June: What I’m into this month

Summer is here and I’m enjoying the long hot days! Here’s what I’m into this month:

  • College reunion. It was fun to go back to Dickinson College this month and stay in the dorms with friends. It’s funny how a trip back to school can make it feel like no time has passed at all…
  • Exploring Queens. I moved to this borough almost a year ago and made a long list of places to check out. I’m slowly making my way through and finding so many great places. I visited MoMA PS1, Brooklyn Boulders Queensbridge and Citifield (thought not for the first time). I’m taking a guitar class at Queens Guitar School and after class, I’ll meet Pete to try a new restaurant in the neighborhood (Astoria). We really like Milkflower and Snowdonia.
  • Chris Guillebeau’s Side Hustle School. I love a good project and this one from Chris Guillebeau is very compelling. He’s releasing a new podcast every day in 2017 about people and their side hustles. I really love how short each one is (most are <10 minutes) and that he includes quantitative measures of success, like revenue! I’m conflicted about the push for millennials to start a side hustle (more on that another time), but I appreciate this content.
  • The Getting Things Done method from David Allen and reaching Inbox Zero. I’ve heard about this on life hack sites for years and I’m finally reading the book. I haven’t fully committed, but there are great tips for leading a more minimal and organized life.
  • Long walks. I’m trying to get 10,000 steps a day, something that’s disturbingly difficult with an office job. Now that the weather’s nice I try to walk home across Queensboro Bridge or take a walk along the waterfront if I have time after dinner. Not always possible, but great when it happens.

April: What I’m into this month

Afterward a whirlwind of travel in March, I’m enjoying a more home-bound April.

  • Lots of family time! My cousin is getting married in Pennsylvania at the end of the month, and it’s a great reason to get together with the Laffertys. I had fun exploring Philadelphia for her bachelorette party this weekend, and brunch at Harp & Crown was a perfect wrap-up. This has led to more plans for family get-togethers in 2017, like seeing Classic East in July!
  • So much music. The month kicked off with a house concert hosted by a friend and I went to Blue Note to see jazz when Autumn was in town over Easter weekend. After a six-week hiatus, I’m back to guitar lessons. I’m learning Don’t Think Twice by Bob Dylan and Diamonds and Rust by Joan Baez.
  • Continuing with the music theme, I will finally finish my listen of the first 50 albums on the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list from The Rolling Stone. I got James Brown’s ‘Live at the Apollo’ at the library this weekend since I couldn’t find it in full on any of my typical online music sources.
  • Starting – but not finishing – lots of books. If I complete the books I’m currently reading, I’ll exceed my reading goal for the year. I’m reading tons of founder bios lately and really enjoying them.

In the meantime, I’m also working on some longer-term projects that will hopefully come to fruition in the next 3-5 months. Good start to the year!

March: What I’m into this month

I’m breaking my posting hiatus with some of the stuff I’m following this month.

  • Lots of travel. So many of my trips strangely converged this month. Spain, Houston and Scottsdale. I checked off two bucket list items this month – visiting the Alhambra and the Johnson Space Center!
  • Outer space and life coming full circle. In 2009, I went to Scottsdale to recruit for the new Barneys New York store (unfortunately now closed). While there, Buzz Aldrin was signing his new book, Magnificent Desolation, at the Louis Vuitton store in the mall. The book was a very special Christmas gift to my dad that year. This winter, while going through my mom’s bookshelves as she prepares to sell my childhood home, I found Buzz’s book. I brought it back to Scottsdale to read poolside this month. Having also seen the Saturn V rocket at the Johnson Space Center just a week before, I felt like a real superfan.
  • So much reading. I finally finished Dubliners this month and Goodreads is moving up as one of my favorite social media accounts.
  • Getting back to writing in some small ways. More to come soon.
  • Career advice from powerful women. First Ann Shoket‘s new book The Big Life and now Sallie Krawcheck’s Own It. It’s exciting to hear how they navigated their careers and the advice they have for women like me. I saw Krawcheck speak at Work-bench last week and she was riveting. She came across as very authentic and direct, and it was great to speak with her briefly as she signed my book.

It’s been a whirlwind month and I really enjoyed it. Here’s to a happy spring!

Build a Job or Find Yourself

I am fascinated with people’s career paths and have spent much of my own career focused on why people choose jobs, both as a recruiter and as a data analyst. That’s why I loved hearing this episode about finding meaning at work on The Hidden Brain.

This episode is an interview with Amy Wrzesniewski, a psychologist at Yale University. She says that people can be divided into three groups when it comes their approach to their job: they see it as a “job,” a “career” or a “calling.” People equally split into these groups regardless of position. Those who see their job as a calling report the greatest satisfaction. To see which group you fall into, take the quiz here.

I find this so interesting because a lot of mainstream career advice is to follow your passion. That’s so vague, and in my opinion, so wrongheaded (see Cal Newport’s brilliant take on this). It’s difficult to identify a passion at the start of a career.

As I daydream about the coming summer, I’ve been reading and listening to a lot of stories about outdoor adventures and getting away from it all to find yourself. It’s a romantic idea, but you don’t need to leave it all behind to discover your passion or find joy in the work you do. You may just need to understand your orientation towards work. (Though unfortunately, this makes for less compelling stories of self-actualization.)

Business Experiments

This afternoon I’m returning to Columbia Business School to speak to the Economics of Organizational Strategy class about business analytics in the HR space. I’m excited to be back at my alma mater to talk about my work. For this class, the professor assigned The Discipline of Business Experimentation from the Harvard Business Review. From the summary:

The data you already have can’t tell you how customers will react to innovations. To discover if a truly novel concept will succeed, you must subject it to a rigorous experiment. In most companies, tests do not adhere to scientific and statistical principles. As a result, managers often end up interpreting statistical noise as causation—and making bad decisions.

YES. All the buzz about big data and analytics fails to mention that if you are not testing correctly, your data may be driving you to make bad decisions! With businesses ramping up analytics capabilities in a big way, I think this happens much, much more than companies are willing to admit.

The example in the HBR article is about Cracker Barrel testing a switch from incandescent to LED lighting at its restaurants. At restaurants that installed the LED lights, traffic decreased. This would initially suggest that LEDs are bad for business. However, by digging deeper, executives realized that the LED lighting made the entrances look dimmer and customers turned away thinking the restaurant was closed. The LED lighting should have been brighter than the incandescent lighting, but individual store managers were going around the corporate lighting standards to install more incandescent lighting, thus making the store look brighter and more welcoming. Therefore, once these stores adhered to the new LED policy, they had fewer lights and were less luminous.

With all the attention around the tools and methods available with statistical analysis, I’m afraid this deeper digging may get short shrift.

It’s important that business professional not only dedicate more time to digging than analysis, but that we can speak the language of data and statistics. With so much more data available to businesses today, knowing how to use it for decision-making is a competitive advantage.

Magic Bands and A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow

I’m fresh off what was probably my 20th+ family trip to Walt Disney World, and as always it was such a magical time. After so many visits, it’s fun to experience the parks with a first-timer. and this time it was my sister’s boyfriend, Frank.

The Carousel of Progress sparked a great lunchtime discussion about what technology will look like at the end of this century. The Carousel of Progress is an animatronic stage show that shows an American family at four points in the 20th century, highlighting technology innovations in the home. It kicks off at the turn of the century, showing electric lights and cast iron stoves, and the “future” scene takes places in the 1990s, highlighting virtual reality games, self-flushing toilets and voice-activated appliances. After the ride, we all dreamed up what a 2000s Carousel of Progress would contain. Here in 2016 we’d be the very first scene of the show. 

First day in the Magic Kingdom, Feb. 2016. Em, Frank, me.
 We didn’t have to stretch too far to imagine what that scene would contain – we were wearing it. Disney World has integrated wearable technology into its parks with the Magic Bands. We all had a Magic Band in a chosen color with our name printed on the inside and used it as our hotel key, our park ticket, our credit card… It was everything. Meanwhile, all my ride photos popped up immediately in my Disney mobile app, presumably linked through my Magic Band.

Working in analytics, I am curious about the other side of the Band – the big data side. I would love to get a glimpse at what the data scientists at Disney are conjuring up with all the movement and spending data they get through the Magic Bands. Disney has spent over $1 billion on the MyMagic+ program so it’s clear they have big plans for ROI. So far reception has been positive, and the overall creepy factor I felt when my face first magically appeared on my Disney app – screaming on the new Seven Dwarves Mine attraction – was quickly replaced by joy when watching the two-minute video of my family’s reactions at various points on the new ride. From Wired:

No matter how often we say we’re creeped out by technology, we tend to acclimate quickly if it delivers what we want before we want it.

Just like the Carousel of Progress, technological innovation moves fast, and even now Magic Bands are moving to the past. The next scene takes place in Shanghai Disney, where everything will happen seamlessly through a smartphone. I’m adding Shanghai Disney to the bucket list! 

Striving for Essentialism

I’ve kicked off 2016 with a lot of reading, mostly fiction. (So far, Brooklyn by Colm Toibin, The Martian by Andy Weir and now Wild by Cheryl Strayed. It’s strictly coincidence I’m reading all books turned movies so far this year.) I love reading, but when reflecting back on 2015 I can only think of a single book that has really stuck with me: Essentialism by Greg McKeown.

Essentialism takes a different approach to lifehacking. Rather than trying to eke more productivity of out each day, an essentialist intentionally chooses less. Fewer to-dos, fewer commitments. I’m an optimist by nature, and I can’t help but say “YES!” to nearly every juicy opportunity that comes my way. But McKeown advises being wildly protective over your time. Unless you feel like an opportunity is a 9/10, you should say no.

It’s timely to reflect on this book at the end of January, just as my resolutions are feeling a little stale. Especially the diagram of going in a million directions versus one.  When we have a lot of projects or too many priorities (a contradiction in itself), we fail to make meaningful progress on any one area. I kicked off 2016 with this ideal in mind. If I’m going to be bold and aim high, I am better off choosing one thing and applying steady focus.

Next up in self-help/pseudo-business book reading is Deep Work by Cal Newport. I’m curious to see how well the ideas of Essentialism link to Deep Work. This year could lead to more singularly focused, deep working existence for me… Seems monk-like. I like it.

How long does it take to become an overnight success? 

Way more than one night! Because it takes about four months to have one fantastic launch event.

After about four months of planning, prepping, meeting over cocktails, meeting over coffees, meeting over laptops, meeting over dinner (thanks Alex!), Alex and I had our first Ask For It event last night.

I loved meeting the attendees and hearing precisely what brought them. New jobs, new responsibilities, curiosity and some good friends who came to support us. Here is the recap with photos and key takeaways. Thank you to everyone who supported us along the way!!

Printing Wikipedia

Michael Mandiberg has published a new book. Books, in fact. He spent the last three years parsing the entirety of Wikipedia into a $500,000 set of encyclopedias.

I can’t stop thinking about this. Just 15 or 20 years ago, an encyclopedia was a set of books housed on a single shelf in my school’s library. With a place for all the world to share and catalog knowledge, Wikipedia has grown like the mystery house in House of Leaves.


I love this description of the project on the product page:

Print Wikipedia draws attention to the sheer size of the encyclopedia’s content and the impossibility of rendering Wikipedia as a material object in fixed form: Once a volume is printed it is already out of date. It is also a work of found poetry built on what is likely the largest appropriation ever made.

One of my favorite things to listen to when working in Excel is the Wikipedia soundscape. Live entries and edits on Wikipedia become sounds – bells and gongs, with length of note and tone based on the extent of the change. Each sound is shown as a growing circle with the topic listed in the center. It is mesmerizing and goes on forever. Just now I saw edits for Angry Birds 2 and the Kuiper Belt. Are those Wikipedia editors working at a computer on a nearby street or are they insomniacs across the globe?

I think back to an image my dad described to me to illustrate how incredible the printed word is. In the dark ages, monks toiled over pages, scribing and illuminating copies of the Bible and guides on herbs and medicines.

The common assumption is that these monks just copied directly from the previous text, but in fact they often made valuable edits to the new copy. For instance, monasteries grew many herbs and the monks would include their own research on plants as well as citations to other works. (Thanks Wikipedia!)

It’s easy to look at the pace of change in our lives and think the whole world is changing. But when I look closely, I realize a lot stays the same. I love reading about futurists who describe a different world of work within our lifetimes, but I’m skeptical. If anything, we’ll work at similar end goals but much, much faster thanks to new tools and innovative new industries. We’re the monks toiling over the manuscripts, making small changes based on the knowledge we have. What happens when the whole world gets together to create things? Wikipedia.

Roastin’ the Turkey

Last night in my guitar class, my teacher Vinnie talked about practicing and how, to be most effective, we’ve got to “roast the turkey.”

A properly roasted turkey takes about 3.5 hours to cook at 425° F. If your goal is a golden, juicy, well-cooked bird, there’s no way around this. Say you want to save on gas, so you put the heat at 200° F. You’ll have to leave the turkey in the oven a very long time to bring it to the right temperature for cooking, and even then it won’t be very good. Or say you want to cook it quickly, so you turn the heat to 600° F. Your bird will cook unevenly, burnt on the outside and not quite done on the inside.

So it goes with practice. If you do a little here and there, you’ll get better. But it’ll take a long time, and you’ll probably feel that your skills atrophy between practices. If you’re cramming by practicing hours and hours a day, you will see quick progress, but you’ll likely burn out.

I’ve been posting on here weekly, on Wednesdays at 9 a.m. I’m trying to return to a practice of writing, and having some output each week feels right. Gotta roast my turkeys.