Blake Snow

how blue chip companies tell better stories

Hi, I'm Blake.

I run this joint. Don’t know where to start? Let me show you around:

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Practice doesn’t always make perfect, creative risks are also needed to be great

Photo: Nayu Kim

Photo: Nayu Kim

What does it take to be really good — if not great — at something?

A lot depends on the skill or event. For instance, “In expert tennis, 80% of the points are won, while in amateur tennis, 80% are lost,” says economist Eric Falkenstein. “The same is true for wrestling, chess, and investing: Beginners should focus on avoiding mistakes, experts on making great moves.”

The first step towards mastering a skill, then, lies in assessing whether the ability observes rigid rules or not. Knowing that will help you prioritize deliberate practice over taking creative liberties and vice versa. So if the rules never change, like in classical music or mathematics, you can “out-study” the competition to make it to the top.

But in less structured fields — such as entrepreneurship, rock and roll, and other humanities — taking creative risks or “making great moves” as Falkenstein says takes precedence. It’s the fastest way to greatness. In other words, strict standards reward mastery first. Unregulated skills reward creativity more.

Of course, many disciplines demand both mastery and risk-taking to become great, not to mention raw talent. But knowing where to start — whether by mastery or creativity — is half the battle.

Should have known: Visually straight not the same as mathematically straight

Photo: Blake Snow

Photo: Blake Snow

For anyone with an intermediate understanding of graphic design, you’ll know that some shapes look better when visually centered as opposed to mathematically centered. I thought that truth would hold up over the weekend while hanging square records on my office wall. It didn’t.

As eagle-eyed readers will notice, the right side of the montage is a fourth of an inch lower than the left. I had my pencil, level, helpmeet (Hi, Lindsey!) and string handy, thinking I could crack this nut in minutes. An hour later, and while cursing my inability to recall basic geometric calculations, I thought to myself, “If I can keep it visually aligned, I’m sure it’ll look okay.”

By the time I finished, it was mathematically obvious: My estimation was wrong. Having already invested upwards of two hours on the job, and with the kids asking for the umpteenth time if we were “leaving for the pool yet?”, I hastily skewed some right side records to minimize the visual damage. In doing so, I messed up the two inch margins in between prints.

Although I once excelled at math in school, it’s a good thing I never became an engineer.

See also: Maybe mathematical art is a message from God

American businessman misses point of life, hilarity ensues

Geoff Livingston

Geoff Livingston

An American businessman was standing at the pier of a small coastal village in Mexico. Just then, a skiff docked with one fisherman inside. His boat contained several large yellowfin tuna.

The American complimented the fisherman’s catch and asked how long it took to reel them in. “Only a little while,” the fisherman replied. The American then asked why he didn’t stay out longer and catch more fish. The fisherman said he had enough to support his family’s needs.

“What do you do with the rest of your time?” the American pressed.  Continue reading…

The problem with academic writing: “The teacher must seize the student’s attention”

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

I don’t like academic writing. It’s mostly nonsense.

A few years ago, I said as much to my father who works in academia. Despite my insensitivity and lack of tact, I stand by my belief. Not because I’m incapable of admitting when I’m wrong. But because academic writing’s verbose language, impersonal tone, and dispassionate delivery ultimately fail to engage readers.

In other words, “Academics are really good at writing books that only academics will read, but they’re not very good at making anyone outside of academia care,” says Jared Bauer, co-creator of Thug Notes, in an interview with Huffington Post. ”Teaching isn’t easy, so I’m not trying to shame teachers for not trying more radical approaches to literature education,” he adds. “But at the very least, I hope (our) show makes teachers realize that a student won’t volunteer their attention. The teacher must seize it.”

As I debated with my father that day, for writing to succeed, it must capture the reader’s attention. If it doesn’t, the writing won’t get shared, influence can’t happen, and the opportunity to learn is squandered, even among scholars. There’s no point to that kind of writing other than to serve as a reminder of how not to write.  Continue reading…

Hey, who spilled bad acting on my soccer?

img2For the next month, soccer fans watching the World Cup will see more fake injuries than any amount of magic spray could possibly cure. And by fake I mean diving, flopping, conniving—temporarily feigning injury in an effort to draw an advantageous ruling on the field.

Although seen in international soccer with regularity, diving during the World Cup happens in greater frequency because the stakes are higher. (This is the world championship, after all, held once every four years.) And when the stakes are higher, cowardice teams will employ anything they can for an edge.

“In the British game, it is often seen as an import from foreign players,” says psychologist Paul Morris, who studies diving at the University of Portsmouth. “Many people argue that it has been common in Italian football for decades.” Continue reading…

Overheard in the analog world: “Where are all the twenty and thirty-somethings?”

© Blake Snow

© Blake Snow

My brood just returned from a week long road trip to the Black Hills. At close range, we saw Devil’s Tower (4.5 out of 5 stars), Rushmore (4 stars), the Custer Needles and Sylvan Lake (5 stars), Badlands (4 stars), and… a lot of senior citizens (2 stars—wink). We bumped into a few younger families on our travels, but not many. The vast majority were graying couples.

“Where are all the twenty and thirty-somethings?” I asked my wife. She shrugged.

A moment passed, then she offered, “Maybe they’re at Disneyland.”

“Maybe they’re watching TV,” I added.

Wherever they were, they weren’t outside.  Continue reading…

The exact moment I fell in love with soccer

Paramount

Paramount

In honor of the World Cup, which starts next week in Brazil, here’s how I fell in love with the game.

The year: 198X. I was at a friend’s house in a remote part of northern Oklahoma. We were watching Victory, a so-so Sylvester Stallone movie about a POW soccer team playing Nazi Germany during World War II. My buddy and I were no older than five or six at the time.

Not wanting to endure the feeble character and pre-game drama, we fast forwarded the VHS “through all the boring stuff” to get right to the climatic game. While the build up to said game will likely keep most adults engaged — more for its interesting plot than acting skills — the last 20 minutes of the movie is most triumphant.

Continue reading…

Before sharing this on social media, check your motive at the door

Blake Snow

Blake Snow

I quit social media four years ago. By that I mean I quit Facebook, Twitter*, Google+, LinkedIn and other “social networks” that require the declaration and management of electronic relationships. Since then, my personal and professional lives have been greatly enriched. So much so, I don’t plan to join digital social networks ever again. (More on that here.)

Unless, of course, those networks can enhance my physical relationships. Consider, for example, Google Hangouts, an ad-hoc social network. After reluctantly declining six months of invites, my wife recently convinced me to join. I’m glad I did. It’s allowed me to stay in close touch with extended family without colleagues, associates, admirers, like-minded people, or old high school acquaintances getting in the way. It’s also let me indulge in animated gifs.

But even this endearing network has become a distraction at times. By my own doing, it’s sometimes made me lose sight of the big picture.  Continue reading…

Why you should always pay attention to people’s feet

Blake Snow

Blake Snow

“If you approach two people in the middle of a conversation, and they only turn their torsos and not their feet, they don’t want you to join the conversation,” teach the smart people of Quora. “Similarly, if you are in a conversation with a coworker who you think is paying attention to you, and their torso is turned towards you but their feet are facing another direction, they want the conversation to end.”

Wonderful observation. Another one I like: “If you are angry at the person in front of you driving like a grandmother, pretend it is your grandmother. It will significantly reduce your road rage.” As of 6:58 yesterday on I-15 southbound, I can confirm this works.

Speaking of feet: Did I pass that on? Human genetics are incredible

Hey, Denmark! Thanks for liking and paying royalties on my writing

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

I got an unexpected royalty check from Denmark last month. Apparently some Dane liked one of my stories enough to make a bunch of copies for their organization to read. In route through foreign and U.S. copyright law, the specific story and organization that used it were lost unfortunately. But I’m grateful just the same — for the recognition as well as compensation.

Thanks, Denmark.

Hey, white collar workers—do you use dual monitors?

Dell

Dell

My millennial brother-in-law chided me recently for using only a single monitor. “Get with the times,” he joked. “Two screens will boost your productivity.”

I’m normally confident about my technology use, but his remark surprised me since no one had questioned the size of my desktop display before. Keep in mind, I’ve worked from home for over a decade, so I don’t get to see how the Jones’ use computers at work. I don’t see their workspaces—only their faces over Skype calls or in conference rooms or voices over phones or words over email.

Self consciously, I began asking family and friends if they used dual monitors at work. “All the time,” said one. “Have for years,” said another. “Will never go back!” exclaimed a third. With exception to one, all my inquires said “yes.” Even my dad and father-in-law use dual screens at work. BABY BOOMERS MORE WIRED THAN ME??!!  Continue reading…

Harnessing the extreme convenience of the internet

Wired

Andrew White/WIRED

Ev Williams believes the internet is “a giant machine designed to give people what they want.” In a speech reported by Wired, the co-inventor of Blogger and Twitter added, “We often think the internet enables us to do new things, but people just want to do the same things.”

For instance, we want to socialize, entertain ourselves, learn, and make work easier. The internet does all four better than any other convenience of the last century.

It does this in two ways, Williams explains. “Big hits on the internet (think Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon) are masters at making things fast and not making people think… But the internet is not a utopian world. It’s like a lot of other technological revolutions.”  Continue reading…

50/50: My wife is so much more than a “silent” business partner

Snow Family

Snow Family

My wife and I recently borrowed a large sum of money to buy a highly illiquid asset. To secure the loan, we disclosed more of our financial behavior to the bank than we’ve admitted to anyone else, including God. And rightfully so—again we were borrowing a large sum of money, and they wanted to make sure we’d pay it back.

In addition to scouring our personal finances, the lender took a fine tooth comb to our business finances. I’m self-employed. But my wife owns 50% of “the company.” I generate and service all the income. She gets half. Many would call her—as my lender often did—a “silent partner.” But she is anything but.  Continue reading…

Why everyone should embrace frugality

Warner Bros. / Blake Snow

Warner Bros. / Blake Snow

My stomach turns anytime I witness waste, lavishness, or squandering. I smile whenever I see thrift, frugality, or resourcefulness. (See also: The difference between cheap and frugal)

In fact, the latter is a life-long pursuit of mine: To be resourceful in everything I do, including my personal and business endeavorers.

Which is why I relate to Amazon’s leadership principle on frugality, explained like this Continue reading…

Story of my life: Convincing clients to publish “soft” stories instead of hard sells

Kwekwe/Wikimedia

Kwekwe/Wikimedia

Five years ago, I “pivoted,” as they say in business. I went from writing feature stories primarily for top 20 news media to writing features stories for Fortune 500 companies as an embedded journalist and content advisor.

Landing a new client typically goes like this: They like my pitch and ask for more info. I send it to ‘em. We talk. They like what they hear and think I can grow their audience with a fresh voice.

Over time, however, some of those clients let that voice rot. Continue reading…