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Care and Pay Attention

I’m realizing that most important work I do (and the most valued work) requires a couple simple things:

  1. Care
  2. Paying Attention

Care: Care about my clients, the work, how I go about the work, care enough to learn and grow.

Pay Attention: Notice things, dig deeper, be aware of what is happening in the moment.

Simple, but not easy.

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Grado SR225e

NOTE: This is a current, in progress review of the Grado Prestige Series Model SR225e Headphones. I’ll be updating it periodically and will document it as I go.

Check out Grado Labs here.



They’re made in Brooklyn! In the same place where Joseph Grado opened the factory in 1955.

They have a retro feeling that’s really cool. The grill gives you a glimpse of the components inside. The headband is really thin, with barely any padding. I’m curious to see if they’ll feel light over time or if I’ll want to find myself adding some padding. The cord is the thickest cord I’ve seen on headphones. It’s about the width of a mic or instrument cable and feels solid.

These headphones fit different than any other headphones I’ve worn. For my head, they are right in between on-ear and over-ear design. They have foam ear pads that feel different than the usual pseudo-leather ear pads you might find. Not good or bad, just different.

First listen
I turned to some audiobooks, some recent music on a playlist and then some reference tracks. The first word that comes to mind is “Open.” It sounds open. And technically, it is literally an open back design. But the audio sounds open as well. I can’t think of a better word to describe that aspect.

They are clear and crisp, and there is great separation in the instruments. And music sounds great at low volume too. It seems to me that the timbre of brass instruments and electric guitars especially shines. Maybe it’s simply that the headphones translate nuance well.

I gave my wife a listen and her first word was “Crisp!”

Sharing again (2/26/16)
When I let my parents have a listen, my dad remarked about the clarity and presence. My mom said they were wonderful.

Out and about
I took them out for a walk and listened to an audiobook as I walked through the neighborhood. The open back design made it great for keeping awareness of my surroundings.

I also want to point out that the cabling does great whether you have it come down in front of your head or behind. In the case of walking outside it seemed better to have it fall back and then I put the extra foot of cabling in my pocket with my phone. Even with such a small amount of cabling, I’m usually trying to carefully wrap it with the over-under method. 

Live sound (2/28/16)
I took them to my Sunday live sound gig.

For live sound it’s typical to monitor with a standard closed back set of headphones, but figured I’d give it a whirl with the Grados. They surprised me. I thought the sound leakage would be an issue in being able to clearly hear, but they worked great. I was able to keep a feel for the room while adjusting/listening to the specific instruments or mixes. While I’m sure that the bleed did affect me in some way, it didn’t feel like an issue. The other thing that stood out is the low ear fatigue even when I (very briefly) cranked the headphone amp to max.

NOTE: There is more to come. This is a current, in progress review of the Grado Prestige Series Model SR225e Headphones. I’ll be updating it periodically and will document it as I go.

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Reducing Inputs

I’ve started on a new book by Cal Newport, Deep Work.

One of my first takeaways is this:

Fewer distracting inputs plus intentional focus will likely lead to greater meaningful output.

This leads to a competitive advantage for focused work going forward. In an ever-increasing distracted economy, the simple ability to focus is going to be in high demand.


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The music of your audience

Mike plays his saxophone at the entrance to the parking garage at the Perot museum of nature and science. For the past year, he’s been there just about every time I visit. How he interacts with his product (music) changes depending on who is approaching.

For example, when a group with small kids goes by, they will likely enjoy The Itsy Bitsy Spider.

If a more mature couple strolls by, you might overhear him playing Misty from a distance.

This illustrates the simple business premise: treat different customers differently.

Another musical illustration is a story from a concert pianist I traveled with. In the Army he was assigned to play piano in the officer’s club. He found out what the favorite songs were for various officers. Soon enough he would be playing something they would like as soon as they arrived through the door.

In a way it’s a form of storytelling back to the person: Your tastes are such and such. This is how you identify yourself. You are the kind of person who would enjoy this.

Even small amounts of noticing people can go a long way.


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Are there any changes?

A recurring theme in live production is this question:

Are there any changes?

In every phase, there might be small tweaks or substitutions and additions that need to be made.

This awareness seems to be a common trait in many other fields as well.

Specifically, I’m thinking about most projects, productivity systems, events, economies, etc.

The simple awareness to this question and being able to respond appropriately can be a hinge on making something better, making it happen at all, staying on the same page, being profitable, being ready for the next time, or improving lives.

A the same time there is a tension in what filters are setup before that question is even asked. Some changes will make the experience worse or just be better suited for the next go.

However, the awareness of what is happening now and what is changing in the moment is pretty key to (especially) live events.

And the more prepared you are, the better you are able to adjust for the right changes to happen.

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Eventually, over time

The last week or so, I’ve been trying this experiment of posting something to this site daily.

A couple few thoughts:

  1. It’s easier than I thought.
  2. It’s harder than I thought.
  3. I’m consistently making it one of the last things I do in the day.
  4. It has forced me to be ok with pushing out my-best-in-the-moment instead of the-best-this-could-be-with-more-time-or-whatever.
  5. The point is to get better over time, not overnight. I’ve heard too many people say that it was the practice over years that has had great benefits for them.
  6. Is this for me or for others? I’m not sure yet. I do like the idea of having this simply for the purpose of a bookmark and reference of sorts, but I hope it’s helpful to others as well.
  7. It’s ok for this to be a work in progress.
  8. It helps to remember why. The goal is to become a better writer, noticer, sharer, teacher, student – eventually, over time.


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Doing what’s indicated

I really like this approach that Brian Clark takes on goals. Read his article here.

An excerpt:

That’s because pursuit of a planned outcome subverts smarter paths, bigger opportunities, and even clear signs of disaster. A preferable focus is on process rather than particular goals or benefits.

In my company, we call this doing what’s indicated. We always have a broad sense of direction, but we don’t create a precise step-by-step plan or dwell on specific outcomes in terms of revenue or other metrics. Instead, we start, observe, and adapt based on what actually happens.

It’s a form of improvisation, in that we’re always willing to change the route to where we’re trying to get. More importantly, we’re willing to change the destination itself.

In other words, focus on process > specific outcomes.

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A quick intro to Cal Newport and Deep Work

Cal Newport is a professor of computer science and a writer. I appreciate his no-frills approach to doing hard work. His new book, Deep Work, is a handbook for creating a deliberate practice of focused time of work. I pre-ordered the audio book and will be studying it soon. This is an approach and skill I want to develop and train with intention.

Cal recently did a Q&A session on product hunt, and I want to share a few highlights here.

How to approach deep work.

When conducting deep work:
(1) have clarity about exactly what you are trying to accomplish and for how long you’ll be working on it
(2) have some sort of ritual you do to initiate such depth sessions (signaling your brain it’s time to concentrate)
(3) get up and move as needed to rest your mind, but do not expose yourself to unrelated work or obligations (e.g., inbox glances)

How to you set yourself up to push cognitive limits.

A useful approach is to choose an artifact you want to produce that will require intense focus to complete. For example, for me to say, “think about this proof” is too ambiguous. If I instead say, “write a formal version of the proof to share with a collaborator,” I have a specific outcome to pursue that will require deep work to accomplish.
I do a lot of my work on foot or in locations other than my offices because I too get drained if I spend too much time in the same room looking at the same screen. I also try to keep my life simple. I work during the normal work day and work real hard (no web surfing, no loafing, etc.) But then my evenings and weekends I can really relax, connect with people, etc.

How to develop this ability.

Think of the ability to concentrate hard for long periods of time as being the same thing as being able to run fast for long distances. You shouldn’t expect that you can just do it right away. Build up to it and support it. It’s a goal not a starting place.

On cultivating this life.

I think there are three types of things needed to cultivate a deep life:
(1) practice your ability to concentrate
(2) aggressively put aside and protect time for undistracted work
(3) take some sort of actions that signal to yourself that focus is important to you (e.g., quit Facebook)

On distractions.

I don’t work in a way in which things can pop up. There’s certain times in my day set aside to look through inboxes and figure out what to do with things and I leave it then. To be more concrete, once a week I really take the time to make sure everything lurking in my inbox is cleared out. So I’m not always that prompt.

On email.

In a normal week, I’ll clean my inbox on Monday. Otherwise, I try to check and respond to what I can once or twice a day the rest of the weekdays. I don’t usually do much (if any) email at night or on weekends. I’m bad at email and people know it…

On social media, web surfing and more email.

Because I value focus so much, I am very worried about distraction addictions. This is why I’ve never had a social media account and don’t web surf. I don’t want to temptation. I still have trouble with email, to some extent, which is the next topic of my focus most likely…

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No Excuses

This post is a years-later re-post of an article I wrote on a syndicate that’s been discontinued. I updated a couple phrases, but mostly left it the same. Some things that could be expanded on is how things have changed with the huge improvements in music creation capability on mobile devices.

The original post was circa 2010, but the basic gist is still a relevant kick-in-the-pants for using the gear you have to get started with whatever artistic endeavor you have in mind.



Have you heard the song “Fireflies”? It’s a synthpop tune off the album Ocean Eyes by Owl City. In my mind it is a soundtrack that accompanies the idea that I have no excuse when it comes to producing great music… at least I can’t blame my equipment.

In an interview with propellerhead, Adam Young (a.k.a. Owl City) talks about the equipment used to create most of his early music:

I ran Reason 3 and a freeware single channel recording program called Goldwave on an old Dell with 255 RAM. I used a friend’s borrowed Behringer C-1 condenser microphone and an 8 channel analog mixer to record vocals and a bit of acoustic guitar in Goldwave. I then cut them up into samples and fired them off in [Reason’s] NN-XT.

Reason is a great program and often used in studios to supplement other tracks. But the rest of the gear would be considered subpar by any professional studio. Also, since Reason 3 doesn’t support direct recording of audio, he had to creatively record his vocals in another program and import them to a sample player in Reason. That’s quite a workaround, especially for vocals, and it appears the recording was going straight to the line-in of the computer, rather than through even a low-budget audio interface.

Minimal, low-budget equipment. Very Creative.

For those wanting to rush out and get his setup, I priced it (circa 2010 pricing):

– Reason 3: $30,
– Goldwave: no longer free, $19 for one year license,
– An old Dell computer: $105 for a laptop
– Behringer C-1 Microphone: $36
– 8 channel analog mixer: $40

That comes to $230. Let’s add in $120 for shipping, cables, cheap headphones, computer speakers and a mic stand. This brings us to $350.

Let’s make a couple modifications.

If you already have a computer, you can strike the Dell. Substitute the Goldwave program with the free Audacity audio editor. Skip the Mixer and opt for the $60 Behringer C-1U that connects via USB. That also eliminates the need for additional audio cables. Add $30 for a used copy of Reason 3 and $20 for total shipping. Since headphones and computer speakers usually abound we’ll also leave them out. This totals about $110. Quite a studio! I’m being sarcastic because to most audio pros this setup would be a joke.

Did I mention that the album Ocean Eyes sold about 18,000 copies its first week in digital downloads alone? In less than a year since the physical album was released it sold around 609,000 copies, hit the top 10 albums listing in the USA, and had tracks that topped the Billboard Hot 100 twice.

For some of us in the creative field, it’s easy to spend too much time admiring the gear that we wish we had, rather than making full use of what we already have. While I am interested in upgrading my equipment, the truth is that I already have the tools I need to get started. In fact, my greatest creative asset and liability is not the equipment, but only myself.

Today, I give props to Adam Young. Thanks for jumping into the creative process with the tools at hand. No more excuses.

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Beginners Mind

That elusive place between not knowing and hoping-knowing.

The joyous struggle of wrestling with the process in figuring it out.

When we “already know” it closes doors and makes choices narrower. And it’s good to have some things already set, choices made.

Then we get to spend more focused time on discovering possibilities in the areas where we need to grow or want to effect change.

Beginners mind. It’s a good place to be.

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The smallest habits

Starting anything can be daunting. Even just the idea of taking the first step can be enough to give pause or allow an excuse to creep up.

BJ Fogg says to start by committing to an action so small that it is almost ridiculous how easy it would be to actually do. “Ridiculous” is how I think of it, not necessarily how Fogg would describe it.

His example that comes to mind is flossing. If this is something you want to start, just commit to flossing one (1) tooth. That’s all. Commit to just that.



The idea is to get the habit going, even the smallest action. It’s likely that just doing the initial action will lead to doing more. With flossing, it will probably happen quickly, because once you have the one tooth flossed, it’s natural to just keep going.

You overcome the resistance of getting any momentum going. And once the smallest action becomes normalized, it’s easier to expand on that momentum.

An added bonus is anchoring that small action to another action that’s already a habit. So flossing could be tagged on to getting in the shower or brushing your teeth.

Finally, celebrating the smallest wins (with something to the effect of a mental/or audible “Woohoo!) further nails the habit into your psyche.

So if you’re wanting to start a new habit, consider this approach:

  • The smallest action
  • added on to your current routine
  • with celebration of small wins


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Small Hacks

Little hacks are fun. Today my family discovered a new one. On road trips, break up the time in the car with a short visit to a children’s museum in an unfamiliar city.

Taking breaks helps morale, and being able to take a break in a place that is lots of fun and kid friendly is even better.

Bonus: Since we already have a membership at the Perot, there are a lot of other museums that we can get in for free, including the one we stopped at today, the Terre Haute Children’s Museum.

Now that we have tried this, it seems like such an easy hack.

And it makes me think… where else are there little changes that would make a big difference without much additional work?

Outside the Terre Haute Children’s Museum

Lots of fun climbing things, which is a great counter to being stuck in a car!


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Reward smart failures

I again looked through the transcript of an AMA (Ask Me Anything) that Seth Godin held as part of launching a skillshare class.

He answered the question that I asked. It’s a question (and response) that I still think about, and I want to share it here.

The question:

Seth, you’ve talked a lot about the importance of daily trying things that might not work. I’m coming to see this as a worldview/habit/framework from which to operate. I would love to hear your thoughts on making this a habit. I’m especially interested in how to help kids develop that approach to life.

Seth’s response:

Well, does your kid get a hug and an ice cream cone when he gets an A and a perfect report card, or when he experiments and fails?

The deal with doing work that might not work is that we must reward ourselves for smart failures, and punish ourselves for not stretching. It’s the only way.

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Three books I’m Studying

I have 3 books I’m studying for this next season. I have them in the physical format and I’m planning on marking them up quite a bit, interacting with them in a tangible way. And although I usually don’t often read books more than once, I’m wanting to try something different – revisiting and continuing to interact with them for a while. It could be a few weeks of study, but I’m expecting it to be a few months. I won’t be reading these exclusively, but I hope to live with and really absorb them.

The list:

  1. A Spirituality of Fundraising by Henri Nouwen
  2. Show Your Work by Austin Kleon
  3. Rising Strong by Brené Brown
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The Voice in an Advocacy Video

The founder’s voice is often going to be stronger than a hired narrator’s voice. Don’t underestimate the power of an honest connection, even if the performance is not “professional.”

[Confession: When first working on a narration script, I tend to try to hear it as if Morgan Freeman were reading it.]

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Imperfectly Perfect

There are times when you need perfect right angles to make the building better. Other times you don’t.

One such instance is in the case of building interior walls. If you want the rooms to sound better, the walls should be slightly not-parallel. The sound will bounce around in a more pleasing way.

In our work, we get to choose where to add in (or keep!) an element that might be unexpected and appear incorrect. But it might make it even better.

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Starting with why and getting back to why

Simon Sinek has a brilliant talk that reminds us that getting at the “Why” of things is incredibly powerful.

It goes well with this Hugh MacLeod’s illustration about the market for something to believe in.


I want to think of another aspect of it. It’s a place to come back to, a home base.

When I was in college I led a student trip to Mongolia. On the way we had a layover in Beijing and wanted to explore the city during our only evening there.

Since we didn’t speak the language and there weren’t many English speakers, the concierge had a great idea.

He gave us one of the hotel business cards and then wrote down a few names of places that we might want to visit on the back. When we left in our cab, all we had to do was point to the name of the place we wanted to go on the card. Our cab driver waited for us at each place – the duck restaurant, a couple markets, that famous square. When we wanted to get back to our hotel, we just showed the front of the card and he knew to get us back.

That card was our security that evening. I probably checked my pockets several times to make sure that I still had it. It was how we got home. If we had become lost or separated from our original driver, it would have been the quickest way to get back.

Our “why” can be like that card. When we’re working on a project or testing an idea in uncharted territory – it can be the thing that grounds us. Brings us back to a safe place where we can get perspective on everything else.

It might be worth it to check my pockets. Am I remembering my “why” for each thing I’m working on? It’s by remembering the underlying reason that I’ll be able to gain direction for the project as a whole in the first place.

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A simple system

I’ve been using the StrongLifts app for over a month. It’s an iPhone app that gives you a workout and then keeps track of your progress and tells you what to do the next time.

I think its brilliance is in the simplicity. At it’s basic level you get:

  • 5 core exercises in total
  • 3 exercises per workout
  • 5 sets of 5 reps
  • start out with minimal weight at the very beginning
  • increase the weight by 5 lbs each workout

After just a month, I still haven’t hit a hard workout… yet.

But I know it’s coming…


Because of this system, I’m ok with slow progress. I know it will get hard soon enough.

I’m ok with going slowly, because I know that I’m still focusing on things like form and the habit of showing up at the gym a few times a week.

I’m ok with following a system, because I trust the person who has created the app.

I enjoy the app and the workout, because I don’t have to think about it.

My job is to simply show up at the gym and follow the lifts. Progress will take care of itself.


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Changing seasons

  I drew this a while back, and while I no longer remember the exact context, one thing sticks out. The idea of the new is so often tied to the fruitful, lush hopes we have.
Yes, that’s the point! But the pruning seasons and even winters can be (or are) just as valuable. They prepare the way for renewal and create space for the abundance to happen in the right time.

Maybe that should be celebrated more.

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Adam Palmer and a theory of the grotesque

This is Part 2 of “Beauty vs. Ugly.” A theme proposed quite a while ago when I was playing with an idea I called the email games. It ended up being on pause for too long, but may find a new life soon.

Part 1 is an interview with Dan Denardo, one of my favorite photographers. We talked about learning to see. Sometimes beauty is obvious. Like when you’re at the Grand Canyon or a tropical beach. But everyday there is beauty all around that you can easily miss if you don’t look for it.

In this interview, we talk with Adam Palmer about creating art that turns the grotesque into something interesting.

Follow Adam on Instagram here.

Listen to the unedited interview audio here:


The one and only Adam Palmer.

Adam says that it started off as a teenager’s act of rebellion. The art teacher pushed and pushed for the perfect replication of a nice bowl of fruit. At least that’s how it felt. His response was,

I’m not going to do that!

Things became more and more grotesque. Then in college the idea developed further when the challenge was to find create interest within something apparently grotesque.


(illustration by Adam Palmer)

He found a tension between interesting and attractive. Clean lines versus details that give character and frame a story.

For example, which is more memorable and intriguing? Someone who looks like they jumped out of a stock photo? Or someone with a giant scar on their face? Who would you remember more?



(Drawing by Adam Palmer)

Art is more than pretty pictures. It’s about storytelling. It’s finding the angle that is overlooked. It’s the subtle details that create texture and hint at an emotion or a backstory. It’s about creating things that make people reconsider and give a second thought to what is in front of their eyes.

I asked Adam about what might come next. His answer?

This current theme developed not-on-purpose, so I’d like it to develop naturally into the next thing.

For now, we’re still enjoying the occasional glimpse into this theory of the grotesque.


Line art in process (by Adam Palmer)

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