Micah April 18th

Its the Bounce not the Ball

This afternoon, I sat down at the Century Theater in Boulder, with my long time friend, Matt (@fasterstill) (we started Current Wisdom together) to watch Fast and the Furious (dude, it was better than you think). After putting down my medium diet coke and Red Vines (the only way I will watch a movie. Yes, thats a post for another day), I lowered the brightness on my iPhone and checked my tweets (as I do every time during the previews).

I use Tweetie, and I have about a dozen saved searches for specific people (@lijit is one, @dgcohen23 is another). Among that list is @jeffrey, who at the time I was sitting in the movie, was sitting in the Chicago Red Carpet Club.

Over twitter, he had engaged in a quick discussion with @jenbee (owner of 20×200 [@20×200], my favorite place to find art that is way more valuable than the price you might pay–at least in access and quality. In fact, Jen, if there is anything I could ever do to help you out, lemme know) over failure.

For those that read this blog, failure is something that I deal with, and write about, quite often.

Because of the beauty of Twitter, where you can eavesdrop and join in others conversations, I inserted myself into the discussion. To make sure everyone is up to speed, here are the tweets:


The conversation continued for a bit, but Jordana Brewster came on screen, and I needed to pay attention.

But, my brain was already working.

So many of my friends are involved with startups in some capacity. They seem to sit on one side or another of the failure fence. Those that have had some (or a lot) of success preach about the importance of failure. That somehow failing is almost a badge of honor among those that have succeeded.

For those that have yet to truly succeed, they are almost ok with the concept of failure. Failing, while painful is certainly not distasteful, and will teach valuable lessons for the next, almost guaranteed, success.

But is that true? Is the cycle fail then success then fail then success? We have seen “one trick ponies” that succeed at the first thing they try and then never succeed (or fail) again at equal levels. We have seen people that consistently fail, never quite tasting success. People who hide their overall failures with several minor success.

So, if failure doesnt equal success consistently, then does the type of failure matter or the depth of the failure?


Certainly certainly types of failure can either spurn someone on to great success (say seeing both your parents killed by a common criminal spurs you to become Batman) or a life of consistent failure (I suppose if I had an example, they wouldnt be a huge failure…)

Can people handle professional failure to greater depths than personal failure (there are many cases of very successful business people going through a cycle of great wealth/horrible bankruptcy.)?

The great ones. The folks that truly are able to succeed in  ways that most people cannot have very similar characteristics:

  1. They compartmentalize their personal lives from their professional ones. Success in one does not directly effect the sense of success in the other.
  2. Small failures are seen as opportunities rather than roadblocks. Large failures are seen as part of the process not the destination.
  3. They separate emotion from small successes and failures. Small successes and failures dont exist because of them as people, but because of their actions.
  4. Great failures are met with mourning, followed by an intense desire to “make up for the failure.” Great failure is deeply personal and embarrassing.
  5. Highly competitive where exact measures of success and failure are determined internally.
  6. Complete disregard for other’s measure of success and failure.
  7. The ability to get others to help in the success.
  8. Complete ownership of all failures.
  9. Scientific review of success and failure.
  10. Freedom to discuss failure with others. A clear openness about the failures of their past.

People who have succeeded in life are not immune from the devastating effects of failure, they have learned how to turn failure into motivation or education.

People who are successful have learned to do two things: 1) define their own personal success; and 2) come to grips that no failure is final, regardless of how big, or personal it is.

When the Chicago Bulls won 72 games in a single season, and eventually the NBA championship, Phil Jackson, their coach was asked what their formula for success was. Among the things he said, he recounted how for him and his team, winning the third quarter was paramount. “It makes the fourth quarter, easy,” he said.

Successful people are the same way. Its not the failure that defines their success, but rather what the very next thing they do. Its the adjustments they make, and the ferocity that they come back. Successful people are defined by their bounce, not their ball.

Even if they have to do the fourth Fast and the Furious movie…

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Micah April 11th

The Blog Poets

beatniksIf you have spent any time with me, you will notice that I have a clear interest in discussions (debating), exploration of ideas (pontificating), and listening (hearing myself).

I think one of the reasons I love living in Boulder is specifically because of the concentration of true thinkers (which are different that intelligent people). People that ruminate over ideas and thoughts, watch them grow, bounce them off others, absorb the mentee/mentor relationship and then act on the ideas.

Or maybe I just described the startup culture.

I think for most people approaching 30, there is a previous time or era that they wished they were apart of. For me its the Beat Generation of the 1950s, specifically the Beat Poets or Beatniks that were the real genesis of the mentality, growth and counter-culture of San Francisco. [Before the New Yorkers get in a tizzy, yes it has been said that the Beat Poets began at Columbia University, and Burroughs didnt end up in SF.]

They were (primarily): Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Gregory Corso, Neal Cassady, Herbert Huncke, Peter Orlovsky and John Clellon Holmes.

I have spent time with Kerouac’s On The Road, and Burroughs Naked Lunch, but of them, my favorite is Allen Ginsberg with his stylistically shifting poems and intense thinking around subjects ranging from the poetical standards of love and relationships to the darker topics of war and the end of life.

If you dont know about the Beatniks effect on the San Francisco scene that birthed the counter culture of the 1960s that grew into the startup scene of the 1990s and 2000s, you spend some time reading or watch a flick (or two).

“I think it was when I ran into Kerouac and Burroughs — when I was 17 — that I realized I was talking through an empty skull, … I wasn’t thinking my own thoughts or saying my own thoughts.” — Allen Ginsberg

A couple of days ago I was having dinner with Jeffrey where we got to talking about ideas for his latest post, which centered on the concept of how titles in business have potentially served their purpose. That they are the antiquated visage of an early time, where large companies have job requisitions that have titles associated with them to define their level of responsibility, power and salary. That titles in many ways were examples of how the structure in large corporations mirrored that of the military.

It made me think that the Beatniks must have had the same discussions around corporate-military overlap.

It made me think that he and I would write drastically different blog posts about the importance of titles (even if we agreed in the futility of titles in a growing startup).

It made me think about what other people would write about the topic.

And I realized that the one thing we have that the Beatniks didnt: Blogs.

We have a global way to interact with large numbers of people in ways that the Beatniks only dreamed of. I can have a thought, shoot it out over twitter or write a post on my blog and get immediate, vast and intelligent discourse.

I have met really thought provoking people and have spent time with them all over the country.

I have had thoughts and concepts presented to me (the one that is currently sitting in my brain is the idea of a “disorganized mind” and its value in a startup. Thanks Brad!) that push me into uncomfortable self evaluations or exciting realizations.

I have seen us change the world with a word and a shared voice.

No longer do I have to wish I was alive in the 1950s and spent time with the Beat Poets.

Because now the free flow of ideas within our online transparent misunderstood culture is forcing all of us to collectively determine if we are doing good in the world, or just doing.

We are the Blog Poets; the Blogniks.

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!'” — Jack Kerouac

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Micah January 23rd

Seven Virtues of Failure

Yesterday, my friend Jeffrey KALMIKOFF (I learned if you fuck that up, he will cut you) wrote a post entitled Seven Sins of Success. In it, he talked about all the things he felt contributed to his success in life and helping grow skinnyCorp. The concept of success is always intriguing to me, because I am a firm believer that one doesnt understand success without failure.

I often recount my experience as ServiceMagic where two things were constant: Value and Failure.

Every day, when you left for home, you asked yourself a simple question: “Did I add value today?” If the answer was anything other than yes, there was a decent likelihood that your job would not exist the next day.

Bring Value Daily.

Every day, we failed. We failed and we failed. But, each failure brought learning and brought us closer to success, and when we succeeded, our successes were exponentially larger.

Fail Intelligently Daily.

Bring Value. Fail Intelligently.

I try to live that ideal consistently. I believe that failing daily does two things, it teaches me what I need to do better; and it reminds me of what failure feels like. Both are awesome outcomes.

Failure is virtuous.

Temperance (Gluttony)

“The downside to this level of ambition is that it’s not complicated to overload yourself. I’ve learned that ambition minus realism often equals failure.”

The truth is that ambition always has a lack of realism. Its impossible to believe you will one day be the best without believing first that you are capable of being the best. You have to be unrealistic in your expectations to truly become successful. Its the lack of realism that creates the potential for failure.

The best failures are measured and tempered with self control. Understand the downside of any potential failure. Keep the failure contained through careful understanding.

Charity (Greed)

“Sacrificing your core business by spending too much time on non-core ideas…It’s important to realize that not all ideas are worth pursuing”

Yet many people eventually fail through anlysis paralysis. I have a standard equation, out of 10 ideas, 8 suck. 1 is decent, and one is fantastic. To understand success through failure, one must be willing to become creative and think uniquely about the problem. By ideating, over time, several solutions are born. Being generous with yourself and allowing the ideation to occur, develops the potential for mass, measured failure.

And, failure always leads to success.

Diligence (Sloth)

“Where it can become mostly problematic is when it keeps you from seeing a project through to the end.”

I get what Jeffrey is saying here. Starting projects is easy. The middle is not that hard, but to finish? Often its a Herculean effort. Why? Because the completion of a project allows you to determine if it was a success or failure. The completion of a project allows OTHERS to say if its a success or failure.

Its often easier to live in the grey area of undone, than it is to live in the world of definition.

With failures its the same way. My favorite saying is “failure is not what you do, but what you do after.”

Persevere. Fail a lot. Fail early. But be amazing once the failures teach you how to succeed.

Chastity (Lust)

“Getting lured away from what you need to do by what you want to do”

Lust is an interesting sin. By definition, Lust involves a lack of thought with a focus on immediate gratification. So how does the virtue, Chasity or Purity work with failure? Failure is pure. There is nothing about failure that can be soiled. Each failure creates the same emotions, usually regret and disappointment, and each failure creates the same reality. Yet, each failure, when learning occurs, also creates the very real case of being one step closer to success.

It is impossible to do nothing but succeed if each failure is coupled with learning. You dont have to lust after success to achieve it.

Humility (Pride)

“Success has this extra-special way of super gluing on the ‘I’m so awesome’ blinders and fooling you into thinking that you’re the smartest person alive.”

The greatest thing about consistent failure, is that it reminds you that you cant solve every problem. That you arent the greatest. That at the end of the day only the outcome matters in the measurement of success, not the process.

Failure teaches us that the real talent is the recovering and learning from failure. Turning that failure (perhaps matching it to a previous failure) into a road map for success is what separates the great from the good.

Allow the emotion of humility to provide you the open-mindedness to review your failures in such a way as to improve incrementally and move towards success.

Patience (Wrath)

“Wrath is energy, and like all energy it can be used to good or evil. I like to think about the ratio of windshield to rear-view mirror and use that idea to focus my energy on what’s next.”

If wrath is energy, then patience is focused energy. Its hard to fail, fail and then fail again. You want to push, you want to accelerate the process. You move into a world of immediate gratification and would rather skip to the success part of the adventure.

Patience is not just a function of waiting, or sitting idly by. Patience is actually a function of perseverance.

If you read Jeffrey’s post, and remove the “Seven Sins” metaphor, every point he makes actually is interwoven. Words like energy, focus, hard work are repeated themes.

Failure becomes a part of the process, removing the need for a perceived failure end point.

Satisfaction/Kindness (Envy)

“Just stay true to your original plans; see them through; and understand that more-often-than-not, these new and exciting concepts are rarely vetted for use beyond their original purpose, thus having the extreme ability to only add layers of complexity to what you already do.”

Envy kills success. Focusing on competitors is a horrible action that causes most companies to lose focus. If you are doing what you need to do, focusing and understanding the market, your competitors dont matter.

Envy creates failure. Simple enough.

But, the key to all of this, is if you understand the importance of failure to the creation of success; you will also experience true satisfaction.

You have succeeded and failed completely.

And, becoming a success at the end of the day is the greatest satisfaction.


By the way, my favorite quote on failure:

Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death.

— Anais Nin