Saturday, July 14, 2012

RIP, Newspapers

While newspapers have certainly been dying for a long time, I officially called their time of death as 8:25 AM this morning.

For the past week or two, I've been receiving mysterious phone calls from Missouri. The few times I picked up, no one was on the line.

Today, I finally got someone on the line. "Hi, we're calling for the San Jose Mercury News!" (Presumably, the Merc is nearshoring their telemarketing to the low-cost nation of Missouri)

He started by offering me the Sunday paper for an entire year for $10.

I politely declined.

He then pointed out that they had a 100% money-back guarantee. "At any time, even a year from now, you can call and get all of that money back."

Again, I politely declined. "I'm sorry, but the paper just isn't part of my life anymore." This is 100% true. I can't remember the last time I read one outside of when I was at a conference or waiting in a VC fund or law firm's lobby.

None of this surprised me that much. Then came this offer, which I had never received before. "In addition to the 100% money-back guarantee, with your subscription, we'll also give you a $10 gift certificate to Starbucks or Lowes. And you can keep it, even if you ask for your money back later."

In other words, the newspapers are at the point where they're willing to pay people to subscribe.

Shaken, I said, "I'm sorry, but I wouldn't feel good taking advantage of the paper in that way."

"Well sir," said the cheerful telemarketer, "We sure hope you change your mind and take advantage of us in the future." (Mental note: Definitely outsource telemarketing to Missouri--they're incredibly polite and upbeat. Practically Canadian.)

After hanging up, I felt a strange sadness. While I haven't read a newspaper in years, I still remember when getting and reading the morning paper was the main way that I learned about the world. It was the only way I heard about world events, or could see the box scores from last night's game.

Old folks like me still recognize the meaning of "Extra! Extra! Read all about it!" or "Stop the presses!"

My kids have never seen a newspaper. The entire concept would seem strange to them, like television programs that aren't available on-demand, or on a tablet computer.

It's progress. It's more efficient. It's inevitable. Yet it's still sad.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Working From Home Sucks

While numerous studies keep coming out that show that telecommuters are more productive, my experience this week has been far less positive.

Last Friday, I received some painful treatments for a foot ailment (don't worry loyal readers, nothing serious or permanent...just painful and disgusting). The doctor warned me that I would be out of commission for some time. Fine, I thought, I can just work from home.

Fortunately for me, PBworks is highly adapted to online work. Not only do we use our own product, nearly every other one of our software tools is also SaaS-based, which means that I can access things like and Rally from anywhere.

We're also used to dealing with telecommuting; our entire Sales team is based on the East Coast, and our Creative Director lives in Oregon.

In other words, any telecommuting failures can be firmly attributed to me, and me alone. Even though it's only been three days (and counting), I can hardly wait to get back to the office. Here's why:

1) My office is more comfortable.

Some people love the comforts of home. Me, I like my office. My office is solely my space, and the arrangement reflects that fact. At home, every space is ultimately a shared space. I've never worked from home enough to justify a separate office, and even if I did, I'm sure it would be overrun with children's toys and other bric-a-brac.

2) I miss having people around.

Some people love the solitude; I crave the human interaction. And no matter how many calls or web conferences I do, it's not the same as actually talking with folks in person. Besides, no one at home tells me entertaining stories about his time spent living with the Satanist and the conspiracy theorist.

3) I miss the outside world.

Perhaps it's different for those who work out of coffeehouses and the like, and perhaps it's because my foot has left me confined to the house, but I miss actually being outside. Even the tiny amounts of nature I see walking from the parking lot to my office seem to have made a bigger difference than I thought.

Again, it may be that my experience is different, because I've combined a week at home with a debilitating recovery from medical treatment, but right now I'm crossing my fingers and hoping that I've recovered enough to make it to the office tomorrow.

My friend Terri points out, "Yes, working from home can be a solitary experience, but there are plusses too: like wearing pjs! :)"

Tragically, I discovered this for myself yesterday, when my wife came home and said, "Are you still in your pajamas?" Without even realizing it, I had sunk into the cliche of the pajama-clad blogger. That's why the first thing I did this morning was get dressed.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Everyone Feels Like An Imposter

I had the good fortune of being allowed to be a mentor at the Unreasonable Institute this year. If you ever get the chance, it's something you should definitely do. In my two days at the institute, I got to meet a bunch of amazing people who are making a real difference in the world.

One of the people I met was Paseka Lesolang, with whom I had a fascinating conversation on a Saturday night. Paseka, who was the youngest fellow in the program, was certainly wise beyond his years. Rather than pitch his enterprise or ask my advice, he simply asked me to talk about what I thought mattered.

This somewhat unorthodox beginning led to a two-hour conversation which touched on quite a number of topics, including real-life superpowers and how to make the woman in your life a priority when you're an entrepreneur. But perhaps the most interesting point came up when Paseka talked about how accomplished us mentors were. Here's what I told him:

"What you'll find when you talk with people that are 'successful' is that most of us feel like we're imposters. Even someone like Neal* probably thinks he's not that successful."

* Neal Baer, one of my fellow mentors, was the executive producer of ER, and of Law and Order: SVU. If being a famed Hollywood showrunner wasn't enough, he's also a graduate of Harvard Medical School, and in his spare time, travels to Africa at his own expense to treat sick children. Damn, that's quite a personal history.

We have a strange and conflicted relationship when it comes to accomplishment and the accomplished.

On the one hand, we love to build up our heroes. Think of the hero worship we see of athletes, entertainers, and moguls. We want them to transcend human limits because on some level, that kind of achievement lifts us all.

On the other hand, we also love to tear down those heroes. Whether with tabloids ("They're just like us!") or unauthorized biographies, we seem to delight in finding feet of clay.

This ambivalence comes from trying to reconcile two conflicting ideas: One, the great are better than you or me...they have a special something that enables them to do great things. Otherwise, use normal folks have no excuse for our lack of achievement. Two, the great are no better than you or me...we're not ordinary or inferior, just unlucky.

I suspect that the balance of this attitude shifts as we get older. The young, who are still bursting with possibility, prefer hero worship. There's a reason that pre-pubescent boys and girls believe in heroes--for the most part, such achievement is still within their reach The trajectories of their lives are fluid, and their talents are just waiting to be discovered.

The mature have seen the possibilities of their lives crystallize. Many of the dreams you dreamed at 15, however unrealistic, are simply impossible at age 35, and might be laughable at 55. When that happens, it's tempting to use the sour grapes approach. When Jon Ronson set out to interview Americans of all income levels, one of the things that stood out for me is the millionaire who tells him, "The trick is not to be too rich."

I was reminded of this when I read Dave McClure's essay, "late bloomer, not a loser (i hope)." Dave (very bravely, I think) tackles this issue head on. His opening line gets right to the point:
"most of the time I think of myself as a failure."
He goes on to talk about his youthful dreams, his college experiences, and the ups and downs of his life in Silicon Valley. This section in particular I think helps capture the effects of the imposter syndrome:
so after twenty years in the valley, I had made only a little bit of money, and had some modest accomplishments as a programmer, as an entrepreneur, and as a marketer. meanwhile my peers at PayPal had gone on to create incredible businesses like LinkedIn, YouTube, Yelp, and Yammer, and other kids half my age were seemingly much more ambitious. most folks thought I was a decent fellow, but over the hill with my best days behind me… and I kind of thought so too.
Let me point out that we're talking about someone who had worked for an enormously successful company (PayPal) and played a significant role at a number of other enormously successful companies (Mint and oDesk). By any reasonable standard, that's success.

Yet we humans are unreasonable. And Dave had the odd misfortune of having worked at PayPal, which may eventually rival Shockley Semiconductor in its ability to generate entrepreneurs. It's hard to feel successful when your friends have two or three more zeros in their bank account, along with a bevy of magazine covers.

The funny thing is, while the imposter syndrome harms its sufferers, it may help humanity as a whole. Our inability to prove ourselves to...well...ourselves seems to drive us onwards. Consider how Dave ends his essay:
and so here I am: still standing in the arena, in hand-to-hand combat with demons mostly of my own making, aiming to make a small dent in the universe. nowhere near a great success story, yet fighting the good fight and perhaps helping others to achieve greatness as I attempt a bit of my own. I’ll be 46 in a month, well past the age when most folks have already shown what they’re made of. but I’m still grasping for that brass ring.

I’m not giving up yet.

I’m still betting my epitaph will read “late bloomer”, and not “failure”.

wish me luck :)

I've known Dave since his PayPal days, because we were both SDForum (now SVForum) volunteers. And like most of the people I've known who've experienced success (regardless of whether or not he'd accept that assessment!), he hasn't changed much.

Back in 2006, I wrote about another friend, Jeff Clavier. Jeff had just seen the first major successes for SoftTech, yet was working harder than ever before. At the time, I thought this was simply a matter of career optimization. Now, I suspect that the same thing drives us all.

So if you feel like a failure at times (despite what your friends say), don't despair. Everyone feels like an imposter. And yet, this inability to consider ourselves "successful" may be the very trait that helps us (and you) keep succeeding.