Lifelet: The Masters Lifts My Spirits Again

I am a terrible golfer.  I am a subscriber to the philosophy of “golf is a good walk spoiled.”

Yet, I love to watch golf in person at the great golf courses.  Augusta National and The Masters Tournament are my all time favorite venue.

Since we lost our family tickets to the Masters with the deaths of my wife’s parents, we are relegated to watching the Masters Tournament on TV.  We eat our homemade pimento cheese sandwiches and have a beer or two.  We pretend we are walking with 50,000 of our closest “patron’ friends.

I love naming the exact tee, or fairway or green before the announcers tell us where the players are.  The course is in my bones and I can feel and see every inch of this ode to nature.

We saw Tiger win there in 2002.  We saw Phil Mickelson win twice.  We saw Arnold Palmer play his last round at Augusta.

Phil Wins his First Major

NOTE:  In the photo above, I am between sitting and jumping as I celebrate Phil’s winning putt in 2004 on the first row of the 18th green.

We have a house full of Masters clothing and memorabilia.

And this year Tiger Woods won again for his fifth Masters victory and his 15th major tournament win.  Thank you Tiger for reminding us how amazing is your golf prowess and how beautiful the azaleas and majestic pines of Augusta National are.

As the rains came down during one of the rounds this weekend, I was reminded of the amazing technology to keep the greens and fairways dry.  On Saturday on one of our visits to Augusta the skies opened and the rain came down in buckets.  Yet, over the sound of the pouring rain I heard what sounded like jet engines cranking up.  It turns out that Augusta National installed a sub-air system to take any extra water out of the greens and fairways.  When the rains stopped, the golfers came back out and there was no water on the greens.  However, the spectator areas were awash in an inch of mud.

Amazing golfers, the beauty of manicured nature, technology, and inexpensive sandwiches and beer.  What a great way to spend four days.

I needed a dose of the Masters, Augusta National, and a triumphant Tiger Woods.  I recently finished a political book about golf.  It was as depressing as Tiger Woods was triumphant.

Rick Reilly, one of my favorite Sports Illustrated authors, just released a book, Commander in Cheat.  I didn’t expect a political tome, but maybe I should have, given that the topic was Trump.

Rick had me hooked with the line “the world of professional golf is slightly more Republican than a Cabela’s grand opening.”

Throughout the book Reilly exhibits his life long love of the game of golf.  Contrasted with his love of golf is the offense that he takes at Trump destroying the great game with his cheating and lying about his accomplishments.  Here a few quotes from the book:

“Somebody should write that the way Trump cheats at golf, lies about his courses, and stiffs his golf contractors isn’t that far from how he cheats on his wives, lies about his misdeeds, and stiffs the world on agreements America has already made on everything from Iran to climate change. “Golf is like bicycle shorts,” I once wrote. “It reveals a lot about a man.” You could write a book about what Trump’s golf reveals about him. Here it is.

Reilly, Rick. Commander in Cheat (p. 12). Hachette Books. Kindle Edition.

Golf + Trump is an odd couple, because in golf the most revered thing is not winning but honor. Jack Nicklaus may be the game’s greatest winner, but The King will always be Arnold Palmer, for the way he showed kindness to princes and plumbers alike. Bobby Jones was so taken with the idea of honor that he refused to turn pro, despite winning seven majors. Wasn’t gentlemanly.

Every day, in every tournament, in every state, players report violations on themselves that nobody else saw. Hale Irwin once missed the playoff at the 1983 British Open by one shot because he says he whiffed a one-inch putt on the final day. Nobody saw it but Irwin. In golf, that’s enough.

Reilly, Rick. Commander in Cheat (p. 28). Hachette Books. Kindle Edition.

Remember, Ricky, golf is a gentleman’s sport. —JACK REILLY

“WHEN JAPAN SURRENDERED AT the end of World War II, my Army lieutenant dad was assigned to duty in Tokyo. He’d heard that Emperor Hirohito played golf. So he went to the Imperial Palace and knocked on the guard house door. When they asked what he wanted, he said, “Well, I wondered if the emperor might like to play golf with me this afternoon.” That’s how it’s always been in my family. Golf solves everything. Our very bones are made of balata. The whole family golfs—nieces, nephews, uncles, aunts, nearly every single one of us. I can remember, when I was six years old, my mom, dad, and brother being on the pages of the sports section because they all were playing in the same tournament. I have an aunt who still wins her flight and she’s 91. We have a giant nine-hole family tournament every year—The Reilly Roundup—and everybody wears a yellow shirt, just like the one we buried my dad in.

So when a man like President Donald Trump pees all over the game I love, lies about it, cheats at it, and literally drives tire tracks all over it, it digs a divot in my soul and makes me want to march into the Oval Office, grab him by that long red tie, and yell, “Stop it!”

You can think Trump has made America great again. You can think Trump has made America hate again. But there’s one thing I know: He’s made golf terrible again.”

Reilly, Rick. Commander in Cheat (pp. 237-238). Hachette Books. Kindle Edition.

Sunday at Augusta came to a close with an epic Tiger Woods win and a temporary escape from the “Commander in Cheat.”  The New York Times took several articles to try and put into words Tiger’s Hero’s Journey:

“It was a monumental triumph for Woods, a come-from-behind victory for a player who had had so much go wrong on the course and off after his personal life began to come apart on Thanksgiving night in 2009.

As such, it was only fitting that after he walked off the 18th hole on Sunday, his one-stroke victory secure, his path to the official scoring office was gridlocked with well-wishers, including many of the golfers he vanquished over four grueling days at Augusta National Golf Club.

Woods triumphed in almost stoic fashion, playing with shrewdness and determination over the final stretch of holes while the other players who were grouped with him on the leaderboard took turns succumbing to the pressure of trying to win the Masters.”

Thank you Tiger!

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Lifelet: Data Visualization to the Max

I attended the Institute for System Biology Future of Health Symposium 2019. If I use the scale of WUKID (Wisdom Understanding Knowledge Information and Data) I barely functioned somewhere between the data and information level.  I heard the words and I saw the stunning array of data visualizations, but most of the content flew over my head.  I was in deep “trying to learn” mode.

Professor Phil Greenberg started us off with a talk on “Utilizing Synthetic Biology and High-Dimensional Probing to Address Therapeutic Obstacles and Empower Engineered T Cells with the Capacity to Eradicate Tumors.”  I was lost at the title.

Professor Phil Greenberg

As the data visualization slides started coming fast and furious, I was excited about the range of visualizations I encountered.  As visual analytics are a core part of my professional interests and research, I focused on what I could understand and let the moledular biology, systems biology, and immunotherapy deep dive wash over me.

I was enthralled with what was termed the Classic Disney gene clustering diagram.  I had never heard of this style.  A quick internet lookup didn’t tell me anything about the form of the diagram.  My hypothesis is that the colored gene cluster on the left looks like a colored map of the different “lands” at Disney World.

Classic Disney Gene Cluster

After spending eight hours listening to intellectually and visually engaging presentations on immunotherapies I came away excited about two areas of scientific research progress:

  • Researchers are much farther along with precision medicine and cancer treatments for N=1 patient populations than I was aware of
  • Data visualizations are an important part of communicating the scientific research in molecular biology, systems biology and medical research

For twenty years I have tilted at the windmill of business WUKID to move from “death by powerpoint” presentations that are bullet point after bullet point to powerful data visualizations and even better visual analytics.  Business is stuck in simplistic data visualization that begins and ends with pie charts and bar charts.

As my career journey follows a path back to health care, I am delighted to see a research discipline like systems biology and 21st century medical research so dependent on high quality data visualizations.

Now I have two more areas of learning to dive into:

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Lifelet: Banistas

I am spending a lot of time in the South Lake Union neighborhood in Seattle.  One of the joys of visiting this area is encountering the banistas of Amazon.

Amazon Bananas

When I see the sign I know that free bananas are close by.  Who can resist a free banana?

And who knew that there was a job title of “Banista”?


At 8am in the morning, there is a Banista to greet me and invite me to take more than one banana if I like.

I just have to smile.  Then my reptile brain cuts in and shouts “there must be something wrong with these bananas or what is Amazon’s ulterior motive?”  I quickly quiet the shouting and my gracious self thanks the banista, peels my banana, and I go about my day with a smile.

So what are these banana stands really about?

“The Amazon community banana stand started in 2015 as a fun, quirky way to hand out healthy snacks to anyone in the community.

Since then, the community banana stand has expanded to two locations and become a weekday neighborhood pit-stop for anyone in South Lake Union (Terry Avenue, in Van Vorst Plaza near Mercer) or the Denny Triangle neighborhood (in front of Amazon’s Doppler building on Westlake Avenue).

In January 2017, we hit a milestone of handing out more than one million bananas. As long as the community keeps loving their daily bananas, We will keep it running.

We welcome everyone to come by and enjoy a banana; you don’t need to be an Amazon employee. While you’re there, maybe pick up an interesting fact or two from our friendly “banistas.”

It took a while but I was able to find a reference to some of the urban legends that have grown up around Amazon’s free bananas.

“Amazon hopes the pop-up is here to stay. “Bananas are a great healthy snack with built-in compostable packaging,” an Amazon spokesperson told Geekwire in a statement. “We hope the community likes it, and if they do, we’ll keep doing it.”

As you might recall, the company’s reputation took a trouncing on the heels of a damning New York Times article earlier this year. Published on Aug. 15, the deep dive depicted Amazon as a ruthless workplace, as our own Nina Zipkin put it, “where frequent criticism, tears in cubicles and a constant refrain of ‘Amazon is where overachievers go to feel bad about themselves,’ are part of the employee experience.”

If this is just a publicity stunt to show the public Amazon isn’t so hard on its workers after all, it seems a bit bananas to us.”

A graphic designer friend of mine shared that Amazon gives away bananas because the banana is similar to the arrow in the Amazon logo:

Amazon Logo

Whatever the reason, bananas and banistas bring a smile to my life when I visit South Lake Union.

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Lifelet: Behold the tooth fairy

The circle of life continues.  One of our grand children lost her first front tooth.  However, she lost it on a visit to Canada.  A text storm ensued as my daughter wondered what she should do about the tooth fairy.  Should the tooth fairy know that they were in Canada or should they wait for the return home?  Should they give the child a Canadian loonie or American coins?  So many questions and so much fun as the next generation encounters the next stage of growing up.

We were delighted that our grand daughter drew us a picture of the event and even captured her new old pink dress that her grandma unearthed from storage.  Our daughter had worn the dress when she was young and what was old is new again.  The pink dress was excited to have high tea at the Empress Hotel in Victoria.

Losing a Tooth

Losing a tooth

As our long distance conversation of possibilities continued, I got to wondering where the tradition of the tooth fairy came from.

“The tooth fairy is an iconic symbol of childhood, the same way we fondly remember Santa Clause or the Easter Bunny, we look back on the Tooth Fairy with fond memories. Unlike the other two mythological heroes of modern folklore, the Tooth Fairy exists across religion and culture in many anglo-based societies. But where did this sprightly sprite originate, and just how long have we believed in her magic?

The Tooth Fairy as we know it is a relatively recent creation, like other myths, evolved over time. There are traditions, legends and myths dating back millennia with regards to loosing your baby teeth.

Early Norse and European traditions suggest that when a child lost a baby tooth, it was buried to spare the child from hardships in the next life. A tradition of the tand-fe or tooth fee originated in Europe for a child’s first tooth, and vikings used children’s teeth and other items from their children to bring them good luck in battle.

There’s also the more general tradition of a good fairy in Europe that was birthed out of fairy tales and popular literature in more recent times. Ultimately the most popular version of a ‘tooth deity’ is the image of a mouse, who would enter children’s rooms and remove baby teeth. This tradition is prominent in Russia, Spain and many Asian countries like China.

Ultimately, the reason the tooth fairy legend continues to grow and evolve across cultures is that it provides a level of comfort to children. As you grow, your body undergoes many changes, but arguably the first and most traumatic for children is the loss of a tooth or two. The tooth fairy helps bring comfort and excitement to a traumatic experience.”

Which got me to wondering again, if the tooth ferry is good enough for a child’s “first trauma” shouldn’t we have something this comforting for adult traumas.  While the trauma fairy doesn’t sound all that inviting, and the notion of God seems too big for a personal trauma, shouldn’t we invent an adult trauma fairy?

I feel the smile welling up within me as I think about reaching under my pillow and finding a gold coin (inflation sets in for adults, of course).  What a comfort that coin would be.

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Lifelet: What’s your aspiration?

Coach:  What is your aspiration?

Skip: I thought that was pretty clear, I want to be able to walk normally again so I can hike in the mountains.

Coach: That sounds more like a goal than an aspiration.

Skip: No, it’s much more of an aspiration.  Being able to hike in the mountains, particularly the Olympic Mountains, is an aspiration.  It is one of the few ways that I can ground myself in nature.

Coach:  Still sounds like a goal.

Skip:  What I am trying to say is much more than a goal.  I am using my own shorthand concept.  Let me share something I experienced many years ago in a southern Oregon vineyard at Cowhorn, surrounded by low mountains and the Applegate River.

For a couple of years I traveled once a month to the Benziger Family Winery in Sonoma, CA, for a biodynamic seminar attended by many of the great winemakers.  The Rudolf Steiner book seminar component in the morning was followed by a walking through a vineyard experience in the afternoon at one of the attendees vineyards. Alan York usually led the vineyard experiences.  Whenever possible, I also accompanied Alan when he visited his client at Cowhorn Winery.  One fine day, I walked with Alan, Barb, and Bill, on a vineyard assessment.

Alan York at Cowhorn Winery

As Alan and I were walking through the vineyards I stopped dead in my tracks and almost shouted at Alan “One of the vines near me is diseased.  There is something wrong.  I CAN FEEL IT!”  He got this great big smile and said “I’ll be damned.  You, the knowledge book learning dude, have been paying attention to the experiential learning, not just the book learning.  Yes, the vine to your right is indeed diseased.  Let’s dig through the dirt to expose some of the roots and I will show you the disease pressure that this vine is under.  I am amazed that you could feel what was going on below the ground.”  Sure enough we could see the disease artifacts and it was the only vine in 40 acres that had this problem.  This experience was the outcome of those monthly biodynamic day long seminars.

This experience felt the most grounded in nature with my body, mind and spirit.  It is what I so miss right now by not being able to move easily or at all through my favorite vineyards in Washington, Oregon, and California.

So when I talk about being able to hike in the mountains and being able to roam through vineyards it is recalling and looking forward to the ability to fully ground myself (body mind spirit) in nature.  One of my favorite quotes is from Brian Doyle’s The Grail:  A Year Ambling and Shambling Through an Oregon Vineyard in Pursuit of the Best Pinot Noir Wine in the Whole Wide World.

“On my way back uphill to my car I remember what Jesse told me once, that each vine produces enough grapes to make about three-fourths of a bottle of wine, and I chew on the idea that three-fourths of a bottle of excellent wine is probably just the right amount necessary for two or three people to start telling stories fast and furious,so that each of the vines I pass is pregnant with stories, some of which were never born into the world before, and this idea makes me happy also, so by the time I get to the town where I am supposed to give a talk I am cheerful as a chipmunk.”

From my blog post on “A Funny thing Happened in the Tasting Room“.

Coach: Thank you for the fuller explanation.  Let’s try this as an aspiration – “Optimize my wellness, so I am able to be fully engaged in my life – transforming healthcare, hiking in the mountains, and living my purpose.”

Skip: That sounds good.  And this photo of the Alan York Memorial in the Benziger Family Winery biodynamic garden helps me visualize my aspiration.  You can see one of the vineyards and the composting pile in the background.

Alan York Memorial at Benziger Family Winery

Skip: But I don’t remember us talking about “living my purpose.”  I did a lot of work on that when I collaborated with the TAI Group in NYC.  My shorthand for living my purpose is “develop talent always.”  The long form of what this means is drawn from an interview with Gifford Booth, CEO of TAI:

My real reason for joining the FTI Consulting Technology Segment as Chief Product Officer in 2016, was I felt like I had learned a lot about managing the last eight years, particularly the last three or four with TAI.  Instead of going back only to do a business thing like produce a product or generate revenue, I went back to put into practice what I had learned.

The focus of my learning was on the people and the talent, which I had never focused on before. I had always focused on the what or maybe the why (as Simon Sinek shares), but never the people. The people were sort of, well not sort of, a necessary evil.  I can be social and I can be nice, but at my previous companies my thoughts and actions were not on developing people.

With this job and the 100 people that worked for me and the customers, suppliers and influencers that we touched, I’m being as conscious as I can be to help them develop their skills and talents.  I help them to get to their next career level and pursue whatever their goals are. I’ve never taken that as a first level objective in my fifty years of managing.

Another way of saying “develop talent” is in every endeavor how can I come in and add energy to the room?  This behavior is the opposite of when I’m in analytic mode, where I tend to pull energy out of the room. In analytic mode people go mentally internal trying to analyze something and the energy just goes out of the room.

While I’m not facilitating as much as I would like, and I’m not teaching graduate school as much as I would like, I am teaching all the time and trying to add energy in each interaction. Some days, I can make it a whole day developing talent. Other days, I get distracted with the urgent. But I start everyday with a big smile, asking my colleagues about what’s going on in their life, and that’s been noticed now. Several of the folks who didn’t know me before I took this job share “You’re always excited, you’re always happy, what’s going on?” Oh, if you only knew how much work it takes to focus on developing talent.

This focus on developing talent is not just for business.  I am loving doing what I can to develop the talents of our grand children.

Coach: Should I add that to the aspiration?

Skip: Please.


Posted in Health Coaching, Lifelet | Leave a comment

Business 101 for Designers

The following is an early draft of what will be a sequence of posts.  I am still struggling with how to bring business alive for individual contributors and managers who only have their one area of expertise in a company whether it be sales, engineering, manufacturing, distribution, human resources, legal etc.

I love getting these emails:

Hi Skip,

Do you have any good recommendations for a good (high tech) business 101 book?  It is for one of my UXers.  Something that talks a bit about business models, markets, etc?  I learned through the school of hard knocks.



It is a different form of a question one of my senior managers asked me two weeks ago:

“Skip, I am able to execute on ideas and tasks that someone else prioritizes, but I don’t know how to pick which idea to pursue.  I’ve watched you this last year and you always seem to know right away which idea to pick AND why.  How do you do that?  Your process is what I really want to learn from you.”

Both of these questions are of the form, reflect on your fifty years in business and share with me you knowledge and wisdom.  And can you do it in 10 minutes?  That is all the time I have.

On the flip side, I was sharing this challenge with a senior UX researcher who asked “what’s the big deal about business?  I talked to a sales team the other day so I clearly understand business now.”

Alrighty now, clearly I am not communicating what I mean when I say “business.”

One of the exercises I run with my managers, my graduate students, and with entrepreneurs that I mentor is to ask where the money comes from to fund product development.  The answers in a big company are of the form:

  • From my boss
  • Where does he/she get the money?
  • From their boss

The questions continue until they get to the CEO.  Then they are stumped.  In my fifty years of asking this question, no one has tumbled to the right answer – the customer.

It is a much shorter chain in a startup where the answers stop with the investor.  Then the entrepreneur is stumped.

A Business is Always about the Customer

Peter Drucker in The Practice of Management defines the purpose of a business:  to create a customer:

“If we want to know what a business is we have to start with its purpose. And its purpose must lie outside of the business itself. In fact, it must lie in society since a business enterprise is an organ of society. There is only one valid definition of business purpose: to create a customer.

“Markets are not created by God, nature or economic forces but by businessmen. The want they satisfy may have been felt by the customer before he was offered the means of satisfying it. It may indeed, like the want for food in a famine, have dominated the customer’s life and filled all his waking moments. But it was a theoretical want before; only when the action of businessmen makes it effective demand is there a customer, a market. It may have been an unfelt want. There may have been no want at all until business action created it—by advertising, by salesmanship, or by inventing something new. In every case it is business action that creates the customer.

“It is the customer who determines what a business is. For it is the customer, and he alone, who through being willing to pay for a good or for a service, converts economic resources into wealth, things into goods. What the business thinks it produces is not of first importance—especially not to the future of the business and to its success. What the customer thinks he is buying, what he considers “value,” is decisive—it determines what a business is, what it produces and whether it will prosper.

“The customer is the foundation of a business and keeps it in existence. He alone gives employment.   And it is to supply the consumer that society entrusts wealth-producing resources to the business enterprise.”

Drucker further explains that the practice of management has two basic functions:

Function #1:  Marketing

“Because it is its purpose to create a customer, any business enterprise has two—and only these two—basic functions: marketing and innovation. They are the entrepreneurial functions. Marketing is the distinguishing, the unique function of the business. A business is set apart from all other human organizations by the fact that it markets a product or a service. Neither Church, nor Army, nor School, nor State does that. Any organization that fulfills itself through marketing a product or a service, is a business. Any organization in which marketing is either absent or incidental is not a business and should never be run as if it were one.”

Function #2:  Innovation

“The second function of a business is therefore innovation, that is, the provision of better and more economic goods and services. It is not enough for the business to provide just any economic goods and services; it must provide better and more economic ones. It is not necessary for a business to grow bigger; but it is necessary that it constantly grow better.”

The challenge with using the word “customer” is that it doesn’t parse.  I am always amazed at how words mean something, but rarely the same thing to different people.  One of the hardest words to get agreement on is the word customer.  It’s used in so many different ways by each function within a corporation that rarely is there the same image conjured up in each mind in any conversation where the word customer is used.  The clearest insight into this problem came when I was reading a book by William Luther called How to Develop a Business Plan in 15 Days.  At the very start of his book, Luther begins:

“In December 1984, I was hired by Clemson University to conduct a two-day marketing seminar for five state colleges in Florida.  The first half-day was most difficult, because the people from the colleges kept stating that there was no way someone with no experience in education could help them develop a marketing plan.  I tried to convey to them that the planning process was the same regardless of the type of product or service, but they just wouldn’t buy it.  The use of a bad analogy made matters worse – the analogy being that the planning process was the same whether you were selling a college or a can of beer.  The meeting did not go very well until just after lunch, when they were presented with a five-step procedure that helps you determine who your customer is and what the message should be.  As I went through the sequence, I proved to them that they had been spending all of their marketing dollars for the last five years on the wrong target audience.

“Like so many other institutions of higher learning, these colleges realized that they must get a better understanding of marketing, now that federal and state funding assistance has diminished.  The group was openly hostile until the purchase-process priority was discussed.  When asked who should be number one in the purchase-process priority, the college officials, after several minutes of discussion, stated that it was the parent.  Number two was the high-school guidance counselor.  The student was listed as number three.  At this point, I asked them how they had been allocating all their marketing dollars during the past five years.  Almost in unison they said words to the effect of ‘son of a gun.’  They had been committing their complete marketing budget to the students.”

This book was my first introduction to the deconstruction of customer into influencers, purchasers and users.  Most product development teams focus their energies on users.  Most sales teams focus their energies on purchasers.  The marketing team focuses on influencers.  All are forms of customers.  Each type of customer must be paid attention to in a business.  Great businesses have high coherence on how a product/service fits each of the categories of customers – influencers, purchasers, and users.

Mack Hanan in Competing on Value takes the concept of customer further to include the customer as growth partner:

“How can you grow your business?

“You cannot.

“You can only grow someone else’s business.  His business growth will be the sour of your growth.  By growing, he will force growth back upon you because he will want tyou to grow him again.

“The business you can grow have a name.  they are called your major cusotmers.  Their growth must be the objective of your business.  The capabilities you require to grow them must be your asset base.

“Growth requires a customer. A growth partner is a special kind of customer.  He is a customer whose costs you can significantly reduce or whose profitable sales volume you can significantly increase.  In one or both of these ways, you can improve his profits. This is the basis for his growth. It is also the basis for his contribution to your own growth.  As the two of you grow each other, you will become mutually indispensable.

“If you cannot grow a customer, you cannot partner him.  You can continue to do business with him, buying and selling, but the maximized profits of growth will elude both of you.  If all your customers are buyers instead of growers, you will be a slow growth or no-growth business.  None of your customers will be growing you because you will not be growing them.”

The work of “business is about the customer” is nicely summarized in the following funnel diagram for getting customers, keeping customers, and growing customers:

market funnel

Value is Co-Created

Service science stuff

Sequence of 4

Value as a service

The list of presuppositions

Seeing your Business – The Business Model Canvas


lean canvas with steps


key lime lean canvas

Thiel’s seven questions

thiel seven questions

Product Development Lifecycle

pragmatic marketing framework




Note that key is adoption and monetization.


Seeing your Finances – Keeping Score


purcell company finance

Posted in Content with Context, Design, Emails to a Young Entrepreneur, Entrepreneuring, Relationship Capital, Service Science, User Experience, Value Capture | 5 Comments

From Pages to Places: The Transformation of Presence

Synchronicity is a wonderful thing.

Watch legendary Disney animator Glen Keane draw in virtual reality” leaped from my morning email. I clicked on the web page and up came a short article that started with “Virtual reality is a potent tool for art and storytelling, but we’re still exploring the best ways to use it.”  How could I not click through after that introducition?

The article pointed to a video titled “Glen Keane: Step into the Page.” Not only was I interested, but my mind just got warped – step into the page – had I just wandered into Abbot’s Flatland?  What followed was a beautifully crafted video that drew from Keane’s story of being one of three generations of animators. Setting the context of the story was Glen at work drawing on paper as he did to create the characters and art work for Disney titles like The Little Mermaid.

glen keane

Then the video made an abrupt transition to Glen dancing in physical space while he was liberated in virtual space with the new app Tiltbrush.  I watched the video several times as it captured so much of what I’ve tried to communicate to my colleagues about my own VR Presence experiences.  I realized the “script” for the short video was well crafted so I quickly transcribed it.

“When you draw, you’re expressing something that’s real and visceral. By making a line, it’s sort of a seismograph of your soul. I was at Disney for about 38 years and was given an opportunity to animate Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Tarzan, Pocahontas. These are not drawings; these are real characters as they exist in my own life.

Picasso said, “When I was young I could draw and paint like Raphael. It’s taken me a lifetime to learn to draw like a child.” An artist’s spirit is that freedom and fearlessness of being a child. I was planted in the perfect nest to grow up in. My dad was a cartoonist who created the Family Circus. He was a kid. He was just like a big kid.

When my son Max was just a little guy, he said, “Dad, teach me to draw.” I taught him the same way my dad did. Dad drew circles and then wrote expressions under each one. Within like a half hour he came back and they were all filled out. The key to doing those drawings was asking himself, how do I feel? That’s the thing that you got to hang onto: that full immersion into the drawing.

When I animate, there’s a frustration that I have wishing that the flatness of the paper would go away and that I could actually dive in. Animating the beast, I became the beast. I remember going home at night and my jaw just hurting because beast all day he’s talking like this and my back is all bent over and my neck was sore because I’m being him.

 I would draw not to do a drawing, but so that I could step in and live in that world. Today all the rules have changed. By putting tools in your hand that can create in virtually reality, I can put goggles on and I just step into the paper and now I’m drawing in it. North, south, east, west: all directions are open now. Just immersing myself in space is more like a dance.

 What is this amazing new world I just stepped into? When I draw in virtual reality I draw all the characters real life size. They are that size in my imagination. The character can turn. Ariel is actually turning in space. Even if you take the goggles off, I’m still remembering she’s right there. It’s real.

That doorway to the imagination is open a little wider. The edges of the paper are no longer there. This is not a flat drawing. This is sculptural drawing. Making art in three-dimensional space is an entirely new way of thinking for any artist. What does this mean for storytelling?

I love the idea as an animator that you can be anything that you can imagine. As a kid, you’re completely free. The soul of any kind of a creative art form is freedom.”

The next day I visited Envelop VR to catch up on their latest alpha software builds.  Before starting our conversation, I put on a headset to experience their enterprise productivity software.  I was impressed at the progress in the previous months. As I started to take the headset off, Steve Santamaria, Envelop VR COO, asked if I would like to try out Tiltbrush.

“Absolutely,” as I nearly jumped out of my skin.  “I just viewed the Glen Keane video and was wondering if you had it available.”

After a few minutes of getting the HTC Vive hand controllers figured out and some education of how to use the clunky user interface to select colors and brushes, they turned me loose.  Within seconds I was well beyond the willing suspension of disbelief and was drawing life size 3d sculptures.  Before I knew it, I was brought back to reality with a very loud “STOP!” shouted at me and laughter from the observers. I was so into the VR experience that I had not realized that I had completely wrapped myself in the “tether” tangle of wires like a boa constrictor. In another few seconds I would have pulled their computer off the table.

After getting untangled with a little help from my new friends, I had to keep part of my mind in the real world and another part in virtual space creating my sculptures.  What a pain that I couldn’t completely lose myself in virtual reality.

After a few more minutes I took the headset off and told Steve “I better stop now or I will be here all day.”

We wandered over to Steve’s office as I talked 100 miles an hour about what I just experienced.

As we sat down, I realized I had to get back to our agenda for the day to catch up on the evolving strategy of EnvelopVR. Steve was kind enough to share that after much argument among the founders, the company decided not to pursue the Metaverse approach of a single unified space of VR outposts. “We realize that is the likely approach that Facebook is going to take as they already have the world’s largest walled garden of a couple billion friends. So we decided to create what we are calling Envelop Virtual Environment (EVE). Each user can create their own virtual environment that anyone else on the Internet can visit.”

“So you are taking the Tim Berners-Lee approach and creating the VR equivalent of web pages and web sites?” Steve paused for a long time thinking through the implications of the comment. “We haven’t made that connection, but you are spot on,” he said.

As I walked out, the theme that ran around in my head was “from pages to places.” I had just glimpsed the future and I was still trying to grasp it.  My gut tingled with the anticipation that I just stumbled onto a real transformation enabled by technology that would be greater than anything I had experienced.

The only analogy that came to mind was watching my young children using the MAC SE thirty years ago. I was helping my four year old daughter create a birthday card in Aldus Superpaint for her grandmother.  She wanted to be just like her older sister who she’d just watched create a couple cards.  She asked me to be with her in the room while she created the card.

For 30 minutes I quietly watched her draw, quickly switch drawing modes between paint and draw, and access different menus to select the different painting tools she needed.  Suddenly she asked me how to print her drawing out.  Without thinking I said “go over to the File Menu and pull it down.   Find the selection called Print and click on it.  Then when the dialog box comes up select the printer that you want the drawing to print on.”

Maggie looked at me like I was the dumbest person in the world as she loudly exclaimed “Dad, you know I can’t read!  Come over here and show me how to do it.”  Maggie had worked for 30 minutes just by knowing where the commands were spatially.  Icons and text were all the same to her.  The MAC was a different way of thinking about software and the design of the man machine interface that could be used successfully by someone who couldn’t even read.

The Macintosh showed us the power of a well-designed object oriented Graphical User Interface. This kind of interface quickly migrated through our desktop, laptop, and now mobile smartphone computing worlds. Yet, each of these devices kept us in the Pages world.  VR takes us into the Places world.

From Place to Pages to Places

A few weeks later another morning email pointed me to Marshall McLuhan’s Gutenberg Galaxy. I thought I had read all of McLuhan’s works, but I somehow missed this one. McLuhan described all of human history in three large cultural changes.  The first culture he labelled “Oral” (like all McLuhan labels it is critical to pay attention to his definition as the labels can send you spinning in the wrong direction). This first culture was characterized by the social needs of being in one place at a time. It was a highly oral culture in the sense that knowledge was transmitted through the whole being of the speaker – the words they spoke (content), the way they voiced those words (craft), and the way they embodied those words (character).

McLuhan labelled the second culture “Visual Phonetic.” He asserts that this culture started with Gutenberg’s printing press. Prior to the exact replication of words and the high volume of printed books available, any writing was still spoken orally to transmit the information. With the volume book and exact replication, transmission of culture went through words and became dissociated from voice and body. Knowledge was now abstract.

With the advent of electricity, radio, television and the computer, McLuhan saw a third culture emerging which he called “Electronic”.  He wrote “in the electronic age, which succeeds the typographic and mechanical era of the past five hundred years, we encounter new shapes and structures of human interdependence and of expression which are ‘oral’ in form even with the components of the situation may be non-verbal.” In the electronic age, we return to our past of place and the primacy of being fully present while at the same time being remote from each other.

After a few pages, I realized that the three cultures he identified captured what I was trying to explain with the advent of VR.  The first culture was about a singular place. Most humans strayed very little from their birth place.  Then with the advent of the printing press we became fully in the “pages” world. Even with the advent of the computer, we still have the command to “print” things out. Email is just a digital variant of pages. Movies and videos are often described as “moving pages.” With computers, our world is still a flatland and encapsulated in rectangles of either print or digital pixels.

With VR (or Augmented Reality or Mixed Reality), we move fully out of the flatland of pages and get into the virtual world of many Places.  We move from the singular Place of where I body is currently located to abstract Pages to an infinity of Places.

As these concepts were spinning around in my head, my wife and I got to babysit for two of our grandchildren.  Over the course of thirty minutes, I watched three year old Alice go through all three stages of McLuhan’s culture definitions. For twenty minutes, she ran around the house skipping from one set of physical toys to another urging granddad to keep up with her.  During this whole time she narrated her activities to her captive listener – granddad.


Alice reading to her babies

As I sat down to rest, she slowed down and decided it was time to read to her “babies.” She lined her babies up on the floor and covered them with her blanket. Then she went to the bookcase and got her parents books (mostly words) and started “reading” them to her babies. I was stunned. She went from culture 1 to culture 2 in a heartbeat. She wasn’t reading her picture books to her babies but rather telling stories of her life at day care through the medium of her parents’ words books.

Then Alice climbed up on the couch and picked up her mom’s iPad and started watching Daniel Tiger cartoons (her generation’s version of Mr. Rogers). This active girl went almost catatonic as she watched Daniel Tiger. She was now deeply immersed in McLuhan’s culture 3.

In a short thirty minutes, I saw the presence of all three McLuhan cultures.  Later that night as I read more of McLuhan, he pointed out that it is the three to five year old children who live in all three cultures simultaneously.  Once they reach school age in the Western World, we focus the child exclusively on Culture 2. McLuhan shared:

“Whereas the Western child is early introduced to building blocks, keys in locks, water taps, and a multiplicity of items and events which constrain him to think in terms of spatio-temporal relations and mechanical causation, the African child receives instead an education which depends much more exclusively on the spoken word and which is relatively highly charged with drama and emotion.” P. 18.

I can’t wait for the next generation of streaming VR cameras to capture my grandchildren living simultaneously in all three McLuhan cultures.

Implications of the Transformation from Pages to Places

A few weeks ago I enjoyed a lunch with several representatives from the Institute of Design who were visiting Seattle to solicit suggestions for a new Dean to replace the retiring Patrick Whitney.  In their briefing package, they shared as part of the hiring context that the school will be moving twice in the next 3-5 years.

As a conversation starter, I asked “Why are you doing the second move? I can understand that you need to move relatively quickly for the first move. But if you are thinking of moving in five years, why are you going to spend so much money on physical space.” I continued “have you been paying attention to the advancements in VR and AR? Within five years, you would be crazy to spend money on physical space and asking every student and faculty member to move to Chicago. You can create a far better learning and collaborative experience in VR and AR?”

The conversation that ensued was robust and challenged so many different assumptions about the future of education  and possible futures for the Institute of Design.

This conversation evolved from my first visit to Envelop VR eighteen months earlier.  I’d read an article in Geekwire that put three words together that I never thought I would encounter “enterprise, VR, and productivity.” Bob Berry shared with Geekwire:

“Bob Berry is confident about two things: The virtual reality industry is about to take off, and Seattle will be an epicenter for companies a part of this new movement.

Berry is CEO of Envelop VR, a new Bellevue-based startup that is creating productivity and enterprise virtual reality (VR) software.”

I immediately reached out to Steve Santamaria, COO, who graciously agreed to give me a demo. Steve showed me several different prototype VR head sets and some of the early content available in VR.  The first thing he showed me was the Paul McCartney concert captured with a Jaunt VR camera. I had no idea that VR could be video and not just animations. This single app in just a few seconds changed my perspective on how presence could be achieved across time and space. In the concert video you can choose your viewing location and the video and audio adjust to your location. I could choose to view the concert from Paul’s perspective, or the drummer’s perspective or an audience member in the front row or in the balcony. I could choose my presence experience. I could choose my point of view.

He then showed me their very early prototype of a personal Envelop Virtual Environment. I put on an Oculus Rift early prototype and saw not just a single computer monitor located in a planetarium sized viewing space, but ten virtual computer monitors.  Now I see what this new world can be.  “But how do I type into these virtual monitors,” I asked.

Steve told me to look down and I would see a keyboard and mouse.  “But how do I use it?”

“Reach your hands out,” Steve said.

I extended my hands, saw them in the virtual world, and easily touched the physical keyboard. I suddenly realized that this wasn’t an artificial keyboard, but the real keyboard on the desktop. “How do you do that? I didn’t know that the Oculus has a camera?” I asked.

Steve laughed “It doesn’t but it does have a USB port so we just taped a camera to the headset and ingested the video, recognized the objects on the desktop and inserted the desktop objects into your virtual reality.”

I grabbed the mouse and navigated my way to the window with Microsoft Word. I moved my hands to the physical keyboard and started typing. I was beyond amazed.

envelop monitors

Before we started the demo, I placed my iPhone 6 on the desktop as I was expecting a phone call.  Just then my phone rang and without thinking I picked it up, saw that it was the call I was looking for, and answered it. In that moment, I realized what I had just done and stammered to the person on the phone “Holy Crap Batman, I will call you back in a little while.  You’ll never believe what just happened.”

Everybody had a good laugh. Steve added “welcome to your first VR presence experience.”

With hundreds of thoughts spinning wildly, my reality shifted. The future was a very different PLACE from what I was envisioning. Making several leaps of faith, I realized that our ability to collaborate across space and time was a soon to exist new reality.  Not just see and hear each other like with Skype or Facetime, but really collaborate.

From my home office, I could envision fully collaborating at a shared white board or flip chart or pair programming with colleagues wherever they might be located in the world.

I couldn’t wait to share this with my colleagues and start a new company (CoPresence) to build on VR and the promise of collaborating Places.

What the future holds for Enterprise VR and AR

After sharing a bottle of wine at a catching up dinner, Katherine James Schuitemaker looked at me and asked “what are you really trying to ask me tonight?”

I responded “I want to collaborate with you on a regular basis. I miss your point of view. I just filled out a collaborative intelligence assessment and I was asked to list my top five collaborators and how often I collaborated with them. You didn’t make the list as we only get together on average twice a year. I would like to collaborate with you several hours a week.”

She commented “CoPresence sounds like an interesting tool suite and the VR software and tools you are experiencing sound cool, but they are tiny steps towards your vision of Living Legacy. You don’t have that many years left to get bogged down. Spend your time inspiring and collaborating with the wide range of deep thinkers and makers who can create this intentional system of collaboration.”

We both paused, sat back, and took a few more sips of our aromatic Italian 2010 Sangiovese. We let the savory smells of the open kitchen envelop us.

Vendemmia Restaurant Seattle

Vendemmia Restaurant Seattle

Katherine restarted the conversation “And while I’m thinking about it, I really enjoyed the video of the Disney animator stepping into the virtual world of creating art. However, there is no chance, I will ever put on one of those heavy, clunky VR headsets?”

We both laughed, took another sip of wine and listened to the sounds of the nearby kitchen and other diners.

Katherine changed topics “I have this current problem with collaborating. Maybe you have some ideas. I am working on a design project for an outdoor experiential learning environment that Paul Brainerd (Aldus Founder) is building near Glenorchy, New Zealand. We have a person on the ground in Glenorchy, a five person design team in Christchurch, another designer in Auckland, Debbie Brainerd on Bainbridge Island, and me in Seattle. We meet several times a week through Skype video conferencing.”

“It is so frustrating to design and architect a space and an experiential campus when we are all dealing with flat small computer screens. The guy in Glenorchy is trying to describe how the light hits inside the existing building and how the roof edges and rainwater flow. None of us can visualize it.  Even if he points a camera (which he can’t) at what he is describing, none of us can really imagine what he is talking about. Similarly, the design team in Christchurch has models of previous projects they keep referring to, but the rest of us can’t see and experience those models.  Even pointing their camera at those models doesn’t allow us to get what they are describing. It is just so frustrating. And it is so darn expensive for all of us to just pick up and relocate to Glenorchy. How do we do a better job of collaborating?”

I leaned into our small table “Katherine, what do you think I’ve been talking about all night. All of the technology that I am going to describe in your context already exists or will be available in Q3 2016. First, I would put a streaming VR camera (a Jaunt or a Vuze or even a Samsung Gear) in Glenorchy and in the offices of the designers in Christchurch.  Now as the participants are describing the physical space you can “move” into their reality. It’s like the Paul McCartney VR concert recording I was talking about. Each participant can pick a viewing position anywhere in the 3D space of the building or the property or the models.”

envelop vr immersion

Envelop VR example of physical space exploration

“You can view the models that are in the Christchurch office as if you were in the room with the designers. But even better you could bring to life their CAD drawings for those models and view them in the virtual 3D space. The Microsoft Hololens team has done a nice demo with Trimble to show a similar interaction to what you are describing. It is all doable and demonstrable today.  All we are missing are the high resolution headsets and hand controllers which will show up in Q2/Q3 with the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.  The Envelop VR team has the software platform to enable what you’re talking about.”

“But wait there’s more. With the kinds of extensions that I envision with Living Legacy, you can have any of the famous architects like Frank Lloyd Wright, or Frank Gehry, or Le Corbusier, or Brinda Somaya, or even Da Vinci join your design sessions and become a real time collaborator.”

great architects

Katherine quickly picked up her wine to toast this grounded vision and said “Now if you could do any part of what you just described, I would gladly wear one of those clunky VR headsets!”

She smiled and laughed “Ok, so get started building that CoPresence thing AND do the new collaborating form of organizing with intent.  I want your Living Legacy vision and virtual collaborators and I want it now.”

From Place to Pages to Places

In a recent VR conference sponsored by the Washington Tech Alliance, Sachin Deshpande of Qualcomm ventures responded to the audience question “what does the future hold for the Virtual Reality business?”

“We don’t know,” he said. “Look, who would have predicted that with the introduction of the iPhone in 2007 that in 2009 Uber would be spawned to disrupt and disintermediate the taxi industry?”

What happens to the world of business when we “step into the page” as Glen Keane shared and enter a world of billions of PLACES to discover, experience and explore?

Posted in Content with Context, Design, Flipped Perspective, Human Centered Design, Learning, User Experience, Value Capture | 2 Comments