Change always happens mid-stream but where does it start?

The low point for me as a teen drummer arrived early on when I prematurely joined a band. One night on stage I started horribly wrong. The band leader quickly realized the situation was unrecoverable and simply turned around and yelled “Just!… Stop!... Playing!”

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Change must happen mid-song or mid-course or it’s not change. It’s never easy, never a straight path, never ego-centric, and never perfectly articulated. Change is utilitarian, brash, unrefined, blurry, audacious… Messy.

These characteristics make it problematic to consider the topic of change in terms of formula or “steps.” In my experience finding a successful path to change is often elusive even in the face of pressing need. (If it were easy, we’d all be seeing & embracing change far more frequently!) There is, however, a singular characteristic that I believe exists in all change: The crisis point. This is the point where someone has a realization that what is happening right now is incompatible with long-term success. …


Within your team, there is an epic struggle for mindshare between the two big players in your Product’s world; engineers and users. And they see the world very differently.

Achieving mutual respect is important. One bellwether for knowing who’s winning the struggle is how data is being displayed. More specifically, whether or not your data display says more about the database or the user.

Here’s the clearest (and, sadly, most common) example:

If you were to watch someone address an envelope with data labels you’d probably be struck by how silly it is. Everyone knows what an address looks like!

Users don’t need to know that me@domain.com is an “Email Address:” either. Nor does +1(234) 234 2343 need “Phone:”. We humans live with this conventional data and it’s immediately recognizable even when completely out of associated context. …


Groundbreaking inventions are super boring.

I was lying on my back watching the sky over the abandoned factories of Rochester, NY. A friend and I had decided to spend a week brainstorming ideas that would transform the world and make us rich. No client work, only brainstorming — full time… for a week. It was Friday and our exhaustion seemed to make our lying belly-up all the more appropriate.

Back at the office our whiteboard had a plan for dethroning DeBeers. We would build a diamond exchange to democratize the insular and monopolistic industry. We had insider knowledge, done research, and leveled a sound approach. We knew the risks and the way we’d make it big.


The broken promise of listicles

Ever notice the ubiquity of list-driven how-to articles? So-called listicles? I have and they’re wrong. Every last one of them.

When I was young and starting my first business John C. Maxwell rocked my world with his savvy wisdom. He and Steven Covey helped ignite this whole sub-lit firestorm with their odd-numbered “something or other” titles. They were wildly popular and I read every one. And they were helpful.

A few years later I was talking to a mentor of mine who casually mentioned that he’d thrown away his list books. Wait, what? Sacrilege! Why?

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Because he explained, he’d had an epiphany: Life is too complex for a finite set of laws. Because at some point you have to start thinking about how to become a chef instead of a recipe follower. …


Blind spots are the cause of every project train wreck.

The project was careening towards a cliff. The technical debt was accumulating, the money was running out and the client was making larger and more distracting changes. At the same time the research and background was inscrutable. The specifications were detailed and vouched for. Expectations were set and reenforced with everyone agreeing enthusiastically with the project vision. Apparently none of that mattered.

I doubled down, vowing to figure out what was really going on no matter what. …


The sprawling camp that delayed a transcontinental pipeline for months drew people from around the country to stand up to the government.

DECEMBER 19, 2016 — Near Bismarck, ND: “Water is Life” is the breaking chant of Oceti Sakowin Camp near the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota. It’s part of the daily water ceremony at the Cannonball River. It’s said during protest. It’s an appropriate response of agreement. It can be a statement, a greeting, a prayer, or all these simultaneously.

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Oceti Sakowin Camp is a sprawling network of roads, shelters and people. The itinerant composition makes the camp unwieldy but for a core base of residents. Over the 5 days from Dec 1–5 I witnessed campsites that were recently abandoned be reclaimed by an incoming population and then return, altered slightly, to an abandoned state. This characteristic makes the camp and its management foreboding and unexpectedly friendly all at once. …


If there were such a thing as a business horror movie it’d probably start calm and cheery as 2014 did for me and my small business. There was money, great clients and everyone was getting along. Conversations tended to focus on our personal lives and the wonderful projects we were tackling to change the world. If anything life was actually a little too good.

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The reality was that even though our clients were well served our business was neglected. We were focused on delivering great software and had passed the core of the business into the arms of a Certified Public Accountant that we hadn’t vetted and failed to properly check-in with. They paid our bills, recorded our spending, filed taxes; everything. Of course, we’d occasionally talk but the conversations were mostly about family, the weather in Greenville, tech… someone might toss out a number with “gross” or “net” but it didn’t register much and they didn’t insist that it register. …

About

Mark Ovaska

Serial entrepreneur and photojournalist. Husband, father, global citizen.

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