(Maybe the) Best Live Show I Ever Saw

I think the social distancing/shelter at home phenomenon has me thinking a lot about things you can do in large groups of people…

A couple of days ago, my son (he’s a freshman Music Composition major at the University of North Texas – proud father moment and has some relevance to the following) mentioned that one of his favorite podcasts, Your Favorite Band Sucks, had just posted a new episode featuring Arcade Fire. I think the title of the podcast says it all in terms of the treatment that can be assumed for any band falling into their cross hairs.

My son truly enjoys and listens to a very wide swath of music. To do what he intends to do with his life, he must. However, there are a few things for which he does not care, or within which he has very specific tastes. Commercially popular country music of the last two to three decades (really, who can blame him on that – he may have had some help from an early age on forming that opinion). Most of the music of the ’90’s (having not lived through it, I think he may allow nu metal, pop punk and the overly whiny shoegaze bands to influence his opinion on that too much). And this third thing is my interpretation, but pertinent to this post – bands that have too much pretense or take themselves too seriously without a relevant reason to do so or to the detriment of the actual music made. To wit, The Red Headed Stranger is a great concept album and worthy of a Broadway adaptation. American Idiot is not.

That last reason is why I think he was happy to hear Arcade Fire would be skewered on Your Favorite Band Sucks.

By no means am I an Arcade Fire fan. Last I saw or listened to them they were on SNL promoting their Reflektor album in 2013. As can be the case, where a band starts and where they progress to tends to be divisive. Of their work, there are two albums I enjoy. Reflektor was not one of them, and I lost interest.

But I was lucky enough to see them live at the Stubb’s BBQ Waller Creek Amphitheater in Austin, TX in 2005 as they toured on their first album, Funeral. That album is in my top 10 favorites of all time. The pure energy and joy of their performance was everything you would want from a show. Back then, there was no pretense, no concept to thrust ahead of the music, no slick production. It was an intimate outdoor venue on a lovely Central Texas evening. The music and their performance was enough. Just a group of people come together enjoying themselves which translated to an audience that was joyous.

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Career Pivot

Kentucky - Barrels & Amps, Georgetown, TXPhoto: Barrels & Amps in Georgetown, TX

Back in September of last year, I began as Plant Manager at Framebridge in Richmond, KY. I run the day-to-day production operations as well as planning and implementation for the production operations’ organizational development. For me, this was an opportunity I could not pass up. It allows me to work directly for and with someone in which I have utmost respect and trust, and at a company with aggressive goals that is grounded in a strong vision and core values.

So why the pivot?

Before my role as VP of Marketing at Ranch Hand, I spent four years doing what amounted to business consulting through the lens of Customer Journey work. This showed me the importance in the alignment between Go-to-Market strategy and Operational Excellence. Practically every project demonstrated a qualitative and quantitative need to change the way the business operated based on what Customers want and need.

My time at Ranch Hand allowed me to get directly and deeply engaged in being a part of connecting those two things. In the process, I was able to learn the philosophy, concepts and tools of Lean. Lean has given me a common sense-based tool set to connect previously disparate concepts into workable ideas and actions.

And, thus, a career pivot into Operations occurred.

I’ve always enjoyed creating ways that allow people to work better together. It doesn’t matter if the thing being made is content by a team of creative types, code that empowers bits and bytes of information to flow from and to where it needs to go, components or finished goods that comprise a business-to-business or consumer product, or a custom frame to encase an autographed jersey or some other treasured memory.

While I will grant it can help to have a bit more technical knowledge in some industries and verticals, my years of experience show that a large amount of general curiosity, an interest in helping people succeed, and a willingness to roll up your sleeves and get in the midst of the work while continually looking for a better way to connect dots can get you where you need to be in most industries pretty quickly.

My background in Marketing, Communications and Media certainly helps in understanding and articulating the value proposition from the perspective of the Customer. Perhaps most importantly, my background taught me the value in the perspective of what I think is the most powerful component of any brand:  the people making the product or creating the experience on behalf of your Customer.


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Confirm (don’t just check for) Understanding

stupidest question

I have no fear of asking “stupid questions.” In fact, I’m that guy who leads with, “This may be a stupid question, but…”

If I do not understand something or if I look around a room after something is said and see this…

so confused…and no one else, especially the speaker, feels compelled to confirm understanding, I just do it.

Or if I just don’t get what was said and the rest of the room is like this…

einstein bobbleheads…I have to assume I’m in a room full of geniuses and need to be enlightened. Learner is one of my strengths in life, so I embrace it whenever I can.

Or if neither of those things occur, yet nothing is said to indicate understanding, I am more than happy to go ahead and ask the stupid, obvious questions just to make sure everyone’s singing from the same song book.

(I’m, also, that guy who will frequently ask, “Does that make sense?” as I answer questions, present or just run a meeting. I feel like I do this so often it’s a tic, and I sometimes worry people might think I’m being patronizing. I promise I’m not.)

Why do I do this? Is it the left over vestiges of the youngest of four siblings being a pain in the butt and asking “Why?” over and over just to be annoying? Could it be I am never anywhere near the smartest person in the room and just need that much help (to be sure, I never assume I’m the smartest person in any room – we can all learn from what’s happening around us at any point in time, even if we are the teacher or facilitator in the room)?

What I have learned, often painfully, over the years is the chance of a direct, linear, immediate connection between…

1. What Person A says

2. What Person A means

3. What Persons B-X hear

4. What Persons B-X understand

5. What Persons B-X do

6. What Person A expected to be done

…is not as common as we hope.

It tends to play out like this…

not confirmed

While CONFIRMING understanding goes something like this…


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Here’s What I Think

pathsI don’t see this as being about my “political” views, but, simply, my world view. It seems to be a challenge these days not to allow how one sees and interacts with and in the world to become politicized. I can assure that is not my intent. Let’s keep it clean, adhere to the Golden Rule and be respectful, folks. 

I want to be clear about where I stand regarding Politics – defined by Merriam-Webster (let’s just assume anymore definitions of words are coming from a valid dictionary of some sort in the instance I don’t provide a link) as (a) the art or science of government (b) the art or science concerned with guiding or influencing governmental policy (c) the art or science concerned with winning and holding control over a government.

So as to what “side” I’m on, since that tends to be what people want to know when it comes to our very American two party system, the answer has to be…neither. I used to always say the lesser of two evils at the time. There really are so many layers these days which makes “neither” and my formerly pat response seem less than adequate. Frankly, I think it makes a two party system inadequate. Of course, the layers have always existed. So what I mean is the layers these days are much more visible and explicit. That isn’t necessarily good or bad. It’s just different than it has been for quite awhile. I think that’s due to the Nature of Media.

By Nature of Media, I mean (If I lead with “I mean” or “I think”, I’m explaining myself, what I think or believe or a construct I’ve developed – which makes it my opinion or something I’ve created to explain something I’ve seen or encountered in my life that I felt the need to interpret. It’s not fact, it’s opinion.) it has never been easier to publish or broadcast a point of view in terms of frequency (there’s no cap to the amount of times a person can say what they want to say or no cap to the amount of times a person can see or read what they want). Reach is a bit of another story based on the platform used to generate the frequency, but I will grant that if a person wants to find a point of view, they can find it. And in most cases, if they want to be “reached” by certain points of view, they know how to or can, by their behavior, allow it to happen. 

Further, as most media is digital (composed of data in the form of especially binary digits) and most information about what we do or like is, also, digital, it is easier for the Media-Industrial Complex (what I mean is all the companies, organizations, entities, and other groups that have created and/or use technology to match behaviors and/or stated or implied interests with media of some sort; in most cases, those creating content are either explicitly or implicitly involved. H/T to Dwight Eisenhower’s Farewell Address) to show us more of what we like and less, or none, of what we don’t.

I believe side effects of the Media-Industrial Complex are (1) believing there are “a lot” of people who believe what you believe or “most” people believe what you do, (2) deepening belief that what you believe is correct since that’s mostly what you see or hear, (3) deepening belief that what others believe is wrong, (4A) less interest or willingness in seeking to understand what others believe and/or (4B) less interest in granting that it is OK for others to believe in other things and then (5) “calling people out” who are viewed as “wrong” because they do not believe the same things.

My background is in media, so you can expect I have expounded upon and will come back to themes related to nature of media, digital and Media-Industrial Complex. I only insert it here as I believe it’s relevant to explain what I believe. I assume most people in providing a view to their views don’t incorporate the “Media-Industrial Complex”.

Anyway, back to the question of Politics and our wonderfully American two party system. I’m not a republican, democrat, conservative, liberal, evangelical, snowflake, communist, socialist, anarchist, totalitarian, autocrat, monarchist or member of the green party. I tend to lean to Libertarianism due to its purity and simplicity (well, I guess that means I lean a bit to the right), and sometimes I think I lean that way because of my admiration for the fictitious Ron Swanson. (See Parks & Recreation, Season 3, Episode 2: “Libertarianism is all about individual liberty, and it should never be defined by the terms liberal or conservative.”) My main issue with Libertarians – at least what is seen as Libertarianism in the 21st century United States – is they can be a bit too rigid, incapable of what tends to make our system of government (and life in general) work – compromise and tolerance. (Some would say this means I lean to the left.) I guess a Libertarian, whether focused more on individual rights or on markets working better than government, would say compromise is fine as long as you don’t tread on me, and once a market can’t tolerate it, it’ll fix itself. Or maybe that’s a Gen-X’ers interpretation…a proverbial, “Whatever. We’ll see how that works.” Or maybe Adam Smith’s and Ayn Rand’s love child is Generation X…hmmm, topic for another day.

Anyway, the important ideas from the prior paragraph are compromise and tolerance, which I firmly believe DO NOT MEAN acceptance. (This piece provides a nice overview of definitions and interrelations between tolerance, acceptance and understanding.) However, there is, in my view, a definite need of more tolerance and understanding, regardless of people’s ability to accept others people’s beliefs, lifestyles, etc. (And now I seem to be leaning to the left, again, with my why-can’t-we-all-just-get-along notions – though I’d say it’s really just the Golden Rule, which some would say is a Judeo-Christian concept and now I must be some purveyor of the right.)

I would like to see a viable 3rd party, maybe even a 4th. But, if you will entertain an analogy, I will say I did like Major League Baseball better when there were 26 teams total, 2 divisions in each league and one round of playoffs before the World Series. So let’s not get too crazy. We just need some other teams to choose from is all I’m saying.

I like to try to keep informed of “the issues” and where those running for office stand on “the issues.” I also like to see what I can learn about how someone has behaved, in general and in executing their duties. I like folks who seem to align to the Golden Rule, but I have enough understanding of the flaws many seemingly great people in history had to understand its very difficult to find a leader in the political system without some skeletons in the closet of some sort. That doesn’t forgive the flaws. It just means I feel the need to balance the apparent flaws in character with a person’s ability to provide solutions for the greater good. Some flaws (not going to list them all…) I do believe are not acceptable, I don’t accept them and choose not to tolerate them. Regardless, If we didn’t balance flaws with the ability to deliver for the greater good, I’m pretty sure no one would be worth electing ever.

I’ll then make a choice on who I think would do the job best. I think that’s how Democracy within a Republic is supposed to be. I have found as someone who has hired many people that are driven by Capitalism, this is a pretty good way to select people to do a job, which is what representing my interests in local, state and federal government is – a job. Funded by my tax dollars. Thus, I am the hiring manager. We all are.

I do believe in Democracy – a system of government where the people directly participate through elected representation.

I like a good Republic – a government in which supreme power resides in a body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by elected officers and representatives responsible to them and governing according to law.

I believe in Capitalism – an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market.

However, I don’t completely buy into Adam Smith’s take on the purity of how markets work and fix themselves as needed – which is why it’s hard for me to be a Libertarian and why I do think there are some times where government does need to be a bit more involved in economic policy (Notice I did say “some times” and a “bit more involved”…ours – Americans – is, after all, a government that sets budgets against what seems to be an ever-rising debt ceiling and can’t figure out if a wall has more value than healthcare, education, global warming or investment in infrastructure that isn’t a wall).

I do believe in God, grew up going to Christian church, have been way too sporadic in attendance in my adult life, and need to be more consistent in my spiritual life. From what I can tell, Evangelicals and Atheists, not to mention those of religious beliefs other than the broad swath that is “Christianity”, would have issue with that sentence for very different reasons.

As I’ve already mentioned it a few times, I believe in the Golden Rule in the New Testament sense – treat others how you want to be treated – regardless of the views or beliefs held by that person. And even though I just mentioned the New Testament of the Bible, that doesn’t mean I have any issue with those who practice religions not based on the New Testament of the Bible. (See “treat others how you want to be treated”.)

I value respectful and passionate debate, even if it gets heated, and do not expect everything you say to be proven as verified fact. We all have things we believe or have faith in, even if we don’t have verifiable facts on their truthfulness. I’ll do my best to specify when I’m sharing what I believe or what is my opinion vs. what is actual fact (I’ve done that a few times already). Most likely I’ll do what I can to lay out my logic of why I believe something. I’d love to hear your thoughts in return to help sharpen my thinking, or just to have a conversation on the matter. Just recall this is my site and that I value RESPECTFUL debate and, again, The Golden Rule.

Since “facts” and “truthfulness” have made an appearance, I do not believe in “alternative” facts or “truthiness”. What do those things even mean? (That’s a rhetorical question – please no links to enlighten me.)

My Belief (an acceptance that a statement is true or that something exists; trust, faith or confidence in someone or something) is that Fact (a thing that is indisputably the case), Belief and Opinion (a view or judgment formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge) are getting intertwined, but not explained or clarified, by the Media-Industrial Complex (but I don’t believe in the “deep state”), that some folks are better at manipulating belief and opinion than others, and that some folks are better at sniffing out what is BS and what isn’t better than others. This is not new. We just have much more efficient ways to allow a statement or event to travel around the world a number of times before anyone bothers to validate it is true or actually happened.

So now you know. My opus to anyone who might come across what I have written or will write here or elsewhere. It seems to be required in the zeitgeist. You’ll have to let me know if that’s enough for you to effectively pass judgement on me and my views, or to determine if anything I might say is worth your time to read or respond. I’d be more than happy to further clarify as needed.

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QOTD: Geniuses, Creativity and Work Ethic

I’m in the midst of Jeff Tweedy’s autobiography, Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back). I like the voyeurism of a good autobiography or biography as much as the next person, but what I really like are books, articles, documentaries, interviews, what-have-you that get into how creative people do their work or their thoughts on what is required to do good work.

Thus far, my favorite quote from the book is:

“The people who seem the most like geniuses are not geniuses. They’re just more comfortable with failing. They try more and they try harder than other people and so they stumble onto more songs. It’s pretty simple. People who don’t pick up a guitar and try every day don’t write a whole lot of great songs. If you don’t ask, the answer is always no.”

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Whatcha been up to?

I often get asked by young people just starting out in their careers about the path I took in my career and what advice I have. I get similar questions from folks looking to move into different roles in their career.

I, also, get questions from folks I used to work with and have not spoken with for a time about what I’ve been doing. And that tends to lead to a response along the lines of, “Oh. Why?” Or if they are less outspoken, just “Oh” with a confused look. And maybe a “That seems interesting” to try to cover the confused look.

So I figure I’ll explain how I arrived at where I am. Perhaps it will be helpful for those early in their career, those considering a change in their career and the folks who know me and have been wondering. I’m able to tell this story in anywhere from 30 seconds to as long as someone is willing to listen. This should be a 5-10 minute read 😉  You can find the Cliff’s notes version at my LinkedIn profile.

There are a few things to know about what motivates and interests me before I launch into my story.

First, to be at my best in life and to maintain my engagement, curiosity and creativity, whether on behalf of my family, on behalf of my employer or for my own self, work-life balance or successfully integrating the personal and professional is a must. So when I make decisions, my wife is my most important partner, and my family is my most important concern.

Next, I am fascinated by why people do the things they do and creating ways to help them do those things, or move them towards a more productive path if the one they’re on appears it won’t work out so well. With that, I am very interested in the strategies, tactics and tools people use in accomplishing what it is they are seeking to accomplish.

For a person fascinated with why people do things and the tools used in doing them, specific types of businesses, categories and/or verticals are a lot less important to me than the challenge presented. Businesses, categories and verticals and the various norms, vocabulary/acronyms, financials and technologies associated with them can be learned in relatively short order I’ve found. How people operate and solve problems in the environments and systems related to those businesses, categories and verticals, to me, is much more interesting. And, as I’ve learned over time, a lot more common regardless of the business, category or vertical.

Because of this fascination and interest, I absolutely love to learn, teach and mentor. So I enjoy building teams and collaborating with people with different perspectives and experiences as it provides a great outlet for simultaneously learning and teaching.

Organizing and leading teams around new challenges and opportunities presented by the way people do things is especially fulfilling to me. I tend to lean into situations where there is need for new structure where none has existed, and/or there’s a need in the marketplace that lives “in between” existing structures in organizations to address the marketplace need.

Last, I tend to be the type who says, “Let’s figure that out” or, “I’m not sure…yet.” I enjoy making sense of ambiguity.

Now, as for how I’ve arrived at where I am.

I was fortunate at the close of the last century. I was a young man working in media planning at an agency in Austin, Texas as the “Silicon Hills” were in their infancy and the dot-com bubble was inflating. One of GSD&M’s core values is Curiosity. I am just that by nature. So when the opportunity arose in 1999 to get involved with digital media, I went all in. From that point forward, every role I’ve gravitated to has involved a significant level of creating something new or different and then managing change caused by something new or different.

I spent the next seven years in a learning-failing-succeeding-growing cycle, building a top notch digital media team. It was incredibly fun, difficult, gratifying, humbling and exhausting. Aside from learning the various aspects of digital media a bit sooner than some, the lessons learned in how to be a leader, find and retain talented people, develop presence and poise in a myriad of situations – from business development to boardrooms to difficult clients to working across all functions and operations in the business – were incredibly valuable at that formative stage in my career to help me operate as I do now within all kinds of situations, environments and organizational structures.

Perhaps most important was it established my philosophy that people USE media to get things done. And just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean you SHOULD do it. My goal is always to understand what people are trying to do, see various paths they can take to do it, provide guidance to them in meeting their needs, and figure out how to make it better for them next time. For me, it has always been about customer experience, not as a buzzword, skillset, team or department…but just because that’s the way it should be. And I interpret the word “Customer” very broadly to capture internal stakeholders as well as external buyers of a good or service. From there, everything is just a means to an end, experiments to determine if we really are providing people relevant help on their journey.

I mentioned it was exhausting. I was needing to learn work-life balance since, as my wife will attest, I did not have it then (she will attest I don’t always achieve it now). And our second child was born in the summer of 2006. I was looking for focus, to bring the skill set I had built into a corporate setting.

Once more I was fortunate. I was contacted by Target who, at the time, was looking for someone with a digital background to come into their media strategy team. Right as I was beginning to seek a “client-side” role, a dream job with an amazing brand came to me.

While it may sound opposite to what the brand is known for, what I learned most at Target was patience. At an agency focused in digital, I was like an entrepreneur who could operate at a pretty good clip and with a good deal of autonomy. At Target, the marketing department at the time was 1,000 people. To get things done, you had to learn how to bring people along with you, to partner and collaborate, to gain consensus for your ideas. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this is the way it is in most organizations regardless of its size. I was just moving too fast as a young man to truly pay attention to it.

For someone who came up the way I did learning-failing-succeeding-growing at a rapid pace in a culture that valued such things, this was a challenge. And I believe my aggressiveness got the better of me in the Target culture. I’m sure my approach at the time based on the amount of experience I had could come off as abrasive. I claimed I didn’t like the “politics” there at the time.

Hindsight being much sharper than 20/20, everyplace has politics in some form or fashion – again, regardless of the size of the organization. I’ve become much more attuned to various organizational cultures and how to operate in them. But at the time I was ready for a change. I was interested in getting back into a faster cycle. I wanted to be someplace where instead of guarding brand equity, I’d have the chance to be part of truly developing a brand.

I had met the leaders of the Capella University marketing department at various local and national conferences and gatherings in my time at Target. I liked the people. Plus, they had a vision to do things a bit differently in their industry and were seeking to establish a brand to go along with a well-oiled machine that was their business model.

As was the case when I landed at Target, a life decision came close on the heels of my move to Capella. An off-hand conversation with a former colleague at GSD&M while attending SXSW led to a series of conversations. Before I could even process what was happening, I was Executive Media Director at GSD&M, a singular role that had not been part of the agency structure since 1997. It was now May 2010. The agency is famous for their “boomerangs”, and I had become one.

The next seemingly off-hand conversation I had led to my next role. A former colleague at GSD&M reached out. He had sold his consulting firm that focused on Consumer Journey research as the basis for developing marketing strategy to Ipsos. His team was now part of a forward-leaning group at the multinational firm responsible for developing, testing and launching new products on a global scale. He was looking for a “media planner” to add to their multi-lens team of researchers, designers and brand/marketing strategists.

After reviewing the job description and the work the team was doing, I told him if the role was for someone with more experience, it would sound like me. That got me a quick text message back and a breakfast meeting the next day. And, again, before I knew it, I was part of what would become Ipsos Strategy3.

This was a very exhilarating time for me. It felt very much like the days of building the digital team in the early part of my career. I was learning new skills, new ways to think and new ways to operate as I was now part of the 3rd largest marketing research agency in the world. It was all coming very naturally, and the flow in the team was electric. While I had built teams who were doing new things and creating new processes that were monetized, I had never truly been part of creating and testing products and services all over the world as I was now. The ideas created and work done with researchers, marketers and designers working together was incredibly fun and an amazing balance of right and left brain. On top of all of that, this was very much a peer group environment – working with folks who had similar amounts of experience as me.

And as can happen, things changed quickly at a number of levels corporately and down to the team level. As I saw how the various changes were coming together compared to the original vision, it became one of those moments in life and in a career where you think, “I have a seat on this bus, but is it the one I want to be on?”

I was at a crux. I had, what I thought, was an interesting breadth and depth of experience. There wasn’t a whole lot I hadn’t seen or done up to that point in the scope of a marketing career. So I needed to take stock of what it was I wanted. I needed to get on the bus I wanted to be on.

I knew I was looking for a VP/SVP of Marketing or CMO-type role, and my penchant for creation, change and managing that change had me seeking a situation where that would be the case. I wanted something where I could roll my sleeves up, get my hands dirty, to directly see – and feel – the change and results I was driving. I wanted to stretch into more operational accountability as well. And I wanted to see what could be found at a privately-held, small-to-mid-market company. I had been part of fast growth before and wanted to be more directly accountable for it. I was, also, interested in a company that, literally, made something.

Enter Ranch Hand. All the circumstances I was seeking were in this opportunity…and then some. The personal part has been the most challenging and, at times, rewarding. Moving the family to Shiner, Texas – population 2,069 – was an unforeseen portion of this opportunity. My hometown is small (not this small). I met my wife there. We were open to what this meant for our children, and they have thrived (My wife and I think they’d thrive in just about any situation, but we’re biased). Luckily, Shiner is nicely situated with easy access to Austin and San Antonio (90 minutes or less drives) and Houston (about a two hour drive) – so civilization is never too far away.

Two quotes come to mind as I’ve written this.

The first I’ll paraphrase and embed the link. In The History of the Eagles, Joe Walsh mentions a philosopher who said something to the effect of as you live your life, it feels like random events in the moment. But when you look back over those events, it comes together like a finely crafted novel. To this point in my career, I’d have to agree with that assessment. What motivates and interests me has always been there. It just took some experience and seasoning to find the words to describe it. Each step in my career I feel I’ve been blessed to exercise those muscles.

And the second is from Andy Bernard in The Office.

Screen Shot 2018-12-30 at 1.20.37 PM.png

I like that sentiment when considering through the lens of what you learn and take with you, not through the lens of regret. Because, ultimately, aren’t we all just trying to figure out why we do the things we do and how to do them better the next time?

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