Sunday, December 31, 2006

Leaving a Legacy Too

With the world events of the last few days fresh in the news, I am reminded of the fact that we all leave a legacy—it is simply a matter of what kind. Demonstrating this fact are the juxtaposition of the recent deaths of former American president Gerald Ford and former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

As I have watched the events unfold, I have been impressed with the striking differences between how each man passed from life to death and the subsequent ways in which each are being remembered for how they lived their respective lives. Gerald Ford, who had greatness thrust upon him, served as a healing influence during some of America’s darkest days. Saddam Hussein, who grasped power illegitimately and ruthlessly, drove his once proud nation into the desert sands of dysfunction and defeat.

Gerald Ford, a man of deep faith and a devoted husband for more than fifty years, is being remembered with a state funeral and regal honors typically reserved for royalty. On the other hand, Saddam Hussein massacred his own people—including those of his own family—and was unceremoniously hanged for his crimes against humanity while cursing his captors. Perhaps a New York Times headline captures it best: “Saddam Hussein never bowed his head, until his neck snapped.”

As for the rest of us, what lessons are to be learned? I, for one, commit myself anew to living life with a singular focus on faith and family. For in the very end, we shall all be judged by how we treat our Creator and those closest to us. In big and small ways, our legacy is lived out on a daily basis for one and all to see.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Holiday Presence

With the holidays upon us, I am reminded of how incredibly meaningful it is to connect with the loved ones in our lives. And by connection, I don’t simply mean spending time with them; I am thinking more of engaging with one another.

In my reading lately, I’ve come across a couple of excerpts I thought I’d share here that illustrate my point precisely. In The Restless Heart: Finding Our Spiritual Home in Times of Loneliness, author Ronald Rolheiser writes: “With the ubiquity of cell phones, e-mail, instant messaging and voice mail, we are more connected than ever before. But chatter does not equal companionship and large networks do not eliminate the feeling of alienation.” In other words, it’s entirely possible to feel lonely in a crowded phone booth.

And elsewhere, commentator John R. Ehrenfeld writes: “We drive around talking into our phones, engrossed in conversation but absent from the rest of the world. The result is what Linda Stone, a former Microsoft researcher, calls ‘continuous partial attention.’ We lose our sense of engagement.”

The bottom line is that there is a big difference between being in touch with someone and being in tune with them. When all is said and done, technology can enable connectivity but it cannot ensure community. Therefore, the greatest gift we can give each other during the holidays, and year round, is being fully present during the time we spend together.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Life Caching Revisited

Earlier this year, I blogged about life caching, or digital scrapbooking, a growing phenomenon spurred by the burgeoning availability of hard drive disk space. At the risk of appearing to be a spokesperson for Fast Company [I am not but it is a great read] I must rave about the cover story of the latest issue, available at

The article features Gordon Bell, a senior research engineer at Microsoft, who has embarked on an amazing journey to digitize his entire life, including recording his phone conversations, photographing his daily routine, scanning all his paperwork, etc. and making it all searchable with the help of Microsoft’s MyLifeBits software program, which is in the developmental stage.

I don’t know that I entirely embrace the concept but there are aspects of it that appeal to me, namely the enhanced ability to recall details as quick as the click of a mouse. For Bell’s part, he loves it: “It gives you kind of a feeling of cleanliness. I can offload my memory. I feel much freer about remembering something now.”

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Design Aesthetic

While I blogged about design earlier in the year, I was recently reminded of its growing influence yet again through the pages of Fast Company, the latest edition of which is the annual design issue. The feature article, titled “Design Intervention,” is located at and highlights the design aesthetic of one of the world’s premier design houses, Philips Design.

Philips is the autonomous design agency of the venerable consumer electronics firm that has brought us the light bulb, cassette tape and compact disc, among many other innovations. A couple of years ago, it launched a creative positioning campaign called “Sense and Simplicity,” which resonates with me and others like me seeking to simplify our techno-centric lifestyle.

According to the article, the chief designer at Philips, Stefano Marzano, “has been tapped to unify the company through what it calls ‘simplicity-led design.’ He wants to establish his design principles—the unity of form and function, ease of use, and, in Philips’s world, improving the consumer’s life—as an organizing framework for the entire company…right on up to the user interface on every electronic gizmo.” Now that is music to the ears!

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Service Versus Hospitality

In the latest issue of Fast Company, there is a Q&A with Danny Meyer, the proprietor of several of the top restaurants in New York City. When asked about the hospitality aspect of his impressive operation, he stated: “One of the real keys to the success of our restaurants is understanding the difference between service and hospitality. Service is how well something is done technically; hospitality is how good something feels emotionally. I think we’re at the dawn of the hospitality economy, and the companies that prevail are the ones that realize it’s the quality of the emotional experience that sets them apart.” That's service with a smile.

Monday, July 31, 2006

The Statistics of Publishing

Fellow journalist Chris Anderson is the editor-in-chief of Wired magazine and the author of The Long Tail, a best-selling book on the economics of entertainment. According to Anderson, there’s untapped potential in the vast number of books and other media that sell relatively few copies, representing the so-called “long tail” of the sales curve.

In a recent article in industry trade journal Publishers Weekly, Anderson wrote: “Here’s the reality of the book industry: in 2004, 950,000 titles out of the 1.2 million tracked by Nielsen BookScan sold fewer than 99 copies. Another 200,000 sold fewer than 1,000 copies. Only 25,000 sold more than 5,000 copies. The average book in America sells about 500 copies. Those blockbusters are a minute anomaly: only 10 books sold more than a million copies last year, and fewer than 500 sold more than 100,000.”

And as if those statistics weren’t staggering enough, Anderson continued: “Today, there are about 32 million unique titles in America’s collective libraries. Only about two million of them—6%—are in print. Perhaps another 20%, mostly the oldest books, are in the public domain and legally free and clear to be scanned and put online. The rest—nearly three quarters of the knowledge, culture and history that lies in books—remains “out of print” but still under copyright.”

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Book by Book

If there is one thing I like about life it is the serendipitous nature of it, especially when it comes to visits to the bookstore, one of my favorite places to frequent. One such recent visit resulted in my discovery of a title called Book by Book: Notes on Reading and Life, which is authored by Michael Dirda, staff writer for The Washington Post Book World since 1978 and winner of the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for criticism.

Dirda writes in the book’s preface: “For Book by Book, I’ve set down some of what I’ve learned about life from my reading. In its character the result is a…bouquet of insightful or provocative quotations from favorite authors, surrounded by some of my own observations, several lists, the occasional anecdote, and a series of mini-essays on aspects of life. Above all, I hope the result is, to echo the poet Horace’s old formula, dulce et utile—enjoyable and useful—a book to read slowly, to browse in, and return to.” I must say, it is that, and then some. Check it out by visiting

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Wired But Disconnected

While I appreciate the advances of modern technology, one of my pet peeves concerning it is that we’ve become what I call “wired but disconnected.” If you’re like me, you know other people—even friends and family members—who share the disrespectful habit of talking on their cell phones, checking their emails, etc., while you’re trying to engage them in meaningful conversation, often during meals or other such private times.

It seems that we’ve become tethered to our gadgets but unplugged from the lives of those around us. The irony here is that our widgets were designed to draw us closer together instead of coming between us. Of course, if used properly, technology and its corresponding toys are gifts that allow us to stay in touch with those we love.

The “disconnect” occurs when otherwise well-meaning people fail to acknowledge and respect the proper protocol for communicating effectively. For example, think of the “walkie-talkie” cell phone user who publicly chats away, obviously oblivious to life as we know it. And don’t even get me started with “crackberry” users who pay more attention to incoming emails than to the person seated in front of them for supper.

What it all comes down to is a need to practice the presence of people. The most important person we encounter at any given moment is the one we’re with at the time. And the greatest gift we give another is to be fully present with that person, particularly if it is someone we claim to love but typically ignore in our chase to be “connected.”

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The People Business

Between a story on CBS’s 60 Minutes and an hour-long feature on CNBC’s American Made, a new program spotlighting homegrown entrepreneurs, Starbucks and its chairman Howard Schultz have been front and center in the media lately. I must admit I came away from both programs impressed by Schultz the man and his mission to brand Starbucks as what he calls a “third place,” which the church also could model, incidentally.

“We aren’t in the coffee business, serving people. We are in the people business, serving coffee. And the experience is defined by what we have characterized for a long time as Starbucks becoming this ‘third place’ between home and work,” said Shultz. “The environment and the experience is the brand. It’s a very important distinction that people use our stores all over the world as an extension of their daily lives, and sometimes the coffee is subordinate to that.”

Friday, March 10, 2006

Caching Life

I read a cool blog at Christian Lindholm is vice president of global mobile products for Yahoo and before that he was the software creator of Nokia’s Lifeblog, a multimedia journal. What I found interesting was his admission that after 14 years of electronic notetaking he has gone retro and started using Moleskin notebooks.

Pardon the pun, but on that note, multimedia journals are all about a trend called “life caching,” which is basically digital scrapbooking, whereby people mine the detritus of their lives in order to document them for posterity’s sake and to be able to relive them at a later time.

An example of life caching is the use of portable flash drives, or memory sticks as they are sometimes called, which serve as digital “life files,” capturing and preserving moments as memories. Interestingly, it has been suggested that sharing an experience may become as valuable if not more valuable than the actual experience itself.

Reinier Evers, founder of, identified the trend of life caching and has this to say about it: “Human beings (fueled by vanity, by a need to raise their self-worth, by their desire for validation, for control, for immortality) love to collect and store possessions, memories, experiences, in order to create and share personal histories, or just to keep track for practical reasons. And now, thanks to an onslaught of new technologies and tools, from blogging software to memory sticks to high definition camera phones, they can.”

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Simplicity by Design

I never really thought much about design until I read a recent article about it in my favorite magazine, Fast Company. And it got me to thinking about how much design has actually influenced many of the major purchases I've made in my life.

From my Nokia cellphone to my Apple laptop to my Honda sedan, design has played an overwhelmingly influential, if somewhat subconscious, role in my decision making. As I thought about what my personal buying habits suggest an affinity for, the word that came to mind is: simplicity.

Indeed, one of Honda's advertising campaigns used "simplicity" as its unique selling proposition. And anyone even remotely familiar with technological trends is aware of how design simplicity has helped to make Nokia and Apple leaders in their respective fields of creativity.

None other than agent provocateur Tom Peters has suggested that design is THE differentiating factor in the marketplace of today. For more insights about the role of design, especially as it relates to simplicity, I suggest visiting and