The Headspace app

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve been searching for a paced way to bring guided meditation into my life for years.

I always had excuses for why I didn’t do it.

Too spiritual. Smacks of too much religiosity.  Too communal and not enough about me.

Then I tried Headspace on a recommendation 22 days ago.

While only just getting started, I’m quite blown away at the possibilities and all in to give this a real shot.

Each and every day I’m finding a value that deeply transcends the 10-minute session I start my day with.

I’ve been cognizant for a long time that compartmentalizing focus is the key to success in the hyper-distracted state of my life and work. It’s an ancient practice actually to carve out short blocks of very focused time on a daily basis to make the remaining hours more productive.

Up to now, the blocks of daily focus have been writing before dawn, exercising while listening to podcasts on topics of learning, and recently, committing to reading offline, giving myself over to someone else’s story or ideas.

Guided meditation was the missing link.

Something that was all about the wellness of me personally was lacking. And while I’m a newbie with Headspace, this feels just right with demonstrable value from every session.

Every morning in hotel rooms when I travel, on my writing chair with samthecat on my lap when home, and always with QC35s on my ears, this is the first thing I do post an expresso.

It starts by letting the voice of founder Andy Puddicombe into my head to kick it off.

The first few days of only 2 minutes sessions were really a struggle, not to focus, but to let myself be guided in that focus. Yet almost a month in, I’m ready to move up to 15 minute sessions.

There are three pieces of this activity that intrigue me.

First–There are very specific and tangible tools that you become more adept at every day. 

It reminds of skiing or strength training as every little bit better you get, the more powerful the experience becomes and the greater the drive to come back and learn more.

Second–This is all about me.

The genius of Headspace is understanding that it is not about their journey, it’s about yours. They let you discover that a softening of your focus, that the act of riding your breath like a wave, and giving yourself over to movements of awareness and its connection to your body, is not otherworldly, it is worldly in the most personal sense possible.

And lastly–That this daily session impacts your day in real ways.

Like a doorway that you step in and step out a bit differently.

I thank wellness guru Lianna Sugarman for the referral to Headspace and am paying it forward to my community.

It’s a free download, though I jumped to upgrade to a subscription almost immediately.

The company was founded in 2012 by Rich Pierson and Andy Puddicombe, who is the voice of the app. He was formally trained as a Tibetan Buddhist monk but the true magic behind Headspace is his simple secularization of what he studied.

There are some 14 million or so users, 17,568 using it right at this moment as I push Publish on this post, but the most important user honestly is me.

Those who know me personally may find this surprising. If that curiosity provides enough motivation to try it for yourself that’s a good thing.

For me this daily exercise simply works and is making a tangible difference. I’m in for the long haul.

 

Katzenberg’s $2B bet to redefine mobile TV

Andrew Sorkin wrote a smart piece in the NY Times this week on Jeffrey Katzenberg’s stumping for a $2B raise on his vision for NewTV.

Per the post, NewTV is just barely an idea, albeit a very big one, more transformative than disruptive in the normal tech sense.

Katzenberg believes there is both a platform and corresponding content chasm for short-form video storytelling that no one is thinking about in bold enough terms.

Amazon and Apple are in effect trying to fit new content to existent platforms rather than step back and create a brand-new art form and corresponding platform built for this market from the ground up.

Some 72% of all video is consumed on our phones. One and a half billion people consume 45 minutes or more of video on their phones each and every day.

Huge. Almost everyone everywhere.

Katzenberg’s idea—and per Sorkin it is just that– is that platform not content alone is king. The real opportunity is to build both for a new small-time slot, most likely 10-minute piece of content, produced at Game of Thrones production values at costs of up to $100,000 a minute.

Using A-list stars at full-length production rates, pushing both production values and a platform built to fit the story format, not the other way around.

Miniaturizing Hollywood into short-form mobile storytelling segments that can be consumed by people on the go. Your favorite segment of a mobile only episodic NewTV show viewable in its entirety on a ride to TriBeCa from 14th street for example.

I’ve sat in the room with Katzenberg back in my days moving 3D into the theaters and am aware of his presence and chops.

And honestly this is how movies get pitched and funded. If you happen to be him with a recent $3.8B sale of DreamWorks, people will listen. And they are.

I’m not at all certain that this is a crazy idea nor potentially a crazy investment, no matter how large. No matter how inchoate.

If we have learned anything from episodic TV changing the landscape of media and storytelling, it is that the impossible becomes reality damn fast when it touches the hearts of audiences for stories on their terms that fit into a rhythm of their lives.

Someone is going to do this.

Maybe it won’t be a platform but a studio which will force a platform change or get swallowed up by Apple or Amazon.

This is a game changing bet on a medium that doesn’t exist as yet.

Like Elon Musk conceptualizing an electric grid from solar roof panels to subterranean boring tunnels without the hardest pieces of tech defined, let alone solved.

There are so many hard parts to this, changing formats, platforms, business models, pay scales for actors and on and on.

I think it is meant to be.

Maybe a bit early but the redefinition of storytelling with Hollywood production values to every mobile device on the globe, will in effect redefine TV. It is already out of the living room, with long-form stories squished into short-attention-span consumer cycles.

Cracking the format means nothing less that changing how you and I and billions of others will engage with characters and emotions and plots on the move.

A massive library of content that rivals Netflix or Amazon out of the gate to an already captured market is the plan. Inherit the planet and the attention span of the mass global market is the upside.

Equally as powerful as owning the spice trade from Dune.

There are really four questions being raised here.

Does this idea really make sense as a new, subscription-based medium for a mass-market mobile audience?

To me yes—uncover the format and you are the storyline for the world.

Do you need to be a platform ala HBO to do this or can you simply fund the content?

I’m unsure, this is the bigger bet as if you are the platform then everyone can be your partner, even the competition.

Is Katzenberg the person to do this?

Two billion is a huge raise. It’s going take someone like him to pull it off and maybe have the chops to lead it. This is not a change that will iterate up. This is hyper mega-studio model reminiscent of traditional old school Hollywood where they owned the theater chains as well as the stars and the production studios.

Is this a bat shit crazy investment with little but scratches on a napkin?

Who knows really but let me sum it up this way.

I won’t personally have an opportunity to play in this as an investor though it will touch much of what I do professionally and personally as a consumer.

If this was an ICO, would I invest let’s say 2% of my net investing dollars in this crazy idea on the back of brilliant creative’s envelope?

On a NewTV coin rather than put my dollars into one of thousands of 60-page white papers floating out in space from people I don’t know and can’t really vet?

In a heartbeat.

Black Mountain College–a visionary paradigm of learning

I’m not an educator, nor do I have kids in school.

But throughout a long career in tech, I’ve consistently been the liberal arts major in a room of technologists tasked with understanding how new platforms of tech touched people’s behaviors in ever-evolving cultures of work and play.

My advantage was not literacy, it was literacy grounded in an eclectic multidisciplinary approach to learning as a framework for creative thinking and problem solving.

I had the good fortune to participate in an experimental undergrad experiment at Ohio University that was built on the Black Mountain College curriculum and educational ideals.

A belief that the arts exists as the expression of our behavioral and cultural uniqueness represented through an intermixing of human expression. An idea that in art and life, you needed diversity of thought and form.

It was an experimental, short-lived program built on this then bold idea.

I didn’t just study Hart Crane, but also Antonin Artaud to understand the gestalt of the theatre as a reflection of a parallel world of expression through poetry.

I didn’t just learn to appreciate the creation of new forms of movement in Merce Cunningham’s approach to dance, but also its connection to Philip Glass’s restructuring of sound in his hearing of what music could be.

I was challenged to find the connection between Buckminster Fuller and his livable shapes and the crazed brilliance of Charles Olson as a philosopher poet and his offshoot of disciples like Ed Dorn, Robert Creeley and Jack Spicer.

Today, we are obviously at the cusp of a completely shifting world. Literally everything is in flux and every discipline is being leveraged and catapulted to fluid new forms.

Community itself is finding a rebirth as a new type of market reality on the blockchain. Token economies are being built as a tangible representation of social value expressed through transactional gestures. Nutrigenomics as a codable baseline of our health itself is redefining aging and the very nature of work. Smart cities are reconceptualizing how the culture of hyper density can be both the cause and the answer to our ecological dilemmas.

And wellness, mindfulness and transformative technologies are being understood as something that is equally as disruptive as drone delivery systems or autonomous transportation.

This is truly it—the time– I think.

The largest opportunity in my lifetime. Larger certainly than the virtual revolution we all worked on bringing our world online two decades ago.

This is change where tech and science will literally recode our world on the very streets we walk on and in each of our body’s genetic maps.

Black Mountain College was a bold idea on a napkin in a coffee shop that had a brief blip of existence.

It was short lived, burned bright and went away. Pundits see it as part of an interesting but failed experimental educational moment. They are wrong.

The vision of cross pollination, the instinct that to build better buildings we need to understand the soul of the community that live in them is exactly right.

To create art that naturally expresses our need to harness freedom of movement from dance, resonance of sound from music and unshackled thinking where concrete philosophies can be encapsulated in a phrase that can resonate cross a world flattened in time and space.

The reality of today is that it has already happened.

Or maybe the limits of tech and science are begging for this human factor with not only arts but architecture, open space planning and community building to surface as needed missing links.

To incorporate driverless cars into our urban areas, we need to rethink the grid of how the very cities we live in are structured and experienced by the people that live there.

To incorporate new platforms of work, we need to compartmentalize our psyches, being equally able to design and control machines to do our bidding while embracing expression and diversity in all of us.

We need to re-up  our support of a redefinition and broadening of what arts are at the same levels that we have lionized our business and tech gurus. We need heroes in all of these areas on the same dais, together as the epitome of who we can be collectively.

We have all grown up in the entrepreneurial world stripping away distractions to learn focus as a prerequisite to drive success.  This makes sense as that is how you move mountains and reroute our lives.

But now, with the possibilities of new platforms for work, for currency, for transportation, we need to reengage with this idea that interdisciplinary is simply an acknowledgement of needed interdependence. A needed building block in a more varied stack of capabilities.

A coworking, codependent amalgamation that incorporates all of these elements to make a better and more workable whole.

That today, unlike back then at Black Mountain, tech through software and community and new forms of connections are part and parcel of who we are culturally.

The circle here is not closing, it’s opening. A Mobius Strip of sorts, maybe exploding rather than reconnecting.

I’m all in on this.

All in where tech makes possible the leisure time and the tools to entertain and plumb the emotional depths of who we are.

When I travel around, I am blown away by the expressiveness of what we are beginning to build.

I am also aware that tech or even science alone is only part of a true solution.

We have a model or maybe an inspirational ideal in what Black Mountain College was about at its multidisciplinary core.

It isn’t a working blueprint certainly, but it is true that what those early visionaries could only imagine, we have simply inherited as the status quo of possibilities that is here to be made our own.

I’d like to be part of this in some way.

Amazon’s strategic misstep with Whole Foods

Whole Foods as a bustling food court of artisanal brands, tasting stations with smiling t-shirt clad brand ambassadors offering morsels of everything from cricket flour-made snacks to drinkable soups has become a piece of Americana.

Unfortunately, like the local Sears store or the neighborhood theatre, it may be going the way of the Dodo bird.

Yesterday’s feature in the Wall Street Journal gave us a glimpse of a challenged, misbranded future that may be coming early next year.

The article spoke directly to the disappointment in growth numbers from price decreases and the changing face of the brand as it turns away from its core positioning as a platform for artisanal local food innovation that has defined it for over a decade.

Behind the scenes, this is what made Whole Foods tick so personally and loudly. It was the essence of its allure to the wellness conscious shopper and generations of food entrepreneurs.

From low-cost loan programs supporting innovative brands in the early days, to the unique local first approach, Whole Foods was early on driven by a forager model. Business development outreach to local and regional brands easing the way for smaller companies to find visibility next to national brands on its shelves.

Making the offerings in NY different from Seattle or Nashville. Local flavor on a national platform piecing together a brand magnet that captured my generation of shoppers.

On the artisanal side, Whole Foods was the chosen launch pad, bringing food innovation to the market as local market test cases. And crafting brand loyalty in a brilliant way with New Yorkers supporting their Brooklyn artisans and locals in Austin, their hot sauce manufacturer.

Certainly, the cost of supporting a brand through this high-touch model was real, but it netted out on both side as it built customer and vendor loyalty in quite amazing ways.

At 5am on a weekday, the loading docks were a combo of tracker trailers from huge distributors and sleepy people in their SUVs schlepping ice packed insulated crates of product in a few cases at a time and stocking their shelves with loving care.

This spawned as well, a national ecosystem of shared kitchens, boutique distributors, merchandising organizations and an entire community of small companies working from the farms to the stores, sharing a conviviality that extended to the folks on the loading docks to the personalities of the buyers on the floor.

Yesterday’s piece in the WSJ hinted towards the dismantling of this community, announcing that in the new year vendor demoes (aka tasting stations) would be gone as well as all merchandising would be handled in store. And by default, a greatly reduced number of local brands in the stores paying for support services.

This will result in both less support staff for Whole Foods certainly, a different on-floor structure but the end of the store as a platform for bringing local and artisanal product to market.

To be clear, this has been coming for the last 2-3 years as the company shuffled unsuccessfully for more profitable models. Smaller brands started moving to other chains to find distribution. In-house 365 brands and cobranded solutions replaced segment after segment to drive higher margins and stronger affinity to nationally distributable products.

Here’s the rub.

Whole Foods has a broken bottom line and obviously needs to make some hard decisions.

But, this decision feels like one made by the financial arm of grocery chain out of fear, not one made by a well-capitalized highly innovative parent company that is cognizant of cost reductions but fully aware of the value of the brand itself as the key for customer acquisition and loyalty.

I view Whole Foods as a Petri dish for a new way of defining grocery, not by following in the footsteps of the big chains and just slashing costs. But by creatively rethinking the model and the brand, not emasculating it.

Grocery is all about thin margins and product shrinkage.

Why? Because organic produce, innovative ingredients and healthy food are by definition expensive and perishable. And for the most part, better for it and the lure for customers. That’s the built-in conundrum of the model.

Obviously, it makes sense to figure out how to grow and distribute organic at economies of scale that bring it to the consumer at better prices with higher margins.

But I also believe that healthy, innovative and local is the core of their brand and the largest and smartest savings come less at the management of the artisanal brands and more at the infrastructure of distribution itself.

That squeezing the producers in the supply chain is not innovation, simply line item cutting in the face of profitability without much imagination. You can easily squash the smallest vendors for the least gain, while rethinking distribution as currently structure for over a century is where the true game changer could—I think must—happen.

I expected more creativity honestly from Amazon.  They are simply smarter than this.

I expected both innovation to do things differently and a respect for the brand itself as something that made thousands of us to shop at Whole Foods regardless of price. We are the base to be leveraged, not alienated.

There is very much a balance possible here through innovation though not by becoming the very thing that Whole Foods was founded to replace.

I am still pragmatically optimistic that visionary M & A people at Amazon will see that the only solution here is a new one.  A new way.

We don’t need another Albertsons, we need a smarter and more pragmatic Whole Foods that can redefine the supply chain to benefit of us all.

I sent this post to Jeff@amazon.com so we shall see if anyone is listening.

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See my other post on the Whole Foods acquisition.

The changing face of innovation

When we moved our lives and businesses online, we virtualized our activities and platformed our behaviors. One by one, segment by segment.

Each item we warehoused to sell, each social connection we wanted to broaden was in effect a mirroring of life as we knew it on the street.

This was a focused process of virtualizing interactions, socialization, supply chains, commerce and payments. It opened up an entire ecosystem of jobs built on creating and maintaining this meta reality.

The opposite is happening today.

This is not the second coming of the internet as many analogize, nor is it a mirroring of our world. It is a rewriting of it.

We are not as much adding efficiencies as rethinking the route. Not simply streamlining process as reconceptualizing both the why and how of what we do.

It is always the case that things we do become obsolete and vestigial over time.

But this is different.

It’s not about the uberizarion of transportation or work. Or unlocking the possibilities of restating the travel industry through the excess capacity of rooms in people’s homes.

It’s about innovation from the top down at the outset, starting with a game changing vision, rather than a bottoms up iteration of building a myriad of tiny businesses that aggregate towards larger change over time.

In some ways, this is what we all learned from Elon Musk. Where his vision of a changed electric grid preceded the model of how to finance it or even the technology that is needed to make it possible.

If everything is possible–which it is–we are in some ways vetting our vision with the belief that the rest, including the market and the business model will fall into place.

This is happening in a number of areas, starting to connect under a larger umbrella of innovation for change.

Urban transportation visionaries in autonomous transport are dreaming into existence a rewiring of the global urban grid. Changing the reality of what smart cities like NY could look like when the idea of transportation is not about a commute but simply part of our work day, creating a new block of personal time to be used as yet unforeseen ways.

Agricultural entrepreneurs are starting to prototype vertical farms with the overarching belief that organic food can be affordable to everyone. That there is a vertical footprint of farming that can support, in the city itself, the food needs of that population. Completely turning on its head the hub and spoke distribution model of today.

Scientists, technologists and marketers are joining together to take advances in Nutrigenomics and recreate an entirely new supplement industry.  One that is personalized, allowing each of us to light up our genetic maps through what we eat, instantiating longer and more productive lives and by default, changing the age diversity and definition of the work force itself. (See post on this here.)

And the critical role that cryptocurrencies, the possibilities of redesigning connections on the blockchain and capitalization through ICOs will play.

I’m starting to think, based on some comments from my friend William Mougayar that the true power of the crypto world is as a fuel for innovation that will impact each and every area of change I’ve hinted at above.

As you navigate the many early crypto economies out there, and the first iterations of how these visionary changes will play out, it is clear that there is a different dynamics to the markets themselves.

Different in how community is at once closer to being the actual marketplace itself.  Different in how the dynamics of rolling out products and brands, while certainly grounded in value and behavioral brand realities, has a very new twist.

Unlike the media models of the social nets today, I sense that the two-sided marketplace as a construct is becoming the norm, with shared ownership cross both sides.

This is easily imaginable for example in shared urban connectivity with a community of users around a mesh infrastructure. Or a reconceptualization of the food supply chain with a bank of vertical farms as something you earn ownership shares depending on the value you bring to it.

This feels like marketing hybridizing itself, a mash up of community dynamics, engagement, value and ownership.

Brand identity as well has the potential of externalizing itself to truly be what we all wanted it be aspirationally, the actualization of the individual’s views of their relationship to a product or service.

Surely, the core of buying and selling, the us and the them, intention and measuring are still real. Certainly there will always be those of us who make and create, and those of us who consume.

But something is shifting.

There is a democratization of the platforms, the workforce, the data, shared ownership  and potentially capital itself. This could well spawn innovation in larger chunks for the common good in new ways cross a global community in an endless series of markets.

To me, this sounds less and less like a dream, and more like a shared story of possibilities than ever before.