I’m sealing the time capsule

March 5, 2012

You know how you have some conversations that stick with you? They’re not always the ones you think will stick with you.

Well, back in early 2010 I had a conversation with a guy who had started a tech company — basically, he’d built some cool functionality where people could review products and share them in the social world. I was curious about what he was doing. But what surprised me was that he was essentially abandoning his site and moving everything to Facebook. I remember he said, “I can develop the coolest party favors in the world, but the trick is getting people to come to my party. Or I can take my party favors to the biggest party out there. And that’s Facebook.” Hmmm, I thought, why not do both?

But here I am a couple of years later with my withering blog, StuffandJunk. I’m proud of a lot of the stuff that’s on here. It really is a bit of a time capsule with interesting thoughts and ideas (at least to me). I just realize that it’s asking a lot for people to navigate here with any regularity. And I found my own habits beginning to change. I began thinking about Facebook as my own mini-blog. It’s a place I curate the things that I find interesting, usually with a short intro that gives my perspective or reaction. I really like the new Timeline feature on Facebook, because it’s even more blog-like. Facebook is fast, it’s easy, and the party is in full swing.

So thanks for visiting StuffandJunk. Maybe someday I’ll find a good reason to to dig this baby out of the ground and pop the seal. In the meantime, you can follow my day-to-day musings on Facebook. Twitter is a bit of an afterthought for me right now, but I tend to post business things there. I’m playing around with Pinterest. I’d given up on Google+, but then my daughter, passed right by Facebook without notice and added me to her circles (isn’t that interesting …?) So I’m paying a little more attention to Google+ and looking over her shoulder. Friend, follow or +1 me if you are so inclined.

Where did the time go?

December 10, 2010

At the beginning of January, 2010, almost 10 years to the day after selling our agency to DDB, I moved on.

I was excited to see how I would spend my days and only had a vague sense how it would be. But I was excited nonetheless.

I hadn’t had the kind of freedom, where anything was a possibility, since I left college. At the time, I was anxious to get into a career, and I hadn’t much enjoyed my “freedom.” So this time would be different. I promised myself to relish the opportunity.

I knew I would paint. I’d been an art major in college and had dived back into things when my kids were at napping age. (You can see what I’ve been up to at www.johnlivengood.com.) I wanted to start a web forum around sustainable home-building (www.ecomajority.com). I wanted to do some marketing/creative consulting, which I’ve been lucky enough to do with some friends old and new. But all of those goals shifted significantly when my wife, Ann, was diagnosed with breast cancer in May. We’re on the homestretch of treatments now, and things are looking good. Of all the things that have filled my days, this was the most important. Obviously.

It has been a heck of a year and I’ve learned a few things.

First, being around home most of the time has many benefits. Being close to a refrigerator is not one of them.

Second, and though I’d heard this countless times, kids grow up quickly and will be gone before you know it. I will always look back at this time with an amazing appreciation for the amount of involvement I have been able to have with them. I also realized that they really don’t like to do homework, and if you’re not there to push on them, it often doesn’t get done.

Third, I can’t imagine being away from Ann, or the kids, while Ann was going through cancer treatments. Obviously a lot of people manage it — and the patients themselves often work all through their treatments. My hat is off to them. I feel really lucky that we were able to be together. Even growing closer.

Fourth, it’s good to have something you can get lost in — even at a moment’s notice. Last January, I decided to learn to play the guitar. I had taught myself how to play the bass over the years, but I knew nothing about chords or any kind of music theory.  I’ll write more about this, perhaps, but you can find part of my guitar odyssey at www.giftwrappedgibson.wordpress.com. My only regret is that I wish I’d learned to play earlier (or hadn’t given it up when my parents wanted me to learn when I was in elementary school). Being able to disappear into a song is a great escape — a great meditation. It has truly been one of my great creative joys over this past year.  And my family doesn’t seem to mind (too much) as I work on a song, over and over and over and over again.

I get asked fairly regularly what I’m up to. In the most simple form, the answer to that is all of the above. What’s next? I don’t know. It’s probably too much to say that I have a few irons in the fire. More accurately, I have a few irons next to the fire. Who knows if anything will come of them. Whatever I do next will need to be get the juices going. That’s a prerequisite. I’m lucky enough to have a nest egg and a pretty good gig.

Speaking of nest eggs …

The genius of Albert Brooks in “Lost in America.”


September 8, 2010

Why I started EcoMajority

April 30, 2010

For the better part of last year, I’d been kicking around a website — a community really — that allows homeowners, architects and contractors to build greener, more sustainable homes.  When I left DDB at the beginning of the year, I decided it was time to build it.

It is essentially a forum where people can share their knowledge, research and experience around the sustainable building process. As I’ve said before, there is little that is black and white about making “green” choices — everything is a thousand shades of gray. Add to that the difficulty of finding information and perspective, it’s no wonder that precious few people make sustainable choices — opting instead for the “tried and true.”  I hope that by building this community, we can change that.

Originally I wanted to do product reviews. I could have done that and spent tens of thousands of dollars. Instead I chose a path that would cost much less (in the hundreds of dollars) by using the Ning Network.  I’ve chosen more of a forum format where discussions can take place, helpful links, pictures and experience can be shared.  While I believe this idea is filling an important information gap, I want to prove that there is, in fact, a community that will find this helpful. We shall see. It’s the contributions the community makes to it that will make it live or die.

As you may have guessed, after much exploration, I decided to call the site EcoMajority. I landed on this after thinking about Geoffrey Moore’s book “Crossing the Chasm.” While it is more about technology adoption, the lessons certainly apply.  It looks like this:

As opposed to Geoffrey Moore, I’m not so concerned with the “chasm” present among early adopters, but the power of the majority — the masses — when they decide to adopt new ways of doing things. The reality is that this market will really begin to take off when the majority not just begins considering these options for their homes, but when they actually begin to implement those changes. When the majority does this — the EcoMajority — good things will begin to happen. More innovation will happen. Production will rise, competition will increase and there will be more options from which to choose.  With that, prices will come down and people will buy more. And a positive feedback loop will emerge. And that will be good for the environment.

But there’s a lot between where I am today and that reality in my mind. First, I need a community. An active, engaged, contributing community willing to share their knowledge and experience. That’s you. And your many friends.  My contributions are not enough. So please feel free to pass this message along to your friends and colleagues with your endorsement. Blog about it, Tweet about it, tell your friends about it on Facebook.

Am I missing something about the iPad?

January 30, 2010

Apple just introduced the new iPad and everyone is comparing it to the Kindle to see how it matches up.  But what I’m not really seeing in the conversation is — for lack of a better term — total cost of use.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Apple. They have a lot — I mean a lot of my business. And I’m sure there will be a market for the iPad, but I don’t get how it stacks up for book lovers. At it’s most basic (Wi-Fi), it’s somewhat cost comparative with the Kindle DX. But if you want equivalent connectivity, you’re paying above and beyond that — up to $30/month. You can buy a lot of books/media for $360 a year. And they’re projecting many of the iPad’s books at $14.99 and up (compared to $9.99 or less for Kindle). That’s good for the publishing houses, and Apple, But it’s sure not good for the book-loving public. Prices just went up 50%.

UPDATE: April 2008. I’m fully admitting I wrote this post in haste. I like the iPad. I want one. But, what inspired this posts was the constant comparisons to the Kindle (which was probably heightened in Seattle’s Amazon-cognizant media). For serious, frequent book readers (all 12 of them), I don’t think it’s as good a device. But it is apparently very good at other things. As I read somewhere, it is a consumption device (not a creation device). And it’s very good at being that. Now I’m thinking I ought to wait for the 4G …

You say you’re not creative?

October 28, 2009

Owen skull&crossbonesWhether I’m talking with people about my work in advertising, or the painting I do for my own pleasure, the conversation often reaches the same point. In one way or another, people will tell me that they’re not creative at all.

It would be really easy to get on my soapbox at this point and talk about how pretty much all of us start off as creative kids, drawing and writing imaginative stories. But somehow we often lose that “skill.” Whether it’s our educational system, or kids’ peer groups, a lot of kids don’t stick with it. And like anything, if you’re not doing it often, you get rusty and that rust leads to a further lack of confidence.

Dead crowWhoops, what am I doing way up here? I must step down.

Anyway, I firmly believe that is not just about imagination, it’s about seeing — really observing — what is around you all day, everyday. There’s a beauty that we just don’t see — or worse, we take it for granted.  To really see it, you need to give your eye practice. You need to see in compositional terms. And one great way to do that is just to take a lot of photographs.

Grace blurI do. On the right side are pictures I’ve taken of my kids (I do this a lot because, well, they’re my kids. But also because I tend to paint portraits, so I like to look at how light plays across faces.) The crow was just a bit of road kill that I saw riding my bike home from work one day. I think it was worth getting off my bike for. You don’t need any good reason to take pictures. Take lots of them.

Which leads me to something that Seattle photographer Chase Jarvis is doing.  He’s taken the expression “the best camera is the one that’s with you” and turned it into a great iPhone app (the best “camera” iPhone app in my opinion, and I’ve used a lot of them), a book, and a web-based photography community.

Here’s Chase explaining it himself. Read more on his blog post.

I couldn’t have said it better myself (though I tried).

It can all change in the blink of an eye.

October 16, 2009

In the summer of 1987, I was not far out of college. Despite my accomlishement at interviewing at nearly every ad agency in Seattle, nobody would give me a job. So instead I hooked on as a writer on the client side. I knew that working at an agency was my ultimate goal, so I kept tabs on the comings and goings at various shops in town.

My Mom was a great lover of art and architecture. (Forgive the sharp right turn; it’s relevant.) She called me one day to see if I wanted to join her on a tour of downtown Seattle homes and condos. This was back in the day when Belltown was desolate — and actually living in downtown Seattle was still a bit of a novelty. Despite enjoying spending time with my Mom, I wasn’t too inclined. As bait, I’m sure, she told me that Mike Mogelgaard’s condo was on the tour. At that time, Mogelgaard and Associates was one Seattle’s hottest ad agency — and Mike was Seattle’s resident advertising bad boy. So I went on the tour.

I don’t remember much from that day. No idea how many condos we saw. But one memory is pretty clear — and while the detail may have fogged up in the ensuing years (decades!), the impression is crystal clear.

Leonard HaglerI remember walking into Mogelgaard’s bathroom and taped to the mirror was a newspaper picture. It was taken moments after Sugar Ray Leonard defeated Marvelous Marvin Hagler in their highly publicized title bout. I’m no boxing historian but this was a battle of the ages. Sugar Ray Leonard was on the last legs of his career and Hagler was the champion — widely awed and feared. Leonard, like a lot of fighters, wanted one more shot. He wanted to go out on top as the crowning point of his career. Nobody gave him much of a chance. in fact, if I recall correctly, people thought Hagler was going to simply annihilate Sugar Ray. But they would be wrong. Leonard shocked everyone. Most of all, Hagler.

The photo on Mogelgaard’s mirror showed Leonard with the belt around his waist and the crowd hoisting him onto their shoulders. The shot is from behind Hagler, and you can see him watching the crowning moment. This unbelievable glorious celebration that was supposed to be his. Everyone knew it would be Hagler’s moment to shine.

Only it wasn’t.

And as I recall, Mogelgaard had scrawled underneath the picture what I can only assume was a daily reminder to himself. “It can all change in the blink of an eye.”

I’ve never forgotten it. For me, there are many, many ways this has been instructive. Sure, there’s the most obvious interpretation. Don’t get overconfident because there’s always someone gunning for you.

But more and more I think about it in a slightly different context. This is a topsy turvy world we live in. “Expect the unexpected” is a cliche because it’s true. Probably now more true than ever. Think of all the things in life — or business — that you don’t see coming. Should you?

I suppose at that moment, standing in Mike Mogelgaard’s bathroom, I learned something not only about the advertising business, but about life.

Stay a step ahead. Never be surprised. Be ready.