Finding hidden talents lost to your childhood

The reason why I suck at writing, hate reading and have never been able to pick up languages – and how I proved myself wrong.

I’m sitting in my dimly-lit, third-grade classroom. My mom and I are sitting in hard, vibrantly-colored, plastic chairs. My English teacher, who is sitting across from us, is your typical sweet southern grandma, until she opens her mouth.

“I know I’m not supposed to say it,” she says anyway, from her wrinkled, fuzz-covered lips, “but, if I were you, I’d go home and give him a good spanking.”

I don’t know if my mom nodded, ignored it, or what came after, other than the feeling of betrayal from my teacher, mom, and the educational system. I wasn’t a bad kid or bully. This discussion wasn’t the result of my lobbing spitballs. This was Mrs. Manard’s solution to my “C” level performance.

Looking back, I tried to do the things required to excel in school but, try as I might, I couldn’t do them the way I was supposed to. I disliked the slow pace of English class and reading large books that seemed irrelevant to my life. I already knew how to read, write, and speak. Knowing the rules as to why one should never end a sentence with a preposition felt unimportant.

Without knowing it, Mrs. Manard redirected my educational trajectory, and, by 10 years old, I decided, “I suck at English.”

My foreign language class wasn’t much different. Aside from having a much nicer teacher, I didn’t do well memorizing all the rules. There was no satisfaction in the months of repetition required to eventually say, “Your cow is fat.”

I had another epiphany at 12 years old. I was never going to be able to pick up new languages.


Some stories, like mine above, become obsolete in adulthood, but never get a makeover.

Being a “bad speller,” “bad at math,” or “not being witty” are a few examples of stories you may have calcified during childhood. They are either told to us, beat into us, or remnants of unwanted consequences we had to endure.

These stories are as relevant to us now as a favorite toy or blanky. They are anchors that swaddle us in chains, leaving us comfortably limited. We see these features as foregone conclusions, but, somehow, we are unable to remember when these features formed or when we last questioned them.

Maybe it’s time to update our stories.

The story above is part of my history. It made me who I am today. But, it’s based on old experiences and, therefore, outdated. 

If a 10-year-old kid walked up to me now and told me how to live my life, I would think it was a joke. Yet, somehow, my 10-year-old self is still telling me how to respond to my environment. 

I can’t continue to rationalize this logic. It is time to update my stories and make them more relevant to my current environment, social circles, and interests. It’s not about changing who I am, but ensuring I am not limited to who I thought I once was.

Like the rest of the world, the isolation of COVID provided me with an opportunity to pause, reflect, and assess. An opportunity to dissolve the negative assessments of my capabilities. This simple reframing immediately altered my perspective. I went from reasserting my shortcomings out of habit to searching for ways to reexamine them. 

Take languages, for example. Soon after I took this new approach, I caught myself responding to the question,  “Do you speak any other languages?” with a canned,  “I am good with learning software languages, but have never been able to grasp foreign ones.”

The first time I used that response was in high school. High school?! It has been a reflex, hidden, very literally, under my nose for decades. 

I decided to test the theory. I began looking for language apps. If one didn’t suit me, I tried another. I found groups at work that were studying languages (turns out a lot). I Googled hacks to learn languages quickly. I found platforms that connect users to native speakers around the world, so they could learn for pennies on the dollar. I kept what I liked and threw out what didn’t work for me.

A year later, I’m speaking French and Spanish at an Intermediate level. I now see the world in a new light. Like a veil being lifted around me, I now recognize the lyrics of foreign songs, follow dialogue in foreign flicks, and eavesdrop on tourists at my local coffee shop. I didn’t just learn languages. By challenging my old thinking, and with little effort, I illuminated a new world.

Enthused by the results of this formula, I applied it to my “sucking at English” and so many other false truths weighing me down over the years. 

Through this experience, I had an epiphany: Maybe, I have always loved English and languages. Maybe, I just hated a few child classes that unfortunately bound me to a false narrative. 

Let’s close the book on these old narratives and make room for a new, liberating reality.

Redefining your reality 

Introspection is paramount in discovering and redefining outdated stories.I had to catch myself repeating old facts to others, and then determine whether it is outdated. 

That’s your clue. 

Then, reset and re-create that truth from scratch.

  1. Catch yourself. When you hear yourself assertively self-deprecating what you’re capable of, replace it with, “I haven’t taken time to be good at it.”
  2. Step back and see if you can pinpoint when you formed that opinion. Who were you then? Is it possible you’ve evolved in other ways since then? Are the issues that blocked you still present now?
  3. Cut out what’s no longer serving you. Do you spend hours on the phone or TV? Maybe cooking everyday is a burden and ordering out once a week removes it. Can you trade a day, hour, or activity to investigate this question? Maybe block your work calendar for 30 mins, one day a week, or add an activity to your wake-up or sleep ritual. Maybe you mow the lawn one fewer time a month, and it grows just a bit longer. These are a few trade-offs you can make to open yourself up to new possibilities. Personally, I deleted all my social apps and replaced them with Duolingo.
  4. Chose one thing from #1 and start researching ways to engage it for a few minutes gained in #2.
  5. Give it 6 months and see if your story changes.

From a writing hater, to a writing lover

Where the hatred started

Writing has never been easy for me. It isn’t for a lack of wanting. My experience in school wasn’t helpful.

Since I can remember, I yearned for the ability to get all my thoughts, observations and theories onto paper. My hands just couldn’t keep up. When I took a shot at writing quickly, the results were illegible. When I took the time to write cleanly, the thoughts would slip through my fingers.

I couldn’t strike a balance and wasn’t willing to push through the torture of building skill through the slow, methodical, practice of writing and rewriting my ABCs. I neither had the penmanship nor the patience. And, with that, I could only assume writing wasn’t my thing.

This frustration as a child turned into a hatred toward writing, and that hatred turned into avoidance.

I slogged through school and found creative ways around my poor penmanship. It’s not like I didn’t love other art forms, but putting pen to paper felt dull, overly academic, and unimportant. I didn’t see how writing could have the same beauty and value as a Picasso, or express the emotions of a Rachmaninov.

In an adolescent, cool-guy way, I would take a sort of pride in “not being a writer.” Or, I’d say, “I’m good at other things — how about you write it up?” It was easier to do than admit I was bad at it. The way most children respond when they try to justify a lack of skill in some area.

That became my story. And it was left unedited for decades.

Along the way, with the advent of the computer, I thought I was saved. I was one of the lucky ones where writing by hand became obsolete in my lifetime. Good riddance. I could finally leave handwriting in the rearview.

Once I was out of school and gaining balance in the real world, I took another crack at writing. Now that writing by hand was no longer a blocker, and spelling and grammar was managed by machines, maybe I could become a writer after all.

Confronting what I now realize are years of excuses, I decided writing would no longer be a weakness in my armament of tools. It was time to revise my story. Since then, I’ve had a lot of catching up to do.

Okay, let’s try that again

In my 20s, when I started my first company, I realized the power of the written word. In order to communicate a vision at scale, one must codify their thoughts so others may follow. In order to improve, I started a blog and set out to post daily for a year. While I evolved considerably from my first post to my last, I still had a long way to go.

Years later, after hitting a plateau and going on hiatus, I decided to hire a writing coach. She swore by the power of “morning pages” laid out in the book “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. In it, the author believes one must return to the written form to connect with one’s inner artist. My new teacher passed on that requirement to me, and with it, I had come full circle. In order to learn to be a writer, I had to once again slog through my pitiful excuse of penmanship.

What surprised me about this go around was, for the first time, this teacher told me she didn’t care about how my writing looked or what it said. To her, none of that was important. She just wanted me to use my hand to write — anything. As long as paper and pencil were involved, she’d be happy.

It was — freeing.

It shut down the overly critical side of my brain, further imprisoned by early schooling.

I had a second wind.

I began to write in my notepad, about nothing, for five minutes a day. Through aches in my fingers, and in spite of all my ideas vanishing right as I picked up my pencil, I followed the prescription. I planted notebooks, pencils and sharpeners around the house, so nothing could get in the way when the compulsion to write struck. At times, when I had nothing to say, I would scribble some variation of, “I am writing this even though I can’t think of anything so that I don’t stop writing until my time is up.”

After a few weeks, I could see a connection forming between my hand and my mind. Where thoughts used to swirl around in my head and go nowhere, now they had an exit route. I developed a pavlovian reaction to search for paper when the marble in my head began to rattle. And, unlike the brevity of notes I took on my phone or computer, I found my handwritten entries getting longer at each session.

The potential was certainly there, but I still had one issue to overcome: I couldn’t read any of it.

Tech to the rescue

I’m a gadget guy. And, I’ve used my affinity toward doodads as a mental hack, tricking my mind to focus on important things I need to do that I have no interest in doing otherwise. Sure, I could vacuum and begrudgingly roll over the carpets while wishing I was doing anything else, but I prefer to get a Roomba, configure it, and whistle while it works.

“Hold on!” I thought one night, staring at my pad and pencil, mustering the strength to start yet another writing session. “Can this trick help solve my aversion to writing? If a pencil and paper is a painful reprise to teenage angst, modernizing my workbench with A.I. apps that digitize hand-written text via an iPad and Apple Pencil is a different beast entirely.”

I can get behind this.

I scoured the app store for apps that could recognize my chicken scratch, while providing the right amount of tech-nerdiness to put a spoonful of sugar into my writing regiment.

I knew I found “the one” with Nebo.

The app perfectly merged modern digital tech with old-school writing and I found myself looking forward to engaging with the experience. I went from being forced to do “morning pages” each day, to feeling like I couldn’t stop journaling, writing or editing my work. What started as a few sentences a day has now blossomed into pages. In fact, this very text is being tapped out on my iPad using my Apple Pencil while laying in bed at 11:14PM with my wife asleep beside me, and I am having trouble stopping.

Whether one considers me a writer or not is unimportant, for I have fallen in love with writing, and with it my story has finally been rewritten.

On the road again – an Homage to Dr. Robert Williams

Tragically, and unexpectedly, Jackie’s father passed away while we were in London in early August. After hearing the news we cancelled our trip and caught the next flights we could back to Virginia; neither of us have posted any updates since. It has been a nightmare to say the least; it’s a phone call you can never be prepared to receive – especially when so far away from home.

I wanted to dedicate this long overdue post to him.

Jackie’s father’s name was Robert Williams … eh hem … Sorry – **DR.** Robert Williams. He was an ex-military, urologist who graduated from West Point and served 27 years in the Army.

Jackie explained this all to me the first time I was to meet him at her family’s house for dinner about 4-years ago. She continued …

“Just so you know my Dad is a former Colonel of the Army. Don’t slouch and be respectful!”

She seemed anxious and was only half kidding. I assume she knew I would be respectful, but I think she wanted to instill a little fear in me so that I would be prepared.

“And whatever you do – don’t call him ‘Mr.’. It’s ‘Dr.”

To this day I still don’t know what she was so concerned about. Dr. Williams was polite, soft spoken, and kind. He was reserved at the dinner table but had a properness about him that spoke volumes. That being said, you could tell straightaway that he didn’t take well to B.S.

After dinner we moved on to a movie and desserts in the family room.  As we were shuffling rooms he found a chance to pull me aside in the kitchen for a brief one-on-one.

“You do know what I did in the military, right? Did Jackie tell you?”

“Yes. A urologist?”

“That’s right. And you know what a urologist does?”

He made a scissor clipping motion with his two fingers and stared me directly in the eyes. I nodded. My forehead wrinkled.

“So if you do anything to hurt my daughter…”

He purposefully left the sentence hanging to allow a dramatic pause to take its effect. I decided to end the silence.

“I understand, sir. I will take care of your daughter. You have nothing to worry about.”

“Just remember what I said.”

I think, for many people, that encounter could be viewed as “aggressive”. Not me. I found it to be a comical way to make a very important point. He didn’t exactly smile when he said it, but I could see in his eyes it was a sincere request with sharp edge he attempted soften. He loved his daughter helplessly and found a simple way to protect her while he wasn’t around: Medical experience and vivid imagery. I could see where Jackie got her prep strategy! Instilling fear via subtle comedy is a powerful mix.

Since then Dr. Williams had been a strong supporter of Jackie and I, and a champion for our love of travel.

Before we left for our “around the world trip” he bought us a Nikon CoolPix Waterproof camera and said:

“This is a once in a lifetime trip and you’ll want to make sure you get great pictures that you can appreciate for the rest of your lives.”

It was a gift from someone who knew what they were doing. We’ve used that camera EVERYWHERE! His only ask in return was that we take pictures of ourselves standing in front of signs wherever we went, and to send them to him. We were looking forward to seeing the result of what he had in mind, likely a picture book of some kind. Sadly it is I gift we will never see. Nevertheless, we will continue to take pictures of ourselves in front of signs from here on out and create a book at the end of our adventure, just as he would have done.

Dr. Williams traveled extensively; he was a wanderluster in his own right. Not only through his tours in the military, but he made a point to bring Jackie and her sisters along with him to see the world as they were growing up. He took them to places like Rome, Paris and London when they were teenagers, and continued the tradition into retirement. Most recently he took Jackie to Hawaii for some father/daughter time in 2014. It was their 5th visit together. She loved it.

He loved to travel vicariously through us. He did so by either tracking our flights, watching a tiny plane move across his computer screen (a tradition we plan to continue with one another), or by asking us to stop in places he had always wanted to visit (or re-visit) and sifting through the pictures and collecting souvenirs we’d send him. We got him tapestries from India of Hindu gods, pictures of architecture indicative of Turkey, and a medallion of Saint Bernadette from Lourdes, France. Hunting for items he requested became a sort of game for the three of us.

It only feels right that after his funeral Jackie and I made a cross country trip to collect his things in Palm Springs to bring them home. By doing so we completed our westward tour all the way around the world, starting and ending in California. We were lucky enough to meet his friends and loved ones while in Palm Springs and hear about all the sides of Dr. Williams that we hadn’t had a chance to know while he was with us.

So many of the people we met that knew him remembered him as I did: reserved at first but a loving, fair, forgiving and respectful person once he became more comfortable with those around him. It was a testament to him that all of his friends were so kind and welcoming to us. We were invited to dinners, to have drinks, see homes and even had a plate of delicious homemade fudge brought to our door (which was one of Dr. William’s favorites). In light of this tragic time I also got  a chance to get closer with Jackie’s family and had the absolute pleasure to spend a great deal of time with one of them in Palm Springs as we packed up the house together. I like to think of that as his final gifts to Jackie and I as a couple.

Now, over a month and a half later we are back in VA and preparing to start our trip up again. This time we will be moving eastward to complete our second revolution. We are re-invigorated to continue not in spite of Jackie’s father’s passing but as an homage to him. To carry on the love he had to see the world. He had dreams to visit us in Scotland where he wanted to visit Dunnottar Castle, a landmark that is part of his family’s heritage. Even though he is gone we will be completing that dream on his behalf within the next few weeks. It will be an emotional experience. We are also eager to visit South Korea by the end of the year, another of the places he was hoping to meet us.

I hadn’t written or posted anything here or FB since he passed because it honestly hasn’t felt right to do so. But now, as I sit here at BWI about to board our plane to Ireland, I can only imagine how happy he would be that we are carrying on. How proud he would be of how strong Jackie has been through the whole process. How excited he would be that we have found the energy to continue our trip, valuing experiences over things as did he.

A farewell to B.B. King

Picture printed on the shirt from the concert
Picture printed on the shirt from the concert

So sad to hear B.B King is gone today. I remember going to a concert with him and (the then teen sensation) Johnny Lang. I even have a shirt from the concert in a drawer at my parents house with this picture printed on it.

I remember Johnny Lang being technically phenomenal (regardless of his age.) He had strong vocals, charisma on stage, and sick solos. After finishing one of his 100+ note solos he looked over to B.B. King to carry the tune. B.B. closed his eyes, shook his head slowly (you could see he felt the music take over his body) and raised his guitar to play. Only one note came out of his guitar when he strummed, but it hit me right in the chest! It was one note against a hundred, but the wisdom and emotion was completely undiluted and intense. I’ll never forget what I felt that night: the power of style.

RIP B.B King.


We got engaged in Fiji. A nice start to our adventure ahead.

Unbeknownst to Jackie I had been lugging around an Engagement ring on the trip. On every flight and customs check I feared a botched security check would force me to expose the ring I was carrying. My concern almost drove me to propose before we left – but we were starting in Fiji and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do it there. Lucky I made it to the hotel with no security checks. When we arrived at the hotel I hid the box in the back of the safe, covered it with the safe’s matting and other nicknacks Jackie would surely avoid.

It was hard finding the right oppertnity to do it. Not only was there a large box I’d have to conceal in my swim shorts, but we never really planned out any of our days and anything could happen. For example, if we went for a random swim I’d be in a tough situation to leave the ring on the beach or take it into the water. I chose neither. So it sat in that safe for 3 days.


Luckily the final day before we left was awesome. After an incredible day visiting an uninhabited island and snorkeling with schools of fish we set off to dinner.  Before we ordered I “forgot something” back in the room and went to get the ring. As I walked back I tried to conceal the massive square box bulging out of my pants pocket and did so quite successful to my surprise. We had an awesome meal and I asked Jackie if she wanted to take a picture on the smaller island connected by a bridge. (I had been mentioning I wanted to do this from day one to decrease any suspicion.)



As we walked across the bridge I once again awkwardly canceled the box bulge and we made our way to a nice spot underneath some lighted palm trees.


I had bought a stand for our camera that allowed me to velcro it around a tree or pole. I looked around for something to strap it to. The ruse was simple, we were on vacation, it was our last night in Fiji and I wanted to set up everything just right to take a great shot of us. It was taking me a while to setup and Jackie began getting a little fidgety. “What’s taking so long?” she said. I was actually setting the camera up to take video and not a picture, but thought the need to set up the camera to take a video of us standing on the island at night would be hard to explain. “Almost got it” I said. I caught Jackie on the video dancing by herself (to no music whatsoever) as she waited for me to finish. It was a nice addition to the reel. Once I was done I walked up, turned her to me and dropped a knee.


She said yes 😉


The question that keeps you up at night IS the sign you’re looking for


Have you ever woken up every morning with the same question burning in your mind? Do you constantly wonder if it’s worth changing paths, environment or career day-in and day-out but continue convincing that part of your mind to quiet down? Do you think you could make a decision to act if  you had a sign, or a clue, or some sort of guidance from someone more experienced than you that could “show you they way?”

About 10 years ago I had those thoughts swirling in my head. I had a good, secure well-paying job and a bright future. Though, for some odd reason, I woke up constantly with those questions burning inside me day-to-day and week-to-week.  “Why can’t I just be content with what I have?”, I would ask myself. “What’s wrong with me?!”

I convinced myself changing paths would be a form of quitting – and I was no quitter. Some friends would explain to me how “life is hard. No one likes what they do. Everyone has those questions – it’s normal, but you keep working until you get over them. Eventually they go away. Anywhere you go you’ll ask the same thing. Everywhere in the world is the same. You’re just running from your problems. Deal with it.”

It sounded like mature advice to me so I tried to overcome the doubts and concerns I had about my current path. Unfortunately, letting go of the questions turned out to be pretty impossible.

I got it in my head that I wanted more, something different, something challenging and I couldn’t kill that thought. I wanted to move to SF and be part of the startup community. I wanted to create things people used. I wanted to meet others that created the things I loved to use. Friends on the other side of the advice fence validated those thoughts telling me “it would be a great fit. Quit what you’re doing now and just go!”

How could I decide which piece of advice was right? Both had their merits and both came with a fair share of doubts. Growing as a person by learning to be content didn’t really feel like a great life-goal and quitting to follow a curiosity seemed irresponsible. As Kenny Rogers would say, “You’ve got to know when to hold them, know when to fold them” but how do you know when that is?! Why didn’t Kenny answer his song’s question?!

Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 1.38.45 AM

As my freshly shaven cheek chafed against my frosted collar while walking to work on a frigid winter day in DC I decided enough was enough. If there isn’t a clear logical answer to stay or go then I would break the tie on weather. I don’t care if it’s right or wrong – I was going to make the move. I was done with the cold. I quit my job, got on a plane and flew to a city that I had never seen with no work waiting for me on the other side. When what I’d done truly sank in at 30K ft I went to the bathroom and threw up.

Of course, I will never be happier that I came. Without a doubt, it was the best decision I’ve ever made. I realized this as I was walking home from my first job at a cool new startup in SF. I paused to catch the sunset of a spectacular view from the street, groceries in hand, when it hit me – I hadn’t had a sleepless question-filled-night or pensive morning in – well, since I arrived.  Sure the process was scary, but the questions were gone. I still had tons of work to do and was working extremely hard, but, now, I had an open mind to do it. Life felt right again.

It was important to me to try and distill a lesson from this experience so I would never have to go through that period of agonizing unknowns again. After all, staying back in DC could have been the right answer too. Sometimes you are running from problems and need to face them in order to grow. On the other hand, it’s important to follow your dreams; life is short. So, do I know now how to make the right decision again when the time comes? What did I learn from all this?

The answer IS the question.

Yeah. It really is that simple. No, the “answer” isn’t any old “question.” It’s the questions that burn inside you. The ones that wake you up and put you to bed. The ones that you debate between constantly and ask advice for every chance you get. The ones spawned out of an interest to learn something different. Those are the questions I’m talking about. Those are the question that MUST be answered. They are answered through creating your own experiences.

Well, what if I follow that logic and I’m wrong?

That’s the beauty of these gut-wrenching questions. As I learned, even if I was wrong,  the questions I had went away – they got answered. My mind was free and a freer mind can do so much more than a plagued one. So, you see – it’s a win/win. Either be half the person you are because you are preoccupied mentally every day with a burning question or be half the person you are because you made a bad decision. Only attempting the latter will leave you net-positive with no more questions and an ability to work towards living fully and clearly once again.

The mission to create space in your mind for thoughts to grow is paramount to moving forward positively in life. It is accomplished by oscillating back and forth between curiosity and answers. I realized there is a version of life that does not have the burning question running through my head every day (that was the fallacy in some of the advice I got early on.) Yes, life has its challenges and problems and it is important to work through them, BUT it’s a waste of life to circle around the same question. It deprives your mind of answers it needs to free up space so it can grow and more forward.

What do I tell those that ask me what to do next when they have a difficult question burning in their minds and causing tons of stress? I say the question IS the answer. Your body is your sign. Whether you are wrong or right it is important to know if you are indeed wrong or right. That knowledge is the catalyst that sets off the ability to ask and answer even more important questions, building answers upon one another to form clarity. Finding that answer clears the mind for more to fill.

Why am I writing this story almost a decade after it happened? Sadly, it happened to me again this past year. I’ve given this advice to so many people looking for direction yet I lost sight of it myself when the questions began to form in my mind again. It grew so subtly over time. This time, I made the excuse that it was different since I was older. That this time there was more to lose. And, yes, the concept of not being a quitter became more of a focus than learning, growing, exploring and building. I am writing it because I was wrong again and this is a message to me as much as it is to you. Your deepest hardest questions are only asked when your mind knows that it needs to find an answer. Your questions ARE the answer.




Sean Shadmand Presents for NewCo’s Yahoo Content Series

Last year we really enjoyed opening our office up to OpenCo and revealing how we think and work as well as how we see technology transforming the world we live in. We ended with a look at “2023” and what all that may mean over the next decade. This year, after we were asked to present again under the new NewCo brand we took a different approach. In our talk today we hosted a thought experiment, taking a philosophical journey into what is content, how we know the difference between good and bad content, and how we can use that information to create the next set of products (or just appreciate the ones that come out a bit more.)

A talk about content in only one form of t would be sadly ironic. So, if you missed it we recorded and are presenting a few forms of the talk for ya.


I used this snazzy little tool that records voice on my iPhone and syncs the slides as a remote while giving a preso. Check out the tool at or the final resulting “talking slides” at



Slide Notes

(Min 14:00 in Slides Above)

This year for NewCos new track named Yahoo’s content series we’ll take a different approach and start off by asking a more fundamental (seemingly obvious) question.

What is content?
For the most part we know it when we see it. It’s the substance or material we deal with in a speech, images, tweets, or memes. It can look like this [Essay], or content can look like this [Donald Trump tweet].

As we have access to more and more content in our daily lives the question that becomes more and more important to viewers is whether this content is worse or better than the previous one? Many will say the latter is awful, yet we read content like this in droves everyday. Why?
Let’s upgrade the question a bit and ask:

What is good content?

That’s a pretty tough question to answer but an important one too. As more and more innovative products come out we can get caught up in critiquing or dismissing one from the next. One super popular dismissal is the “I don’t care about you eating waffles on Twitter – I hate twitter it’s just noise”. When we take this point of view we can miss out on some amazing developments in our culture not to mention some amazing opportunities that come from that level of access.
Fair warning this discussion is gonna get philosophical. We’ll keep diving deeper into questions like that around content.

I know – we all love a presentations structure that involves action items, best practices or check lists ready to go by the time we leave.

Sometimes though it’s important to step back before you ask, or answer, a deeper question. After all the concept of “good” and “bad” is one of the oldest philosophical conundrums in existence. Furthermore is it even the right question to ask at all? Let’s see what we discover…

So let’s get dirty and start our philosophical journey by restructuring a very – very old question:

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it does it make a sound?

We may be quick to answer: “of course it makes a sound. I’ve heard a tree fall and heard its sound – my presence is not required.”
But the question’s more of a thought experiment than anything else. What makes the question interesting isn’t the science of sound but the philosophy behind observation and reality of what sound is without an observer. Thought experiments like that can uncover new questions that may live beneath the surface that are able to more directly answer more monumental questions.

So let’s use our time together to dive into a thought experiment around content and see where we end up

If information is created but is never shared for others to see it is it still content?

I mean if content can stand on its own without the communication aspect…
Would you say then that all the hundreds or thousands of ideas and thoughts locked in our heads are actually hundreds or thousands of pieces of content then? Maybe.
Or maybe content is so inextricably tied to sharing that the two can’t maintain the definition on their own.

Hmmm.. Okay…if that’s the case then what side is more important in determining goodness? How well it’s distributed OR how well it’s formed and presented?
On one hand can we determine how good or bad content is if no one ever sees it? And, on the other hand, how worthwhile is content that everyone sees if it’s not useful or actionable? Content is more than text, sound, or an image in and of itself. In its most basic form it’s a projection of our thoughts that we thrust out into the world. As Maslov would probably put it: it’s a basic human need that makes us social and allows us to self-actualize.
If Descartes was alive today he may devise a whole new Cogito (“I think therefor I am”) to “I Share Therefore I am.”

We always hear there are no good or bad questions. And we are all unique – all our thoughts are important reflections of ourselves (which you may realize after thousands of dollars of therapy.) So why are we so driven to deem content good or bad if it is fundamentally a projection of self? Hmmmm… Interesting but I don’t think we’ve dived deep enough yet to form an answer… Let’s take another dive…
Let’s deconstruct content even further and ask

WHY is content?

(Min 23:00 in Slides Above)

(not a well formed sentence I know but you get the idea.)
Content is a transferring of our minds and being into an everlasting form.

It gives us eternal life and has so for thousands of years. In that regard it is one of the most advanced technologies ever created in the world. Our short finite lives are made infinite!

As the acronym YOLO so eloquently states, “You only live once” – but with the entire world filled with all these projected minds in the form of content we can live many lives vicariously through others.
If those concept are too abstract for your fancy and you’re more of the practical type then let’s frame it this way: Content gets stuff done more quickly. The faster we communicate the faster we can act between us.
I give you information locked in my head – you give your version back to me –
and like DNA all our contributions result in a greater overall result that may have taken ages had we attempted to think through it all on our own.
So with that I present my first thesis: The figuring out how to label content as good or bad comes from entirely the wrong place. The real question should be how do we use THIS content or THAT content? Where can we put each bit of content to allow our thoughts a chance to live in the open so that anyone can get the value from it if they so choose?
Content is simply a medium we use at the moments we have thoughts to overcome our inability to be able to be inside one another’s head.

The real endeavor is to cut out the middleman completely and just exchange thoughts. And until we can do that our goal is to shorten the time it takes to transfer our emotions, ideas, and – our lives – as much as possible. Ultimate efficiency, eternal life, and dare I say maybe even peace will be achieved in that final move. It won’t be about us dealing with good and bad content it will be about us accepting all thoughts as a chance to achieve those ultimate goals.

If you appreciate the reality that a single mind is the ultimate goal then it will give way to clues to foresee what product, or content society will embrace next. I’m not saying we will achieve singularity tomorrow,
nor am I here to rally everyone to start making change so we do something – because it is inevitable whether you like it or not. I am here to help add to a map on how and why content exists so we can navigate what comes our way, or create useful products along the way.

The real problem we are attempting to solve in almost all products created today is: how do we decrease the inefficiency impeding us from what can be called a mind meld. Each new product attempts to close that time-gap from one persons mind and emotion to the next.

Still not convinced that is the ultimate direction?– lets take a break from the abstract and look at our known history for validation…
In the beginning it was the lack of the written word, passing down information through story. It got the job done but it could take a lifetime or more for anyone to have a chance to see ones work or hear ones thoughts in order to make use of them. It was also super lossy – changing with each storyteller and generation. The written word helped us set those words in stone so although interpretation was still at play the base from which we worked was identical to those that could read the original. Unfortunately there was only one original so it still took a while to get it circulating and – you break, you buy.
Then, boom, the creation of the printing press! Anyone with an idea could have a shot of distributing their thoughts in ones lifetime – rich or poor, academically educated or not –– well, as long as you could read or had someone that could read to you. An example of how powerful an easily copied text can be is seen in the 1500s when the Christian world’s perception of their religion was altered because of a German Friar named Martin Luther and the content he shared. Powerful yes,

but it still took 2 YEARS for his thoughts to circulate in his community. Could you imagine waiting 2 years for your questions or ideas to be circulated?

How frustrating for us to imagine?! At that time not only did communication work on a schedule like that but the perception was that not everyone needed to read or share content in the first place because the common folk were too dumb to make use of it. What value could they bring to the table?

We look back then and see a travesty around the freedom of information – but does our generation think all that differently? When we created AppMakr the same objections came up – “not everyone needs an app.”

The prediction was we would maybe make 4 apps a month. In our first day we had requests to make thousands. Against all doubt we knew that it has always been true that the power of distributing content should be given to the people “good” or “bad” – it was our guiding principle. … But I’m jumping ahead …

We’ve seen the drive to democratize content and speed its ability to be distributed for hundreds of years since the printing press.

Getting our thoughts out to the world in years
to weeks, to seconds with radio and TV. But then a problem still remained – instant is great but everyone should have a voice and the access to hear it – not just the privileged – we still wanted more.
And so the Internet was born: Instant transfer of anyone’s thoughts to anyone willing to access it. It was given the perfect term: “getting connected.” And our path to do so continued.

From dial up to Wi-Fi, from PC to laptop, from Laptop to phone. We are decreasing the time it takes for each of our thoughts to get out there.

The iPhone was also thought of as a fad by critiques after its release – for years large corporations wondered how they succeeded. Many missed that its main achievement was to further decrease the time and complexity it takes for us to create, share, and ingest content from anyone saying anything more instantly.

Whether it’s a lifetime to years or 3 seconds to 1 second. If you can decrease the time it takes to get ANYONES mind into the open you are on to something.

Of course we all hear the call to arms that everything is so different now, and bad, and chaotic – we are so much worst and impatient than in the past! I offer a different perspective, things are only different in the tools we use but our yearning and desires are exactly the same: “Hear me!”
Or, may I please have access to what is going out there.
Our heads are no more immersed in that desire today.
Than it has been in generations before us. We are just able to achieve those goals more practically.
Data has always been thrust upon us.

We are simply trying to make it ALL more manageable from one person to the next.

What we’re driving towards is a moment where my thoughts are yours in the same moment. Think of the frustration you’ve ever felt when you just wanted someone to understand what you were trying to convey but left only with words and gestures and maybe a white board. How awfully inefficient it is! Just get in my head for a second so we can move on! The channels we’ve seen are just manifestations of that desire we have. It’s still far away but that IS the direction we’re headed and have been headed since the word “I”.

Anything that shortens that gap for ANYONE to get ANYTHING to ANYONE ELSE is following that trajectory and delivering goodness.

Is it asking too much? Are we really so much more impatient than the past?

Why is a month too long to wait but a minute juuuuust short enough?

What is it compared to?

Cutting the time in half is cutting time in half when you move forward – period. And it will always take twice as long as it does now to those looking back. It’s not time thats a problem – time is relative. 

All content that is caged is bad content because it doesn’t have the chance to allow someone to try and make their mark, live vicariously through shared story, or help them self-actualize. Sure with this digital tool there’s great power, fear and concern in how we will handle it all but it’s not about getting rid of some of it based on it being good or bad. Content is a tool to convey our thoughts – and we have all kinds of them that seem like garbage or gold from one person to the next.
It’s the difference between this
and this. Same tool different purpose
This is a knife
and so is this. And there are tons others out there. More and more a minute with a better edge or handle or metal or balance. They’re the channels we use to express ourselves with one another more quickly.
We connect in less time by decreasing the physical distance between us and our technology.
We connect with less clicks or gestures.
And yes sometimes that stream of consciousness means we trade breadth of connection about something trivial and seemingly painful to read
for accuracy and depth of critical information that is otherwise caged. Never the less, in both instances we are connecting more effectively. Believe me when we do end up truly “connecting” our thoughts it will be scarier and far noisier than today but innovators will be propelled to figure out how to appreciate and allow for that connection to build from – not work on tearing them down. And each passing generation will have a higher bandwidth they can handle than the last.

So. Maybe it’s not about whether the content is good or bad quality, heck maybe it’s not even about how much it gets shared –

maybe it’s always been purely about how many people are connected and how quickly they can achieve that connection.

Content and sharing are the two fundamental ways we are able to do it today – they are the means to the ends. They are our rocks, and knives, and arrows for lack of any other available means. But they themselves is not the goal. So, maybe good content could be defined as ANY-THING that connects ANY-ONE in less time or complexity then what is currently out there.
From stones
to books
to TV still lacking the option to connect or comment
To the websites and blogs where interaction intertwined itself with the content being shared.

Once communication and distribution became instant we shifted our strategy to decrease the time-gap between exchanges by limiting the amount of content exchanged when conveying a thought in the first place.
Those thoughts, emotions and ideas were created and deployed more quickly and frequently with statuses, and 140 letter max tweets – a real stream of consciousness was born. And that consciousness was further fed with the ability to post even if you weren’t by a computer.
So who are we to judge even shorter content still?

The end goal is about getting a feeling, thought and/or emotion to whom ever you want or as many people as you want with the least amount of friction.

So why is Yo so surprising?

Less characters and a quick intuitive interface has created a quicker connection between people. In first principles we aren’t searching for depth in substance – we are searching for a mind meld.
With 2 clicks I can convey “yo I’m thinking of you”, or
YO “I’m in town” – if the message is received and the minds are linked then it is content and it is valuable and it is good.
Yes, there is beauty in the creation process and that shouldn’t be forgotten, but let’s also recognize that the PROCESS was originally created to convey the idea with the tools available at the time. Losing site of one is as destructive as the other. The art comes from the need and some of our needs are satisfied within the art.
Which could be why memes are so powerful. Quick, efficient, creatively assembled, instantly connecting complex an otherwise tough to describe moment of humor or feelings with others through a shared experience we can relate to.
We can have taken the concept of video and trimmed it to its essence in a 5 second clip.

if you are afraid to share because to many people will see it then
a product removes that barrier so your security can be guaranteed with ephemeral storage.
We want to be closer still and our tools are extensions of that. Now we are cutting out the middleman entirely (pun intended) and letting our body do the communicating for us – instantly.

It’s amazing – in the pursuit of closing the time-gap between us we’ve managed to jumped right over our stream of consciousness and found a way to release what our body is saying even before our consciousness realizes it; a whole new level of getting connected.

So I that I think our thought experiment has yielded a conclusion for the question on what is good content:


So if nothing else keep that in mind when you see the next best thing and wonder why.


Thank you for keeping an open mind.


We used the Google On Air tool (basically Google Hangouts but for public live streams that are also automatically uploaded to Youtube when the broadcast ends.) This is my 3rd attempt to use On Air in some live stream capacity and it finally worked well! The trick was setting up a second computer than from my own with more memory. Long story short, here is the presentation using that product:


On Air Event Page:

The 6 Books That Shaped How I Think and Work

Getting to Yes
The first biz related book I read as a child. I learned early on that negotiating wasn’t just an art of cleverly persuading your counterpart  to yield to your will (which I believe many old and young try to do) but instead it taught me the notion around doing your best to find a situation that benefits both sides of the fence. This book is also filled with tactics and lessons that give you a whole new perspective on what is really happening when a buyer and a seller meet and a tool belt too.
The Dip
The first startup book I read almost a decade ago. It is a short book but a frank and honest one too. The dip sets a tone and map for what’s in store when creating a startup. I remember when I ended up facing a dip or two  along the way there was comfort in knowing that the rollercoaster ride was just a necessary step in a path towards…?
Five Temptations of a CEO
This book was suggested to me by the (former?) CTO of Zynga. Unlike most business books that are bullet point lessons and biographies this one is written as a fictional story of a man that has the conversation of a lifetime with a stranger on the subway. Often times when making harsh and rash decisions about setting expectations with employees, or when trying to manage my emotions or ego, memories of this book are triggered. It has helped me more than once find my way back to center.
Made to Stick
Fantastic book for those of us that didn’t come from a marketing background (although I am sure it is valuable to those that did too.) Often when I write letters, blogs, taglines or give presentations I use the lessons from this book to get a feel for whether or not it will “stick” with my audience and use some tactics to drive a message home.
By the time I read this book  I had already learned many of its concepts through my own trial and error. Nevertheless it made my top 6 list because of how well it articulated those learnings. Reading this book is like sharpening your knives if you know the lessons of a startup already or it is a great set of building blocks to work from if not.

Stumbling on Happiness
Boy did I love this book. It was given to me by my good friend Daniel and it was probably the fastest book I ever read. Dan Gilbert combines psychology, philosophy, history, and science beautifully to give a candid and thought provoking look at what happiness really means and why is it so different for everyone. I find myself referring to the lessons in this book quite often around relative happiness, how our imagination can be terribly misleading – but being aware is a big help!
Other books of note:
The Fountain Head: A controversial book that seems to be either hated or loved. Which ever side you chose to be on I would be surprised if it was not called powerful. You don’t have to believe in the writers philosophy benefit from a perspective into  the power of ideals, confidence, and certainty in oneself.
Thinking fast and slow: A large dry read at times but making it through was worth it. I learned a lot about how great and poor the mind can be all at once. I learned not only to be more cautious with my assumptions  but a sense for where that cautions is needed more and why letting go can be a powerful tool as well.
Freakenomics: To see the world through the eyes of an economist is a gift. Thinking in terms of noise reduction, drawing data from samples and parallels and using statistics to prove how powerfully wrong our assumptions can be was thoroughly entertaining the whole way through.
The tipping point: I didn’t fall in love with this book like others but it definitely deserve a read for its historical observations around business that have succeeded and failed and the factors and people that contributed to them.
 4 hour work week: I hold the lesson passed down in this book around work/life balance with me. I truly believe that we should be working to make less work and using that reduction as a badge of honor instead of the more classic concept that more hours equal a better output.
Hard things about hard things: A glimpse into the mind and life of a entrepenuer that almost lost it all on more than one occasion and the lessons he learned about running a company are packaged up nicely for us to lern from with far  less scars

Erec Makes A Fire: A Children’s Book About Entrepreneurism

Erec Makes a Fire was successfully funded on Kickstarter! Thanks for all your support.

What is the book about?

Erec Makes a Fire is a story of how a group of kids stumble upon a cave covered in ancient writings depicting the story of how a unique young cave boy (Erec) accidentally created his first great invention, fire. The story shows how, even in the simplest of times, one is able to form a business, sell a product, and create a success. The book is written to subtly embed one of the most fundamental parts of business in a child’s mind: leveraging an opportunity when finding demand in your community and providing a supply for it. Even before cash, computers, technology, LLC formation or business entities, business and entrepreneurs thrived through observation and invention,  and they still do so today. This story helps teach youngsters, and remind their parents, that entrepreneurism is all around us and to keep an eye out for one’s own personal “fire” opportunity.

Why did I write the book?

As a person who loves the world of entrepreneurism, I also love telling a story about how anyone can turn a will or idea into a business. I have enjoyed telling that story, and giving tips on how to do it best, for a number of years through various mediums such as interviews in print, in person, and on TV. Now that more and more of my close friends are having kids I want to share that passion and story through a form that their kids can benefit from. I noticed there wasn’t much out there in the world of children’s books that took business concepts and simplified them into stories kids could love, as well as learn from. So, what else was I to do as an entrepreneur but to fill that void. Erec Makes a Fire is the first in a hopeful series of books that builds a foundation of business mindedness in our children.

Beliefs that inspired

Two major beliefs of mine contributed greatly to the creation of this story: First, immersion is a great key to early developmental learning, and secondly, kids are extremely capable of learning and understanding complex concepts early on, especially when it is told through story and analogy.
In regards to immersion, I believe that even if a child does not understand a concept introduced to them directly, being surrounded by that concept will help them become more comfortable with the subject matter as they mature. This makes the principles taught far less foreign to them, and therefore more easily consumed when they grow up, as compared to those learning the same concepts for the first time later in life.

I also believe that children can grasp complex concepts, like supply and demand or finance, far earlier in their lives than is generally taught today. I have always been amazed at how kids pick up core concepts so deeply. Yet, adults at times “protect them” from complicated concepts for worry of it going over their heads. Supply and demand can have complexities within – yes, but the basics are – well – basic and building stories around those concepts can most definitely be consumed by children. Look how well they understand other stories we give them, like ones around “how to share”, a concept that I find many adults still struggling to grasp. I remember sitting with adults during dinners as a kid while they talked to one another about their businesses around me. Over time and many family diners a grew more familiar with many of the things they talked about while still being a child. Although I was unable to articulate my perspectives on the subjects at the time I mades notes to remind myself that one day, when I got older, I would remember this: kids get more than you think.

Sticker Collection Available Through KickStarter

Erec Makes a Fire is a new kind of children’s book that immerses young people in concepts they should be given the chance to understand early in life so that they can have a foundation for understanding it more deeply as they grow up. As such the company under which the book is created is called “Small People. Big Ideas. LLC”

How and When Can I get it?

The first few copies will be made available as gifted items through a fundraising drive on KickStarter. I have my initial proofs and prototypes complete. Based on how much I can raise through KickStarter I am shooting to making it available by the spring of 2015. There will be special gifts given out through KickStarter in addition to the books themselves to make things more interesting, such as: signed copies; custom printed copies; packages including digital, print  version and stickers; as well as custom designs where our artist injects a characterization of your child  into a character in the book! Books will be made available through softcovers, hardcovers, and ebooks.

About Kick Starter:

KickStarter is a crowd funding platform that allows projects to get funded before they start. It is a great way to start a business or project and works perfectly with the Erec Makes A Fire book as the funds are only released if the book gets enough demand. The simplest way to think of KickStarter is this: think of those PBS drives on TV, the “If you pledge more than $50 you get this free tote bag” type of promotions. For a project like mine my gift will be an early copy of the book and other creative unique offers mentioned above that only funders will be able to receive. You can read more about KickStarter here: 

Erg: Erec's first customer as a Sticker
Erg: Erec’s first customer as a Sticker

Why Did you Spell “Erec” with an “e” instead of an “i” ?

The names of the book are witten with some historical significance in mind. Homo Erectus and Homo Ergaster are the scientific names for the two homonids believed to be around during the time period fire was discovered. So, the characters names in the book take each half of each of those names: Erec, and his friend Tus are the first two characters introduced. Followed by his first two customers Erg and Aster. Just in case though, we made sure Eric Makes a Fire works too 😉

Slides of Creative Process

Original Idea Draft
Original Idea Draft

Draft Rewrites
Draft Rewrites

Preliminary Sketches and Character Development
Preliminary Sketches and Character Development

Backdrop Scene Development Sketches
Backdrop Scene Development Sketches

Story Board Final Sketches
Story Board Final Sketches

Final Sketches Converted to Digital
Final Sketches Converted to Digital

Final Layout Colored for Publishing
Final Layout Colored for Publishing

Printed Proofed Books

Sticker (kids) Proofs
Sticker (kids) Proofs

Get in to the cheering section and like us at, and subscribe to email updates as we neat the big release here (!

Long Lost Bucket List

I was going through some old Google docs of mine and came across a bucket list a wrote in 2008. Haha, I can even remember writing it. It was after I saw Ted Leonsis speak about what he has learned and accomplished in his life, and how his bucket list helped in decide to do the things he did. In his words [paraphrased]:

“[when the oppertuity came to produce a movie at first it was a hard descision, but looking back at my bucket list, and seeing it on their, reminded me to take the oppertunity I was given before I die]”

It felt much like finding a time capsule, and one that I forgot I even placed. With so much having happened in the last 4 years, and so much happening in the last week, it offered a pretty perspective on things. As I read through the message in a bottle sent to me by my former self, I was excited to be able to cross of a couple items on the list, and dissapointed at the vast majority of things I could not.

I really encourage those out there to mak a bucket list. It offers perspective into you life as yo find yourself focusing on so manythings over the years. It helps bring you back to a core goal, or reminds you of one you may have forgotten.

From a more technological perspective (I can’t help it, I am a technologist after all,) I encourage you to write it in google docs. I was not obly able to easily find this old list, but since Google Docs are live docs I can see the revision history of the document over time. I can imagine how interesting it will be to check out the changes, and additions I make to this list over the next 20 years.

While looking for bucket list-esque pictures for this post on the web I stumbled onto this site ( that helps people share their bucket list publicly.