for free*! Any money I get from referrals here I will donate to Andrew Yang’s campaign, and/or pass it on for others to donate to grow the numbers! You tell me how you want to do it! Sign up for the Cash App with my referral code ( QLGTRQP ) and we’ll each get $5! (After, of course, you send $5 to a friend using a newly linked debit card-this is a growth thing for them after all) Already have the Cash App? Same strategy different apps: Circle Pay for this one my referral code is (9EYH84) I hear Circle pays out $10, but requires a transfer of $25, here’s their official terms
  5. Advocate for instant runoff elections (quick video explainer) in democratic primaries to allow people to accurately express their preferences – I’ll be digging into how we can do this better state by state. (Others ideas to begin with)

And just for fun…. Don’t care so much about all the ‘campaign of ideas‘ stuff that I happen to like so well? Just want to know whats the cold hard cash value an Andrew Yang victory should be worth to you right now? It’s about $1,200: Check out this model.

*Nothing is free. This is a growth strategy for them and they expect to recoup it by you growing their network and likely ultimately monetizing by information and possibly fees-though right now debit and bank account transfers are free through these. Consider whether the payouts are worth the hassle, bothering your friends and your data being stored by yet another company. For me it’s worth it to get the money and donate it. And who knows which payment platform will dominate in the future anyway?

My Top 7 bits of advice for 2019

It’s a new year, some people like new years resolutions and some hate them. I’m not interested in the debate, but I have noticed that when people ask my advice or for suggestions I often end up saying the same things. I want to make it easier to reference and more widely available. You could go deep and wide on any of these, but most of these suggestions are for a simple and very valuable starting point. To help people survive and thrive through understanding knowledge let me suggest that in 2109 you emphasize mental health, relationships and cyber security. If you want my advice for things to try in 2019: here it is.

  1. Begin a meditation practice. Our minds are the only things we have to experience the world, we should probably train them (Paraphrase of Sam Harris in his Waking Up Meditation course). Being aware of our, thoughts and how they flow, that emotions are mostly choices can help free us from the grip of negative feelings.  Even if you can reduce only by half or a third the time you would have spent worried about what others think of you or angry at another for their choices or sad for matters you have no influence over, that time and attention can now be spent in a more productive state of mind. There are lots of apps out there to get you started. I’ve heard good things about Headspace, 10% Happier and Calm, though my personal favorite is Waking Up by Sam Harris. The practice of meditation helps to cultivate the state of mindfulness much like exercise cultivates fitness. Speaking of which…
  2. Exercise. Exercise leads to fitness and that to a better life- the research on this is unending and unquestionable. There are tons of ways to get this going: there are some really compelling at-home options that can cost less than a gym membership. There are options that can build community (and are free), but if its gotta be free, in your home and take almost no time, the seven minute workout app on your amazon Alexa or in the amazon app on your phone can do the trick
  3. Use a password manager. I recommend and use Bitwarden [update in 2021 no longer Lastpass will likely post later on why] – it has a free tier to get started. There are lots of very well reviewed ones , but you must begin using one, because 2018 was the year of the breaches, and so were all the years before it And 2019 will be too… Just do it. Today. Right now. Stop reading this and start setting up a password manager. Here’s an independent how-to from a security and privacy non-profit here. Seriously this blog will wait, go do it.
  4. Use signal messenger. It’s encrypted end to end and doesn’t harvest and store your metadata (unlike whatsapp or facebook messenger). https://ssd.eff.org/en/module/how-use-signal-ios
  5. Read Non-Violent Communication. If you have relationships in your life and need to understand your needs and those of others better, and how to communicate them, this book will prove invaluable.
  6. Read Essentialism. It has great advice about how to focus on what is most essential, how to say no the numerous trivial to say yes to the singular essential.
  7. Read a couple greats on purpose Start With Why and Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek. I wrote a bit more on these last two.

That’s it, my best advice for now (and it keeps growing), let me know how they go for you!

My challenge, my exchange and my entreaty to you on this Independence Day: read, reflect, act.

(retro re-post from my Medium account, Jul 4, 2018 )

“the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants” –Thomas Jefferson (or maybe it musn’t!?)

I propose a trade: I ask for your attention in reading this note, your reflection after reading it and your action afterwards in the way you think appropriate. In return I will share a framework of thinking I have found valuable (I will try to be brief and offload my disclaimers to another future post).

Today is July 4th, 2018 Independence Day. Citizens of the United States of America spend this day in many different ways, as is their right and prerogative. Many spend the day cooking out, attending parades or watching fireworks. Many wear red white and blue and feel generally positive toward their nation. Many do not consider that we are celebrating the anniversary of a moment in a war. Many of those that do imagine it in vague patriotic terms captured in paintings with brilliant blues, deep reds and stark whites, dashing soldiers, fluttering flags and noble generals on steeds. But ours is a nation born in fire and blood. In a very real war of pain and triumph, sacrifice and conquest, heroism and villainy. It was a war of rifles and muskets, deception and diplomacy, tomahawks and sabers, of printing presses and pulpits, of trade and of terror.

Humans must live in consensus that is in agreement on how we will behave and interact with one another. There are three fundamental methods of persuasion by which humans can move toward consensus on better ideas. The first and most basic is force. By threatening to use violence to destroy or degrade the life, liberty or property that another human values you can persuade them that your idea is preferable. The second is trade, or the moneythat facilitates it. By offering to trade something of value that you have in return for something of value another human has, whether that be a good, service or past or future expectation of these you can convince them your way is the most ideal. The third and most subtle method is influence, through use of logical or emotional appeal, through communication of thoughts and testing of trust and consistency you can move another’s idea to align with yours.

Human history contains unceasing combinations of these three methods of persuasion being used to move populations along spectrums of power between centralization and decentralization and between innovation and tradition. The centralizing innovation of corporations and ship building moved many of our ancestors to these shores. The decentralizing tradition of sectarian religion drove many of them in the migration. The decentralizing innovation of localized self-governance (by white male property owners) led to their chafing at the centralizing tradition of taxation on their trade that fueled the war.

Before the revolution began, the populace started from a consensus on many things, but key among them that the King of England was the rightful sovereign, that the colonists were subjects of the Crown of Great Britain, that trade was important, taxation (at some level) a right of the sovereign and that the rights of subjects included representation to and thus influence on the sovereign in decisions about their life, liberty and property. As English subjects, the colonists came from a historical context of enhanced liberties (decentralization of power) in trade (Islands must trade!), in influence over the use of force (through parliament) and in influence through broadly granted freedom of speech (driving much of Britain’s power through the enlightenment). The colonists experienced even greater levels of decentralization of the sovereign’s use of these methods: due to their remoteness they by necessity traded broadly with both their mother nation and others. They exercised influence, speech, the pen and the press to convey knowledge across oceans and amongst colonies geographically dispersed far beyond their original Islands. They inherently participated in the use of force both to defend against attacks and to initiate them against the native people who lived here first and the European partners that sought to challenge Britain (France and Spain). This use of force drove up debt that the Crown sought to assuage by increasing taxes on the colonists. It also habituated the colonists to directly using all three of the fundamental methods of persuasion: forcetrade and influence to adjust the consensus to meet their ideals.

As the revolution began, the consensus began to break down. As tensions escalated trade and influence through speech and writing and British reactions to these such as the Coercive Acts and the Boston Massacre drove further divergence in agreement. John Adams believed that the revolution was complete in people’s minds before the hostilities began, but this is probably only true for a small subset of the population. There is much debate about what percent of the population hewed to which beliefs but for convenience let’s take the argument of thirds. A third supported the Crown (Loyalists or Torries), a third supported the rebellion (Patriots) and roughly 40% just wanted the war to be over. To have force exit the active list of persuasion methods. Regardless of exactly which percentages were accurate at which point in the war, a basic understanding of guerilla tactics, rebellions and wars can tell us that a rather small percentage of colonists pulled triggers on either side (say 3–10%). The remaining 20% of supporters of each side used other methods of influence: words, money, supplies, succor to support their preferred group of militants. It is important point out that the combatants of each side were heavily augmented by outside militaries (the British by their standing army, Native allies and Prussian mercenaries and the Colonists by mostly the French).

The task of this war was to convince the other side and its allies that your preferred ideas were going to win and should be conceded. Both spectrums of power were important, technologies that decentralized power to individuals, rifles that allowed a colonist to hit enemy officers at remote ranges early in the conflict, and traditional practices like those taught by von Steuben that led to colonial forces capable of massed musket fire, proof to France they could be worthy allies. Both sides used symmetric tools of information influence: in-person speeches and exhortations from pulpits and town squares and asymmetric, scalable disseminations from printing presses. Both sides used terror tactics: tarring and feathering, hanging, burning and pillaging. Both sides sought to reward through direct compensation to soldiers, bribes and trade agreements. Both sides sent diplomats to negotiate with other powers and advocate for commitment of more resources to use one method or another of influence on the other side. There was much back and forth in the balance of power and the future consensus of governance was much in doubt . And then the patriots declared independence.

The commitment to a future consensus became imbalanced. Now the struggle had become life and death for one side, but not the other. Though individuals’ risk to their life, liberty and property had existed before now, the entire cause was committed to freedom, decentralization and separation from the Crown or defeat and death as traitors for any active supporters. It was a step through a one-way door, a burning of the metaphorical boats on the beach. A commitment to a violent end to the struggle by the patriots. An announcement that the tools of trade and influence would be solely supporting efforts. That the patriots could not be convinced or bought off. The British and the loyalists retained the option to leave — to accept an outcome of influence and ideas or trade and money and forego force.

Our birth of fire and blood was noble and flawed, conflicted and complicated. We adjusted our consensus to one with more decentralization and freedom than had ever been seen before, but it was far from perfect. It was merely a commitment to move toward a more perfect union. Throughout the years trends across the axes of power have continued to go back and forth. The People have continued to use varying degrees of the three fundamental methods to influence their fellow Citizens to new agreements. Innovative technologies have emerged which radically decentralize and empower individuals, and which centralize and consolidate power. Technologies have emerged which enable superior trade, influence and speech (hi from medium all!!) and even use of force. We stand at an extremely exciting moment where technology trends seem to be driving toward decentralization in fantastic new ways. But the axes of power and the fundamental methods of influence remain, and one tradition we should respect and exercise is a commitment to eschew the use of force in favor of trade and influence over our fellow citizens to align our government with our own beliefs. To leave Thomas Jefferson’s’ blithe words about the blood of patriots and tyrants as applicable only in last resort. To use the representative influence we have through our elected leaders to ensure our collective actions as a nation drive toward a more perfect union.

You’ve given me your attention (thank you!), I’ve shared some frameworks that help me think about the world. If you’d like to think more deeply I encourage you to re-read the Declaration of Independence(it’s short!) Maybe the Constitution for the United States andBill of Rights(if you can make time).

I call on you to reflect: do the actions and words of the Government of the United States, their use of our collective influence, wealth from trade and force match what you believe to be right? Are we delivering on the commitments and promises that we recorded publicly in paper (the immutable ledger of the time) as our foundational core beliefs? If you think not how might you use the more subtle of the methods of persuasion,trade/money and influence to move toward an improved consensus ? What luxury that we needn’t rely on force and can use the more pleasant two methods to drive toward a more perfect union!

“The revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people and in the union of the colonies, both of which were accomplished before hostilities began.”

— John Adams

(Or maybe it wasn’t)

“Tell me about yourself”

My mission is to grow powerful people. To do this I learn, teach, and mentor so that they can better survive and thrive. I’m passionate about purpose, people, context and culture.

I’m driven, and really always have been, to help people survive and thrive by understanding knowledge. I’ve always been hungry to learn more, know more, and teach more. When I was young this was all about understanding how the world had been by reading history, how it could be by reading science fiction and how it should be by reading fables of Arthurian legend, noble knights and stoic warriors. In my undergraduate studies at CU Boulder I studied Political Science and History. Gaining a better understanding of how people influence each other and move toward consensus on how to live through words, written and spoken.

I recognized the Constitution for the United States as the greatest framework that existed for maximizing the chances and opportunities for an individual to survive and thrive. Enough centralization to protect against external threats of war, disease, collapse, and enough limitations to diminish the risk of state oppression and terror of the individual. I recognized the need for the option of force to back the consensus, not just influence. I decided the Constitution needed protection, and as a United States Marine officer we swore to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. Critically, officers do not swear to obey orders, but only to support and defend the Constitution.

I deployed to Afghanistan twice. On the first deployment I learned important lessons about all of my passions. Recognizing the purpose of our presence there and how to best serve that, the people whose interests were involved, population, fellow Americans, our adversaries, the context we were working in historically, environmentally and crucially: culturally. We lost friends who were genuinely good people trying to help people from another land survive and thrive.

On the second deployment I learned even more. Our sister team was attacked by the very Afghan security forces they were embedded to mentor, inflicting 25% casualties on the team and leading to my joining as a combat replacement. We recognized the impossibility of our supposed purpose – to make Afghanistan safe, stable and free – and narrowed our purpose to the achievable within our context. We would keep each other safe, we would make the Afghan security forces we were sent to mentor a little bit better each day, and we would help them to protect the population in the area as best they could. Through difficult circumstances and setbacks, including the savage disregard of our adversary for the people, we met those goals.

On returning, I was assigned to United States Southern Command and there worked with an intelligence and operations team to help our Commander understand the context of all of Central and South America and the Caribbean. Some deeper thinking about the purpose and context of the employment of the military led to considering more alternatives to making the world better. As our focus was less directly on combat and more generally on international security and collaboration I was moving on the spectrum more towards influence and words than force in my daily work and became more fascinated with a third major method of influence: trade.

Together my wife Abby and I decided to part ways with the Corps and to pursue deeper understanding of commerce by studying business at UNC Kenan-Flagler. There I added a third major lens and lever through which to understand and affect my passions. As I came to understand the power of trade to help people survive and thrive I began testing possible industries to join. Technology emerged as the most ethically neutral and scalable approach to help make the world a better place, and I found I could best apply my passions for purpose, people, context and culture in the discipline of product management. I Interned with Amazon and learned lessons about scale and customer-centricity. I chose IBM for my full time opportunity to embrace their elite Enterprise Design Thinking and Product Management bootcamp training. There I learned even more about putting the customer and user’s problems at the center of the design and planning. Of meeting their needs and being the best at their ‘job to be done’ to earn their trust and confidence.

Like everyone, I’m still very much on the path of deeper understanding, and always will be. I know that I’ll continue to be guided by my passions for purpose, people context and culture and helping people to survive and thrive through knowledge.

Hello world! and disclaimers

I’m starting a blog. Again. Way back in my teenage years I think I tried this with …xanga maybe? Anyway. With the recent breaches at Facebook, Google and the surveillance capitalism business model driving social media in less predictable ways I’ve decided I need a place where I can share as accurately as I can what I want to. That’ll be this.

I’ll be writing about things that are important to me here. So I want to make some disclaimers:


  1. Total amateur: I’m making this all up. Expertise is fleeting and illusory. I’m a student and maybe in some areas more experienced than others.
  2. Mashups and remixes : I’m not really making this up purely, because there’s nothing new under the sun. Everything I write is a rehash, standing on shoulders of giants, twisting their words in different ways and is probably mostly wrong (see #1).
  3. Never enough: time or energy or information to write what I wish I could. (I’m desperately grateful for you spending your time and energy reading it and would love any comments!)
  4. Citations?!: Due to (#3). I don’t have time to do justice to (#2). as I wish. I also don’t often remember where exactly of, from, or whom, I learned things. I may sometimes really try hard to cite or attribute where I think I learned something, but will likely miss the origin of ideas often.
  5. Never malicious: I never intend to claim outright credit for another’s idea out of whole cloth, if you think I have not remixed enough (#2)  and should therefore cite (#4) please let me know!
  6. Always changing: Due to (#1) And (#2)… And really #3, #4 and #5. I will likely make edits to older writings as I think they’re needed (or wont due to (#3). Per (#5) I’ll try really hard to be open about these if something really important changes.  
  7. More to come: Per 6 there will likely be more disclaimers in the future.

Every Veteran a Design Thinker

How skills gained in the military can be applied to solving everyday problems and how IBM values and leverages them

[Note this post originally appeared on the IBM Enterprise Design Thinking Blog – I am re-posting it here as I tear down another site and post-dating it to when it was first posted there. ]

How this…….
….is a whole lot like this.

We Failed: The story of the burned out wells

“Hey Sir, the Taliban burned out the wells up in the villages.”“What? The ones the contractors just put in this week? Son of a….. They burned them?”“Yup, they snuck in at night, poured gasoline on the pumps and set them on fire, they’re ruined.”

Yeah. That’s not a good feeling. We spent months to get that done.
For the first time as a young Marine Lieutenant in Afghanistan, our couple steps forward seemed like they’d just been followed by a big leap back.

We had carefully learned the needs of the villagers, had painstakingly hired contractors at an exorbitant rate and reassured them through their anxieties about the Taliban stopping them. Had patrols out to check on them and make sure the work was getting done, that there wasn’t interference. And then it was all gone. Worse, it looked like we didn’t know what we were doing.
We didn’t, we failed.

We were close: how our military training was about experiences

We really were close. The villagers had told us they needed water. We had spent hours sitting and talking with them on patrols, asking about their needs and wants, their hopes and fears. They told us they needed many things: a way to better grow food to provide for their families, tractors to plow fields, fertilizer for the bad soil (it’s a desert) access to irrigation water, protection from the ‘dushman’ (bad men) that came in the night, schools for their children, better roads, documents and deeds for their land claims. The list went on. Water for drinking seemed to come up a lot in our surveys, it seemed pretty painful: they had to ride on dirt bikes or with donkey carts to haul water from villages miles away, it seemed like a pretty good place to start for a quick impact.
Did you catch where we went wrong there?

Veterans are particularly exceptional at two things: accomplishing missions and taking care of their troops. Creating experiences is key to this.

See we had been trained in this.
We had relentlessly trained in the two key imperatives of the military: we accomplish the mission, and we take care of our people. This consistent focus was further sharpened in our training for counter-insurgency. The key insight in modern counter-insurgency doctrine is the focus on the population. It is crucial for the military to understand the environment, the adversary, the terrain, and the capabilities of their own organizations. In counter-insurgency, the most important part of the environment is the people, and they are a living, acting force. We convince the population that we understand them and can meet their needs better than the opposition.

How design thinking compares

Design thinking is a framework for better understanding the needs of a group and designing ways to meet and exceed their needs. It’s been popularized by boutique design consultancy firms, it has been implemented by consumer packaged goods companies, automobile manufacturers and each and every maker of every app on your smartphone. IBM’s Enterprise Design Thinking takes that approach and scales it to the enterprise. At its core Enterprise Design Thinking helps teams deliver better experiences.

How is it applicable?

So where can you apply design thinking? It works best in the service of people. It shines when we deploy it in the planning, designing, and execution of an experience, product or service that is ultimately consumed by humans.
I like to think of Enterprise Design Thinking not just as a ‘tool in a toolkit’ (a common phrase in the military), but one of the most powerful operating systems available to people. It can be installed in your mind (the computer you always have with you), and you can use it to approach every problem you tackle, particularly those that deal with other people. If always having this system with you and being able to apply it almost universally weren’t enough, it allows for continual iteration and encourages learning. In the same way that Machine Learning works by training toward outcomes based on data, so too can we refine and iterate our use of this system toward better and better outcomes.
Here’s where veterans have some advantages. We already know how to design experiences. We design experiences for new members joining our military service branches. ‘Boot camp’ has its impact and meaning as a term, and has been adopted particularly by the software industry, because of the experience our culture created for outcomes we wanted: rapid cultural adaptation and basic skills acquisition. We design experiences for the welfare of our teammates. ‘Troop welfare’ the enduring peer of military mission accomplishment is itself an experience we constantly design for our teams.
And we design experiences for the populations we are tasked to protect.My team worked to design an experience for the population in our nearby villages where their lives were made a bit better by our presence. We worked to meet needs we identified by interviewing them, by surveying the lives they lived, and observing they did not have drinking water, and we thought we had an opportunity to make an impact.

How we could have done better.

We could have looked closer and dug deeper, asked more about those ‘bad men’ coming in the night, and whether they might do more than just put bombs in the ground intended for us Americans to find.
We could have asked where the villagers went for their water, and why those places had the wells and pumps, and our villages didn’t.
We could have asked our Afghan Army counterparts how they got water in their own home villages, or how they’d seen this problem solved in their decades of warfare.We could have wondered if we might need to look beneath the surface of what we were hearing, to the deeper underlying problem: the security of the village was not robust enough for anyone to invest in building wells, and wells installed by us would absolutely become targets.
A technique that design thinking would recommend here is ‘The Five Whys’ exercise, this technique (adapted from other systems of thinking) helps to get to a better understanding of what might be a real root cause. For example:

The villagers must drive an hour to get drinking water.

(1) Why? Because there are no wells deep enough for drinkable water inside the village, but there are in villages an hour away.

(2) Why? Because no one has invested in building drinkable wells in the nearby villages but have in the distant ones.

(3) Why? Because the near village, unlike the distant one does not offer potential for return on investment -whether by the villagers themselves or entrepreneurs.

(4) Why? Because unlike the tiny shops we’ve seen public wells can’t be enclosed in walls and the security situation in nearby villages, unlike those in distant villages is weak.

(5) Why? The local security provided by Afghan security forces, augmented and trained by Americans is not pervasive enough to protect people and infrastructure at all hours and all days.

What that says about design thinking.

Design thinking trains us to be iterative. We can apply all the lessons we’ve learned, only to run into a situation that teaches us that there was another need hiding under the ones we uncovered. There may have been other stakeholders that could have told us if we’d known how to ask them. This is absolutely true in designing elsewhere, whether in software, processes, objects, or in any other human-centered experience.  It demonstrates that design thinking is a journey, one that doesn’t end. Where the only constant is the need to continuously observe, reflect, and make. To remember that we aren’t our users, and build empathy not only for them but for each other.

What that says about veterans, and why IBM likes that.

Veterans have already seen practical applications of understanding human needs. We’ve planned for creating experiences, we’ve interviewed our ‘users,’ we’ve examined their pain points, and collaborated cross-functionally on solutions. We’ve made ‘as is’ and ‘to-be’ scenario maps for those solutions.
We’ve learned from the mistakes that we’ve made and shared them in our After-Action Reviews or Retrospectives. We’ve learned little bits here and there about asking another question, looking a little closer, digging a little deeper. We’ve got a head start on the experiences needed to inform the iterative learning on this framework. By adding these tools and methods, and framing them just a little more generally we can apply this experience and these methods to virtually any problem!

IBM Values this experience in Veterans and our commitment to accomplishing missions while taking care of one another. To that end, IBM has committed to hiring an additional two thousand veterans by 2020 through the Vet 2K hiring initiative.
IBM has also offered training, targeted specifically to veterans in some in-person training programs.
And through the New Collar initiative, IBM makes many trainings available online for free.Learn more about Enterprise Design Thinking and how you can bring it to your own teams here.