Talent or Bust!

Photo Credit: StartUp Podcast

How Alex Blumberg’s new Startup podcast can help you lower risk by leveraging your best talents and skills.


Alex Blumberg’s podcast about launching his Start Up is mesmerizing. The Planet Money and This American Life producer’s transparent account of launching his new business around long-form audio production is not only inspiring, it’s compelling. With each episode, I’m left with the feeling that I need to lean in even further with my own start-ups.

Why? Because this guy is like best-in-class. He might even be best in the world at what he does. I mean, how could a guy who produced some of the most celebrated journalistic audio content in history fail at creating a company about journalistic audio content for a broader audience? It’d be like Michael Jordan buying a basketball team. I know what you’re thinking. Hang with me. I’m not talking Jordan’s deal with the fledgling Hornets. In this imaginary world, I’m giving the superstar a longer playing shelf life. Imagine Jordan getting the chance to keep getting better as a player. Like living in the starting line-up for as long as he feels like playing. That’s Alex Blumberg.

Except, what’s amazing, is he’s nervous it won’t fly.

No kidding. Give Episode One a listen and you’ll get it straight away. Brilliant story telling with edge of your seat and addiction inducing drama about building a business around story telling.

Here’s a sneak peek: The first episode has him pitching a famous venture capitalist. The VC was actually an interviewee that Alex worked with on Planet Money. What’s amazing is this guy really wants to like what Alex is up to. Alex falls flat. Totally blows it.

But, of course he does. It’s actually a critical part of the story telling!

That’s the amazing part of this game Alex is playing with this show. Ultimately, we all know he cannot fail as a skilled audio story teller. That’s his best talent. So, he sharply leveraged that talent to tell a meta-story about his start-up.

Said different, in telling the story about his story, Alex Blumberg must set the table for possible failure or there is no story. Add to that the fact that he’s not yet talented in business building and you have the perfect tension. He’s making the right gamble but doing it in a way where even if the business fails, he’ll have a hit show he can add to his resume and go get hired again some place else.

Truth is, I’m not sure his business will actually make it. I’ve bought the drama. And I can’t help but keep listening to his mini-series to find out. I say that because he might not have the entrepreneurial chutzpah.

But what he does have is guts. And, since he’s so talented, he has a built in fall-back plan. Worst case scenario, he gets hired back by anybody (including This American Life or Planet Money or he takes Start Up to any network on the planet and he’s off to the races. He’s that good at what he does.

Here’s the take away for our conversation: The smart move for Alex (and me and you) is to go all in with our actual talent. But, wait a second. Wasn’t Alex already doing that over at NPR? Yes. But this time, he took the talent and repurposed it for an entirely different game: Creating his own NPR.

Too often I see folks (me included) who get vision for being a part of something new that seems sexy and big and awesome, only to be lured away taking on jobs that force me to the bottom rung of competency. If we’re clever in assessing our signature contributions, maybe we don’t have to do that every time. Maybe we can still be us, even while we go for broke on our dreams.

And that’s the gamble we’re all invited into. What skills would I dare risk it all on? What about you?

Sidenote: I’m clearly a fan of the show. And as a rookie tech investor, I’ve already reached out to him to see if WeaveWriter could be a sponsor on StartUp and begged him to be a guest on my business of creativity podcast. No response yet. :)

© Dane Sanders

Writing is the New Black

The one technology that will outlive them all

Photo Credit: Βethan

Photo Credit: Βethan via Compfight cc

Anything fragile hates volatility… – Nassim Taleb

One of my favorite insights from Nassim Taleb’s Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, is the author’s observation that the value of a technology ought not be measured by how clever and new it is. Instead, it’s worth ought to be valued by its ability to withstand (and actually get stronger) in the face of challengers.

What strikes me most is the implication in his suggestion, namely, that if he’s right (and I think he is), not all technologies should be measured equally.

Think about it. Remember a year ago (a week ago?) when you were coveting that new piece of gear or were wowed by the latest social platform or digital wizardry? If you’re having trouble remembering, it’s likely because the thing you were craving has lost almost all its worth… already! If you still don’t believe me, just consider what’s on your current wish list. I’d be willing to bet that within months of acquisition, your excitement will deminish at about the same pace as a new car driven off the lot.

In contrast, consider old technologies that have stood the test of time. I’m thinking of the Eames chair I’m sitting in as I type. Or, better yet, the idea of a chair at all.

My point (or really, Taleb’s point) is that in a world where new stuff is abundant, the greater demand there is for things that are classic and don’t go out of style… ever.

One of the grand daddies of these kinds of technologies is the ability to record thoughts in written form. Writing is one of the most powerful and permanent and uninterruptable technologies that has ever existed. And yet, in an era where there’s so much talk about new and clever ways to distribute one’s written content, there’s relatively little conversation on how to get better with actually writing it.

Reading, writing or arithmetic?

Remember the basics of education as a kid? What I was told growing up was reading, writing and arithmetic were critical skills to learn. All three are actually pretty long-standing technologies in and of themselves and the learning of each (not the practice) I think are all invaluable.

But, if you were asked to choose which carried the greatest objective value in our time, which would you select?

If it were me, I’d quickly disqualify the math function. The neuro-pathways that open up because you’ve learned to think mathmatically is significant for hardcore math-types is awesome but is lost on everyday people like me. Plus, wearable computers and robots are taking care of that skill with such precision and speed, if I had to give up one, that would be it.

In a similar vein, reading is probably second on the list of core skills that are interruptable. In the consumer age, reading is not too different than watching or hearing or experiencing – again all in abundance by technologies that are better, stronger and faster than humans at delivering the goods.

Writing, however, is in a class by itself. In a world of inhale, writing is the one exhale. It requires more of the creative to engage. Unlike the other contenders, it can’t be put into the world without an originator. This kind of particularization may make writing the most human of technologies as well.

Critics of this idea might suggest the same is true of drawing or other expressive pursuits. Perhaps. But, consider photography (my trade of choice)… even the great Henri Cartier-Bresson described making a photograph as little more than expedited drawing. To be fair, this dynamic of speed was one of the reasons why he gave up photography.

In his words, “Photography is an immediate reaction, drawing is a meditation.” Said differently and to the point of what’s being presented here, my sense is he might agree that drawing is a higher form technology with greater value than making a photograph. I’m making a similar case with writing.

Commoditized creativity… everywhere

In a world where so many consumer-level people have become a photographer, videographer, painter, researcher and super-communicator, simply by virtue of having access to a modern smart phone, it can seem intuitive to pursue what’s novel.

Isn’t it fun to chase what’s new, even as the new cannabalises our professions? Yet, the temptation to line up for what Seth Godin has called the “race to the bottom” is real for all of us.

To Taleb’s point, it seems the wise among us are paying disproportionately little attention to older technologies that, right before our eyes, are getting stronger in the face of radical disruption. What’s astonishing is how wide open that race is in contrast to the new. It’s like going in the opposite direction to traffic… at rush hour… in the carpool lane. There’s no one else on the road.

Taleb goes on to suggest that the speed with which a “new” technology moves along the curve from early adopter to obsolete, is getting faster by the day.

In this way, what’s interesting to him isn’t what’s fragile, or even what is resilient. No, his recommendation is to pay attention and invest in the things that get stronger in the face of challengers… to hold in highest regard what he calls the antifragile. Again, I agree.

So, are you saying I should become a writer?

Yes. That is precisely what I am saying. It may be the most shrewd move you might ever make creatively. And, it’s never been easier (and more ignored) than now.

It’s worth noting that I’m saying these things from the perspective of having made photographs professionally for over a decade. I continue in that trade and love it (most of the time).

I’ve also been around long enough to notice that with the abundance of photographic content, the value of “photography” has diminished. I don’t say that as a lament. I see it more neutrally than that. It is more a reflection of an economic phenomenon. With an abundance of supply comes a decrease in demand.

And yet, companies everywhere remain committed to find the right imagery and metaphors to sell their products and express their ideas. They may lean into illustration (think drawing) or hire pro’s to commission a particular work that feels out of reach. But, increasingly, stock photography is sufficient. But whether stock or custom, imagery still seems to make the economic world go around.

But in the midst of all these photo takers, I’m amazed at how many fewer writers there are on the scene. No doubt, there’s plenty of blog content and Medium articles and emails and written words. What I don’t see however are writers: people committed to get creative words out of themselves and out into the world for others to benefit from.

Why Writing Will Never Die

Want job security? Write.

Of course, there are other more cathartic reasons to write. It’s just good for the soul to get your internal world expressed out in the open. It illuminates the interior, most often for good. Even throw away words aren’t really trash. They’re more like exhales, creating fresh space for good things to inhale in their place.

Again, I think Taleb is on to something profound with his exhortation for humans to pursue all things antifragile. It’s what humans were made for. It’s how humanity has survived despite the fragilistas (Taleb’s name… so good) among us. We become stronger when antifragile is our habit. Letting the fragile things go is what wise people do.

That is what the pursuit of writing is about. The technology itself will outlast everything we’re writing about… and that’s a good thing!

Wouldn’t it be great if we put our investments in vehicles that outlived us all? That’s where I’m putting my thoughts and I beg you to consider doing the same. It might be the wisest investment you’ll ever make.


PS… Want to start your own writing habit but don’t know where to start? Go here.

LeBron James is Not Alone

Your Life as a Free Agent

Photo Credit: abardwell
Photo Credit: abardwell via Compfight cc

The story LeBron James seems to be weaving

When LeBron James announced his return to the Cleveland Cavaliers this week, he described it as ‘bigger than basketball.’ And, he’s right.

This is a big deal. But, maybe not in the way that you think.

LeBron didn’t just exercise his power as a basketball legend. No, he exercised his power as a human being… to claim responsibility over his life.

What could it look like if more of us did the same?

Sure, his situation is amplified by the fact that he’s the most impressive basketball athlete alive. He’s also the lead free agent in an extraordinary year of free agency in the National Basketball Association. He’s all over Sports Center. He’s the only thing folks from Ohio have been talking about for a week. Maybe, for the last four years.

But, none of that is the point.

Despite the apparent pressure on his shoulders, LeBron James, the human being, made a hard decision and stood by it. I love how broadcaster and former NBA star Jalen Rose put it. For months, he’s been describing LeBron not as a “businessman” but as a “BUSINESS… (long pause) man!

But the truth is, we all have a chance to be the business… if only we had the guts.

The truth about free agency (hint: we’re all free agents)

We’re all in the business of creativity. We’re all free agents. In this way, King James isn’t so special.

Except he is. Why? Because he takes dominion over his life. He takes responsibility. He knows his signature strengths as well as his constraints and adapts his life as best he knows how in the moment he’s in.

When was the last time you stood up and owned your birthright?

Believe me, I’m asking myself the same question. This is perhaps indictment and invitation for all of us.

The truth about job security (hint: there isn’t any)

I was in a conversation yesterday morning with a client who was talking about how they were afraid to leave their secure job. He was offended when I laughed out loud.

Isn’t the one truth we all know about our circumstances that they will change? So, why would anyone reasonably expect that the appearance of job security would actually be secure?

There is no job security.

And yet, when living out of scarcity and fear, I’m tempted all the time to trade my life away in the hopes that I can feel secure.

Do you think LeBron feels secure? Well, ya, he probably does. He’s got job security, right?!

Only he doesn’t either. Just like you and me, he’s one car wreck… one injury… one bad decision away from radical circumstantial change.

I think that’s why he makes decisions the way he does (four years ago and now). Because he knows he’s always on the clock. Time is ticking and he genuinely seems all-in for making the most of his life.

The truth about pundits (hint: what they think doesn’t matter)

But what about the critics spending endless hours trying to predict the good and bad of your future, speaking as if they actually know them?

Fortune tellers. That’s all they are… except Jalen Rose – he’s pretty smart.

The point: LeBron ignores the critics. Why shouldn’t you?

The truth about what does matter (hint: it’s the story you’re committed to)

What I love most about LeBron’s decision this time around was how poetic it is. He’s Odysseus. He just wants to come home.

Where do you want to come home to? What have you been wanting to come home to for a while now? Don’t you think it might be time?

Your opportunity (and responsibility) to own your life

Here’s the thing: You and I have one shot at this life on earth. Same with LeBron James. He’s stepped up and made a decision. He’s living it out as a free agent.

How free are you living?

As you assess what’s most important to your life today, just for a second, give yourself permission to dream it bigger… to commit it bigger. Go.

If your life were a story you get to write, how will you weave it?

© Dane Sanders