Vincent Writes

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Category: Personal Blog (page 1 of 12)

Be Consequential

As a creator, writer, artist, or entrepreneur, that is probably the greatest struggle we face. It’s the greatest lesson I learned from focussing on pure sales for several years, it’s the greatest goal I pursued in my writing and in my work as both a business owner and an employee.

In writing, this is hard for several reasons. What moves people and how do you measure it? Can you be aware of it before placing the first word on the screen? The way we measure written value is by tracking eyeball metrics, but those can just as well be attracted to a catchy title or book cover, and not at all be affected by the writer’s content. On an individual level, it’s a great balance between this measured relevance and then the feelings of your own and perhaps a focus group of users’ perception of value. At times, I would imagine, these can be quite far apart from each other.

In sales, perception and reality are much more aligned. The bad reputation of sales based on “lying to customers to get a sale” is quite misconstrued. Lying to get a sale is not sustainable. It’s the simple difference between the effort of selling to new customers or to existing customers. A “liar” would never get a second sale and would hence have to keep finding new customers, which is very hard. An honest sales person would build up his or her reputation with existing customers and be able to come back for another sale, which is, relatively speaking, much easier. Their financial revenues will, over time, be much higher and predictable.

When looking at other business functions, we return to similar conflicts that writers have. An entrepreneur will have to do a lot of product development and business building before getting both positive feedback and sales results. He or she too will have to rely on focus groups, by which I mean lead users or experts, and on his or her own conviction, to see if their business will add value. In the end, if the business sells product, perhaps the discrepancies will dissappear. Even so, much of the effort that entrepreneurs make (9 out of 10 new businesses fail more than once~source: 2008 statistics) is often not appreciated in the sales figures.

Because of the simple broadness of scope, it’s harder to discuss every business function’s consequence on others. Generally, the more linked your work is to the goals of the business, as well as to the needs of customers, the more valuable it is. It’s hard to teach that, it’s harder to understand that. Books like Ram Charan’s “What the CEO Wants You to Know” can teach you a lot, moving across different functions and running a business of your own will teach you a lot more–neither of which is an experience many people have.

The lesson in all of this is that it pays to not just DO, but be aware of the WHY behind it, or rather the WHY for the people affected by what you do. This can be taught or be instinctive, and is hardly ever as you expect it. You can believe one thing, which can be perceived differently by your surroundings; vice versa your surroundings can need one thing, which you can’t quite make a reality. The entrepreneur’s or writer’s journey is the most telling: it takes a lot of effort to get to word 1 or product 1, effort that may never be recognised, especially if the work is out of sync with its environment. Balancing that understanding with the work is what we all should aspire to do.

Inconsistencies:
if a writer sells, isn’t the feedback honest?
if a sales person helps rather than sell, isn’t there a misalignment?

Blog Hiatus

Even though, I only have a handful of readers after launching this site — the costs of a rebrand are high, young Jedi! — I still have to make this announcement. Over the next two weeks, I hope to make a deadline to produce a 10,000 word story for a competition. The responsibilities of life and this blog are not contributing to this, so I’ll have to make concessions in the area of least resistance, this blog.

I’ll be back beginning to mid November. Enjoying this writing medium too much to let it go…

Personal TOTD: Life’s too short to read non-fiction

Here’s the thing. From my mid-twenties to my mid-thirties, I read topical books about business. I read biographies from eBay, McDonald’s, and Starbucks, management advice from ‘One Minute…’ to ‘What The CEO Wants You To Know,’ and much, much more.

But here’s some business advice as well. Nothing binds people more than “Let me tell you a story about…” People are not just parts of the organizational machine, they are creative souls that want their lives to have meaning. That kind of meaning you don’t find in a business book. Leaders need to know how the pieces fit together, but it’s not enough to expect others to feel the same way.

Long story short, fiction teaches us about storytelling more than any other type of medium. It teaches us about buildup and climax, about laughter and tears, about right and wrong. A story means more than just a success or just a failure. No one ever got inspired by a spreadsheet but about what that spreadsheet means in the greater context of their lives.

TOTD = Thought of The Day

On Personal: Thoughts on Minimalism (in running)

What is the essence of you? It’s you underneath all of those clothes. But it’s also about eliminating the barriers that we (artificially) create between us and the outside world. While I am not advocating going au naturel in the sense of clothing, I am more and more falling for the concept of minimalism where it comes to running and walking.

It all started with a pretty serious injury. I climbed and fell down perhaps 5 metres, attached to a rope, which did not prevent my feet from coming up against the wall hard. The natural spring that is the foot when it’s strung tight into a climbing shoe did nothing to cushion that blow and my tendons got overstrechted, resulting into an injury that has by now has lasted over 3 years.

You read a lot about feet when you wake up day after day with pain. In my case, the plantar fasciitis plaging both feet, seemed and continues to seem incurable, after clueless doctors and physiotherapist gave it their best shot, after wearing special soles for a year, and after having this moment of just giving up.

What helps, I found it, are strength and streching exercises, and what also helps is getting plenty of blood flowing in the inflamed areas and remove any strain from other compensating parts of your legs. But ok, this is not medical advice about how to treat plantair fasciitis. If doctors do not know, I do not see how I can share anything but personal anecdotes.

A friend told me about minimalist shoes, which scared me somewhat. I kept hearing of the impact your heels can have on pavement without the added protection of the traditional cushioned shoe. But both despair and a book I read several years ago (Born to Run) pushed me over the edge. I got my first pair of minimalist running shoes, followed by two minimalist shoes for everyday walking.

And that is what I do now 95% of the time: walk and run minimalist. The transition wasn’t so bad, it took perhaps a few days of interval training (running and walking intermixed). And then I became hooked. There is something that minimalist shoes have that seduce you into only liking them, and that is toe-room. When I slide my feet into an oldschool Adidas shoe, I inmediately feel trapped. My toes are squished together and it just doesn’t feel natural.

But if I go back to minimalist shoes (I use Merrell Road Gloves and Ecco Biom walking shoes), my feet are in dreamland.

The primary question is of course, does this resolve plantar fasciitis? The main effect of minimalist shoes is that your feet have to work continually, which strengthens the feet and brings more blood flow. But it’s not as simple as that. Your entire body compensates for the pain felt in your feet. My ankles and calves are usually cramped, putting more strain on my feet as well. Any solution has to be holistic to include dealing with those cramps.

My condition has improved and continues to improve every day, but it continues to be hard and targetted work. Minimalist shoes are a choice that I think puts the focus on your feet, but they are most certainly not the cure. They should be worn with the disclaimer that they too can cause serious injury if used inappropriately.

On Personal: Unifying Themes on this “Blog”

Those few that read me prior to vincentwrites.net, knew that I had this (weird) stick of microblogging. Essentially, I would start different blogs for different purposes, from personal, to Tech, to food & retail, to Media reviews, to publishing. It was my way of learning about a given topic, much like starting a new (paper) notebook for a new topic. Much like those, I would also occasionally finish one or end up tearing it up.

Vincentwrites.net was my way to unify everything on a system that I owned. I still segmented areas, sort of, through the use of categories, descriptors/tags in titles (“On Personal”, “On Tech”, “(favourite) In Movies”, “(favourite) In TV Shows”, etc.), and matching menus, if you navigated this site instead of RSS.

Then a new complexity occurred (thanks Vincent), and I tried to add link blogging with the symbol ” 火 ” (I love that symbol). You may have noticed more of these recently, due to a lack of time / a holiday. Now, as much I love 火 blogging, I’m keenly aware that a Japanese symbol meaning light in English, doesn’t mean squat to the random reader and does not communicate a very clear purpose either. Sadly “In Web” or “In Link” looks kind of stupid (to me).

Essentially this will likely mean that I will add another navigator in the form of a 火 = Link menu, as well as a Link tag on the post. To follow when I return to a PC. Yes, nearly everything I write, is on an iPhone.

Is unification possible? Not as far as I can imagine. It’s a fact that my interests are too broad, even if there are underlying themes relating to art, innovation, the creative process, or scifi. Past experience has also shown me that eventually any micro topic dies, aka provides less of a challenge/novelty, resulting in the sad closure of such an activity. I will thus continue this “unification” process, as hard as it may be to follow.

Any feedback, good or bad is appreciated.

P.S.: You do have to wonder (this is the personal part), whether all of this is OCD or has a real point…

On Personal: Two-Dimensionality

This post was written after a bit of a break in writing, so I hope you excuse the weird angle (no pun intended).

I’m looking at a picture on my desktop, of a swimmer in a large cave, floating underwater, his body facing upwards. The smooth surface of the water makes him seem entirely two-dimensional, much like e.g. a fossilized insect, preserved in amber for millions of years. It makes me wonder about how the combination of the man, the water, perhaps the sun reflecting on the water, and the stillness of it all create this effect of dissociation between what we see and what we know to be true. That this man is in fact a real three-dimensional object.

X’Keken Centote in the town of Dzitnup just outside of Valladolid in the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico Photograph by John Stanmeyer, National Geographic

Every day on my way to work, I bicycle past a building in the Hague, called the Peace Palace. I’m fascinated by this building, because it seems more like a painting than a three-dimensional object. I’m reminded of a Stanley Kubrick movie, Barry Lyndon,  who was trying to accomplish the effect of making these moving images seem like the viewer was enjoying a painting.

I’m fascinated by the illusion that is presented in all of these situations and it’s not all to different from speaking to someone over the phone and only getting 5% of the message, because the other 95 would have been communicated via non-verbal means. I too wonder about the illusion of understanding, which can often be the mind of the perceiver filling in the blanks for him/herself.

I’ve never truly looked at the picture on my desktop with such concentration before, but feel enriched by the detail. I must confess that I would’ve never thought to write about it if it wasn’t for the Peace Palace, and perhaps never thought about that, if it wasn’t for Barry Lyndon. Strange how the mind works.

 

 

 

 

 

On personal: Diary

Tags in Titles
I noticed that sites like lifehacker and IO9 (both Gawker sites) abandoned having tags in their title. I picked it up because I wanted to make it easier to navigate a site filled with diverse content. It may also appear compulsive, but it’s still better than chaos.

Structure and its Effects
In one word, it brings calmness. It doesn’t matter if it’s about this site, raising a child, managing people, of helping customers, the act of delivering promises in a transparent way allows for everyone involved to feel like they can predict what happens. I.e. It brings calmness.

The Concept of Win-Win
Often forgotten, having two parties feel like they won requires one to lose temporarily. I’ll leave it at that, much too controversial a thought.

Writing Confidence
Only speaking for myself, writing feels like an avalanche. The more I write, the more confident I am about my words. It’s similar to speaking a language.

But strange things happen to me if it ends up being a complex thought that doesn’t come out the way it should. I’ve been struggling with two complex works this month: an article about pivoting and a fantasy story. The first should’ve been published last week, but just didn’t come together; The fantasy story has to be rewritten. That process is painful, hits that spot that pride occupies and sometimes blocks other flows of writing. It’s in the judgement of the writer to choose which work should be rewritten or abandoned. I decided to delete the pivoting draft and maybe try it fresh sometime in the future. The fantasy story is part of my learning process to manage complex narrative.

That’s all folks!

Thoughts on Production Flow on vincentwrites.net

I’m trying to get away from the constraints of writing imposed by linearity, time, and categories. In essence: I want certain to content to be short & one time (reviews & short thoughts), some content to be a piece of a greater puzzle (thoughts that contribute to essays), and some content to be permanent (essays & fiction).

As a reader, you will see that I already made a split between favourites (reviews) and thoughts (everything else). I want to add another space for essays, which will take longer to produce, and will benefit from a steady flow of shorter thoughts.

Stay tuned for that.

4S Stands for For Steve

I’ll just start writing and see where I will end up. Yesterday, I found out about Steve Jobs passing away. It saddened me greatly, like a friend of mine passed. There have been many obituaries written since, well, since Steve stepped down from the CEO position at Apple in August. People, not me, sensed that the end was nigh and many voiced their memories. Still, yesterday was special with some pretty amazing memories coming up of a man that changed the world, some say for the better, some don’t care.

On Tech IT Easy, I didn’t write much about the man, Steve Jobs. I wrote about his products and it seems to me that that is how he wants to be be remembered. The most intimate piece I wrote was about my relationship with my iBook, which was my most beloved gadget until, I guess, I got my iPhone 4. Me and my ‘Book went through a lot of tough times. It even, at some point, seemed like it was having a cardiac arrest (every time Airport was used, because the card was loose), but still, we got through it together. It continues to be the most durable laptop I’ve owned, with many previous and subsequent machines dying within a year or two (one of my Macbook’s actually got stolen after a few months, so I’ve gone through 3 in 2 years).

I miss Steve Jobs as an example in my life of how I want to be. He’s had an all consuming passion for his company and I hear that he loved his family very much. He left a mark, a big one, for all of us, and that too is something to aspire to. That I aspire to.

The end and the beginning.

Breakfast Routines

  • Get woken up by the artificial sun

IMG 0981[PIC]

  • Do 10-15 min. of “authentic yoga” and “new york meditations
  • Muesli and fruit — the breakfast of champions!
  • Vitamine A, D (both from cod liver oil), B, C (both from pill), zink, and Glucosamine (to support my aching bones after exercise).
  • Coffee with… get ready… a spoon of instant coffee, a spoon of instant coco, a bit of cinnamon, hot water, a spoon of honey, and milk. DE… LICIOUS!!!
  • Bike to work.
  • Done!

The watch

So I got one on the plane. It’s more of a bracelet with a digital
clock built in. There’s some design issues, such as that you can’t
instantly see what time it is–the concave face makes visibility hard
and it also flashes between the date and time due to space
constraints. But ok, if you want a compact, waterproof watch that
hopefully works well with sports like climbing, this watch is a good
one. It’s made by Breo, but my sister kept asking me what time it is
on my Bio watch…

I didn’t wear a watch for most of 2010, due to climbing. It’s an
aggressive sport and I banged my last watch up good, also my wrist
actually got so thick that I broke the metal strap and never bothered
to fix it.

The general problem with an absent watch is your sense of time. I have
a friend I see about once a month in the Hague. I am consistently
late. The same for other events. I’d like to blame it on my
mediterranean (non-)perception of time, but it’s really about not
having a continuous awareness of time.

Now, when I brush my teeth, I can check what time it is; when I’m on
my bike, I can see the time; etc. It allows me to dynamically adjust
to the needs of that moment and how it affects the rest of the day.

God bless the watch.

– –
Sent from a phone, so apologies for any spelling mistakes.

In the moment

Yesterday I was hiking in Howth, a mountainous region just outside
Dublin and next to the sea. It was a magnificent sight, quite sunny,
but also windy and we were surrounded by deadly cliffs on the one side
and slightly less deadly nettles on the other. Yet, being someone for
whom the outdoors feels like a well-fitted shoe, I hiked at a rapid
speed. But I did stumble once, looking ahead towards our destination,
instead of at where my feet landed.

I bought a book today, called “the decision book.” It presents 50
models to evaluate situations. One was about to what extent we are
focussed on the past, the present, and the future. Another was about
flow and how we are most happy when challenged and things make sense.
These two are surprisingly hard to merge.

While hiking, you think of three things: the moment, so that you value
the experience and what you have; the future, so that you know where
you’re going; and the past, so that you know where you came from. The
flow is a combination of all three. My sister had to go to the
bathroom, but she distracted herself by staying in the moment. It
looked like rain, so we quickly hurried towards our destination, our
future. We decided that we were hungry, based on all the walking we
had done. It’s a subtle interplay between periodic thinking, of which,
in many ways, staying in the moment is the superior mode, but ignoring
the other ones can mean underestimating your need for resources and
replenishment, or simply getting lost.

The reason I love physical adventures is because they often make for
great analogies to more complex problems.

– –
Sent from a phone, so apologies for any spelling mistakes.

Write something uniquely helpful everyday.

Don’t be nostalgic about your past. My sister hires and fires people.
People that just like her started at the bottom. She takes a hard line
about it, placing the business first. Two days ago, I struck up a
conversation with one of her employees, who was waiting to check out
at quarter past. It was wrong on her part, I didn’t realise it and
when my sister found out, she set back her clock. She did what was
best according to the requirements of her position, which is to align
resources with tasks and budgets. Humans are, like it or not,
resources and they sign a contract to that effect. It’s a sad truth
that can only be abolished if action happens at the employee level
that changes reality for them. You can quit, you can renegotiate your
contract, you can become a better employer yourself (chances are that
when you see the accounts, you’ll take just as hard a look at the
effectiveness of your resources as my sister does), etc. Just don’t
expect stuff to be given to you because of nostalgia.

– –
Sent from a phone, so apologies for any spelling mistakes.

B.O.S.S.

Is that a trademarked word? I’m not speaking of the perfume and clothing brand, but emphasizing the word “Boss.” The question I start today’s post with is: “Does being a boss mean that you cannot be bossed around in the future?” Does being a boss breed rebels?

I think that ignorance is the biggest cause for people to not follow orders in a system, followed by bad bosses of course. Being a boss means that you are in charge of a system and have a privileged look at what that system needs to function, what threatens it, and what makes it thrive.

Going from boss to follower means that you can go in with an enlightened view of a. how hard the work of a boss is and b. how systems thrive based on the individual input of many. Leadership is two things: being an example of a great component in a system and reminding the other components of their role.

The human condition

I just finished watching “the four hoursemen of the apocalypse,” a
movie about … The human condition. It starts with wealth and one
man’s longing for immortality in the form of an heir. It continues
with jealousy and greed and war.

Four hoursemen ends with a message of peace, but it was made in 1921
and we all know that the time since then has been fraught with war
after war.

The film has a religious undertone and references to the apple as a
symbol for temptation. The apple which seduced Adam and Eve to leave
paradise into the raw reality we know today.

You should never take simplified stories as explaining everyhing about
our complex world, but I have often wondered about whether man can
really be truly happy. In wealth, we continue to feel envy and in love
the same. It is our drive to be better men, which often comes at the
expense of someone else’s wellbeing.

It is everyone for themselves always, so I too must figure things out
for myself and make decisions accordingly. As must you, random reader.
But I do hope that a day will come that we no longer feel envious of
others and where there is peace. Hopefully one where human beings are
still alive, because I sometimes feel that the human condition is the
need for some kind of destruction.

– –
Sent from a phone, so apologies for any spelling mistakes.

So you think you know it all, do you?

Entrepreneurship is a buzzword these days and it’s hard not to browse through sites like news.ycombinator without coming across a how-to for starting a business, or aspect thereof. There used to be a time, back when books were still bought in paper-format, that you couldn’t walk by a bookstore without finding a least one book on how to solve your life.

Entrepreneurship, life, entrepreneurship, life… The problem with one person telling the other person how to solve life is that solutions are not one-size-fits-all. And that state of minds are definitely not one-size-fits-all.

E.g.

I’m reading a book on sales while conducting a sales process. And, while the theory is all there and is probably correct, I’m still making mistakes. My character is not to be a hard sales guy, it’s to be a friendly person that wants to innovate and “bring smiles to people’s faces” (this has been my slogan ever since I started my food & retail blog). The other person may or may not agree with that. Plenty of sharks in business and if they meet a sucker bleeding goodwill, they may think that’s a person to bite a leg off.

Does the sales book teach me about that? No. What does teach me is experience. Where books help is that they provide you with a framework to use when you are ready to use them. Perhaps they provide you with a lens to analyse where you went wrong.

So, once again, I’ve defused my frustration by writing about it. Yay, blogging. Now, back to sales!

Dream: vampires

1st dream / main storyline: vampires that reside in a tall (not quite skyscraper) building and are being chased by the police. One, a very old and experienced vampire (man). One, a newly created vampire (girl). The girl wants to leave the building for some reason (details are vague) and the old vampire gives her something, no throws something at her to help her out — candy, money, I don’t know? The girl leaves and gets caught by the cops, who convince her to switch to the other side and help them catch the old guy (Is this Oliver Twist with a twist?). The old guy goes down. The End!

It was a pretty dark theme, though somehow not a nightmare. Somehow it’s a story of rotten cores and new light in the form of the girl and the police dealing with the problem. I.e. rejuvenation! At least, that’s my interpretation of it…

What sports are better for your mental health? Climbing, cycling, yoga, or meditation.

I’m 33 and will turn 34 this year. I live in the Netherlands, otherwise known as flatland (no hill in sight). It’s perfect bike country and would be imperfect climbing country, if it wasn’t for all the genius architects living here and building lot’s of fake mountains for us geeks to climb on. I’m doing meditation because I have sleeping difficulties and not insignificant stress as an entrepreneur. And I do yoga, because I like the idea of sports that aren’t destructive to my body.

Climbing

I’ve written on this before, particularly the puzzling dimension that many people don’t know about (you have to build up some experience & strength before you reach the harder routes, where puzzling plays a large role). I find that if an activity is all-absorbing, it’s a good de-stresser.

Other positive dimensions of climbing are how democratic it is: there’s old and young people climbing together, there’s women and men, there’s (more) geeks and jocks. It’s a sport for everyone!

Last and not at all least, there’s the team-aspect. When you secure someone on a rope, it’s a more elaborate version of having two people do a trust-exercise where one lets himself fall backwards into the arms of the other. You do this all night long and it’s common that you form a strong bond with your partner or partners.

Cycling

I have biked ca. 8 km (6 miles) a day for the last 10 days, with no rest during the weekend. My legs feel like goo and I know it’s not healthy for your nether-regions either. Positives are however that it gets you outside and exposed to the sun (a significant factor in battling seasonal affective disorder which comes from a lack of sunshine).

Meditation

I’ve written something about meditation too before, but there really isn’t much that can be vocalised in terms of advantages. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t there, but they cannot be measured. What I do notice in for example cycling and yoga, is that meditation plays a large part in sport. Something I learned was to focus my emotion at that moment through movement, which helps a lot during cycling. With mindfulness meditation, you learn to analyse your body from within, which also plays a part in yoga, when one of your limbs is stretched into the air for instance.

With sleep too, meditation helps, as it does with staying calm during mental unrest.

Yoga

I’ve worked out ever since I was 18 and one thing that you learn from bodybuilding is getting a sense of your different muscles at work. You isolate them and you feel how the exercise affects them. I feel the same way about yoga, when I do a balancing exercise and feel where the pressure lies, etc. The same applies to your breathing, which is also something you learn to have more control about. This is one of the reasons, I think that yoga is the superior sport of these four, except for the social dimension in climbing.

Conclusion

Which of these is better? I’ve climbed and cycled for a long time and both have the advantages of social contact, keeping your mind busy, and sunlight that I mentioned. But in truth most of my mental calm of the last few weeks has come from the “slow sports” that force me to listen to my own body and take mindful actions. Would I feel this way if I didn’t do the other, more calory-intensive sports? I would assume so and I also believe that advanced yoga will bring you to a sweat.

A research program in progress.

Dream: Snake

Tonight I dreamt about a snake that was slowly choking me. It appeared to be crumbling when I gripped it.

The literal interpretation would be that I somehow feel trapped, but that the trappings are imagined.

Did I mention that I’m dating someone new now and that I’m working on a very complex, high-budget project with 6+ partner-companies? Yes, the second part kind of sucks, I’m still coming to terms with part 1.

Experiences you learn from starting and managing a company

  • Transforming an idea into a business plan
  • Doing market research
  • Looking for funding / presenting to investors
  • Conducting job interviews
  • Hiring & firing
  • Sales
  • Tenacity
  • Failure
  • How not to do any of these

More when I think of it.

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