Over the holidays I spent time with my grandfather, who recently turned 89. He’s had multiple heart attacks. First, in his late 50’s which resulted in quadruple bypass surgery. These days he takes trips to the hospital from time to time for the regular “oil-change” and things like swelling in his ankles that results from not paying attention to his diet.
All that said, he says he feels good now. And I actually believe him. When he pays attention to what goes into his body, he doesn’t have issues, and he’s really active. You’d probably think he’s in his early 70’s
Anyway, what got me thinking was when he told me he’s still learning new things (basics) every day about his body. Seems so backwards to me! Shouldn’t we learn the basics when we’re young, so we can try to avoid some of the bad stuff that happens later in life?
Why is what happens inside of our bodies such a mystery? I’m in my late 20’s, working at a digital health and fitness company and it’s embarrassing how ignorant I am about nutrition and what happens to food once it goes into my body. And I’m sure most people would put me in “healthy” bucket.
Take a quick look at these shocking stats from the American Heart Association:
The whole obesity thing is real. Yet, we keep overdoing with the same shitty foods.
The problem is that most people don’t have swelling in their ankles or at least not enough to notice. They’ve never had negative reactions to too much sodium, sugar or cholesterol or at least not enough to get their attention. Our bodies are resilient, which is great, but the result is that not until things are noticeably bad or we’re sent to the hospital, are we’re motivated to make a change.
Unlike cars these days, which have a sophisticated set of sensors and technology to tell us when we need to get an oil change or what speed to drive at for optimal use of gasoline, we still don’t have anything close to that for understanding what’s going on inside of our bodies.
Feedback like the occasional headache, tiredness, fatigue or joint pain often pass so quickly and we don’t think much about it once it’s gone. Organs like the heart, liver and kidneys are essential parts our “engines”, but we don’t have an easy way to find out when the “oil” is low in our liver. Instead, we usually wait for physical symptoms to show up.
Symptoms like swelling can indicate a problem such as heart, liver or kidney disease. Ankles that swell in the evening could be a sign of retaining salt and water because of right-sided heart failure. Kidney disease can also cause foot and ankle swelling. When kidneys are not functioning properly, fluid can build up in the body.
This is the equivalent of waiting for your engine to start smoking to know something is wrong or developing that could shorten the life of your engine.
It’s frustrating that we’ve evolved to the point where most of us “hunt” for our food at grocery stores or even do online delivery via Peapod, yet we still have no easy way to know what foods we should be buying. What actually happens with food when it enters our body? How do our organs react when we overdo it?
I’ve been cobbling together some tools that are available (which there are a ton of) to learn about the nutritional value of food I currently eat. So far, I’ve stuck with Jawbone UP the longest. It provides a holistic view by combining steps, sleep and nutrition. I’m smarter about what I eat now because I pay closer attention, but I’m still overdoing it every day (see cholesterol in image above).
Other (free) apps I find useful are Lose It, MyFitnessPal, Fooducate and Venio. I think it’s a good first step to log food, but there’s a ton of friction. I can understand why many people don’t do it - my most recent hurdle has been fighting the awkwardness of taking photos of everything I eat - but I’m doing it.
I long for the day that we have internal sensors to monitor nutrient levels and a mobile dashboard to tell us when it’s time to fill up on protein or saturated fats. It’s going to take time and innovation. A good first step is developing more interesting delivery methods for education about the problem, more tools to help us know what to eat and when based on our body’s needs and finding more convenient ways to eat healthy foods.
It will happen. I’m optimistic.
Help by paying it forward for each of the 26 Newtown victims.
I’m a few days behind in publishing this post. Being in Las Vegas last weekend for a friend’s birthday got me out of habit, but also left me inspired.
Lets set the stage with a little on Vegas; the city recently celebrated it’s 100th anniversary. It’s located in the center of a desert, so temperatures are above 90 °F for nearly half the year. Most people who end up in Vegas are stopping through for a quick visit to indulge in massive casinos, entertainment venues, shopping, restaurants or for a convention of some sort. The city is built on tourism. The best part of Las Vegas is that it averages 300 sunny days per year - second in the U.S. only to Phoenix, Arizona - that’s a healthy dose of vitamin D.
I was only in Vegas once before and it was for less than 24 hours. This past weekend’s trip lasted 50+ hours, which was enough time for a balanced menu of activities including being awake for 29 hours straight the first day/night, running the Zappos Rock n’ Roll half marathon, and enough time to check out the progress Tony Hsieh and his crew are making with their Downtown Project.
What to do with $350 million?
Tony Hsieh (Zappos CEO) is moving their suburban headquarters to Old City Hall in downtown Vegas - the first step in the $350 million dollar Downtown Project’s plan to give downtown Las Vegas a massive makeover in the next 5 years.
We’ve allocated $350 million to aid in the revitalization of Downtown Las Vegas. We’re investing $100 million in real estate, $100 million in residential development, $50 million in small businesses, $50 million in education, and $50 million in tech startups through the VegasTech Fund.
From the sounds of it, a majority (if not all) of the $350 million is coming from Tony personally. After the story of Zappos, I can’t say I’d expect anything less from the guy. It seems like a big bet, but the stakes are high. It’s this kind of big bet and a big vision that it will take to transform the city.
VegasTech Fund: $50 million
The plan is to Invest in 100-200 companies. The Zappos culture has become a poster child and inspiration for tech and non-tech companies around the world. Infusing aspects of the Zappos culture into a broader community seems like it could be just the right formula for building support for a new tech startup ecosystem to thrive.
There are already early signs of strong community forming at the Ogden apartments, where Tony lives 90% of the time alongside a bunch of companies they’ve invested in.
On a tour with Krissee Danger, who’s part of the Downtown Project crew, she took us through Tony’s apartment at the Ogden - really four apartments strung together into one. Views of the Strip and mountains in the backdrop were pretty amazing. Seemed like the perfect space for getting people together to build a tight knit startup community and knowledge sharing it’s going to get some early wins. And having the CEO of Zappos nearby to help think through your business is a solid resource.
On the wall when you walk in is long bookshelf with a bunch of favorites, including his own Delivering Happiness. A the end of the hall you’re dumped into the kitchen, which was fully stocked with top shelf alcohol (not surprising).
Still not 100% sure this was actually his apartment, but I did see shoes on the floor with a bag from the marathon, which leads me to believe they were probably from the race the night before. Update: from Krissee: ”I really do swear on my life, Tony actually lives there. :)”
Here’s are a few shots from the Ogden apartment…
At first, it a little weird being in someone’s house that you don’t know. But that weirdness quickly morphed into a feeling of welcome. It was the kind of genuine open arms you get when you’re part of a family. There was a unique transparency and it gave me the sense that something special is brewing there.
While I could never imagine myself living in Las Vegas, the opportunity to be part of something bigger, like reinventing a city, is exciting and I’ll be following close to see what’s next. My expectations are high.
My good friend Nick is the only person I know who religiously relies on a coin toss to make decisions in life. In college, he’d pull out a quarter to decide whether or not to stay home and read or go out. Heads he’d stay home, tails he’d come out. It was simple, he had a 50/50 shot either way. He wasted no time thinking longer about it once the decision was made and was totally comfortable with the outcome either way. I’ve never asked, but wouldn’t be surprised if he used the same logic when making some of the bigger decisions he’s made, like finally deciding to propose to his wife. Kidding…kinda.
I was reminded of Nick over Thanksgiving while reading “The Wide Lens” by Ron Adner. In the book Adner talks about dependencies in ecosystems, especially around partnerships. Welcome to my world. In a chapter about co-innovation risks he discusses join ventures and probability of success.
In Nick’s world he’ll continue to have a 50% chance of the coin landing on heads or tails each independent time he flips it. Adner blows my mind for a minute with some simple multiplication; if Nick flips the coin 4 times and take the product instead of the average, he has a 6.25% chance of it landing on heads all four times. .5 x .5 x .5 x .5 = 6.25%.
I’m no math-whiz, but holy smokes 6.25% vs. 50%! Okay Adner, you’ve got my attention.
As it turns out, the probability of success for collaborative partnerships uses the same logic of multiplication. For simplicity sake, lets say we’re working on a partnership that relies on 4 different innovations (one of which is our own). To keep the math simple, we’ll use Adner’s example and say we believe each partner’s innovation has an 85% chance of success. 85% chance of success is pretty good, right? Not so fast! Do the quick math .85 x .85 x .85 x .85 = .52. That’s a whopping 52% chance of success.
Add another partner innovation (or dependency) with an 85% chance of success and you’re looking at 43%. What if we replace one of the innovations with one that has a 50% chance of success in there? All of a sudden our overall chance of success plummets to 30%. Different story, right?
Overall the concept is intuitive, but the math exposes a different viewpoint. The more moving pieces or dependencies introduced, the more opportunities for probability to move away from 100% success we’re hoping for.
So, when developing products that rely on external or internal innovation, Adner suggests looking at things through a wide lens that applies a probability to each of the major dependencies for success. And no matter how the math works out, we will be better equipped to make decisions that steer us towards success.
I’m feeling like I have a wider lens this week. Hope your lens just got a little winder, too.
We’ve had a bunch of new people join the team over the last couple weeks. Everyone does their rounds on day one to get introduced. Real introductions happen at our monthly team lunch. Our last one was yesterday. We had burritos.
What started as somewhat of a voluntary initiation, is now pretty much full blow standard practice. Team lunch now comes with a big helping of embarrassing stories from (all, not just new) members of the team. I think it’s safe to say, this has become one of our favorite things to do as a team.
I mean really, who doesn’t want to hear stories about when a teammate once had to ski down a mountain in their tighty whities, got cuffed for driving a stolen car that wasn’t really stolen, had to ask their police officer neighbor about bones they dug up in their back yard or mistakenly launched a model rocket in their bedroom? Seriously? I couldn’t make this stuff up. And this is only a small taste.
While telling embarrassing stories are done mostly for our entertainment and we laugh (sometimes until we cry), it’s some of the best team building I can think of.
Embarrassing stories break the ice. They get people to step out of their confort zone. They expose vulnerabilities and build trust. They make people laugh. And they teach you something you probably wouldn’t have learned about your team otherwise. And one of the best things about it is that everyone has one.
I’d highly suggest trying it with your team. You might be hard pressed to get a few brave first volunteers, but you’ll be surprised how quickly the stories start rolling. For our last two team lunches, we’ve had to cut them off at the end of an hour to be picked up next time.
I’ve still not told my story, but you better believe I have a few good (or bad :/) ones brewing.
This week marks two and a half years for me at RunKeeper — which is my PR for longest time at a company. It feels like half that time to me, if that. It’s true, time flies when you’re having fun. I’m excited for every day and that’s a testament to being part of a great team with a big vision and the result of having lots of headroom for personal development.
Personal development is key piece of the puzzle.
[it] includes activities that improve awareness and identity, develop talents and potential, build human capital, enhance quality of life and contribute to the realization of dreams and aspirations.
At the start of 2010, I would never had called it “personal development”, but that was my motivation. I failed at my first attempt to build a company (good idea, poor execution) out of college and after a couple of other attempts, it was time figure out what the missing pieces were - I had learning to do. There are many ways to learn, I had tried learning by doing it myself, and probably would have gotten there, just slower. So, I was warming up to the idea of joining a team that had a solid vision I could relate to, was small enough that I could have an impact, and was growing fast enough to learn like I was drinking from fire hose.
RunKeeper had me at “hello”.
Before meeting Jason, I was using RunKeeper and knew they were a Boston company looking for a community manager. Multiple people had told me I needed to talk to Jason (RunKeeper CEO). To be honest, the idea of going from starting a company (that failed) to being a community manager, didn’t seem like a logical step at the time. Well, it didn’t take more than 15 minutes at Cosi in Kendall Square the day I first met Jason, for me to change my thinking on that. He’ll actually tell you I grabbed on to his leg so tight he couldn’t shake me. And I’m glad I did. A week later I was part of the RunKeeper team.
I started off doing mostly customer support as community manager, which I truly believe is best place for anyone to start at any company. We receive hundreds of emails, tweets and Facebook posts a day from users, which requires you to learn the ins-and-outs of the product. I learned how to be in lock step with the product team, so there was a direct feedback loop on what users loved, hated and have problems with. I learned to develop a voice for the RunKeeper community internally and how to share my personality in external messaging.
Where I would go from community manager wasn’t exactly clear, but what was clear, were the opportunities for personal growth that lied ahead if we continued to succeed as a team. In April of this year, I officially made a transition to our platform team where I lead business development. It’s a new role filled with challenge that require a lot of learning and because of that, I couldn’t be happier.
Each of us has personal development goals, and while some are more defined than others, taking steps towards achieving those goals is important for each of us as individuals and equally important for the teams we’re on to be aware of. People join teams for a bunch of different reasons, the best one I can think of is to learn. It’s a questions I always ask to potential new hires, “what do you want to learn next?” The answer is one of the best ways (IMO) to understand what motivates a person and to see if there’s role in the company that can give them what they need.
What do you want to learn next? What does your personal development roadmap look like?