Monday, November 3, 2008

The Fringe Benefits of Failure

J.K. Rowling, in her 2008 speech at Harvard's Commencement ceremony, has some great insight into what she calls "the fringe benefits of failure." She makes an interesting point that there is a liberating quality to failure in that it helps you shed any fear and caution that may be keeping you wedded to a more risk averse life. In her words, if she had succeeded at anything else, she probably would not have had the courage to do what she really wanted to do. For Rowling, failure had meant a stripping away of the inessential and a liberation from that pragmatic urge that captures so many of us. What is important in her point is that it is the way we approach failure and our wilingness to take risks that affects our ultimate success. You can do just fine in life playing it safe as most people do, but those who will rise to the top are almost always willing to take risks. In Rowling's case, this led her to embark on the Harry Potter series that has made her the only billionaire author in the world with over 400 million copies sold. See both parts of her commencment speech below:

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

It's the People that Matter

Paul Graham, co-founder of the start-up bootcamp Y Combinator, posted an interesting article this month about why it is still a good time to do a start-up. If you ever have or currently are thinking about venturing out to start something read his post here. To sum his argument up in his own words, "what matters is who you are, not when you do it. If you're the right sort of person, you'll win even in a bad economy. And if you're not, a good economy won't save you."
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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Why We Fight

For those of you you missed the 2005 documentary "Why We Fight," or the 2002 "The Trials of Henry Kissinger" the director Eugene Jarecki has just come out with a new book and it is definitely worth a read. The American Way of War: Guided Missiles, Misguided Men and a Republic in Peril is an attempt to explain how the "military-industrial complex" in the United States has perverted the traditional balance of power and led to what Jarecki describes as an obsessive need for perfect security. In the book Jarecki talks extensively about the “iron triangle” where he considers the intricate relationship between the U.S. military, profit seeking global corporations, and both the legislative and executive branches. See a great description of his overarching thesis here:

Another good clip where Jarecki cites a few relevant stats and brings us some great points can be seen below.

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Monday, October 20, 2008

How Creativity is Being Strangled by the Law

Damn can this guy give a presentation. In case you are unfamiliar with Larry Lessig, he is a professor at Stanford Law School and was a founding board member of the Creative Commons. He is a strong proponent of reduced legal restrictions on copyright, trademark and radio frequency spectrum especially as it relates to technology applications. He was in the news several months ago for a silly controversy surrounding a mash-up video featured about mid way through this speech where Jesus Christ is depicted as a gay singer that eventually gets hit by a bus. Sadly the point of the lecture, that our youth's dynamic and creative relationship with media is different than anything we have experienced in our lifetimes, has not been covered as widely.

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"You HAVE To Do What You Love..."

Here is a great video from the founder of He is a bit of a nut but he has a great message here about the need to create something you are passionate about. I was at this conference and he was a breath of fresh air from the previous speakers. He has appeared on Conan, Ellen and others because he brings a fresh energy and humor to the wine business. If anything, watch it for a few laughs and some solid inspiration that you can make a business out of anything.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Watch this BEFORE the election

For those of you who missed the new Frontline episode last week about the 2008 election you can see it here. This is an absolutely great background story to both candidates and is a must watch before you vote in a few weeks. I won't bother to dive in to who is more deserved or the better candidate, one thing this documentary reminds you is that both men have incredible determination and ambition...and that more than anything the run for president has been a lifetime in the making.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Get Involved Already!

Dave Eggers has a great example of how each of us can get involved in this recent speech. In case you don't remember who he is he is the author of "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius". In the speech he talks about a community program he started several years ago where he offers free tutoring to school children of all ages. He figured there should be a way to harness all of the professional writing talent in his community and it ended up going far being just the writing community. Spanning over 1400 tutors and several partner locations around the country, Eggers is on to something with his fresh approach to volunteerism. It will be hard for you to not get involved after seeing this clip...

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Touchscreen devices in the home

The touchscreen technology that Jeff Hahn debuted 2 years ago is only starting to hit mainstream consumer tehcnologies like the H-P touchscreen, Microsoft table and most obviously we see it beginning with the iPhone and other devices. Still, this is a good clip highlighting where this technology will go and we can all expect to have some form of this at home in the next few years.

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Al Gore's New Presentation

Al Gore is out with a new slide presentation this year with a new call to arms on the global warming issue. In it he presents new data as well as more compelling arguments as to why action is necessary now. I think this is worth a look to see just how far Al Gore has come in terms of being able to project charisma and passion into his speeches. With an intensity that borders on being corny at times, he manages to inspire and motivate better than in anything I have seen for a while. You can check out the speech below at this year's TED conference. He makes the assertion that this is our generation's great challenge and he evokes those visions of cooperation and optimism that were so badly missing from his campaign.

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A Man's Quest to Understand His Father

Every boy at some point in his life grapples with the question of who their father is. Eventually, there comes a time when we realize that our fathers are just human, are imperfect, and in many instances might even be failures in our eyes. Nathaniel Kahn grapples with this question in his 2003 documentary My Architect where he discovers that his always distant father, world renowned architect Louis Kahn, had actually been a good husband to another family his entire life. Nathan Kahn approaches the question from an intensely personal, yet surprisingly balanced point of view as he visits the people who knew his father best, his clients. As he tries to figure out the multiple personalities of his father, he delves deep into the psychology of our relationships with our parents and ultimately gives us all a deeper understanding of just how complex and messy most of our lives really are.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Elastic Mind

Earlier this year there was an exhibit at MOMA in New York called Design and the Elastic Mind and it got me to thinking about how much we are forced to adapt and be flexible to the constant change that is occurring all around us. As the exhibit description so aptly puts it, "Individuals cope daily with a multitude of changes in scale and pace—working across several time zones, traveling with relative ease between satellite maps and nanoscale images, and being inundated with information. Adaptability is an ancestral distinction of intelligence, but today’s instant variations in rhythm call for something stronger: elasticity, the product of adaptability plus acceleration."

The value of this elasticity of the mind cannot be underestimated as we are inundated with new data, new technology, new ideas and ultimately new possibilities. While we all have some motivating force that drives us, I believe that for many the inability to act comes from the sheer magnitude of possibilities. It is not because we are lacking inspiration or desire that we fail to move but rather because we face too many possibilities of in what direction we should move. Some people cope with this noise better than others, and for some it is easy to focus based on their pure obsession or passion with a topic. This blog is for everyone else, who is interested in learning from and being inspired by a wide array of topics from a wide array of disciplines.