Checks and Balances

Day 339 Week 49 Q4 Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Checks and balances can be a tricky business for creative outliers. When you are doing new things, it can be difficult for external perspectives to be relevant and valid. People who are gifted are not necessarily happy because they are necessarily excluded. Exceptionalism does lead to exclusion more often than to adoration and acceptance.

So, when that brilliant CEO declares themselves to be the chairman of the board, thereby wiping out all of the checks and balances of the corporate structure, it is understandable, even though it is not a good thing. In the past, democracy created checks and balances to prevent autocracy and capitalism, and its highest form, the corporation, created boards of directors for the same reason.

Exceptional individuals are quite capable of running amok. It is hard to draw the line between spearheading a new initiative and inventing a new field. A new initiative does not necessarily have to have traction, but a new field does.

We have the same need for checks and balances that we always have had. And checks and balances can’t get in the way of progress, or at least slow it down to try to make sure that it will be useful and positive.

Right now, Society is wrestling with the concepts of artificial intelligence and its future ramifications. We clearly do not entirely understand it, even though we created it.  It is clearly powerful, and we are not entirely sure why or how powerful it is.  This is not a reason to fear; it is a reason to use checks and balances.

To imagine that we could legislate control over an open-source phenomenon is absurd. First of all the legislators do not understand the issues, and they cannot because the inventors do not entirely understand the issues either. Second of all, open source, by definition, is not controllable. In fact, that is exactly the reason to have open source in the first place, so that it is not controlled or closed but open to everyone.

Do open systems outperform closed systems? There is a reason why Apple Computer is much more successful than any other computer company. It is closed, not open. Systems integration can never be optimal. If you don’t even understand all the parts, are trying to integrate, and have no control over them.

Close Systems do inherently have checks and balances. Open systems can, but it is more complicated.  The larger issue is how centralized is decision making? How centralized should decision making be? Autocracy can be more efficient than democracy, but by condensing decision-making into a small number of individuals, we wipe out the ability of humanity to adapt by being creative and individualistic.

The only way that humanity is going to solve its problems and prevail over its stupidity is through the checks and balances of decentralized decision-making. It may not be as quick or as clean, but it is far more honest and, in the long run, our chief survival strategy..humanity.

We need democracy and the checks and balances that come along with it in order to not accidentally destroy ourselves.

Selling Time

Day 320 Week 44 Q4 Thursday, November 16, 2023

Have you ever finally completed a work, which could be a product that represents who you are in the world and what you want to be, and that you are proud enough of the result to go out and really sell it? And to also have the understanding that you are also selling yourself with this product.

It is a glorious feeling. All creative outliers have to earn a living along with everyone else unless they have inherited wealth or have a patron. I prefer the stakeholder path, where a group of people helps you, and you also try to make sure they get something in return for helping you. Just as I do not want to receive money without turning it in, which is why I am no longer interested in running a nonprofit. I am not comfortable asking for money, but I am comfortable earning money.

This is not so simple. I am not comfortable earning money doing something that I either do not want to do or do not think is producing any value in the world. I had no problem going out and selling the acoustic wave piano because I knew that it would positively change people’s lives, and it did. It also created a brand new mark for the self-contained electro-acoustical piano, which to this day sells at least in the hundreds of millions of dollars per year, if not billions internationally.

That product came into being almost 40 years ago, and it was the last product. I was really excited about selling. I was also excited about bringing audio to the computer world and selling it while working at Apple.  But this is a different feeling. This time, I am not working for a large company. I am working for myself. I own all of the intellectual property, rights, and credit; although I had a lot of help, it is indisputably my work, and I can finally say that to the world, and this will not be the last one. This is the first of many.

This is clearly the path for me. I do want to have a me-sized company with a single person; although there could be contractors, there will not be people with equity. There is a single person in charge, and it is me. I very much like this feeling, and I am very much up to accepting the responsibility to make it succeed or fail.

The democratization of technology has reduced the barriers to entry to commence new enterprises. You do not necessarily need to have a manufacturing plant or a laboratory, or even a studio. You can have an idea and some skills and judgment and some capital and a lot of hours of work, and you can make something happen.

And as my father-in-law says, Go Forth Mightily!

Long Term, Short Term

Day 292 Week 42 Q4 Friday, October 20, 2023

Life for creative outliers can be challenging. It is hard to get paid for what you do not know.  Yet, it can be more exciting to do what you do not know because it requires more creativity to figure out what is going on when you are on a steep learning curve. When things are too familiar and repetitious, they may be less exciting. Creative people may tend to be short-term oriented in order to be engaged. We are generally not known for patience. 

There are ways to be short-term and long-term oriented at the same time. Hey, we are creative, right? Seriously, there are ways to be excited about a small part of the bigger picture. You really do not have a choice; there is no short vs long competition, but if you absolutely do have to choose, try harder for the long term than the short term. This is why some portion of your creativity must be applied to enlarging the scope of what you are looking for or working on.

You do need to tolerate ambiguity in order to have more than one perspective at the same time. And that means long and short-term can actually be handled at the same time if you are adept at perspective switching.

Here is an example. When I was at Bose working on the first electroacoustic integrated digital piano, there was a lot of resistance from people way above my pay grade. This should not have been too surprising because upper management at Bose did not exactly approve this project. In fact, I was actually prohibited from working on making a digital piano. But there were other companies I could convince to partner with us. And there were other people within my company who did like the idea. Essentially, I convinced others within and outside of the company to supply the resources. This was not illegal; it just required other points of view to be present at the same time. Definitely both short and long-term.  There was no market for digital pianos with built-in amplifiers and speakers at the time because there were not any of them yet existing. Also, I was not in the product development part of the company but in research.  

Many short-term milestones appealed to many different people. All I had to do was keep a lot of different people’s short-term perspectives satisfied at the same time over several years to eventually accumulate everything needed to add up to the big-picture goal I wanted. When rolling the prototype in the president’s office on an office chair covered with a black cloth, he said where did this come from? You had no budget and no people to work on this. 

He was so excited that a two million program came into being in this manner that I was permitted to proceed to get the product into production. It can be worth your while to combine short and long-term.

Enterprise Half-Life

Day 291 Week 42 Q4 Thursday, October 19, 2023

Monitor and manage your enterprise half-life. Many of you may be thinking, this does not sound like it has anything to do with me, as I am not some high-tech businessman. Let me explain why it has everything to do with you. The dictionary in the Mac I am writing this on has definitions relevant to creative outliers. Here, combined with thesaurus input, are some of them:

A project or undertaking that is typically difficult, requiring effort, initiative, resourcefulness, or entrepreneurial economic activity. An endeavor, venture, pursuit, exercise, activity, operation, exploit, mission, deed, act, action, move, measure, task, business, affair, proceeding; scheme, plan, plan of action, program, campaign; project, proposal, proposition, suggestion, idea, conception, initiative, resourcefulness, resource, imagination, imaginativeness, ingenuity, inventiveness, originality, creativity; quick-wittedness, cleverness, native wit, talent, ability, capability; spirit, spiritedness, enthusiasm, dynamism, leadership, drive, zest, dash, ambition, ambitiousness, energy, verve, vigor, vitality; boldness, daring, spirit of adventure, audacity, courage, intrepidity gumption, get-up-and-go, go, push, oomph, pizzazz, pep, zip, vim.

Do these words seem to describe what you are doing or need to do in order to thrive as a sustainable creative person, which I define as one who can be adequately compensated for their creative efforts to survive. 

If you would like to be able to support yourself through creative activity, you probably need to be a small business person, which means you are operating an enterprise. 

Half-life is a term borrowed from science for the time taken for the radioactivity of a specified isotope to fall to half its original value. It is now colloquially used to describe the life expectancy of other entities like businesses. Companies used to last a lot longer than they do now. A recent study by McKinsey found that the average lifespan of companies listed in Standard & Poor’s 500 was 61 years in 1958. Today, it is less than 18 years. McKinsey believes that, in 2027, 75% of the companies currently quoted on the S&P 500 will have disappeared.

By extension, your creative enterprise may also not last as long as it once did unless you continually reinvent your business and yourself. We and all the enterprises we create must innovate or die. This is not a dire pronouncement. Humans have been adapting or innovating to circumstances forever. It is our strong suit and why we persist.

Creative outliers, with their powerful ability to come up with new ideas and approaches, are where tomorrow comes from, perhaps making them the most human of all.

Enterprise half-life, if monitored and maintained, can help the creative outlier prevail instead of perishing at the hands of the ubiquitous naysayers.   Make sure you understand how the world is changing, that you do have competition, and that you will need to continue to create and innovate to maximize your enterprise half-life. Being creative is not enough, the context within which you are creating has to be understood for you to manage your creativity.  

Executive Innovation Responsibility 

Day 87 Week 13 Q1  Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Let’s begin with what is an executive? An executive is a manager of managers. This is the shortest definition I know. Let’s also assume, in general, it is easier to say no than yes. This, however, is not the innovation way. When your word’s impact is multiplied, choosing them wisely is even more critical. 

If you want your organization to be good at innovation, then you must find a way to create and maintain an innovation culture. This is not a one-shot or two-shot thing. It is an identity thing. Organizations that do not value innovation do not innovate. It is simply too hard to do it. Even when an occasional firebrand pushes through all of the obstacles, who are mainly the people who tell him or her no, and manages to innovate, you will still not have an innovation culture. Also, eventually, that person will leave, leaving behind colleagues who will think twice or three times about pushing through those who are in their way only to end up leaving. 

That said, the prime executive innovation responsibility is creating an environment that supports innovation. You can not do that by saying no all of the time, even if it is easier and less risky than saying yes. 

This means you must expend considerable effort evaluating not only the ideas presented and proposed to you but also the presenters and how the teams they manage view them. This can be time-consuming and nerve-racking unless you actually do want people to innovate, in which case it is the most important part of your job, just ahead of locating the resources required by your teams to be able to do their jobs, including innovation. And, of course, innovation costs money to fund, so you may have to locate and secure even more resources than if you were not innovating. And that means you need to have a higher gross margin to generate a sustainable cash flow to support innovation. 

Hey, I did not say it was going to be easy. But if your organization understands that it has to innovate or die, which is the truth, then it ripples through everything and everyone. And you have to model good innovation management behavior if you want the managers you are managing to be good innovation managers. That is why executives are much more valuable than managers, and you have a much harder job. 

But if you are committed to embracing this executive innovation responsibility, you are also poised for a different growth path and, therefore, a different life. But not a low-risk one! You do have to be able to the chances stout getting fired, and you had better hope your board also embraces the notion of an innovation culture. 

This is why some companies’ innovation strategy is to simply acquire it because it is difficult to create, maintain and manage an innovation culture. But it also makes your life so much more interesting because these cultures attract brighter, more creative employees, and yes, they will tend to be more demanding as well, but if you want to be able to complete, who else would you want on your team? 

Governance not Regulation 

Day 83 Week 12 Q1  Friday, March 24, 2023

From an innovation perspective, there is a huge difference between executives and boards of directors. Boards have existed since the early seventeenth century, and we live in the early twenty-first century.

Our celebrity-centric culture is driven more by ego than by sense, making it fashionable for a company’s CEO to become its Chairman of the Board. This effectively eliminates not only oversight but also perspective. When industries prove they can not manage themselves, bureaucrats step in and start regulating. Right now, the tech sector is experiencing the desire for people who are completely unqualified to pass legislation and regulate industries they know nothing about. Imagine the impact on innovation!

I am not even sure that most board members think they have any innovation responsibility, as they are often expected to rubber-stamp the CEO’s wishes. This is dangerous!

Suppose the tech sector does not ensure that there is sufficient oversight and accountability in the decision-making process and that the interests of the company and its shareholders are being properly represented. In that case, there will be and now are serious problems. Having a separate Chairman of the Board can provide for more independent oversight and accountability, which can be beneficial when the CEO is not performing well, or the company is facing significant challenges.

Having the CEO also serve as the Chairman of the Board can create a potential conflict of interest, as the CEO may be more likely to prioritize their own interests over those of the company or its shareholders.

If you are a creative outlier, independent contributor, manager, executive or board member in an innovation culture, and if you do not manage yourself well, someone less qualified than you will step in and do it.

The board has a critical role in fostering innovation that impacts long-term success by providing oversight and guidance to management in developing and implementing innovation strategies, reviewing and approving innovation plans, assessing the feasibility of new ideas and initiatives, and providing feedback and support to management as needed.

Promoting a culture of innovation within the company can include encouraging and rewarding creativity and risk-taking, promoting collaboration and knowledge-sharing, and ensuring that employees have the necessary resources and support to innovate.

It is imperative that the governance layers take some responsibility for protecting and fostering innovation by setting a clear vision and strategy, providing oversight and guidance, and promoting a culture of innovation. 

Yes, looking at the big picture may result in lower short-term returns to shareholders. Still, it also may keep the company afloat for a lot longer because businesses must innovate or die and catering to egos with conflicts of interest is not a good long-term survival strategy in business, politics, and professional and personal relationships.

Innovation is too serious a business to compromise with appeasement. It requires courage, perspective and taking responsibility.  We should not blame young inexperienced CEOs for not knowing how to run their companies. Blame the system that prevents executives from benefiting from the experiences of others who have been around a lot longer than they have.

Workflow Enabling Tools

Day 362 Week 53 Q4  Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Occasionally reality almost catches up with hype!

Technology is incredible a lot of the time. Having spent a decade in college studying physics and engineering, I drank the Kool-Aid long ago. Over the years, a number of potentially astonishing breakthroughs have been just around the corner, like voice recognition, artificial intelligence and virtual reality. I have heard this for forty years and have gone on innumerable wild goose chases in pursuit of the highly touted benefits marketers have been screaming from the rooftops.

Hate to break the news to some of you, but word processing never did replace executive assistants. I know many billions have been made promising and promoting that computers could do a better job than people. And sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t. There is no doubt that spreadsheets are awesome “what If” machines, and I could not imagine attempting to run a business without them.

In my corner of the universe, music creation tools are essential, and there is no doubt that DAWs digital audio workstations blow away analog tape decks in terms of powerful manipulation capability. On the other hand, if you want to record live music with your bandmates to work on creating a song together, the lowly Portastudio of yesteryear was far faster and more convenient if you could actually play an instrument. Now it is true that technology can make non-players sound awesome. For example, if you can not play in time or in tune, there are many correction tools available. In fact, they are so ubiquitous that running music through these “improvement” processes has become the norm for many genres.

Music composition is the corner of the world that occupies much of my attention these days. The ability to write music in the form of a score so that it can be accurately communicated with other professional musicians has been radically improved. However, it, too, remains a bit beyond the loud claims of software companies. The dream that you could play a musical instrument and have a computer listen and then get a usable score is still not nearly true.  

To be fair, most musicians, including me, cannot accurately transcribe the music we hear or improvise either. Some can, and I envy their ability. In fact, in the forty years, I have been waiting for the hype to become a reality, I could have invested the time to learn this skill many times. But being a true believer in technology, I keep thinking it was right around the corner, so being lazy, I never invested the effort.

But this morning, I experienced a piece of software listening to me playing the guitar and, in real-time displaying chord changes on my laptop. Furthermore, it was able to convert the sound file it recorded into midi, which I was able to export into Sibelius, one of the top-of-the-line scoring programs. 

It took me a few hours to overcome the lack of documentation and free version limitations, but eventually, for the modest price of $5 per month, I could get some results worth having. Is this actually worth paying for a subscription? I can not tell yet because the software is so unintuitive, poorly documented, and basically unprofessional. But I hear many of you early adopters saying. “So what else is new? It always begins this way, and sometimes even eventually works”. And I concur as a bleeding edge consumer and previous creator of technologies; I know the drill.

Still, there is the promise, and I likely hang in there for some more time, even if it is an inefficient use of my time because of the promise.

For those of you who play, improvise, and noodle, Chord AI may turn out to be an incredibly useful tool. But do not expect to be able to tell immediately.

The hype still exceeds the reality by a good deal, but this does not mean these evolving tools do not deserve a place in your workflow. You just have to dig some and adjust some and not be too upset when these tools do not work as you imagined they should. 

Be flexible and understanding of these fledglings who think they are already birds able to fly. They fall down a lot, but I, for one, am willing to vote with my wallet to support their efforts. Just do not ever expect to come away, saving a lot of time before you invest a lot of time.

Cook the Meal Now

Day 343 Week 50 Q4  Friday, December 9, 2022

Cook the meal with fresh ingredients. Some things keep better than others, and creativity is not one of them. Yes, there are some ideas that need to be preserved and perhaps even frozen for a while, but I doubt any of us, especially foodies, can argue the case, that a meal with no fresh ingredients is better than one made with all fresh ingredients. 

When you have assembled all of the ingredients you need to make a meal or a life, it is then time to make it or begin manifesting.  For things deteriorate and eventually go bad. This includes relationships, technologies, brands, and, yes, even ideas. Not everything can be preserved. Do not be a hoarder of potential this and that. You have to recognize when the time to deploy is here, or those avocados you planned on making guacamole with go to hard to soft when you were not looking, especially when the weather is warm.

Well, friends, even though it is winter in my part of the world, the weather in terms of innovation is HOT.  If you have an idea, it is probably time to deploy it. Have you ever asked yourself what the half-life of your notion is? Will it still be good in ten years, ten months, ten weeks or ten days? This can be hard to judge because the world we live in is moving faster than anyone has ever experienced before.

It is hard to tell which way the wind is blowing about facts, evidence, integrity, know-how, and technical or fiscal dominance. Did the number of people living under the freedom of democracy decline in the last decade or two? If people continue to be frightened of the future enough to give away their power to autocracy, as is currently happening around the globe, what will that mean for innovation?

If you are a creative outlier, there may be no better time to advance your ideas, books, products, structures, and businesses because the future looks a little less free than our immediate past. This is not a time to wring our hands or bemoan the loss of potential because there is still more possibility for upward mobility than ever before. The overhead associated with starting a new business or a new genre of artistic expression has never been lower. Marketing and communication costs, design and production costs and new entity formation costs have never been lower. 

But, there is probably no idea freezer or concept case, or insight incubator where you can place these incredibly valuable assets you have been painstakingly accumulating that can protect them. It is time to make the meal. While the ingredients are still fresh. Be in the present moment, not some future where you find yourself saying I woulda, coulda, shoulda. Is there a risk? Of course. If there were no risks, there would also be nothing to gain. Might you fail? Sure, but there is life after failure. Are you absolutely certain you know what to do? I sure hope not because you will definitely be wrong.

But, as has been said many times, ships are safer in harbors, but that is not why ships are built. You, Ms or Mister Creative Outlier, did not come into this world to take NO chances and to also accomplish a small portion of your potential.

So, write that new book of your life, self-publish it, and start that company, lab, studio, band, political party or whatever you think is needed and find out what the next chapter of your creative life will be. Do not hide under the covers where it is warm; the sun is rising on a new hybrid day where new combinations of proximities are beginning to flourish.  Humanity has in part, transcended geographic proximity into a new, never before-seen realm, where ideational proximity is very real.   

For creativity, achieving critical mass to proceed no longer requires you to move to a new neighborhood physically, but it does require you to move mentally to a new neighborhood.  And be aware of the half-life of your ideas, for they will surely spoil at some point, hopefully not before you moved to a new mental neighborhood.  These statements are all just variations on the theme of the deathbed perspective. Do it before you die, or before society dies, or before opportunity dies. The only defense against half-life entropy degeneration is not just being in the present moment but operating in the present moment by acting now using your fresh ingredients.  

Say No to Say Yes

Day 338 Week 50 Q4  Sunday, December 4, 2022

Skimming headlines, relationships, topics and commitments, while very time efficient to seemingly cover a broad range of interests is probably counterproductive for creative processes. Most creative processes require a deep dive. If you are attempting to express yourself, discover something, or launch a new business, you know it takes a lot of time to get anything new and original done. And some of that time is spent failing, experiencing setbacks and having restarted again and again.  Skimming can feel like a soothing salve and an escape where something positive is happening. Unfortunately, it can also be addictive. I have what I call hungry mind syndrome. 

The internet has provided such a rich and fertile means to skim that I too often succumb to it.  Unfortunately, this does directly subtract from my creative output in a seductive manner which reduces my being a creative outlier, and since this is part of my identity, it reduces who I am.  I do not about you, but I have never been very good at not being me. For better or worse, I am much better at being myself than I am at being what others may want me to be. And at this point in life, for the most part, I have edited out of my life the majority of other people (and situations) who would rather I be less creative.

Therefore I have come to the surprising realization that I have become the largest distraction in my life, and there is no longer anyone else I can blame. I can not even blame distracting circumstances either, for they, too, have been edited out.  Once you have emitted all of the excuses and rationalizations, you can come face to face with your own foibles and self-paralyzing behavior.

Whoops, I had not realized that I have become the problem as I have spent so much time battling external problems. This is both great news and terrible news. It means that there is no longer anything or anyone to hide behind. 

Therefore, I guess it is time to get to work and reduce my indulgences. Now, I have the blessing of so many supportive people, so much control over my existence, and so much opportunity to be true to myself, and it has become clear that I  now bear the sole responsibility to get the things done I have always wanted to, to make the things I always wanted to make, and to be who I always wanted to be.

In some ways, this is simply fantastic, and in others, I have come to realize that I have to say no to say yes. I have to say no to distractions in order to say yes to be true to myself. For if I do not, then I will end up drowning in distractions instead of creatively blossoming into the next rev of myself.

I guess it is time to lift a glass to the next version of me by saying No to say Yes.

Distraction Management 

Day 337 Week 49 Q4  Saturday, December 3, 2022

Do you have more interests than everyone around you? Do you have more interests than there is any chance of following up on in this lifetime or even a few more? Do you also have a backlog of ideas waiting to become interests and explorations waving to become projects and projects waiting to be completed so you can start now ones? Are you generally reading several books at one time?

Welcome to the creative outliers club. All creative outliers share these tendencies. That is, in fact, is what makes them creative outliers. Do you know how your stuff expands to all of the available space, and your tasks expand to fill the available time? Well, your mind, is no doubt larger than your physical space and available time? You can always push a few more ideas, insights and projects in there.

Have your friends ever told you that you were the world’s best starter, but no one ever told you that you were a world-class finisher? Have you ever wanted to be less gifted to have fewer options? It could be time for a distraction management campaign. This can be as involved as getting a larger space, acquiring a storage space, going on a trip, taking a walk or a ride, or simply throwing a blanket over of pile of unfinished projects. 

Whether you think of yourself, or others think of you as gifted, being an outlier, or simply having an inconvenient number of interests and or an unnecessary abundance of energy, you find yourself in the same place.  Time to reduce distractions so you can focus on results and completion instead of contemplating possibilities.  

It does not matter how; as I am sure you can imagine, an infinite number of ways to not only be distracted, but to limit distractions. What does matter is when you do it instead of planning to do it. When to do it is right now, as in immediately. Create some boundaries, and do not worry. They will only be temporary because the expansion part of your psyche is involuntary, just as the way the universe tends toward increasing entropy.

Pick a small hunk of time and a small hunk of work and connect them.

That is all. Perhaps you have already done this many times. No doubt you have. Why not do it again today?  After all, it is certainly possible to hide behind too many ideas. In fact, we sometimes come up with more ideas to spare ourselves from having to process the perfectly good prior ones.

No harm, no foul; just try a bit of distraction management sooner than later.