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No, not The Rolling Stones. I’m talking about a rolling stone, as in an individual that can stay pinned down in one place – or one relationship – for too long.

That’s what Louisiana Red was singing about in the song that I like to cover every now and again (actually, all the time). And while the lyrics are plenty powerful in their own right and remind me of my younger ramblin’ days, it’s the musical elements that keep bringing me back again and again. I got to reading about Louisiana and found out that his early upbringing- like that of many of his contemporaries – was unimaginably rough. His mother died shortly after his birth and his father was lynched by the Klu Klux Klan during Louisiana’s formative years. So if you wonder where the gritty, intense emotion in his voice, guitar, and harp (that’s a harmonica for the uninitiated) come from, it’s probably safe to assume that the blues took hold of him right from the get go.

Louisiana made a decent go of it early in life, achieving a measurable degree of success as a blues singer, but he eventually found himself laboring to make ends meet and dealing with another round of family tragedy and estrangement. Fortunately for me and the rest of this music-lovin’ world, his blues career was reignited while working as a truck driver in one of the rougher parts of greater Newark, New Jersey. He finally found the appropriate level of fame and fortune late in his life, relocating to Europe and finishing out his life as a beloved blues icon.

This karmic retribution of sorts is how and why the track “Rolling Stone” thankfully made it’s way into my body and mind a few years back. And I’ve been working on it ever since.

“Rolling Stone” is the lead track on my album “Live in NYC”. You can buy it on iTunes and other major music services. It’s also available for streaming on Spotify and other popular music streaming services.

If you’re interested in a deeper introduction to Louisiana Red’s music I’d recommend starting with either “Sweet Blood Call” or “Louisiana Red Sings the Blues”. Either album will do, but diving into both will be twice as nice.

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I’ll be playing a live set at Caffe Vivaldi in the West Village on September, 30th. The show starts at 9:15pm and will be a combination of acoustic and electric blues with a Lightnin’ Hopkins feel (if you don’t know who that is, watch this).

You can RSVP here and make sure to invite your blues-loving friends. Should be a really fun show in a fantastic NYC venue.

See you there…

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There’s no doubt that spontaneity and an ability to live in the moment is key in virtually all facets of life. Musically speaking, it’s the hallmark of an epic session in all but the most classical of genres. It’s also seems to be the key spark for arguably the two most rewarding pursuits of all; humor and lovemaking. Simply put, it’s good to live in the now.

That said, I find that even when it comes to music – check that, especially when it comes to lifelong pursuits like music – it’s best to think in terms of years and decades instead of the shorter time spans that we’re most familiar with (months, weeks, days, hours, and so on).

Mind you, I’ve spent enough time with my young son to know that this is far from an intuitive or “natural” approach to life and craft. It’s easy for us humans to hang up the proverbial cleats when he hit a plateau in any of our professional or personal pursuits. It’s also easy to settle for “good enough” once we’ve reached a relative degree of proficiency.

But if you want to be really good a something it’s best to heed Mahatma Gandhi’s advice and live as if you were to die tomorrow but learn as if you were to live forever.

P.S. No need to take my word for it. You can read more about this approach by reading this book or this book. Actually, read them both.

 

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I recently shared a New York Times infographic on human cost of the most recent clashes between Israel and Palestine (warning: this infographic and the accompanying photos are not for the faint of heart). Soon thereafter, an old childhood friend reached out in private to discuss what’s going on.

She tried to explain to me that the situation was completely one-sided and that all her side was doing was projecting themselves. She was polite about it, which I appreciate, so I tried my best to be polite when I explained my thoughts on the matter.

Absurdity is the first thought that comes to mind. The absurdity of the situation appears to be lost on both sides in that the crux of the issue is a piece of land; so called “Promised Land”

That’s why children aren’t coming home to their moms and dads.

To put this in perspective I tried to provide my friend with a bit of a thought experiment. Knowing what we now know about tectonic plate movements that dictate the form of the surface of the earth it only takes a moment to realize the obvious.

This “Promised Land” these folks are fighting over wasn’t around in the past and it won’t be around in the future. Of course the people that developed these two opposing doctrines can’t be blamed for not realizing this. Science was but a faint glimmer in humanity’s eye. But we can most definitely place the blame on both the Israeli and Palestinian Powers That Be for basing political policy and military aggression based on the assertions of people who literally didn’t know that cells existed or that the Earth revolves around the sun.

What’s the point of all this, besides the lamenting the continued loss of life? For me, the key takeaway – that can be applied in virtually all facets of life – is that it’s always important to take a bit of a mathematical approach to perceiving the world by shifting your perspective a few orders of magnitude inward or outward. By doing so, you may notice that ideas that seem permanent or unassailable become obsolete or flat out absurd.

And the more that we educate folks (young and old) the less we’ll have to deal with tragic scenarios like this Israeli-Palestinian crisis or another painfully similar strife that going down in the Motherland…

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I find that most people, including myself, struggle with perspective. What I mean is that while most of us know what’s most important in life and have a general sense of thankfulness, we often stray from those grounding principles for one reason or another.

Or as Paul Simon once sang, “Time passes. A mind wonders. It seems mindless, but it does.”

Mind you, there are a variety of ways to keep that stream of consciousness flowing in a generally happy and serene direction, both at work and at play. For me, it usually comes from diving deep into the meaning and general theme of songs like the Grateful Dead’s “Black Peter” or an obvious personal favorite like Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Going Away”:

There’s also a quasi-mathematical process that I often engage in – particularly within the bounds of my marketing work – that seems to pay huge dividends in terms of keeping my perspective set to the right angle. It basically entails stepping out from the moment as if it where a point on a three-dimensional graph, and pulling up and out a few orders of magnitude so that I can peer into the situation I’m facing from the standpoint of a month, year, or even decade.

I can’t tell you how many times this has saved me from snapping on a colleague, creating a fire drill for direct reports, making a rash decision without enough data or strategic thinking, or even walking away from a generally fantastic gig based on what amounts to a few hours of stress or uncertainty.

And while each of these approaches to serenity work well for me – as well as various others such as trading in superstition in exchange for skepticism – I’m fairly sure that by far the best technique is to simply give to others.

Give your work mates a compliment or a gift (or even just a round of beers). Give your loved ones a hug and an “I love you.” Give an underprivileged kid a guitar.

Just give. It’s like a compass for your perspective.

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Some of you folks that are reading this know that I spend my days toiling for a big bank. So I can totally understand if you thought that this article was about hedge funds or some related financial instrument. Or perhaps you’re used to reading posts that focus primarily on my current profession (marketing) so you thought that “hedging your bets” was an analogy of some sort that referred to spreading your marketing dollars – and expertise – on more than one channel.

Side Note: That last assertion is a good idea in my experience. If you’re already good at search engine optimization try to master paid search marketing. Know your way around email marketing? Learn how to activate display campaigns. Really strong with digital channels in general? Figure out how traditional advertising channels like TV and outdoor work.

Don’t care about marketing? That’s ok too. Though I’d argue that even if you’re not a marketer, you may want to consider understanding fundamental marketing concepts if for no other reason than to gain a better understanding of how the human psyche works.

Anyhow, back to my original point. The reason that I titled this post “Hedging Your Bets” is because I got to thinking about the nature of a love affair. I realize that in some sense, we all must decide whether or not to hedge against the degree of love and passion we’re willing to manifest for our significant other.

Some of us are quite risk averse, so we choose a mate based mainly on financial stability, emotional safety, and a high degree of consistency. We’re not looking for a volatile love [anymore].

Some us are a bit more ambitious. We want someone that’s compatible. Someone that makes us laugh and smile. A true companion. A love like cool water. More of a long play, as opposed to a violent, fiery, torrid affair.

Then you have the true gamblers. The ones who won’t settle for anything less than true love. Real passion. I have a lot of respect for those folks for a variety of reasons:

1) Firstly, I’ve been there. And it’s awesome.

2) Secondly, I know how painful it can be if this beautiful construct unravels (or is unrequited).

3) Thirdly, this special type of person runs the risk of never finding what they’re looking for.

4) Fourth, and perhaps worst of all, you run the risk of feeling what it’s like to think to yourself “My Baby Laid Out All Night“:

I’ve got a young kiddo in tow these days, and I often think about what I’ll tell him about falling in love and assorted ailments. Hopefully, he’ll see the love his mother and I have and continue to share, and that will help him find his way. Ultimately, I suspect that love has different seasons. It changes over time, and sometimes, if you’re lucky, it’s reborn time and time again like the cherry blossoms in Prospect Park.

cherry blossom bbg

 

 

 

 

 

I also think that it’s worth considering that other facets of life also fit the “hedge your bets” analogy. For example, marketers that always play it safe and stick with mainstream “best practices” typically don’t go far. Yet at the same time, marketing mavericks that always shoot from the hip and use their mouths (and keyboards) to make bets their skills and connections can’t cash run the risk of ending up in the unemployment line.

So hedge your bets wisely my friends.

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It’s impossible to take any tech industry blog post (e.g. marketing, programming, growth hacking, etc.) seriously while listening to Lightnin’ Hopkins sing “Going Down Slow.”


And I believe that, in general, this is the right attitude to take as it relates to this internet business of ours. All too often, I run into industry colleagues who get swept in a frenzy of algorithm chasing, (not provided) lamenting, and character count obsession. There’s really no reason for that. In fact, I think that taking oneself and their craft too seriously can be a detriment to their long-term professional prospects.

And perhaps their personal ones as well.

I ran into one of my closest industry colleagues – a true friend – on the subway yesterday. And we got to talking. About a lot of things. Absinthe, the good old days, and what it takes to be true leader.

The yeller and screamer type is out – both in the NFL and in Corplandia. Nobody has time for the pissing and moaning type either. The worrier is out too (and won’t live long). But the over zealous micro-manager is by far the worst offender.

Mind you, we all have a little of all four in us. Our job is to wring them out of our existence one laid back moment at a time.

I was outside walking my dog earlier tonight, and I swear that I saw a mini Tsunami rolling into the Western coast of the Hudson River. Charlie barked. I got to thinking about the fleeting, frail nature of life. There’s  no time for getting hung up on the nitpicking, not-going-to-move-the-needle-anyway details.

So just take it easy. Your data is directional? No worries. Taking a long time to convince the Powers That Be that original content makes measurable money? No biggie.  Google did something that upset the apple cart you’re little world balances on? So what.

Just focus on making friends and providing value when/where you can. You’re not going to win every battle. The internet is a very new place, so some people from the pre-internet generation are never going to fully grasp it. And guess what? Those people are often the real movers and shakers in an organization. So until those generations fully adapt – or more likely – fade into the retirement sunset, it’s probably not a good idea to annoy the crap out of them by constantly insisting that your channel(s) is the most important thing in the world and that it – and you – should always be the first consideration.

P.S. What’s his name statistician (you know, the famous one that predicted the election) suggests that you ante up and teach yourself proper statistics. He’s right on. That’s the future (and present) in virtually every professional field and domain.

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I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve been using spreadsheet software since the 80’s (props to my dad and brother for turning me ontoVisiCalc during the Apple IIe days). I’ve also been in love with the predominant spreadsheet software, Microsoft Excel, more or less since its inception. And as scary as it might sound, I’m not overstating things when I tell you that I eagerly await the arrival of each and every one of Annie Cushing’s wondrous treatises on advanced Excel functionality.

And yet I don’t have Excel on my personal computer.

Why? Because while Excel is certainly a very powerful software application with a wide range built-in functionality as well as a plethora of outstanding bells and whistles, my experiences over the past few years has suggested to me that Excel is simply incapable of handling the immense data sets that are fast becoming the norm in today’s (and tomorrow’s) enterprise business landscape.

I first realized this a few years ago, after building some custom Excel formulas and data tables that helped automate various types of acquisition marketing analysis. The formulas worked like a dream, but as the data sets became larger and larger, the delays, crashes, and file corruptions became a frequent and very painful nuisance. Eventually, it became quite clear that in order to scale our efforts my team and I would have to shift to more powerful programming languages and data structures. Initially, it was just some simple Python scripts, but gradually the focus shifted to full-fledged applications based on object-oriented programming principles.

Mind you, a lot of the coding had to be done by other people because I was (and still am) a fairly mediocre developer. But even at my level, I find that moving away from Excel and leveraging more powerful languages like R has had a profound impact on the speed at which I can produce actionable insights, the depth of those insights and associated visualizations, and last but certainly not least, the way that I view and approach marketing and business problems. It’s been a profound and fundamental shift for me.

Granted, I still use Excel at work because that is still the standard tool for playing with data and sharing it with colleagues in a corporate setting. And I do occasionally lean on Google Spreadsheet at home for quick and dirty analysis (and for playing around with the Google Analytics API). But the bottom line is that I’ve more or less abandoned Excel and spreadsheets in general, so that I can build up my software engineering and data science chops.

Interestingly, I’ve had some people ask me why in the world I would invest so much time and effort into building entirely new skill sets like coding, applied math, and applied statistics when I could easily delegate these tasks to others. The answer to that question is really quite simple. I’m constantly meeting extremely young interns and new hires that have these skills (some have earned Master’s Degrees or even PhD’s in data science related fields) and these young kids will one day be vying for the very jobs that I (and you, the reader) want and/or currently have.

And I’m not interested in becoming obsolete.

P.S. If you think that you’re “just not a programmer” or “just not a math person” stop fooling yourself. There’s no such thing. I’m an English Literature major for goodness’ sake!

P.P.S. Thanks to Chris Le for inspiring me to write this post.

 

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The phrase “It’s not even wrong” is arguably my favorite cliche. Granted, I’m not even sure that it qualifies as a cliche because it hasn’t really achieve mainstream status. In fact, it’s relatively unknown outside of scientific circles.

But I think it should be.

The origin of the phrase is usually attributed an Austrian theoretical physicist named Wolfgang Pauli who had a penchant for telling misguided peers, “That’s not only not right, it’s not even wrong!” Take a moment to let the context sink in. Realize that what he’s really saying is that certain ideas and intuitions are so malformed that they can’t be falsified. In laymen’s terms, they can’t even be proven wrong (or right for that matter).

While the implications of this are far reaching if you think it all the way through and apply it to even your most treasured beliefs and concepts, I’m writing about it here because of it’s implications to a marketer, analyst, and business executive.

I recently heard someone share a stat suggesting that even in this digital age the vast majority of marketing and business decisions are not made based on data. They are instead made on intuition, gut feeling, or appeals to authority (e.g. the dreaded “best practices” argument). More often than not these intuitions are – you guessed it – not even wrong. And worst of all, many of the folks making these decisions based on these unfalsifiable ideas don’t even realize how far off they truly are.

Take a moment to think about your approach to making decisions. Are your assertions testable? And if so, are you taking the steps to test them?

If the answer is no, it may be time to take a more scientific approach to your craft.

 

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Ralphy is my good buddy. He’s also my 21-year-old nephew and arguably the biggest role model in my life.

Ralphy
You see, Ralphy was diagnosed with brain cancer when he was two years old. And while he is fortunate that his particular type of affliction is not as aggressive and deadly as others, the impact those rogue cells have had on his life is immense. He can’t really see and struggles with a variety of motor skills, so playing sports is out of the question. He also struggles with memory and other cognitive functions. And these are, unbelievably, just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what he has to overcome on a daily basis.

And yet despite all of this adversity, Ralphy is one of the happiest and most fun-loving people you will ever meet. He’s almost always smiling, laughing, dancing, telling jokes and generally putting smiles on the faces of people around him. Which is what made the question he asked me yesterday so devastatingly succinct.

“Uncle,why am I disabled?”

The question froze my mind in its tracks as we ambled down Flatbush Avenue, making me momentarily forget all of the sunshine and happiness we witnessed in Prospect Park.

I suppose the stock answer lies somewhere between a religious platitude and a children’s nursery rhyme. Neither of those will fly for me. Ralphy deserves better. He deserves the truth.

And so I told him a little bit about genetics. About DNA. About cellular biology. I explained that sometimes the natural yet astoundingly complex beauty of evolutionary biology requires just a hint of randomness. Dumb luck. And that he was unfortunately the unwilling recipient of a genetic mutation that led to his present condition.

I also reminded him that as tough of a break as this was, he was fortunate to have working limbs, and a sense of humor, and an amazing appetite, and well, consciousness in general.

And he agreed.

Then he amazed me for the umpteenth time by reminding me about how he loves to help the less fortunate kids at his school. Kids that can’t talk, or walk, or think. He seemed sincerely thankful and mentioned that he relished the opportunity to help “his friends” out when they needed it.

I finished this particular conversation by mentioning that if it weren’t for an army of anonymous scientists and medical researchers he and others like him wouldn’t even be here today and that had he been born a 100 years ago he’d of likely had no chance at life. I made sure to remind him how these true heroes never make the evening news, never have an entourage, never get a red carpet gala, and are rarely wealthy. Heck, they are often attacked when their discoveries don’t align with previously established dogma, superstition, etc.

But I digress.

He seemed to appreciate my answer and so we left it at that for now. Then we got back to clowning around and talking about the more mundane things in life. Like which types of girls he likes the most and how we could work on getting him a steady job around town.

I also got to thinking about my renewed resolve to encourage my fellow digital marketers and analysts to donate their skills and their time to non-profits and other charitable and socially-benevolent organizations, so that we can help kids like Ralphy – and other disadvantaged members of society – get their fair share of the good life.

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