Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Faith, Freedom and Happiness

(illustration by William Sharp)
Understanding the nature, and meaning, of Faith, Freedom and Happiness has always intrigued me. Aside from the Bible no one I know of has done so masterful a job tackling this topic as did F. Dostoyevsky in his book The Brother's Karamazov, a book which truly mesmerized me back in college. That said, when I saw the following write up (below) in Sunday's NYT re: what is arguably the most intriguing section of the book itself  in the form of a story in a story titled The Grand Inquisitor I wanted to share it.


The Freedom of Faith: A Christmas Sermon

The Stone
The Stone is a forum for contemporary philosophers on issues both timely and timeless.
In an essay in The Times’ Sunday Book Review this week the writer Paul Elie asks the intriguing question: Has fiction lost its faith? As we are gathered here today, let us consider one of the most oddly faithful of all fiction writers, Fyodor Dostoevsky. More specifically, I’d like focus pretty intensely on what some consider to be the key moment in his greatest novel — arguably one of the greatest of all time — “The Brothers Karamazov.” (Elie himself notes the 1880 masterpiece as an example of the truly faith-engaged fiction of yore.) I speak in particular of the “Grand Inquisitor” scene, a sort of fiction within a fiction that draws on something powerful from the New Testament — Jesus’s refusal of Satan’s three temptations — and in doing so digs at the meaning of faith, freedom, happiness and the diabolic satisfaction of our desires.
First a little biblical background.
Scene 1 – In which Christ is sorely tempted by Satan
After fasting for 40 days and 40 nights in the desert, Jesus is understandably a little hungry. Satan appears and tempts him. The temptation takes the form of three questions. The first involves food. The Devil says, and I paraphrase, “If you are, as you say, the son of God, then turn these stones in the parched and barren wilderness into loaves of bread. Do this, not so much to feed yourself, starved as you are, but in order to feed those that might follow you, oh Son of God. Turn these stones into loaves and people will follow you like sheep ever after. Perform this miracle and people will happily become your slaves.”
Jesus replies, “Not on bread alone shall man live, but on every word proceeding through the mouth of God.” In other words: “Eat the bread of heaven.” Jesus refuses to perform the miracle that he could easily carry out — he is, after all, God — in the name of what? We will get to that.
read the rest of the article here

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Ever wonder what the work of Holy Spirit looks like?

Was thinking of ways to describe the work of God's Holy Spirit may look like and after reading Genesis Chapter 1 (here) and viewing images of Mars (here), comparing Earth and Mars might be good example of a worlds "with" vs one "without" the Holy Spirit.
With the Holy Spirit
Without the Holy Spirit

Friday, December 7, 2012

Leading vs Leaders

One of the best explanations of the difference between one who leads a project vs a team of people.

Sinofsky Led at Microsoft, but That Doesn't Make Him a Leader

The departure of senior Microsoft executive Steven Sinofsky earlier this week has had business and tech circles buzzing. It was unexpected, immediate, and came on the heels of the release of Windows 8. Throughout the press accounts of the breakup, Sinofsky was consistently referred to as a "leader." In fact, the New York Times held up this event and the departure of Apple executive Scott Forstall as examples of the challenge of knowing when to keep "brilliant leaders who cannot seem to get along with others..."
Full disclosure: I do not know Mr. Sinofsky and I want to disparage neither him nor his accomplishments. He may well be looked back on as a technology visionary. What I take issue with, however, is our collective tendency to automatically call people in senior positions "leaders" and then be disappointed when they fail to display leadership.
Read the rest of this article here.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Mobile vs Digital: How a 180+ Year old publisher figured it out.

Every once in a while I find a company doing something cool.

Was speaking with a friend of mine John Morse, President of Merriam-Webster (M-W) and he reminded me that he now has two (2) legacy products; "print" and "digital". What I really liked about this comment is that regardless of what you may think about America's most oldest and most venerable Publisher that is pushing 180+ years of existence - and yes they are still in same building in Springfield, MA that they moved into in the early 1930s - John and his leadership team understands how to refresh what is arguably the dowdiest of published products - a dictionary - by keeping current of their customers needs. For example their two most recent "mobile" offerings include an integration into of their core dictionary into Windows 8 and for use on a SmartPhone are good examples of what publishers can and should be doing to delight their users. (BTW - I have the M-W app on my smartphone.)

I believe the key to M-W's success with their mobile offerings is that they've figured out that it's not the 180+ year old dictionary (the ISBN) that matters for their success but it's the benefit derived from the use of that published product that "delights the users". Words are more important than ever given the growth of IM, FB, Blogs and email and M-Ws mobile solutions can make it even easier for anyone to express themselves clearly, correctly and more effectively (aka make yourself look smarter and sharper) by enabling them to quickly find just the right words. Besides, I often come across words in books and novels that I need to look up.  Maybe I'm old fashioned but I still love good prose. With the new mobile offerings M-W can bypass the "ISBN-shackles and monetize the benefit of what they have to offer their users. For everyone outside of traditional "textbook" publishing this may not seem so radical but for those on the inside of traditional publishing Morse and his team's efforts are more akin to proving that the world is in fact round.

(Note - I realize that there are many other good examples of publishers who have made the transition from digital to mobile but I just thought M-W's efforts were notable by virtue of their history and core offering.)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Fixing Farming ... remarkable new info.

Every once in a while a story hits me that is really great news and if true it's the kind of story that needs to be told. Here is a quick excerpt from this weekends NY Times.

"The study was done on land owned by Iowa State University called the Marsden Farm. On 22 acres of it, beginning in 2003, researchers set up three plots: one replicated the typical Midwestern cycle of planting corn one year and then soybeans the next, along with its routine mix of chemicals. On another, they planted a three-year cycle that included oats; the third plot added a four-year cycle and alfalfa. The longer rotations also integrated the raising of livestock, whose manure was used as fertilizer.

The results were stunning: The longer rotations produced better yields of both corn and soy, reduced the need for nitrogen fertilizer and herbicides by up to 88 percent, reduced the amounts of toxins in groundwater 200-fold and didn’t reduce profits by a single cent."

Click here for the whole story.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Branson's Five Tips on Starting a business

Richard Branson
Richard Branson has started over 300 business over the past 30+ years and I like his take on five (5) keys to remember when starting your business. Interesting to note the lack of emphasis on planning, budgeting and market research. Good stuff

1. Listen more than you talk

We have two ears and one mouth, using them in proportion is not a bad idea! To be a good leader you have to be a great listener. Brilliant ideas can spring from the most unlikely places, so you should always keep your ears open for some shrewd advice. This can mean following online comments as closely as board meeting notes, or asking the frontline staff for their opinions as often as the CEOs. Get out there, listen to people, draw people out and learn from them.

2. Keep it simple

You have to do something radically different to stand out in business. But nobody ever said different has to be complex. There are thousands of simple business solutions to problems out there, just waiting to be solved by the next big thing in business. Maintain a focus upon innovation, but don’t try to reinvent the wheel. A simple change for the better is far more effective than five complicated changes for the worse.

3. Take pride in your work

Last week I enjoyed my favourite night of the year, the Virgin Stars of the Year Awards, where we celebrated some of those people who have gone the extra mile for us around the Virgin world. With so many different companies, nationalities and personalities represented under one roof, it was interesting to see what qualities they all have in common. One was pride in their work, and in the company they represent. Remember your staff are your biggest brand advocates, and focusing on helping them take pride will shine through in how they treat your customers.

4. Have fun, success will follow

If you aren’t having fun, you are doing it wrong. If you feel like getting up in the morning to work on your business is a chore, then it's time to try something else. If you are having a good time, there is a far greater chance a positive, innovative atmosphere will be nurtured and your business will fluorish. A smile and a joke can go a long way, so be quick to see the lighter side of life.

5. Rip it up and start again

If you are an entrepreneur and your first venture isn’t a success, welcome to the club! Every successful businessperson has experienced a few failures along the way – the important thing is how you learn from them. Don’t allow yourself to get disheartened by a setback or two, instead dust yourself off and work out what went wrong. Then you can find the positives, analyse where you can improve, rip it up and start again.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Strategies for conversion optimization.

People often ask me about ways to improve the bounce-rate and ultimately conversion rate on their website and I came across the following list of things most everyone should at least consider. Each one of these can be a deep discussion but in particular I think its important to pay attention to things people will "see" before they "read".


Answer Wiki

Summary: Don't try to create a frankenstein website that leverages all of the recommendations below. You should consider this a tool box of techniques to test on your site and figure out the practical and impractical usage of these techniques as it relates to your product and customers, and how these techniques fit into your overall product and design vision. There is alot of great software (best I've seen is Spring Metrics) out there that allows you to quickly and easily test most of the main ponints below...

A summary of the main points explained below:
  • Use buttons instead of text links
  • Test button location and language
  • Test button size, color and contrast
  • Focus on page speed since latency kills conversion rate
  • Utilize headlines and subheadlines to explain the value prop
  • Don't use too much text. Be clear and concise
  • Color may dictate intent so think about the color of your design
  • Images can aid conversions or detract from them. Test images wisely
  • Testimonials can provide product validation and drive conversions
  • Product videos can be effective when used in the right business vertical
  • Pair referrer intent with landing page context (eg dynamic landing pages)
  • Simplify signup forms by automating or removing as many fields as possible
  • Use social pressure around calls to action e.g. "'N' of your friends are also using this product"
  • Test email subject lines, sender address, and time of day/day of week for optimizing open rates
  • Consider plain text emails over html emails because they may convert better (but test to find out!)
  • Use Facebook ads for direct acquisition but make sure you land users on a custom Facebook tab since conversions on FB are 2x - 3x on FB versus a landing page off of FB
  • FB ads can be optimized by doing image rotation + creative rotation every couple of days, testing in multiple countries since the US is 5x more expensive than most countries, and by isolating demographic segments that convert well
  • Simplify your click to conversion pipeline with FB ads (same goes for any ad platform really)
  • Use Dynamic Keyword Insertion to improve Adwords CTRs and bring down your costs by improve Quality Score
  • Use dynamic landing pages as a destination url for your Adwords ads
  • Test the placement of social sharing buttons on your site to optimize for share conversion rates since referrers to your site from social media properties may have a 2x or 3x higher conversion rate to signup since they are "warm" referrers
  • Use tweet analytics and automation tools to figure the "ideal anatomy of a tweet" in terms of when to send a tweet, how long the tweet should be, and what sort of tweet information your followers find most interesting
  • Optimize your SEO meta data for organic CTR and conversion rate to signup  by using calls to action in the meta data
  • If you have fewer than 20,000 keywords in an Adwords campaign, make 1 ad group per keyword. That ensures that you have 100% match between the title of the ad group and the 1 keyword in the ad group. That can virtually ensure a Quality Score of 4/10 to 6/10 on almost all keywords in your campaign. It's a quick win for establishing much better Quality Scores from the start
Most importantly: Test, Optimize, Rinse, Repeat...

Friday, July 27, 2012

WWLD (What would Lincoln do?)

"During the US Civil War, hatred became entrenched between the North and South. In one instance, President Abraham Lincoln was criticized for speaking of benevolent treatment for the Southern rebels. The critic reminded Lincoln that there was a war going on, the Confederates were the enemy, and they should be destroyed. But Lincoln wisely responded, “I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends.”
Lincoln’s comment is insightful. In many ways it reflects Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount: “I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:44-45).
We will encounter difficult people in our lives—some on whom we will need to set limits. But to give in to the temptation to undermine or hurt them in any way is not God’s way. Instead, we should pray for them, show consideration, look out for their best interests, and emphasize the positive. This may result in changing an enemy into a friend.
Not everyone will respond positively to us, but we can pray and plan for a more harmonious relationship. What difficult person can you start befriending?" 

Monday, July 23, 2012

A shame

The Golden State Is Made of Lead ... and so are many others.

Great read re: state of managed economies

“We’ve been living in Fantasyland,” incoming California Gov. Jerry Brown announced in a December forum on the state’s dire budget situation. “It is much worse than I thought. I’m shocked.”

Sunday, May 20, 2012

My friend Andrew died today.

Andrew Ragan, seen here with his two son Briggs and Quinn, went to be with the Lord today after an epic 5+ year battle with ALS. We all hoped and prayed for a miracle and I was constantly amazed by the outpouring of love and support from family and friends. Andrew will be missed but his legacy will remain alive for generations to come. Article in local Paper Andrew was a good friend, great husband and wonderful father. Keep Kelli and her boys in your prayers. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

5 Keys to successful "Christian Walk"

Just wanted to share a message I heard on Jan 1 2012 from my friend Ray Lightcap titled the Five (5) ways to a successful Christina walk (life). These five (5) were based on the first nine (9) verses in Joshua which are below in blue; fascinating read. It is remarkable how clear and specific (and applicable) this message God had for Joshua is for us today.  Here they are:

1. Accept what God has given us; His blessing. (v2)
2. Realize the superiority of our (your) position (v5)
3. Sense the power and presence of God (v8)
4. Exercise our strength; act in the best interests of each other. "Strong is not hard" (v6)
5. Follow God's word - read the scripture daily. (v8)

1 After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide:2 “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. 3 I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. 4 Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. 5 No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. 6 Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.
 7 “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Read the rest.