You need to understand basic color theory.  Period.  It is just that simple. 

One exception: if you are legally color blind, maintain a closet full of Garanimals, have no plans to paint any part of your house, have turned over all decorating responsibilities to a significant other and will never be required to create a chart, graph, illustration, presentation, document, video, web page or any other visual form involving color…then you get a pass.

But everyone else needs to understand basic color theory.

Why? For the same reason you need to be able to speak, read and write. Color communicates. It has meaning. It evokes emotion. It triggers reaction. It conveys feeling. It adds depth. And if you don’t understand how colors complement, contrast and interact, you are functioning with a very limited visual vocabulary.

Don’t undermine your ability to communicate with the world.  Learn about color theory.

Twenty years ago I called a girl 225 miles away and talked for 12 minutes. It cost my parents $3.42 (that’s $5.71 today after adjusting for inflation). That was the cost of connecting with someone beyond shouting distance. And my desire to interact caused me to willingly accept the charges.

Now I could video conference with her via iChat or Skype for free.

Fifteen years ago I submitted my demo reel to 30+ post-production houses in the Midwest. It cost me more than $200 (roughly $285 today) in duplication charges, VHS tapes and postage. That was the cost of distributing unique content to a targeted audience. And my desire to promote my talents caused me to willingly accept the charges.

Now I could post it to YouTube or Vimeo for free.

Ten years ago I purchased a 40GB external firewire hard drive to back up my PowerMac G4. It cost me $329 (roughly $417 today). That was the cost of protecting my digital property. And my desire to insure against potential data loss caused me to willingly accept the charges.

Now I could archive those files to for free.

Establish a connection to the Internet and you are empowered to connect, share, publish, distribute, promote, archive and collaborate with millions of others at no additional charge. This is breaking news to no one…yet I continue to be amazed by it.

Common Misconception: Your productivity is foiled by interruptions.

Harsh Reality: You allow interruptions to feel productive.

When the road ahead is tough terrain, you are easily diverted onto side streets.  Stopping or going in reverse on life’s freeway feels like failure, especially when everyone else appears to be racing by with relative ease.  Thus when struggling to move ahead on the chosen road, you consider every diversion, detour and alternate route.  Any exit ramp that might offer the chance to get moving again, even if it takes you further away from your desired destination.

Two months ago I was struggling to maintain my new exercise regimen, dietary changes, schedule adjustments and blogging activity—the very things that had enabled me to achieve so much during the first six months of the year.  My steady progress had slowed to a crawl.  It was frustrating.

And then my day job presented a very attractive side street.  Two major projects that required my unique combination of skills and talents.  With little hesitation, I changed course and allowed my rigorous pursuit to be interrupted for the benefit of my employer.  The subsequent busy days and nights provided temporary satisfaction, but ultimately kept me from moving closer to my desired goals.  I recognized it about a month ago, but was unable to get back on track.

So I am going to try again.

It has been more than a month since my last post. Really. Check the dates. 33 days. Gone.

And the lack of blog activity exemplifies my general approach over the last four weeks. Occasional exercise. Lots of bad foods. Sporadic reading. No writing. No progress on 2MG. No weight loss.

In short, the pursuit was far from rigorous for most of June.

However the month away was not a complete loss—far from it. Family, house and day job kept me busy and I am typing this post while sitting in my newly renovated basement office (now with carpet!!). I reached out to a few linchpins, connected with some old friends and made good impressions with several new contacts. Overall it was a nice sabbatical.

But I also missed the benefits of the rigorous pursuit—structure, discipline, creativity, productivity, and above all else, purpose. So now is the time to resume getting smaller and thinking bigger.

More to come.

Secured two new domains today… – Future home of my online resume/portfolio/curriculum vitae/etc. I have long intended to create and maintain such a site, but like so many other things have simply relegated it to the proverbial back burner. LinkedIn provided a corporate solution (albeit a stale one) for the last couple of years. But that only presents the M-F/8-5 version of me; the goal with this URL is to highlight all aspects of my life. Construction sign is up for now, with an operational site up by the end of this month (hopefully) and content added as time permits. – Simple blog site (along the lines of Startup Quote) promoting the use of motion graphic artwork to convey insight and intelligence. It will use the common search/collect/filter/present model (much like Andrew Vande Moere‘s Information Aestethics blog), so the core content will not be mine and I will do my best to recognize, credit and acknowledge the work of each artist.

I am excited to develop and launch each of these sites. Now just need to find the time.

Changing course is easy. Never reverting is hard.

Half way through the year and I find myself teetering on the edge of relapse. Some old habits are creeping back into my daily routine. I’m trying to fight them off. As part of that effort, here is a reminder of what I set forth to quit, start and substitute.


Being Ignorant – In this information age there is no legitimate defense for prolonged stupidity; you are a Google search away from insight and intelligence. Therefore, immerse yourself in books, online articles and videos focused on the long term effects of diet (good vs. bad) and exercise (regular vs. none). If nothing else, you’ll be smarter and preemptive guilt will help you avoid indulging late night cravings or spending the night in front of the TV.

Excusing Neglect – Tired. Overweight. Dispassionate. Lethargic. These things are not okay and should not be tolerated. Stop rationalizing your current state under the guise of more pressing and important concerns—spouse, kids, work, house, finances, etc. Your performance in all these areas is directly affected by your mental and physical health, so don’t ignore your daily diet and exercise requirements.

Eating Sweets – Most often sugars provide nothing than empty calories and momentary gratification. In exchange for this you incrementally give away your waistline and long-term health. It’s a bad deal. Give them up. Completely. It will be one of the hardest daily changes to maintain, but will pay out big over the long term. To ease your pain, allow one exception each day: a 30 calorie 85%+ cacao chocolate square.

Mindless Snacking – Whenever hungry outside of meal time, force yourself to wait ten minutes before heading to the kitchen; odds are the desire will pass. If it doesn’t, go ahead and snack on fruit. And after dinner, no eating. Period.


Creating Accountability – Establish clear consequences (positive and negative) for your behavior. Whenever possible, make them visual and emotional. Weigh yourself everyday and display it on a Post-It stuck to the bathroom mirror. Use smaller plates and dish at the counter rather than the table so you have to physically get up for more food. Publicly track your exercise activity, books consumed and ideas generated. And don’t leave yourself an easy return to the past—throw out or donate clothes once they become too big or oversized, pay the fee and update your drivers license photo and weight, and blog about your successes and failures.

Thinking Big – Work on building or creating something bigger than yourself. Don’t worry about accomplishing it, just focus on the pursuit and know achievements will follow. Identify others with whom you can partner, collaborate and create. Give away your ideas, especially to those who are more capable of implementing them. Maintain an innovation wall. Practice edge craft. Plan, book and reserve your next vacation at least 9 months in advance. Create a life list.

Exercising – Incorporate at least 30+ minutes of physical activity into your day five times each week. Elliptical is fine, but mix it up; do some running, basketball, swimming and weight lifting as well. In addition, adopt a daily routine that includes stretching, sit ups and push ups.


Productive for Busy – Get things done and ship everyday. Identify fixed commitments, tasks that cannot be delayed without rapidly increasing penalty (cooking, exercise, If it can be completed in under two minutes, do it. If not, list it. Don’t browse the internet during lunch. Instead, watch one TED or BigThink video (20 minutes and your out). Limit email checks to three times a day—morning, lunch and 30 minutes before end of business—and advise everyone of this schedule and your cell number. Blog everyday for at least 30 minutes and publish whenever a post is 90% finished; if you work on it for more than three consecutive days, move on to a new idea.

Nutrients for Calories – Mind your portions, but don’t starve yourself. Instead, swap out high fat, high sugar and low nutrition foods for lean, nutrient rich superfoods. Consume more fruits and vegetables. Lots of them. Don’t skip breakfast. Drink unsweetened iced tea in place of soda; cut out red meats and use portobello and shiitake mushrooms in their place; snack on frozen grapes and fruit smoothies rather than ice cream. Be sure to start every morning with a cup of green tea, a hard boiled egg and some fruit with non-fat yogurt and a little granola. And supplement one of your meals with a capsule cocktail that includes multivitamins, fish and flax oil, turmeric and curcumin.

Books for TV – Instead of ending the day falling asleep on the couch in front of the television, conclude by reading a book in bed. Trade out mental sedation for intellectual stimulation. And when you do want to watch something, do it while on exercising.

There are many more things to quit, start and substitute, but this list will do for now.

Clay Shirky on our willingness to pay for content in the digital age:

People will pay for content if it is necessary, irreplaceable, and unshareable. Businesses excited about the first five words of that sentence don’t understand how constraining the next seven are.

I agree with Clay. Never met the man, but based on his books and numerous talks he seems a pretty smart fellow. So let’s assume he’s right, that more often than not people won’t pay for content. Especially if it can be digitized (i.e., words, music, photos, videos, etc.), which makes it easily duplicated and highly shareable. How can a modern day digital content creator make a living under such conditions?

Simple. Don’t sell content, sell access.

If you fail to see the distinction, consider a few examples:

Case study #1: Adam Carolla. His primary content is delivered via daily, one-hour podcasts available for free via direct download, RSS or iTunes. He also maintains a website that provides additional photos and videos. All available free of charge. But fans have to pay to access him live and in-person or for shirts with his logo. And advertisers have to pay to access his fan base, either via his website or podcast. And if NBC wants access to him full-time for a sitcom, they’ll have to pay for that as well.

Case study #2: Seth Godin. His primary content is delivered via daily blog posts, available for free via his website or RSS feed.  Seth also publishes eBooks and does audio and video interviews for other blog sites to promote his ideas and marketing concepts. All this is made available free of charge. But to access him live and in-person, fans must pay. If organizations want him to speak at their event, they must pay for access to his time. And if a publisher wants exclusive access to his next big idea, there is a fee for that as well.

Case study #3: OK Go. Their primary content—music—is delivered via numerous channels. Fans can stream OK Go’s entire library of songs for free via their website. Fans can also view music videos on their website or via YouTube. True fans can download the raw footage elements of their latest music video to remix and create their own custom composition. All this, as well as photos, blog posts and a community forum, is made available free of charge. But to access the band’s music directly from an iPod, fans need to pay. To access a live performance of their music in-person or to wear their branded merchandise, fans need to pay. And to access their fan base and brand, State Farm paid to sponsor their recent music video.

See the difference? It’s a simple business model: give away 99% of your content for free (see Chris Anderson: Free!) to attract a following (see Seth Godin: Tribes), then generate revenue by charging for access to…

…the remaining 1% of your content (see Fred Wilson: Freemium);
…your fans (see Darren Rowse: Make Money); and/or
…yourself (see Tom Peters: Brand You).

So if you are a digital content creator (writer, illustrator, filmmaker, motion graphic artist, 3D animator, musician, photographer, etc.) you can either venture on your own or go to work for someone else.  Although working under someone’s employment can provide numerous benefits—such as security, stability, consistency and structure—many creatives will prefer the freedom, autonomy and control enabled by a freelance approach. Thus, if you decide to go it alone you will need to follow these 10 steps:

  1. Create cool, original and remarkable content. If you get stuck here, don’t fret—most people do. It’s a significant barrier to entry. It’s difficult. It’s hard work. It’s understandable. And most people never get past it. So either push your way through, find a partner or go to work for someone else.
  2. Promote and share the content for free. Don’t worry about copyrights, patents, trademarks, contracts, compensation or useless forms of protection—it is a waste of valuable time and energy. Instead, get it out there (blog, podcast, ebook, videos on YouTube, etc.) and promote it. Everywhere. Use your network. Leverage any and all contacts. And if you get a positive response, go to step #3.  If not, go back to step #1 and make the content better, switch to a different subject matter or quit trying and go to work for someone else.
  3. Create more content. Lots of it. Work hard to make it cool, original and remarkable. But don’t let the pursuit of perfection keep you from shipping content out the door. At this point you are much better off quickly producing 10 really good pieces than working painstakingly on one masterpiece. Plus, you ultimately don’t get to decide what is bad, good or great; that is the job of your fans. Just keep producing content. If that troubles you, quit and go to work for someone else.
  4. Build a fan base by promoting and sharing the content for free. There is no hard science here. No doors to break down. No secret sauce or magical formula. If your content resonates, it will draw a crowd asking for more. So don’t bother waiting around for it to “take off”. If the content doesn’t attract a following, then go back to step #3 and make it better, switch to a different subject matter or quit trying and go to work for someone else.
  5. Create more content. Lots of it. Start building an inventory. You’ll need it. To do this, you will likely have to work harder, faster and longer than before. If this proves to be a substantial problem, quit and go to work for someone else.
  6. Grow and identify your true fans by continuing to promote and share the content for free. Enable fans to connect, interact and recruit others on your behalf. IMPORTANT: You must maintain a consistent flow of content relative to other providers. If it isn’t consistent, your fans will go somewhere else and quickly forget you. Therefore, if you can’t keep a steady flow of content going, partner up with other content creators to achieve scale and provide a steady stream of content. If you aren’t up to the task of feeding your fan base, quit or sell out and go to work for someone else.
  7. Start diversifying. If you began with an ebook, start a blog. If you began with blog, add videos. If you began with videos, launch a podcast. But do not—repeat DO NOT—allow the new content to detract from the original form. If your fans are used to a steady diet of blog posts, you need to keep feeding them blog posts. If they came to know you via YouTube, you need to keep a presence on YouTube. You must continue to create, promote and share your content in its original form, add to your inventory and grow your fan base. If you’re too tired or emotionally spent to do so, quit or sell out and go to work for someone else.
  8. Leverage your true fans. Use them to promote and share your content for free to further grow your audience. Make it easy for them to recruit other fans. Give them opportunities to interact with you on a closer level. Empower them to mashup and/or create content themselves. Resist the temptation to make specific requests, as it will stifle creativity and undermine their passion. Instead simply ask for help and welcome any and all ideas. Your fans don’t expect every item or proposal to be implemented, just merely considered. If you are unwilling to embrace you true fans in this manner, quit or sell out and go to work for someone else.
  9. Monetize. You can charge for access to your content, but heed Clay Shirky’s advice and evaluate “if it is necessary, irreplaceable and unshareable.” If it fails to pass this test, you are probably better off keeping it free. You can charge for access to your fans (advertising, referrals, etc.), but be careful as it could alienate and send them off in search of replacement content.  You can charge for access to your brand (affiliation, stamp of approval, endorsement and/or physical goods, such as swag, shirts, hats, etc.), an option that is usually harmless and relatively inexpensive. And finally, you can charge for access to you personally (consulting, appearances, conferences, speaking engagements, etc.), keeping in mind that such opportunities will take time away from content development. Whatever combination you settle on, you must continue to create, promote and share your content in its original and diversified form, add to your inventory, connect with true fans.
  10. Decide. Go bigger, maintain, sell out or quit. While you certainly could go to work for someone else, if you get this far odds are you won’t want to.

You do not have to follow this exact order to achieve success, but I contend the sequence of events would be pretty close to what I’ve outlined above. Create content, give it away, attract a following and charge for access to all things non-digital—especially yourself.

Here is a summary of May’s reading fare, the second course of my literary feast on collaboration…

Crowdsourcing by Jeff Howe – There is a substantial opportunity to apply the principles of Open Source software production to other businesses. You can leverage the crowd—now more than 1+ Billion strong—to produce, edit, filter, select and even fund portions of your business. Excellent read.

Wikinomics by Don Tapscott & Anthony Williams – A call to action to embrace a model of mass collaboration and openness fostered by the Internet and supporting technologies. Abundant examples across a variety of industries and applications demonstrate the power of such an approach, although the authors confuse matters by repeatedly attempting to coin new terminology and jargon (e.g., “ideagoras” and “New Alexandrians”).

The Culture of Collaboration by Evan Rosen – Businesses need to collaborate. There are lots of benefits. It has worked for lots of companies. Here are some tools (mostly technology) you can use. Blah,blah, blah. When reading I usually dog ear pages that include great examples, profound insight or well written sections; this book yielded only four.

More comments on how this relates to 2MinuteGenius in a later post. Stay tuned.

Quick math problem: while camping, you decide to start a fire. You have five logs. Three are needed to start the fire. Each log will burn for roughly one hour. How long will your fire burn before more logs are needed?

The answer is your burn rate. It’s a simple measure of how fast you consume available resources. And it greatly affects your professional and personal future.

In a business context, burn rate refers to negative cash flow that is usually experienced as part of a startup enterprise. Whether you plan on making something, provide a service or some combination of the two, you will need money to get up and running. And if you exhaust your cash reserves before turning a profit, you’ll need to obtain additional funding (take a loan, sell equity, offer stock, etc.) or shutdown operations. Thus, your firm’s burn rate determines how long you can survive without making a profit.

Businesses with excessively high burn rates require a lot of cash, which is problematic for entrepreneurs, worrisome for investors and potentially terminal for employees. Out of control burn rates plagued my career for the better part of a decade, particularly during my final months with a dying Many believed the Internet would universally increase gross revenues (when it in fact would universally decrease transaction costs), and my employer had capitalized on the feverish race to the Internet and speculative investing to artificially inflate the wealth of its VPs and executives.

But when the bubble burst and more venture capital was nowhere to be found, we began laying off sales and customer service associates with regularity. In my new role as “Director of No Sales”, I repeatedly explained the layoffs using the company line: “…necessary restructuring in an effort to lower the corporate burn rate.” Eventually I placed myself on the chopping block, took my small severance and moved on. I was young and inexperienced, but the situation was not unique.

In a health context, burn rate refers to how many calories you consume over a period of time for a given activity. Whether you plan on running a marathon, play some golf or relax in a hammock, you will need some fuel to keep your body operational.  And if you burn less than you take in, your body will convert the excess to fat and store for future use. Thus, your body’s burn rate determines how much you can eat without gaining weight.

Individuals with morbidly low burn rates require a lot of restraint, which is problematic for dieters, worrisome for spouses and potentially terminal for food lovers. An imbalanced burn rate caused me to gain 70+ pounds over the course of a decade. Most of it was acquired during times of stress and anxiety, such as the two years spent attending night classes in pursuit of an MBA.

I had no interest in a four or five year endeavor that slowly acquired credits; I preferred to get it done as fast as possible and therefore attended classes four nights a week while working full-time. It left little opportunity for much of anything else, especially exercise. A ridiculously low burn rate coupled with lots of fast food and late night snacking eventually bloated my midsection. I was older and more educated, but the situation was not unique.

So know your burn rate. It significantly affects your long term health—both professional and personal.

"Sunset Pull" by Bill Doster

Aggressive slalom waterskiing requires placing your ski on edge.  To achieve such positioning, you have to consciously fall away from the boat as you turn and then rely on your strength to pull yourself back up as you cross the wake. Once upright, you repeat the procedure in the opposing direction: let go of the rope with your away hand, extend your forward hand and begin your turn, allow yourself to fall away from the boat in order to lay the ski on edge and cut hard against the water, then grab hold of the rope with both hands and pull yourself upright as you cross the wake to decelerate and prepare for the next turn.

The key to achieving your maximum potential is knowing how far you can fall and still be able to pull yourself upright.  You need to identify the intersection where your strength, gravity and pull of the boat all come together; the point at which all these forces are in balance.  Because gravity is a constant, as is usually the boat, the undetermined variable is your strength. Thus, you must test the limits of your muscles. In order to improve you must be willing to fall until you fail.

For an aspiring waterskier—as I was in high school—this creates quite a paradox. If the goal of waterskiing is to stay upright, why must I fall to be successful?

For years I struggled to reconcile this apparent contradiction. As a result, I skied very controlled and seldom tested the limits of my strength. My ski runs rarely, if ever, included a wipeout. I was simply afraid to fall. And although I improved and became a fairly proficient waterskier, I failed to leverage the opportunity presented to become a great waterskier.

Fear of failure is common. And while it certainly can prevent us from trying, sometimes it prevents us from fine tuning. How far can we fall before pulling ourselves back up?  Often times, that is the key variable. Because if you know your limits, exactly, you can push right up to them and over time work to extend them.

But some of us are afraid to find out. Thus, we play conservative; we underestimate our strength and subsequently fail to fully leverage the occasion. To those around us, it appears as a good, if not great, effort. But within ourselves, we know we could have pushed harder, held on longer or gone further.

Resist the temptation. Recognize that sometimes success is derived FIRST from falling to fail and THEN failing to fall.

So go find smooth water and test your limits. You’re likely much stronger than you think.

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