is this the year for your platform?

Do you have a message that is burning inside of you that you want to share with more people?

Do you have a remarkable company, product or service that you want to have more impact?

Do you want to have more influence on your career trajectory than you currently have?

Are you somebody that is constantly asked for advice on a specific topic?

Do you currently mentor a few people but would like to have a greater impact on a greater number?

Do you have a vision to bring about a change or start a movement?

Throughout my adult life, all of the above questions have resonated with me at some point or another and I have tried to find a coherent model through which I can build something consistently that would help me to be more successful. After observing how others have done this and reading extensively in a wide are of topics about technology, finance, marketing, personal development and success, the model that I believe is the most organic way to increase the impact of your unique contribution to this world is by building a platform.

I am primarily influenced by the writings of Seth Godin on this topic, but I have also observed first hand both at my job and in my personal life how people have taken the concepts he writes about and made them real. I invite you on a journey with me where I will explore platforms, both in my writing and by practicing things in my own life. I would also like to help you to move forward in building your own platform because whatever God has uniquely put in you to share with the world is for the world’s benefit and whatever is holding you back from sharing it can be overcome.

For the purposes of this exploration, a platform is:

  • a homebase from which you can rally supporters (a tribe) for your cause
  • a place for you to both demonstrate and increase your credibility in your area of expertise by teaching, mentoring and/or entertaining your tribe
  • a watering hole for you to build lasting relationships with your tribe that over time can help you increase your influence to a larger group

A platform is not:

  • a soapbox
  • a 24/7 marketing pitch
  • a vanity publication to boost your ego

I do not have all the answers so I invite your feedback and dialog as we go on this adventure together.

mentorship is not for puppeteers

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
– Antoine de Saint Exupéry

One of my major themes this year is mentorship because I want to become both a better mentor and a better mentee. Over the past 5 years, I have had the privilege of learning about mentoring through the platform of a mentoring program called Khalfani that primarily serves young men of color between the ages of 6 and 18 years old. Through that experience, I have enjoyed watching young boys mature into young men even as I have grown as a leader myself. I have also begun to develop some personal guidelines that are more effective than others at influencing a mentee and helping them become successful. These guidelines are not only helpful in mentoring teenagers but can be applied to anybody that looks up to you for advice or input into their career or life choices.

The quote at the beginning of this post encapsulates the first of these guidelines. If you want to be effective as a mentor, you have to reframe the way in which you point a person towards success – unlike a puppeteer who makes the puppet act by controlling its actions directly; a mentor should not focus solely on getting their mentee to follow their instructions. This will hurt the mentee more than it will help them because you are not equipping them to develop their own problem-solving and decision-making skills.

Instead, the mentor’s role is to paint a picture for the mentee of their future that is so compelling they will long for it and implement your advice as a means to get to that end.

Practically, there are at least two ways to do this that are easily accessible to anybody:

1. Be the model
2. Tell stories

Be the model

The easiest way to mentor somebody is to live your life according to the principles that you are trying to instill in your mentee. If they spend enough time around you, the authenticity of your life will give you the credibility to speak into their lives. And if you have a life that gives them a glimpse of what they would like their own lives to be like, they will naturally want to know the ‘magic sauce’ that got you to where you are.

Tell stories

Humans are naturally drawn to stories and we remember them better than we do facts or lectures. If you want a lesson to stick with your mentee, find a way to tell a story (preferably one from your own life) that illustrates the concept you are trying to convey. When you do that it does two things:
· It reinforces you as the model they can safely follow
· It gives them a simple memory trigger for when they will need that principle in the future

So as you consistently model things and provide frameworks for concepts through stories, you will have a much greater influence over your mentee than if you merely try to teach them things through a ‘lecture’ format – and you will enjoy yourself more because your interactions will be based on the building of a relationship, rather than the transactional ‘impartation of wisdom’.

Instead of being the puppeteer, you will be the muse and your mentee will be encouraged to create their masterpiece.

my early adopter bias

During lunch today I was discussing web applications with a friend and started thinking about some of Google’s products that are used widely today.  I realized that before Google Docs there was – and I had an account with them.  Before Google Voice, there was GrandCentral – I had an account with them too.

This trend is not limited to Google products though … I remember using ZohoCRM for a freelancing writing business several years ago before the whole suite of Zoho products existed.

I tried out Freshbooks when they first launched …

And don’t get me started with to-do apps or other productivity products.

I watched the launch of Android and could not wait for my contract on Verizon to complete so I could get my first non-blackberry smartphone … in my haste, I purchased the Droid Eris which had so little staying power that the first major update release it received caused it to morph into the most annoying phone in the world – random crashes, freezing when a phone call comes in, applications taking so long to open that I would forget what I was opening them for – I loved to hate that phone.

With all its problems, most people still did not have smartphones and those who did had iPhones, so it was still special.

I have even extended this trend to my job where I enthusiastically volunteered my time to help with the launch of the collaboration platform, Jive, into our company. What drives this constant need in me to become a user of applications that are just starting out – or implementations of established applications into spaces they have not been before?

It usually starts with the following phrase in my mind:

“There has got to be a better way…”

When I come across a problem that theoretically could be solved with technology, I imagine the solution in my mind and rabidly search for a solution.  I sign up for the free trials of services.  I kick the tires of many potential solutions – usually getting more and more frustrated, until I settle on something that meets 60-80% of my needs with the hope that the solution will evolve and one day fill in the gaps.  Sometimes the thing I am looking for seems outright silly and feels like something only a handful of people will buy.  And then a few months (or sometimes years) later I see it as a product or service.

Until today, I thought this was a weird quirk in me, but then it occurred to me that it is actually a valuable thing to be somebody who so viscerally feels these gaps.  In the past, I have looked for a solution built by somebody else – but today, I asked myself, why can’t I be the one to build it?

I had a crystallizing moment for several threads of purpose that have been floating around in my head and settled on a unifying idea for them.

In no particular order, the threads are:

  • my desire to demysitify application development for myself by learning web development
  • my realization that I have reached the limit of self teaching regarding graphic design and need to become more serious with turning raw talent and interest into mastery
  • my total buy-in with the Lean Startup principles I read in this book
  • my fascination with web and mobile apps
  • my constant search for new revenue streams to make my family’s dreams reality
  • and my early adopter bias that I described in the earlier part of this post

I formulated the unifying idea when I read the following description of a business model by Clayton M. Christensen in the abstract of an article he wrote for Harvard Business Review.

A business model has these key compnents:

  • a customer value proposition that fulfills an important job for the customer in a better way than anything competitors offer;
  • profit formula that lays out how the company makes money delivering the value proposition;
  • and the key resources and key processes needed to deliver that proposition.

So my early adopter bias is driven by identifying ‘jobs‘ that I want to do, and what I need to start doing is doing is before I go on an extensive search for a solution, I should design my ultimate service or product that would meet the need and then move into ‘testing mode’, first by searching to see if a solution exists and if not, finding ways to identify if there are other ‘beta guys’ like me that are trying to do the same ‘job’.

In parallel with this, my desire to become an accomplished web developer now has a purpose – because even if I may not e able to build a whole solution myself … I most certainly can put together a minimum viable product if I can learn the basic skills and start using them.

Today I begin my journey and I will post on this blog to take you along on the ride with me.

editing my life to live more simply

I have been thinking a lot about how much clutter – physical and digital – there is in my life.  For example, this is what my home office looks like:


My wife and I spend a considerable amount of time trying to ‘get things cleaned up’ but I am becoming more and more convinced that there is a more holistic approach that I need to take with my possessions.  The video below is an inspiring approach to both diagnosing the problem and offering some simple paradigm shifts to aid in gaining more out of less.

Graham Hill’s two simple rules are:

1. Edit Ruthlessly – stem the inflow of new posessions into my life.  For every new thing that I get, ask myself if it is really necessary, and will I have consistent use for it, rather than using it for one or two events in a year.  Will I love it for years?

2. Think Small – Hill points out in his talk that Americans have 3 times as much space as we did a few decades ago, and the personal storage industry is a 22 billion dollar industry.  This means that we have more space, but have more shortage of space at the same time.  The way to reverse this trend is to think in terms of ‘space efficiency’ – getting things that are designed for how they are used the vast majority of time, not a rare event.

“Why have a six-burner stove, when you rarely use three?”

Buy things that nest and stack.  Digitize everything I can.

You can see the entire video below – its short but very well worth it.  I will be taking Hill up on his two rules to guide my simplification project.

Come my tan-faced children,
Follow well in order, get your weapons ready,
Have you your pistols? have you your sharp-edged axes?
Pioneers! O pioneers!

For we cannot tarry here,
We must march my darlings, we must bear the brunt of danger,
We the youthful sinewy races, all the rest on us depend,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

O you youths, Western youths,
So impatient, full of action, full of manly pride and friendship,
Plain I see you Western youths, see you tramping with the foremost,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

Have the elder races halted?
Do they droop and end their lesson, wearied over there beyond the seas?
We take up the task eternal, and the burden and the lesson,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

All the past we leave behind,
We debouch upon a newer mightier world, varied world,
Fresh and strong the world we seize, world of labor and the march,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

We detachments steady throwing,
Down the edges, through the passes, up the mountains steep,
Conquering, holding, daring, venturing as we go the unknown ways,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

We primeval forests felling,
We the rivers stemming, vexing we and piercing deep the mines within,
We the surface broad surveying, we the virgin soil upheaving,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

Colorado men are we,
From the peaks gigantic, from the great sierras and the high plateaus,
From the mine and from the gully, from the hunting trail we come,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

From Nebraska, from Arkansas,
Central inland race are we, from Missouri, with the continental
blood intervein’d,
All the hands of comrades clasping, all the Southern, all the Northern,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

O resistless restless race!
O beloved race in all! O my breast aches with tender love for all!
O I mourn and yet exult, I am rapt with love for all,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

Raise the mighty mother mistress,
Waving high the delicate mistress, over all the starry mistress,
(bend your heads all,)
Raise the fang’d and warlike mistress, stern, impassive, weapon’d mistress,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

See my children, resolute children,
By those swarms upon our rear we must never yield or falter,
Ages back in ghostly millions frowning there behind us urging,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

On and on the compact ranks,
With accessions ever waiting, with the places of the dead quickly fill’d,
Through the battle, through defeat, moving yet and never stopping,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

O to die advancing on!
Are there some of us to droop and die? has the hour come?
Then upon the march we fittest die, soon and sure the gap is fill’d.
Pioneers! O pioneers!

All the pulses of the world,
Falling in they beat for us, with the Western movement beat,
Holding single or together, steady moving to the front, all for us,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

Life’s involv’d and varied pageants,
All the forms and shows, all the workmen at their work,
All the seamen and the landsmen, all the masters with their slaves,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

All the hapless silent lovers,
All the prisoners in the prisons, all the righteous and the wicked,
All the joyous, all the sorrowing, all the living, all the dying,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

I too with my soul and body,
We, a curious trio, picking, wandering on our way,
Through these shores amid the shadows, with the apparitions pressing,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

Lo, the darting bowling orb!
Lo, the brother orbs around, all the clustering suns and planets,
All the dazzling days, all the mystic nights with dreams,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

These are of us, they are with us,
All for primal needed work, while the followers there in embryo wait behind,
We to-day’s procession heading, we the route for travel clearing,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

O you daughters of the West!
O you young and elder daughters! O you mothers and you wives!
Never must you be divided, in our ranks you move united,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

Minstrels latent on the prairies!
(Shrouded bards of other lands, you may rest, you have done your work,)
Soon I hear you coming warbling, soon you rise and tramp amid us,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

Not for delectations sweet,
Not the cushion and the slipper, not the peaceful and the studious,
Not the riches safe and palling, not for us the tame enjoyment,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

Do the feasters gluttonous feast?
Do the corpulent sleepers sleep? have they lock’d and bolted doors?
Still be ours the diet hard, and the blanket on the ground,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

Has the night descended?
Was the road of late so toilsome? did we stop discouraged nodding
on our way?
Yet a passing hour I yield you in your tracks to pause oblivious,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

Till with sound of trumpet,
Far, far off the daybreak call–hark! how loud and clear I hear it wind,
Swift! to the head of the army!–swift! spring to your places,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

Walt Whitman poem that the Levi’s ‘O’ Pioneers’ commercial is based on