The secret(s) of happiness?

I don’t mean to patronize you. Perhaps you’re very happy, and perhaps you understand exactly why.

But I was able to put it into words this morning, and thought I’d write it down.

I believe there are a few secrets to happiness.

The first secret of happiness (inner peace?)

The first secret is being able to be happy for no reason at all. If you haven’t mastered this yet — and I think many of us have not — then I urge you to read these books: Happy for No Reason by Marci Shimoff, and The Gentle Art of Blessing by Pierre Pradervand. If you can master the art of happiness and loving others, you’ve reached a nirvana.  You’ll be the envy of most of your friends and relatives, and you’ll often have true inner peace. However, it might take a lifetime to master this, and I’m not the expert to guide you on that journey.

The second secret of happiness (practical?)

But the second secret of happiness is something specific you can do today. Let’s call it the practical secret of happiness. For this one, picture something in your mind that you are “lacking,” but you know would make you truly happy. There’s probably some weight on your shoulders or something nagging at you that you think is holding you back from being happy. I’m listing some examples, just so we can see the scope of things it might take to make a person happy:

  • having a better relationship with a relative
  • being happy in your job
  • doing a particular creative thing (making a painting, creating a website, etc.)
  • owning something specific, like a certain watch or a certain car
  • finding the right person in your love life
  • winning the lottery

I believe that the “practical secret of happiness” is to visualize that thing that you believe would complete you.  (At least, you believe it at the moment: that’s the reason to not ignore the other secrets of happiness.)  With it fresh in your mind, write down at least one thing, and at most three things that will bring you closer to having what you’re visualizing will make you happy.

When you look again at the examples I listed, every one of them has one to three practical steps that can help you get closer.  Things that seem ethereal — like having the perfect relationship, resolving things at work (or finding another job) — still have practical steps.  On the other end of the scale, I’m no math whiz, but I believe you can even improve your chances of winning the lottery by applying strategies about odds.

So try it! List one, two, or three steps that will get you closer to your goal. I bet even listing the steps will make you happier. Don’t forget to follow through, and list one, two, or three new steps if your goal is still out of reach, and if achieving this goal would still make you happy.

Visualize how you’ll feel when you find that watch on eBay, get a hug from your estranged relative, improve your job conditions, or see the lottery numbers fall your way (and happily write the check to me for my cut).

The final secret of happiness (the meaning of life?)

Many years ago, I read a story by Robert Fulghum, which was told in the book It Was On Fire When I Lay Down On It. The story is about a time that Fulghum was told the meaning of life. I haven’t been able to disprove this meaning in my life, and when I feel happy, I often think back on this story and realize that I may have successfully applied this philosophy. Therefore, I believe it’s true. If you haven’t read it before, see if you feel the same way:

“Are There Any Questions?” An offer that comes at the end of college lectures and long meetings….if there is a little time left and there is a little silence in response to the invitation, I usually ask the most important question of all: “What is the meaning of life?”

You never know, somebody may have the answer, and I’d really hate to miss it because I was too socially inhibited to ask. But when I ask, it’s usually taken as a kind of absurdist move — people laugh and nod and gather up their stuff and the meeting is dismissed on that ridiculous note.

Once, and only once, I asked that question and got a serious answer. One that is with me still….

Mr. Fulgham goes on to describe that he was in Greece, on the island of Crete, for a summer institute given by a very special person:

Alexander Papaderos.A doctor of philosophy, teacher, politician, resident of Athens but a son of this soil. At war’s end he came to believe that the Germans and the Cretans had much to give one another — much to learn from one another. That they had an example to set. For if they could forgive each other and construct a creative relationship, then any people could.

To make a lovely story short, Papaderos succeeded. The institute became a reality — a conference ground on the site of horror — and it was in fact a source of producive interaction between the two countries….

Alexander Papaderos had become a living legend. One look at him and you saw his strength and intensity — energy, physical power, courage, intelligence, passion, and vivacity radiated from this person. And to speak to him, to shake his hand, to be in a room with him when he spoke, was to experience his extraordinary electric humanity. Few men live up to their reputations when you get close. Alexander Papaderos was an exception.

At the last session on the last morning of a two-week seminar on Greek culture, led by intellectuals and experts in their fields who were recruited by Papaderos from across Greece, Papaderos rose from his chair at the back of the room and walked to the front, where he stood in the bright Greek sunlight of an open window and looked out. We followed his gaze across the bay to the iron cross marking the German cemetery.

He turned. And made the ritual gesture: “Are there any questions?”

Quiet quilted the room. These two weeks had generated enough questions for a lifetime, but for now there was only silence.

“No questions?” Papaderos swept the room with his eyes.

So. I asked.

“Dr. Papaderos, what is the meaning of life?”

The usual laughter followed, and people stirred to go.

Papaderos held up his hand and stilled the room and looked at me for a long time, asking with his eyes if I was serious and seeing from my eyes that I was.

“I will answer your question.”

Taking his wallet out of his hip pocket, he fished into a leather billfold and brought out a very small round mirror, about the size of a quarter….

“When I was a small child, during the war, we were very poor and we lived in a remote village. One day, on the road, I found the broken pieces of a mirror. A German motorcycle had been wrecked in that place.

“…I kept only the largest piece. This one. And by scratching it on a stone I made it round. I began to play with it as a toy and became fascinated by the fact that I could reflect light into dark places where the sun would never shine — in deep holes and crevices and dark closets. It became a game for me to get light into the most inaccessible places I could find.

“I kept the little mirror, and as I went about my growing up, I would take it out in idle moments and continue the challenge of the game. As I became a man, I grew to understand that this was not just a child’s game but a metaphor for what I might do with my life. I came to understand that I am not the light or the source of light. But light — truth, understanding, knowledge — is there, and it will only shine in many dark places if I reflect it.

“I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have I can reflect light into the dark places of this world — into the black places in the hearts of men — and change some things in some people. Perhaps others may see and do likewise. This is what I am about. This is the meaning of my life.”

And then he took his small mirror and, holding it carefully, caught the bright rays of daylight streaming through the window and reflected them onto my face and onto my hands folded on the desk.

Much of what I experienced in the way of information about Greek culture and history that summer is gone from memory. But in the wallet of my mind I carry a small round mirror still.

In 2011 and beyond, may you find your own happiness in discovering the meaning of life.

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CEO for a day: thoughts on talent retention.

Workplace Generational Transitioning

For 12 years, I’ve been involved in thinking about attracting and retaining employees, and workplace generational transitioning.  This has been a common thread from early in my career when I was a business manager, to the role I fulfilled with a consulting firm advising a major Atlanta corporation on workplace “generation gaps,” to my excitement at today’s entrepreneurial youth culture.  The representatives of that culture are interested in constant innovation.  They’re ideally suited to times best summarized by that old Rochefoucauld quote: “the only thing constant in life is change.”  Imagine a group of workers who embrace change, rather than hide from it.

I mentioned workplace generational transitioning.  Ten years ago, when we were advising leaders of the Baby Boomer generation on how to team with and learn from Generation X, and vice versa, we couldn’t predict at least two recessions (2001, 2008+).  The impact of the recessions is that fewer Baby Boomers are heading for the door right at “retirement age,” or taking early retirement.  [Source note: unfortunately, I haven’t seen any recent studies on the average age of CEOs.  The last study I saw was from the late ’00s and featured CEOs in their mid 50s.]

So that bought the executives in major companies a bit more time, whether they wanted it or not.  Have they been using that time wisely?  I’m not so sure.  I believe this major company in Atlanta was ahead of its time, because I didn’t see similar courses offered at another corporation close to my heart until years and years later.  Think of your few favorite Fortune 500 companies.  Whether you’re a young gun or a member of the old guard, you have to admit that those companies matter right now.  But will they succeed at attracting and retaining young talent, while simultaneously passing along the knowledge and life lessons of the older employees?  It’s probable that many of them are perceived, internally and externally, as being too big to fail.  And we have recent experience in how that works out.

Innovators seek new opportunities

Hiring and retaining innovators is job one.  Silicon Valley provides a great example that we can see playing out in front of our eyes in real-time:  the culture, the level of talent, the influx of ideas, and the influx of capital in that part of California is an accelerant.  Here’s what we see:

  • Prized talent has numerous choices of workplaces and roles in the ecosystem
  • The mega-corporations in the ecosystem (for example: Google, Facebook) are either concerned about losing top talent, or eager to never lose their talent edge (1) (2) (3)
  • These companies offer special advantages to retain talent.  For example, they offer to allow employees to run their own micro-companies (startups) using their employer’s money and resources.
  • Even when offered every conceivable advantage, some employees still leave: they want different projects, or they want to start their own companies. (4)

Though Silicon Valley is an accelerated case and primarily represents a certain set of talent, this same cycle will play out in other major corporations, in most departments within those companies.

An innovator — that is, someone who not only has respect for a big idea, but acts on it and gets things done — will always be interested in a new challenge.  This innovator might ride the wave of available small funding (government-guaranteed small business loans, or venture capital), and start her own company.  Or she might seek out opportunities with a competitor who makes talent acquisition and retention a bigger priority than her current company.

In this study, two things are certain.  The first: a time of planning for mass retirement of an older generation is the wrong time to be losing young talent.

CEO for a day

The second thing that is certain is that companies need to be proactive about finding ways to retain employees who are committed to innovation.  In 2009, Facebook started a “startup incubator” to encourage the development of nascent tech companies.  In 2010, Google pondered setting up its own internal startup incubator to ensure its employees could remain with Google while pursuing their dreams of being Founders.  In 2011, Facebook will purchase approximately 15 small tech companies for their talent. (5)

If you’re a decision maker or employee at a company, no matter how large or small, I’m convinced that your company needs to do something very similar.  And if you’re a student, you need to look for this in your next company.  Enough with low-level corporate titles.  In major corporations, Fred the Engineer might work for two years to become Fred the Engineer II.  If you can’t let your employees found their own internal startups, then your company needs to make each innovator feel like the CEO, Founder, COO or Chairman of the Board of a specific role or project.

To that end, I offer a bigger idea that ensures employee engagement and retains talent.  Let’s have major companies commit to a program to put someone into any C-suite role they want for a day.  For the purposes of this discussion, I’ll say most people would want to be CEO for a day.

The company would somehow select a group of innovative employees to compete for a specific time period, for example, for a fiscal quarter.  Perhaps the winner is chosen by performance reviews, amount of money saved on a project, amount of time ahead of schedule on a project.  Whatever the case, when our innovative winner is chosen, she gets to truly step into her dream role.

Let the “real” CEO play an advisory role for that day.  But let the winning innovator truly take the lead on some decisions.  A breakfast meeting with other C-suite executives.  A photo op or television appearance scheduled to promote the program as a whole, where the CEO for a day proudly describes what she’s doing on that day.  Let her set part of the agenda to be a focus on one particular pet project, where she is empowered to call or meet with any employees to move things forward.

The day will be over far too soon, but the innovator will never forget it, and it will drive her even more.   The innovator will probably learn how tough the CEO role can be.  (Ev Williams of Twitter said it was a “sucky job.”) (6)

Simultaneously, the CEO and other C-level executives will learn something about innovation, guaranteed.  These senior managers will be exposed to passion about a particular project that they might have otherwise have ignored.   They will have helped bridge generational gaps between all of the participants.  They could repeat the program as often as once per quarter, and the waiting list to participate would always be full.

CEO for a day is only one idea.  It’s a paltry contribution to a discussion that needs to be happening every day among management at companies all over the world.  But I think it’s a positive idea, and I’d certainly love to read about it in the news every quarter.

Response to Nicholas Deleon re: Wikileaks

Look at Matt Drudge, freaking out over Wikileaks’ so-called “insurance policy” against Julian Assange’s arrest. READY TO LAUNCH “DOOMSDAY FILES,” Drudge screams. (Red font, too. All we need is a siren.gif and we’re in full meltdown mode.) And Doomsday for whom, exactly? I mean, as of today, all Wikileaks has done is to make available a number of documents that were already available to some 3 million Americans. So if this information is already available to 3 million of our fellow citizens, why not us? Is it wrong for the citizens of a republic to know what’s being done in their name around the world…

Fox News says that Assange has “warn[ed] that any government that tries to curtail his activities risks triggering a new deluge of state and commercial secrets.” That’s been taken to mean that, should he be arrested, Assange will release the encryption key, thereby unlocking insurance.aes256 forever.

At which point, we’re led to believe, the Sun will disappear, throwing the Earth and all the other planets of the solar system into the far reaches of outerspace.

Nicholas Deleon, “Does Wikileaks Represent The End Of Internet History?

This is not a black and white world.  I don’t believe there’s a black and white answer to whether Wikileaks is good for the United States, good for the Internet, or represents positive global change.

In fact, one of the reasons it’s so hard to firmly take Wikileaks’ “side,” if you will, is this insurance policy Mr. Deleon mentions.  He uses the phrase “the Sun will disappear” to mock the hyperbole of those who don’t want those documents leaked.  Of course, his sarcasm is well-placed: the Sun will not disappear.  The planets will not be out of alignment.

But, what if the insurance policy contains the real names of all covert intelligence agents worldwide, or some sensitive information about susceptibility of the US military to harm?  What if it contains some Secret Service information about the routines of the President or Vice President of the United States?  Or nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons information, which could be extremely useful to those who wish to inflict harm to as many people as possible?

The Sun may not disappear, but are we now saying there is no line that cannot be crossed, just because the Internet is supposed to be a free source of information?  Or worse, are we celebrating it?

Mr. Deleon uses as justification that 3,000,000 people in the US had access to prior Wikileaks documents already (although, as I’ve mentioned, we don’t know what the insurance policy comprises).  That logic is laughable.  One percent of one country has access to “secret” clearance information, and each one of those people had to pass a background check and/or some other vetting to obtain that clearance.

More than anything else, it’s certain that Wikileaks represents a seminal moment in the history of the Internet. Closing your eyes, stomping your feed and wishing it would all just go away, is completely ludicrous.

ibid

No, “stomping [our] feet and wishing it would all just go away” is not an answer, and I’m not sure who ever suggested that it was.  Again, it’s not a black and white world. But I believe it’s ludicrous to justify Wikileaks from the viewpoint that that every person with access to the Internet should be able to see anything that normally requires a clearance.

That naturally leads to the argument that perhaps we don’t need any clearances.  Perhaps we should not trust any of the people we elect, or any of our military leaders, when they say that something should be kept secret and not placed on an open site for all to see.  To be allowed into our police forces, into our military, or into the ranks of the folks who protect the President, one has to undergo psychological testing and criminal background checks.  Then, we ask those folks to keep some things secret, to keep us — in their view — as safe as possible.  Personally, I believe this is a necessary fact of life.  Some seem willing to let this slide on the Internet in the name of open access, or the lack of trustworthiness of our alleged protectors.

Sure, we may live in a world of truly open access to any information, and change our whole view of entrusting some people to keep secrets.  Or if we don’t now, we may soon.  If a person we elect shouldn’t be able to decide that something’s secret, then none of us can.  By my reading of that fundamental question that Wikileaks has forced on us, we may be one step closer to anarchy.

I’m not “closing [my] eyes,” but I’m not throwing a party to celebrate it either.

President Obama should declare ANWR a National Monument

The determination of the powerful oil lobby to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), “the country’s largest and most untamed refuge,” (source later) has bothered me for many, many years.  When you look at a list of our country’s NWRs, they’re really the last rugged, unspoiled places in the country.  For example, in Georgia, we have the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge (ONWR).  Perhaps 8 years ago, I imagined how horrifying it would be if companies were allowed to bring equipment in to drill in ONWR, or otherwise disrupt the wilderness to recover some limited quantities of finite resources.

That’s why I’ve been determined to protect ANWR, which one day I’ll hopefully be lucky enough to see.  I don’t know if you realized this, but President Barack Obama has a unique opportunity to protect ANWR forever.  He could declare it a National Monument, which would make it impossible for companies to ever drill there.

Here is more information from today’s newspaper about the choice the President could make.  And here is a page with information on previous Presidents and the National Monuments they created.  The history of National Monuments dates back to Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, who was extremely committed to setting aside unspoiled public land for future generations.

It’s interesting that Alaska has a unique culture where oil exploration is encouraged, even by many of its citizens.  But that culture has had a devastating impact on some of Alaska’s land already.  Many reading this will remember the horrible Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster in Prince William Sound, AK.  And just a few years ago, in 2006, more than 200,000 gallons of oil were spilled in Prudhoe Bay, AK; that event was called “massive.”

As a National Wildlife Refuge, the ANWR land already belongs to all the people of this great country. It doesn’t belong just to the people of Alaska, and it certainly shouldn’t be controlled by any corporate interests.  It’s time that we urge the President to take further steps to ensure that this part of Alaska can never be ruined.

Please join more than 80 members of Congress, 170 scientists, 300 businesses and organizations, and 20+ religious organizations and write to the President about protecting ANWR.  I strongly believe the White House needs actual letters, not emails, on this critical issue.

The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

@MazdaRacing

This is a memoir about my involvement in establishing and running the @MazdaRacing Twitter feed.  It will be one of the longest pieces I’ve ever written, as I explore the thoughts behind a gift I was eager to give.  I hope you’ll stay with me, but I’ll understand if you are less enthusiastic about this subject than I. 

I’ve broken this down into sections.  Maybe, if you don’t have all day but you cared about @MazdaRacing at all, you’ll skip to the last section or two.

Background

Mazda’s involvement in racing (and dearest to my heart, in open wheel racing) is arguably unprecedented.  Very few manufacturers of parts or vehicles have done more for racers in North America than Mazda has in the last half-decade.

If you’re familiar with the Mazdaspeed Driver Development ladder, then you already know its impact.  If not, then I’ll summarize that Mazda’s motorsports legacy is long and storied, but in recent years, it’s become even more legendary.  The reason is the company’s conscious, dedicated, heartfelt, and expensive effort to ensure that young drivers can progress from the very lowest levels of racing — go karts — to the upper levels or sports car and open wheel racing, on talent, passion, and hard work alone.  As a racer wins at each level up the “ladder,” Mazda has been awarding full scholarships to the next level.  It’s impossible to overstate the peace of mind this brings to the winning racers, who are guaranteed a spot on an ever smaller playing field that has been nightmarish to try to attain on one’s own.

If you have any interest whatsoever in racing — including the environmentally friendly variety that Mazda is calling “sustainable Zoom Zoom” — then you can and should read more about these topics at Mazdaspeed’s official website.  However, I should also point out: Mazda prides itself on having more of its vehicles racing on road courses on any given weekend than any other manufacturer.

Getting to know Twitter

I’ll now transition to my central reason for writing this article.

I began to use Twitter personally in mid-2008.  That year, and the beginning of 2009, was tumultuous for open wheel racing, due to the sale of the top-level Champ Car World Series to IndyCar, and what can fairly be described as a difficult transition process.  The implications were extremely far-reaching, as I’ll touch on a bit more later.

Like many people, I noticed the following amazing strengths about Twitter:

  • Usable from any mobile device that had text messaging ability
  • Ability to deliver real-time information in very “digestible,” short messages, limited only by the author’s creative use of abbreviations, characters, and some tools like URL shorteners

Obviously, Twitter was an even deeper tool, but both of the above concepts intrigued me as a racing fan.  I noticed that relatively few “Twitter feeds” at the time were covering motorsports, and no feed was consistently paying attention to the dedication of Mazda that I mentioned earlier.

It seemed obvious that using short-burst messaging, often directly from the track, to fans with ANY Internet-enabled device was a winning concept.  The fans needn’t be in front of a TV, or even on their computers.  They just needed to be carrying a cell phone with SMS.

Establishing @MazdaRacing

Another thing that seemed obvious was that Twitter’s millions of new followers were snatching up Twitter user names at remarkable speed.  I checked my favorite brand names often, and as a race fan, naturally did some checking to see if Mazda had secured a name specifically for their racing efforts.

And so it was that in early 2009, I discovered that an unrelated individual had already grabbed the Twitter name “MAZDASPEED,” and wasn’t “tweeting” (messaging) about the company’s racing efforts at all.  This disappointed me, because Mazda’s pride at being the marque with the most cars on road courses on any given weekend was a fantastic concept for a Twitter feed.  But anyone looking up their famous racing brand name would see some random personal “tweets.”

Thinking that perhaps Mazda would still initiate their own feed, I waited until March, 2009, on the weekend that was one of the most important in all of racing: the legendary 12 hours of Sebring.  Two of Mazda’s open wheel series, the Atlantic Championship and Star Mazda, were competing on Friday, March 20th.  The next day would see two turbocharged, Mazda-powered cars compete in the American Le Mans series.

That Friday morning, I checked one last time to see if anyone was going to cover the Sebring action live on Twitter, and when it wasn’t happening, I secured the @MazdaRacing name, purchased and set up a very simple website to point to that address (www.MazdaRacingNews.com), and obtained a generic Gmail account to link everything together.*  By the time the Star Mazda cars got under way, I was all set up to cover all the action, and I did just that.

And so it all began with this Tweet: ”This Twitter presence is in honor of Mazda’s racing ladder. For any updates, send an @ message or e-mail me at mazdaladder@gmail.com.”

Mazda’s commitment to have more of its cars on road courses than any other brand was inspiring.  Its commitment to making sure young racers could attain their dream, paid in full, was even more powerful.  And my initial dream that anyone in the world could use any Internet device to follow any of those races has essentially come true. 

Costs and rewards

Presuming that someone is curious about the process of creating and managing a niche-brand, truly real-time Twitter feed with about 2,700 followers, one of her questions might be, “did Mazda authorize this or compensate you?”  I’ve been asked this question on occasion in various circles, so I think it’s worth discussing.

Mazda, as a corporation, has approximately two or three full-time employees who attend important North American racing events outside of California.  These folks, who I’ve met, are passionate, indeed nearly obsessive about the principles I’ve discussed earlier.  They also have other assistance from paid marketing / social media contractors.  The employees are focused on two main areas:

  1. Ensuring a viable ladder for the young racers; this also includes providing well-rounded driver training on the track, and in sponsorship/media relations
  2. Proving to Mazda corporate how important racing is for the success of the company’s street cars (and vice versa)

I understood all this, and when I chose to establish Mazda’s motorsports presence, I did it as my own gift in response to the gifts they’ve given to racers.  I also explained to these Mazda folks – and others – that I would relinquish @MazdaRacing and all associated resources to them at any time of their choosing, at no cost.

Since March, 2009, I have absorbed all of the costs of running @MazdaRacing and MazdaRacingNews.com.  I paid my own way at tracks.  I even pioneered the concept of Twitter contests to win Mazda racing memorabilia, which I paid for and shipped with my own funds.  I believe Mazda stepped up their involvement in racing at a crucial time, and provided as much stability as was possible in the period from 2008 through the present.  It was my intent to provide the same stability in return.

As for rewards, I had access to a hospitality suite on one occasion, where I got some wonderful memorabilia, and I attended an awards banquet as Mazda’s guest.  Again, this is more than what I expected.

But the real rewards are more lasting.  I have an increased awareness of Twitter trends, and exposure to so many desktop and mobile tools that have allowed me to bring Mazda racing to devices all over the world.  And it’s a race fan’s dream to be able to converse with team owners, racers, and other fans, while enjoying some fantastic events. 

Here are just some of the series I’ve been able to cover:

  • Skip Barber National Championship presented by Mazda
  • Star Mazda
  • USF2000 powered by Mazda
  • Grand-Am
  • American Le Mans
  • Formula Drift
  • World Challenge
  • Trans-Am
  • and the Atlantic Championship

Here are some of my favorite moments:

  • Mazda winning the GT class in the famous 24 Hours of Daytona this year
  • Mazda, via Dyson Racing, winning overall in an American Le Mans (ALMS) race at Mid-Ohio this year
  • Seeing Mazda be the first manufacturer to bring sustainable iso-butanol fuel into ALMS
  • Covering every session of the Atlantic Championship in 2009

Another reward: it’s a small world, and the racing world is even smaller.  My wife started racing in 2004, and shortly thereafter, she had a car built for her by a gentleman from HyperSport Engineering.  HyperSport Engineering is the team that’s provided the foundation for Patrick Dempsey’s racing career, which now sees him owning his own Grand-Am team.  The same gentleman who built my wife’s car has gotten some great press this year as a result of Dempsey’s success.

And finally, if you’re reading this, then it’s probable that you’ve been part of my reward also.  @MazdaRacing has received countless Twitter messages since 2009, and I’ve enjoyed getting answers, responding, and sometimes forwarding you to other sources.  Mostly, I’ve enjoyed how easy it is to connect people to each other on Twitter, exposing racers to other racers or sponsors they may not have known.

Giving up @MazdaRacing

Looking back, it’s amazing to know that I have written approximately 476,000 words about Mazda motorsports in two racing seasons.  As you’ve guessed, the reason for me putting these thoughts into writing has been because it’s time for my involvement with @MazdaRacing to be minimal, or non-existent.  Assuming you’re interested in reasons, I can offer a couple:

  • The aforementioned expense is not something I can cover indefinitely, with other projects that need my attention
  • The amount of time spent during race weekends – which occur constantly in a world where Mazda is a leading road course brand – is not sustainable with other projects
  • The continuing hiatus of the Atlantic Championship series**

And the big one: some race tracks still have horrific communications infrastructures, even when paying out of one’s own pocket for high speed Internet access.  When not in hospitality, it is often impossible to provide real-time information due to bandwidth overload: every other person with a cell phone and/or laptop is competing to send information.

So, I’ve now notified Mazda employees and contractors about relinquishing the feed into their control.  It won’t cost a thing for them to inherit the web presence I wanted them to have for their racing efforts.

As for me, I’m a much stronger communicator and networker thanks to taking on this project.  I’ll always be happy to advise Mazda – and specific racers and teams – on lessons learned.  I would love to think that Mazda might be considered a leader in Twitter motorsports reporting, and it was my intent to leave when that occurred.  Therefore, with 13 years of management experience under my belt, @MazdaRacing was one of my biggest, and most rewarding, leadership challenges yet.

Thank you so much. Can we still be friends?

I can’t tell you how much I appreciated every second of this project.  With @MazdaRacing almost in the rear-view mirror, I’m excited to focus on some other projects that I believe have extremely far-reaching potential.

If you read all these words – especially if you were one of those who read most of my 476,000 words of Tweeted Mazda content – it’s impossible to put into words how much I appreciate you also.  This article has seemed so self-focused, and I hope its length and self-referentiality hasn’t turned you off.

I would love to hear from you.  Please consider talking to me at @JayInAtlanta.  Heck, even consider partnering with me on other things.

Oh, wait!  Can you hear that?  I sure can.  It’s the sound of pure Zoom Zoom.

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* The lightning-quick speed that enabled me to purchase and set up a fully functioning website in under an hour was brought to me by my long-time host, www.IncredibleHost.com.  No, I don’t get any compensation from telling you that, I just love the service by “Reg” and the team.

** I mentioned earlier that the transition caused by the purchase of Champ Car by IndyCar had far-reaching implications.  The Atlantic Championship, called by other names but historic and decades old, has been on hiatus since earlier this year, largely a victim of that transition process.  Atlantic’s hiatus has left a hole in open wheel racing, and I won’t lie, it’s left a hole in my motivation for covering Mazda open wheel weekends.  In under three years — February 2008 to now — seeing two series disappear that were on my wife’s dream path as a professional racer has been an emotional earthquake.

Tech startups: heed this warning

It’s a fact that we’re going to witness an explosion of tech startups again, led by those offering stand-alone social media applications — or plugins for platforms like Twitter and Facebook — that reach huge audiences. In fact, VC firm Kleiner Perkins recently started a fund worth $250 million to capitalize just this particular niche.

I have been getting in early on a lot of private and public betas recently. I’m seeing some fantastic ideas with the potential to change communication. Some tools are going to do this by simultaneously simplifying and broadening the networking reach of individuals and corporations. I’ve got some ideas of my own, and have begun to secure the domains and sketch out the plans.

But tech startups: if you have a concept with the potential to connect people, please do yourselves and the world a favor and heed a simple piece of advice.  I believe with every fiber of my being that you need to do one thing before you launch: make absolutely certain that your tool is available from as many Internet-enabled devices as possible.

One Case Study
If you’re lucky, you already know that your startup must offer something that’s available on mobile. Okay, wonderful. Do you have any idea how many portable platforms are currently available to the world’s connected users? I’m sure you can name iPhone, Blackberry, and Android, and a couple of others off the top of your head. I’m just going to take one example, so please set aside any personal bias about any one OS.

Next week, we’ll see the release of Windows Phone 7 (WP7), which I believe is an innovative, attractive, and easy-to-use mobile operating system.  But it doesn’t matter what I think. It matters that millions of people will adopt the device. Heck, Microsoft gave 80,000+ people Windows Phones (okay, those were MS employees).  Home Depot is already all over a WP7 adoption, and Dell’s waving goodbye to Blackberry while giving 25,000 Windows Phone devices to its employees.

Guess what?  It doesn’t matter that the scale of WP7’s adoption is smaller than the iPhone or Blackberry or Android, so I don’t even want to hear about market share. If you’re a startup founder, your mind is already working on the thought of whether you want to give up millions of potential users due to not being ready for a platform.

Let’s assume we have very little time, a very small staff and budget, and let’s examine some options. And I’m begging you again, please do not let your bias influence this one theoretical case study:

  1. Forget the Windows Phone users. I’ve got my developers already building an iPhone app, an Android app, and a Blackberry app.
  2. Okay, I’ll find someone who knows WP7 development already, and I’ll get on with making a WP7 app a priority.
  3. I’ll create a very lightweight m.[mystartup].com site that’ll work for any device.

It seems simple to me. The investment of time and money in taking approach 3 is minimal. You might even be able to code the site yourself. You also thereby ensure that your potential customers can access your product from any Internet-enabled device.

How to change the world
Many great eConcepts have started with a full webpage, optimized the page for mobile, and THEN thought about apps. Unless you work for — or want to sell directly to — Microsoft, Apple, RIM, etc., then I urge you to get your paradigm in order and work from the simplest to the most difficult. Do not alienate any potential customers. Trust me: your customers will understand when you tell them that a WP7 app — heck, even an iPhone app — is on the way! 

But your customers will NOT understand when they get a link to your concept from their buddy, and they can’t read it or use it on even the best mobile browser. In 2010, you might get their eyes when they get to a desktop. In 2011, you’re done if they don’t see it on mobile the second they first get the link. This behavior is pervasive today, because there are a lot of concepts based on an existing CMS or framework, and no quick plug-in exists to display the site well on mobile.

If you’ve got an app for every device in the world, great. Apps are wonderful, and I download them constantly. But there are 300,000 available for iPhone and 100,000 for Android. How do folks find yours?

And ponder this. Will Sony release a PSP phone soon? Will your customer’s next car come with decent touch-screen Internet embedded in its entertainment system? How about that Microsoft “slate” that might come out? It doesn’t matter what devices you can name right now or even what you can visualize in your head. Have you already heard the whispers that HTML5 might eliminate the need for all apps?

I know you’ve read the word Microsoft in this post more than you thought you might have. I don’t work for Microsoft. But food for thought: Microsoft Sync has rave reviews for voice recognition, and it’s in more Fords every day. We’re going to see an evolution in voice technology in cars and on phones (like WP7). Could your social app be activated and used with a few words, like “invite” or “intro” or similar keywords (like Hashable)? Then tomorrow, someone who just got done with a meeting will be asking themselves whether they can use Microsoft Sync to activate the lightweight version of your app while driving:

“Intro @JayInAtlanta and @IngridIrby and cc @Hashable.”

I’m a trained filmmaker, so I grew up with the idea of “High Concept.” Change the world. But change it with a High Concept tool, with a lightweight version fully accessible and ready to go when you open the doors.

UPDATE – Check http://www.jnjmobile.com/ and http://www.MocoSpace.com. MocoSpace is a browser-based gaming platform which is going the direction I described, away from phone-specific apps, and it appears to have a hit on its hands: http://ow.ly/19TVHh.

On Roy Barnes’ request to congratulate Nathan Deal

[A letter sent to ex-Governor Roy Barnes, care of his campaign, after receipt of this email.]

Dear Governor Barnes,

You, or someone from your campaign acting on your behalf, just sent an e-mail to me and the rest of your supporters asking them to join you in congratulating Nathan Deal. Frankly, I’m surprised at that. 

One of my relatives founded the Buckhead area of Atlanta, and I am fortunate to live in this vibrant city and travel all over Georgia to support the state’s economy.  I feel a profound connection to this land of mountains, ocean, and red clay, so I thought I’d take a few minutes to share my thoughts with you.

While you were governor, you tackled difficult issues, and made tough decisions that cost you politically.  Faced directly with serious problems that could have inflicted long-term damage, you took on issues including education and the Confederate symbolism of the Georgia flag.  Reasonable Georgians understand that your work on those issues was out of love for our great state.

Why would I now welcome a person into office who has not proven that he has this state’s best interests at heart, but appears to have a pattern of behavior of using political might for his own personal gain?  In addition to having been one of Washington’s most corrupt insiders, Mr. Deal has, at best, lied directly and by omission since the beginning of his campaign.  It remains to be seen whether he’ll become civilly or criminally liable during his term as Georgia’s governor, which I personally don’t doubt.

Soon, good citizens of this state will experience government furloughs, the stifling of innovation, and poor transportation and energy/environmental policy.  Even setting social wedge issues aside, you demonstrated knowledge during this campaign that this state needs to stop being a laughingstock and think FORWARD rather than backward.

No, I do not welcome Mr. Deal to the governorship.  The economy in Georgia may recover, as a direct result of the hard work by President Obama and Congress over the past 21 months.  But what will Mr. Deal be doing?  Slowing the recovery by attempting to repeal healthcare reform, slashing needed government services, and continuing to let Georgia’s archaic infrastructure lag behind.

At best, the state we love is more of a laughingstock than ever under Mr. Deal, as you correctly emphasized during the campaign.  At worst, this could be the beginning of a new dark ages for Georgia.  Therefore, this governor — and those in state government who resist forward motion — deserves constant protest, not congratulations.

Thanks again to you and your family for your political and personal sacrifices on Georgia’s behalf.  Best to you in the future.

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