Thursday, February 21, 2008

But Does Obama or McCain Have A Blackbelt In Jujitsu?

Tired of today's candidates? Cracked (I continue to be amazed at this magazine's reincarnation as a premier purveyor of linkbait) offers up its list of "The 5 Most Badass Presidents of All-Time."

5. Andrew Jackson: As president, beat a would-be assassin senseless with his trademark hickory can.

4. JFK: Said he could only be satisfied if he could have sex with at least three different women each day.

3. John Quincy Adams (definitely did not spring to mind for me as a badass!): Swam across the Potomac river every morning. In the nude.

2. George Washington: Fought at the frontline of more battles than any other president, and despite having his clothes and horses riddled with bullets, was never wounded.

1. Teddy Roosevelt: After being shot by a madman, refused to go to the hospital and delivered a 2-hour campaign speech

I'm not so sure about JFK and John Quincy Adams, but I can't see today's candidates matching the exploits of Jackson, Washington, and Roosevelt. If I had to bet on someone kicking ass though, my money's on McCain.

Parenting: There Is No Substitute

My good friend Ben dipped his toes into interesting waters with his latest post about how he's not sure if he wants to have children. While I posted my thoughts on Ben's blog, as I am wont to do with particularly thoughtful and/or lengthy comments, I'm reposting them here:


It doesn't make sense to argue in the abstract whether it's better to have children or remain childless.

The fact is, raising children is hard work. In some ways, it's harder than it's ever been, given the decline of the household servant, the extended family, and the local community.

(Admittedly, things like infant mortality are far lower, and modern medicine has made death, a common fate for children in an earlier era, an infrequent and therefore overpowering tragedy)

When people ask me about being a parent, I don't sugarcoat it. It's hard work. You have to give up a tremendous amount, including things like eating out, carefree vacations, and a good night's sleep:

It costs a tremendous amount:

And yes, all the happiness research shows that having children causes your happiness to nosedive and only fully recover when your blessed bundles of joy are packed off to college.

And so I always tell people the same thing: "There is no substitute for being a parent."

I don't mean that you have to be a parent, just that no other experience is like it, good or bad.

The problem, of course, is that it's a pretty irrevocable choice--the government doesn't let you abandon your kids if they crimp your style (unless you're Britney Spears).

Here, it seems wise to follow Daniel Gilbert's advice and use surrogates:

Talk with people who are similar to you, but at a later stage in life. Talk to both parents and non-parents. Remember, surrogates are a better predictor of how you will feel than your present self.

P.S. Even from a young age, I always knew that I wanted to be a father, so I may not be the best guide for the ambivalent!

The Elephant and the Ant: Why Companies Need Processes As They Grow

Seth Godin had a recent post about how organizations tend to go from crisp to soggy over time.

While I agree with his points, I think that there's a better analogy to explain why companies need processes as they grow. I call it the principle of the elephant and the ant.

Hollywood horror movies nonwithstanding, you can't scale up an ant to the size of an elephant. The mechanisms that work so well for a one-gram ant don't work for a 10-ton elephant.

The ant is like a startup: It's small, nimble, and surprisingly strong for its size. When you're that small, you don't need a lot of internal structural elements--a thin exoskeleton more than suffices. It doesn't even need lungs to breathe, relying instead on its surface area to allow oxygen back and forth.

Similarly, startups don't need a lot of internal processes or documentation. When your entire company consists of three people in a single office, everyone and everything in your company is in touch with the outside world. If something comes up, you just poke your head over your laptop and fix it. An "all-hands" meeting consists of nudging the co-founders to your left and your right.

But as your company grows (which is almost always necessary if you build a successful business), that approach doesn't scale. You don't see 1,000 person companies being run like a 3-person startup for the same reason you don't see ants the size of Volkswagens.

(Be glad that we don't!)

Instead, your company begins to resemble the mighty elephant. The lightweight exoskeleton is replaced by a thick endoskeleton. All sorts of internal structures like lungs are required to support life. And you can bet that an elephant can't scurry at a rate of 5 times its body length per second, or lift 50 times its own weight.

Big companies need endoskeletons to function. Yes, these processes impair flexibility, and force you to trade in the elegantly slender legs of the common ant for the stubby tree-trunks of the ponderous pachyderm, but the alternative isn't pretty. A 10-ton ant would instantly collapse and die under its own weight, unless beaten to the punch by asphyxiation.

And there are benefits to being big. You may not be able to run as fast or lift as much on a relative basis, but an elephant can definitely cover longer distances than an ant, and no ant in the world can lift an entire tree with its trunk.

Both elephants and ants have their place in this world, just as crisp and soggy do. The trick is making sure that your approach is appropriate to your situation. There's a reason why invertebrates are smaller than vertebrates, but mice are smaller and faster than lobsters--only you can decide what the right answer is for your company.

P.S. One final alternative to keep in mind: While a single ant can't move a rubber tree, an army of them certainly can (or at least decimate the village where the tree is planted). To what extent can your company act like a swarm of startups, rather than as single elephant?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

I Pity The Fool!

Words cannot describe how delighted I am that NBC is now streaming full episodes of "The A-Team" online. I still remember the glorious days of my youth, when I could turn on the television and watch the antics of George Peppard, Mr. T, Dirk Benedict, and Dwight Schultz.

Silly BA, why didn't you figure out that Face was drugging your drink to get you on that airplane?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

It's A Bird, It's A Plane...


A Tribute to Shaq

While I did recently name Shaq a Jerk of the Week, I just ran across this article, which reminded me of just how unique Shaq's influence on the NBA has been.

Shaq's playfulness (how many times has he been described as "the biggest kid in the world" in profiles?) coupled with a generous heart have made him one of the NBA's most powerful ambassadors, not just to fans, but also to his fellow players.

Would Shaq have had the same kind of impact if he were a sober and responsible adult? Almost certainly not--just look at David Robinson and Tim Duncan, transcendant talents who have made a career of being mature...and boring.

In the end, Shaq's key virtues and flaws are tied together--the exhuberance and playfulness that made him an icon probably go hand in hand with his immature and undisciplined personality. While Shaq's career may be shorter because of it, his flaws may have caused his flame to burn all the brighter while he was in his prime.

We'll miss him when he's gone. I'll miss him.

P.S. For a megadose of the wit and wisdom of the Big Aristotle, check out

P.P.S. My funniest Shaq story didn't even require him to be present. My wife and I were in Orlando visiting her family when we stopped at the local SunTrust bank to pick up some of her old savings bonds. Since the bonds were in the vault, we were waiting for a good 15 minutes. The first thing that caught my attention was a bank customer trying desperately to wheedle some free calendars out of the bank teller. She kept telling him, "I'm sorry sir, but we ran out last week." A few minutes later, an enormous man strolled in. Instantly, I recognized him as Phil Harrison, Shaq's dad*. Immediately, the bank manager ran up to him. "Mr. Harrison, so good to see you. How is Shaquille doing? Would you like a calendar?" I think he walked out with 5 calendars. The first customer didn't dare say a thing.

*Phil Harrison is not Shaq's biological father, but seeing Shaq's love for him is incredibly moving. I saw one interview where the reported asked about his biological father. Shaq instantly replied, "I only have one father, and that's the man who was always there for my mother and me, my dad, Phil Harrison."