Thursday, December 26, 2013

Recapping 2013, Resolving 2014

2013 was my sixth year of blogging, and it's still nigh impossible for me to predict which of my posts will do well and which will land with a thud.  Even writing about X-rated topics, which I tried back in 2008 (with Camouflage Marketing), didn't seem to have the je ne sais quoi to go viral.  Meanwhile, other posts, some of which were written just because the blog was looking lonely--a particularly poor reason for writing--took off.

The three best-read new posts in 2013 were The Cult of the Entrepreneur The Founding Fathers as Innovators and Surviving Little Entrepreneurism.  All three made me feel like a curmudgeon when I wrote them, but apparently there's room for a little ballast in the top-heavy hysteria of American entrepreneurism.

In the next tier down, Purchasing Worker Loyalty was very popular, and that was also one of my favorite posts to write because it dovetailed nicely with the book I'm researching.  It also got me back to my old hometown of North Dighton.  Likewise, Want Innovation?: Think Shovels!, about the Ames shovel collection at Stonehill College, was fun to research, and in a roundabout way (thanks to Greg Galer) got me to the Yankee Steam-Upwhere I got to see my first Corliss steam engine.  Very cool.

Some scenes from 2013's book research and blogging travels:

The town hall at Basel, near the first stop for the "Weathermakers to the World" tour in 2013.
I got to chat with dozens of Life Science executives and about how modern air conditioning changed their business.  See here.
I also spent some considerable research time with J.K. Millken, the entrepreneur who founded Mount Hope Finishing.  
Mount Hope Finishing is no longer, but what a run it had.  See here.  In 1965, when that clock pealed "five," it was time to break up the baseball game and go home.
Then, of course, there was the terrible tragedy at the Boston Marathon, but the remarkable ad hoc memorials that sprang-up represent one of the great "historical innovations" of modern times.  See here.

As mentioned, there was also the visit to the Ames shovel collection in Easton, MA.
I don't know who invented the shovel--probably some young Stone Age genius--but after the old guys had shoveled for a few thousand years, they put the little bend in the handle.  This "Ames bend" made the tool much more productive and saved many an aching back.  It's a great example of "incremental innovation" that is inevitably generated not by the inventor, but by the customer.  See here.
I was at Gettysburg for the 150th celebration of the battle itself, and later of the Gettysburg Address.  It's a special place.  See here and here.

"Weathermakers to the World" also took me to one of the grand old movie theaters, this one in New Jersey.  I spent the day with Steven Johnson taping (at the time) a top secret documentary.  Since then he's been able to let the cat out of the bag, though, and I cannot wait to see the whole series. Stay tuned for more.
Nothing like two liberal arts majors discussing ammonia compressors and the wonders of air conditioning in a 120F basement.
We were out in San Fran and sampled The Munchery, which I blogged about (along with screaming goats) here.
I was hot on the trail of John Chapman in 2013--but more on that later in 2014.  
And, of course, there was the Yankee Steam-Up, bringing together folks who really understand one of the great technology phenomena of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Some of the exhibits.  See here for more.
A steam-driven bicycle.  You first.
Finally came the visit to Lowell, one of the wonders of America's Industrial Revolution.  See here.

Speaking of wonders, the post about Alfred Sloan, In Praise of the Introverted Entrepreneur, was another that did well and was based on research that convinced me that Sloan was the single most successful American entrepreneur of the 20th century.  I also was able to invoke another great old entrepreneur and friend, David Rossi.  His theory on dating, explained in great detail one evening in a pub in Cambridge (while we were undoubtedly dodging the three cases we were supposed to be preparing for Monday class) circa 1981, still makes me laugh.

My best-read blog post of all time here predicted that e-books would one day "read their readers"--which is now happening here (...the E-books Are Reading You).

And then, for something completely different in 2013, I ran into a wonky GPS signal one morning while running and wrote Today I Broke the Four-Minute Mile.  Likewise, I did some guest blogging in 2013, including If Your Board Were The Avengers for "The Investing Edge" blog at Ascent, Why History Students Should Love Big Data and Taking Google's Ngram For a Spin at "The Historical Society" blog, and What I Read About When I Think About Running (soon to be reposted at the new Runkeeper blogsite).

One older post in particular, The Two Shoe Salesman, a re-telling of the famous entrepreneurial fable (or is it?!), really caught an updraft this year.

As for my own reading, I felt buried on-line.  LinkedIn turned into an endless cascade of self-improvement articles that I cannot figure out how to filter or kill.  (How can we possibly need that much advice, and when do we have time to try it?)  In that same vein, friend Luke reposted an article from The Guardian (on Google+, the only platform I like and can seem to control) called News Is Bad For You that I am taking to heart in 2014.  Meanwhile, my wife and I originally joined Facebook to stay in touch with our kids, and our kids have essentially abandoned Facebook for other social media.  (There's a New Year's resolution there, for sure.)  I also have a Twitter account but have changed my view on the service from "didn't understand and don't like it" to "now understand and like it even less."  I can explain Twitter by way of one story: Time crowed in its recent edition that within 10 minutes of its announcement that Pope Francis was 2013's Person of the Year, the news had been retweeted 7,000 times.  That means 7,000 people took time out of their day to advertise a completely invented news story contrived solely to sell magazines.  No wonder Time was crowing; they had tapped into the tribe of hapless unpaid digital sharecroppers.  Whatever productivity the computer, smartphone and Web have contributed to the economy have surely been sapped by services like Twitter.

That was driven home by the one article that really stuck with me in 2013, The Blip.  The book I most enjoyed was Michael Lewis' The Big Short (which is just brilliant storytelling, even if I am a little late to the party).  The blog site I discovered and grew to love is Brain Pickings.

As for ways to be more productive in 2014, besides ignoring or abandoning Facebook and Twitter, I'm turning off TechCrunch and TedTalks updates; both have superb content but are trapped by a measurement system where volume is a proxy for success.  I just can't wade through the drek to find the diamonds anymore.  As for the general press, no more articles that deny climate change, evolution, or warp the Second Amendment; for the latter, I'm bronzing Jill Lepore's Lost Amendment.  I will not read any article that starts with "The Death of" (Big Data, Silicon Valley, the Internet, the MBA, the BA, God, etc.), has "Immutable" or "The Only" in the title, or features a number, as in "15 Ways" or "The Top 7" (though I do have a weakness for Top 10 articles, I have to admit).

No more sleeping with my iPhone on the bedside table, either.  There's nothing quite so sad as working on a to-do list at 3 a.m. in the morning.  Unless it's getting sucked into reading a retweeted LinkedIn "Influencer" article entitled The Top 10 Immutable Laws That Mean the Imminent Death of the Web.  At 3 a.m., that is the very definition of sad.

May the year 2014 bring you nothing but a clear head and happiness.  Happy New Year!