Category Archives: Growing up

The Pivot

Way back when in 1995, I was working at ABC Sports as their VP of Marketing. My job entailed meeting with advertisers and constructing packages of media and on-site benefits. We’d collaboratively design in-program elements, popularly known then as “enhancements”, to capitalize on the marketers’ involvement with a sport or an event. These things all took place on-air or on-site. The other big “on” – online – didn’t exist.

One day the president of ABC Sports walked into my office and asked me if I knew anything about computers. As a user of AOL, Prodigy, Compuserve and other early services, I replied that I did. He informed me that I was in charge and was to attend a meeting. ABC corporate had made a deal with this little start-up of under a million users called America OnLine and I was now to provide sports programming on behalf of ABC.

That was my pivot into digital. I didn’t realize it at the time, but saying “yes” to my boss’ question and being willing to take on some new, different responsibility had changed my life forever. None of us knew at the time that digital was going to disrupt the television business. We certainly didn’t think of it as anything other than an interesting sideline. But we began to see a little money coming in based on what we were doing, and once in a while, I could add some online stuff to the broad package of rights and benefits I was offering in my “real” job. Less than 5 years later, my job had become fully centered on digital, as I was now running a division of the NHL that didn’t even exist when I entered the digital world.

Being willing to pivot is a critical thing. Many businesses would be long gone if they were unwilling to do so. Foursquare, for example, pivoted their business from a consumer product to a B2B product, providing “location intelligence” to marketers. 90% of their revenue comes from that change. YouTube started as a video dating site. Nokia was a paper company. Twitter was a podcasting network. None of those businesses would be as successful, or maybe even exist, if they hadn’t been willing to shift their business paradigm and pivot.

I’d love to tell you that I saw the digital tsunami coming and got out in front of it on purpose but that would be a lie. I was lucky enough to ride the wave once it did show up because in my mind we were just doing what we’d always done – making great content and deriving value from the attention users gave it – albeit through a very different channel. The pivot was allowing my mind to be open enough to make that connection and to take the risk that it would be a rewarding road. Is your mind open to things like that?

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Filed under digital media, Growing up, Reality checks, sports business

Bilkies And Bunnies

Handmade shmura matzo

Image via Wikipedia

It’s Foodie Friday, and this year I’ve decided to repost something from a Foodie Friday in 2009. Originally titled “Jewish Thanksgiving,” I’m putting it back up because many of you are new readers since 2009 and because my family is gathering this evening to celebrate. That means I’m busy making bilkies. Making what? Read on!

This week’s Foodie Fun Friday post is dedicated to all of you who won’t be using the bathroom for the next week.  You know who you are.  But the gentiles out there are wondering “what could he possibly mean?  What could possibly stop someone up that badly?”  Well, dear readers, Passover started Wednesday night and by now, most Jewish homes have had two Seders. With those Seders goes matzo and when we say hello to the matzo, we say “buh-bye” to regularity.

As some of you know, my view is that most Jewish holidays can be summarized thusly:

Someone tried to kill all the Jews;
The Lord saved us;
Let’s eat.

Passover typifies this more than any other holiday. It’s really Jewish thanksgiving with brisket substituted for turkey and various other beige and brown foods substituting for the rest. Passover is a great culinary challenge on many levels.  Think about how often you use breadcrumbs or cornstarch when you cook and you’ll begin to understand.  Sure, matzo meal and potato starch are substitutes but they change the flavor, consistency, and appearance of the food in which they’re used.  Oy!

One dish that’s made in our family is something I’ve not seen elsewhere.  We call it a “bilkie or bilky” – not sure of the spelling.  It’s sort of a knish without the outside.  One cooks down some onions in schmaltz (don’t ask – these are really delicious and really not healthy) and adds them to mashed potatoes.  Some more schmaltz, matzo meal, and some eggs to bind.  Then one forms patties, glazes them with egg wash, and bakes them at 500 degrees until brown.  I usually make a few dozen of these and there are NEVER any left – my relatives put what they don’t eat in their purses, which isn’t easy since they’re the approximate size and weight of a compact car hubcap.   I’d love to know if any of you have ever heard of anything similar?

I love this holiday and love that it coincides with Easter.  Everyone has a reason to eat even if we can’t exactly share a lot of the desserts.  And in a week when we go back to eating as we regularly do, we all hope that the rest of us becomes as regular as our eating habits.   On to Memorial Day, the next great pig-out!

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Filed under food, Growing up, What's Going On

Dreaming Again

I’ve posted what follows each year for the last few on the days we celebrated the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King. This was written in January of 2009 as we prepared to put President Obama into office. Last year I expressed my disappointment that we hadn’t come further over the last few years, given the election of our first African-American President. Like many, I’m doing my best to remain hopeful for the immediate future, despite some troubling incidents. But we keep dreaming, right?

Dr. Martin Luther King at a press conference.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week was actually Dr. King‘s birthday but since we’re celebrating it today I thought I’d add my two cents. I’m old enough to remember him and while he didn’t light the fire of the civil rights movement in the US (I’d say Rosa Parks is that hero), he certainly brought the fire to life and tended it well until his assassination (and I remember that as well – how horrible a day it was!).

What inspired me, a young (then) white kid was his notion of bringing a dream to reality. OK, the words and delivery were pretty inspirational too, even when you read them off a page. Yesterday the Inauguration Committee had a concert on the very place where Dr. King gave his “I Have A Dream” speech to celebrate, nearly 46 years later, a big piece of that speech coming to reality. One can’t help but wonder what Dr.King would have felt and said – he certainly should still be alive – he’d just be turning 80.

Robert Kennedy said “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why… I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”  I think that’s great business advice as well, even if George Bernard Shaw had the notion before Bobby.  Mark Twain wrote that Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

So today, I celebrate Dr. King’s dreaming of a better world and making it happen.  Tomorrow, we can watch it become real.  What are you dreaming of?  Can it be real?  Why not?  Or better – why not!!

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Ali And Me

The passing of Muhammad Ali happened over the weekend. Another one of my boyhood idols gone, except this one was also a hero well into my later years. Those of you who know me in the offline world know that I’m rarely speechless but when I met Ali for the first time I found myself unable to utter even a single word for a few minutes. I was working at ABC Sports at the time and we had done a deal with Ali to license his name to a clothing line. He came to the office and the photo you see is the one he signed for me. I can still feel the man’s overwhelming aura.

Like most young sports fans of the late 60’s and early 70’s, I grew up watching Ali fight on free TV. I also watched as he stood up for his beliefs even at the expense of his career. We can argue about the Vietnam war or Ali’s commitment to nonviolence (odd for a boxer, perhaps) but there is no arguing about the man’s deeply held beliefs and his influence on society. The man was an artist in every sense and his legacy can be seen in nearly every modern athlete’s training and swagger.

I met Ali for the second time a few years later when I was at CBS Sports. Ali decided he wanted to come to the Final Four and even though he was now very visibly suffering from Parkinson’s, the brightness in his eyes hadn’t dimmed a bit. He hadn’t fought in a very long time and yet walking him through the dome where the games were taking place was like walking with Moses through the Red Sea. The crowd parted as “Ali, Ali” was whispered everywhere. I have walked through crowds with many other famous people.  No response was anything like the palpable adoration I felt the people had for Ali that evening.

Others have written about his influence on society as well as the large number of humanitarian acts he performed. I’d just like to add two things – what he taught me and what I think any business can learn from him. I learned when it’s wrong to keep quiet from him. Ali risked his name and his freedom to do what he felt was the right thing.  When he was vindicated, he continued his career but also continued to speak out and to do good works, not letting the adversity which had robbed him of the prime of his career to diminish his drive to be the best both in the ring and outside of it.  The final struggle of his life, Parkinson’s, which lasted for the last three decades also didn’t diminish his presence in the world nor his desire to help his fellow-man.

How many of us in business think the way Ali did?  How many of us speak up when we see wrongdoing?  How many of us use the bully pulpit of our business to change the world in a positive way for all of humanity and not just for our shareholders?  I’m quite aware that we have a responsibility to those shareholders but we also have a responsibility to our planet and the people who inhabit it, don’t we?   Maybe Ali’s memory can serve to inspire us to fulfill that responsibility.  He was the best in his business, winning the heavyweight title three times, but he was also the best in so many other ways.

Thanks, Champ.  You’ll be missed.

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Crappy jobs

One summer when I was in college I found myself without gainful employment. I had spent many other summers as a camp counselor but I had decided not to spend 8 weeks locked in a bunk with a slew of six-year-olds and hadn’t really found anything to do that didn’t require an investment of cash (like an ice cream truck route). All the “good” jobs were taken, and while a buddy and I were offering our services out to paint houses, I really needed to do something to generate cash. That’s how I ended up with a crappy job for which I am still thankful.

My crappy job involved going door to door selling encyclopedias. I’m not kidding. For the younger readers out there, printed encyclopedias were pretty popular (think analog Wikipedia) nearly half a century ago. Every day I would drive my car into some neighborhood and walk the streets knocking on doors. The case I carried was not light, even to my younger, in-shape self. I got rejected nearly every time, at least when someone was nice enough to actually open the door, hear my spiel, and not threaten me with a dog. I also made a few bucks in the process, but calling it a crappy job is an understatement.

I learned a tremendous amount from my crappy job. First and foremost, I learned patience and what is commonly called sticktoitiveness.  I didn’t quit; well, at least not until my painting partner convinced someone to let us paint their house, which was 8 weeks into the summer.  I learned cold-calling and how to qualify leads.  I learned not to fear speaking to strangers. I learned that, just as is baseball, it’s possible to fail 6 times out of 10 and still be an all-star. Most importantly, I gained perspective.  Nearly any other job seemed great by comparison, and I could mentally return to knocking on doors any time things got bad at some subsequent job.

Many years later, “tell me about the worst job you ever had” became one of my standard interview questions.  I looked for people who had a crappy job at some point and we always talked about why it sucked and what they learned. I always leaned toward candidates who had done the worst jobs.

What crappy job have you had? How did it change you?

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Filed under Growing up, Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

Making The Dream A Reality

This was the post I wrote in 2009 on Dr. King’s birthday, which we celebrate today.  It’s interesting how over the last 7 years much of what I was feeling at the time about the possibilities that were presenting themselves have yet to become a reality.  In some ways, we’ve gone backward despite some of the progress.  I’m not sure race relations in this country are at the place I recall back in the 60’s but it’s good to have a day dedicated to the man that moved us all forward so we can reflect on the topic.  The business point in the post hasn’t changed – some things, such as Dr. King’s message – are eternal.

Last week was actually Dr. King‘s birthday but since we’re celebrating it today I thought I’d add my two cents. I’m old enough to remember him and while he didn’t light the fire of the civil rights movement in the US (I’d say Rosa Parks is that hero), he certainly brought the fire to life and tended it well until his assassination (and I remember that as well – how horrible a day it was!).

Martin Luther King leaning on a lectern. Deuts...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What inspired me, a young (then) white kid was his notion of bringing a dream to reality. OK, the words and delivery were pretty inspirational too, even when you read them off a page. Yesterday the Inauguration Committee had a concert on the very place where Dr. King gave his “I Have A Dream” speech to celebrate, nearly 46 years later, a big piece of that speech coming to reality. One can’t help but wonder what Dr.King would have felt and said – he certainly should still be alive – he’d just be turning 80.

Robert Kennedy said “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why… I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”  I think that’s great business advice as well, even if George Bernard Shaw had the notion before Bobby.  Mark Twain wrote that Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

So today, I celebrate Dr. King’s dreaming of a better world and making it happen.  Tomorrow, we can watch it become real.  What are you dreaming of?  Can it be real?  Why not?  Or better – why not!!

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What Motivates You?

A friend and I were talking about a few things the other day. He’s considering a new position and we were going over the pros and cons of the opportunity when he asked me a pretty basic question that really doesn’t have a simple answer. Let’s see what you think.

English: Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Resized,...

Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The question was “what motivates you?” What he meant was why would I, or anyone, get out of bed in the morning and go to work. He wasn’t looking for a rehash of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs since I think everyone understands that we have to earn money somehow in order to live (unless you’re already wealthy). He was more interested in what would have to appeal to me in a position for me to want to spend as many hours as we all spend working doing that job.

I’ve found over the years that there is no one answer.  Some of the folks with whom I’ve worked are motivated by the need to prove themselves, either to a parent, a significant other, or maybe to a teacher or coach who told them they couldn’t do something.  It’s really an external motivation.  Others are self-motivated – they feel a deep desire to achieve.  Other people just fear failure, while still others are after material rewards.  It probably doesn’t matter since every one of those root causes can produce an excellent worker who feels fulfilled by their job.

I thought about my answer.  It really has changed over the years.  At first it was just the self-motivation to do a good job and to learn as much as I could.  Over time, not wanting to let down my team became really important.  I suppose that some of the other motivations mentioned above were part of the mix as well.  Thinking about it now, I’m at the point where it’s about the challenge itself.  How will it push me?  What will I learn?  How will I grow?  That sound strangely like the self-actualization that Maslow mentions.  Who knew?

So what motivates you?  If someone were to approach you about a new job, as they did my friend, what would be the first question you’d ask and why?

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Filed under Growing up, Thinking Aloud