Wink Lorch’s Kickstarter project: Wines of the French Alps

Some projects just make the world a richer place.

They are not market testing an idea or disrupting the status quo. They simply and boldly make things better by connecting passionate people around something of value with the singular intent to educate and inspire.

My friend Wink Lorch’s forthcoming book on the Wines of the French Alps is just that.

Knowing Wink well, and an avid user of her first book Jura Wine, it will undoubtedly be an organized and exhaustive understanding of how this Alpine wine region is shaped by the climate and geography. And how this impacts the practices of viticulture.

As well a personal introduction to these gracious people who in this beautiful and challenging environment work with ancient grape varieties unique to this area. And of course, an encyclopedic and curated look at the wines themselves.

Wink will bring to us a way to touch these producers of handcrafted wines. Some artisans who for generations have worked these hillsides. Some truly iconic and larger than life in their reputations. Some obscure and brand new.

Some natural producers that fit even my strict definition of the word, but all of them part of the landscape that draws a living view of this place.

This is Wink sharing her personal view of this region as both one of its long-term residents and an expert of how the viticulture of this region is stylized by the sum of the physical and cultural elements, one by one and in total.

I can assure you that Wink’s very British objectivity will prevail in the face of her deep passion and love for the area. Just barely but decidedly!

Savoie, the principal subject of the book, is a special place to me personally and to the wine world at large. Complex to grasp as a wine region and home to some of the best artisanal winemakers in Europe making wine in unencumbered natural ways from a litany of obscure, deliciously complex, local and indigenous grapes.

I visited Wink last Fall in Savoie.

As we drove around, it became clear to me through her deep familiarity with every detail of the area and more so, the friendly warm embrace of the producers that this is home to her.

Her intuitions are grounded in being part of the place while her observations are tempered and focused by her expertise and market vision of what is truly happening in the region and its wines.

When I think of Savoie, and hold her new book, I will forever think of the two of us searching out Domaine Belluard’s Gringet planting on a quite challenging to find, high elevation plot. (This pic is of sitting and chatting amongst those vines.)

Or being asked to lunch with the harvesters at Domaine Dupasquier, truly one of the most celebratory moments of my life.

People young and old, tables piled high with food and wine. A respite and celebration both, lunching high above the river participating in the pursuit of an ethos of taste that drives people to do the incredibly hard work to make these rather astounding naturally made wines.

Truly priceless to me.

This post is an invitation to join this community of wine-loving people from all over the world celebrating the expression of passion for this region and what the love of wine can do for us collectively to bring us together.

To support Wink in this wonderful project, here is the link to the Kickstarter page. The project funding ends in 11 days.

If you don’t know her personally, watch the video as this is truly Wink in all her casual understatement and humor.  If you know her, it will simply make you smile.

If I’ve inspired you to search out her first book on Jura Wine, it is available as a Kindle book here. For a hardcopy, go here and inquire.

Give this project and these wines some consideration–you won’t be disappointed!

Making decisions

Making decisions is what we do for a living.

How well we do it, how effectively we step ahead of the market, and how dynamically we inspire others to embrace the resulting changes is the mark of our success.

If you map out your days across your career, it breaks down to a cycle of strategic decisions, tactical executions, market feedback–then repeat, ad infinitum.

In the last week—a discussion over at AVC and the must-read letter from Jeff Bezos to his shareholders touched on this in uniquely different ways.

Fred Wilson succinctly articulates that decisions drive change and change engenders more data that initiates more understanding and ultimately kicks the process forward.

Jeff Bezos’s truly profound treatise touches on the role of that data in how management works at Amazon.

Words to the wise from people truly in the know.

My career in the operational trenches of startups corroborates this and can be summed up as an endless array of ‘what should we do’ meetings and decision-focused retreats.

Locked with the team in rooms, taking all the data we have, all the anecdotes we’ve heard, mapping it out–then making a decision and moving forward.  I can remember literally dozens of these, especially the most gut-wrenching decisions to both good and bad end results.

What is invariably true is:

The quality of data gets significantly better as the tools for gathering it are built more and more into the process. We have more and profound insights than every before.

– Yet the percent of data useful to our strategic decision making has remained the same over time. The quality of the data has not impacted its use in decision making proportionally.

Here’s the rub.

Operational and market data invariably tells you that change and reevaluation are needed much more that it indicates what to to do. It’s an alarm to pay attention more than anything else.

It is true that the less critical the action, the more data you have to guide you. The more directional and strategic the change, the more the data indicates issues to fix and the less it outlines what to do.

This is simply as it is.

The brilliance, as an example, of growth hacking as a tactic and its failure to function as a strategic platform stems precisely from this. The confuscation of data and mistaken process as being the end game. You don’t a/b test change at a strategic level.

Our success as entrepreneurs and leaders of this ongoing process of evaluation and change is invariably tied to the tangibility of our vision, how that drives momentum and defines the messages we champion.

This is what propels us to cross the never-ending market chasms to get stuff done when everything is just so impossibly hard. Our belief in trusting our gut. Our ability to inspire and direct while still being flexible is what it is all about.

I wonder often where experience plays into this. What does it really mean in an environment where everything including the market and the skills to capitalize on it are changing so rapidly all the time.

It’s actually challenging to quantify experience in this process as it is not simply exposure. Or putting in your time. Or working off a large win. And certainly not the been-there-done-that composure of someone who thinks that one blueprint suits all.

Experience to me is the poise of being comfortable in that gray zone, bouncing off the ropes time after time under an onslaught of market and organizational blows.

The muscle memory we develop after endless cycles of this process. Learning from failure certainly but tempered by knowing how to win by keeping going. We have loads of tips and tricks but it’s composure and leadership that we can bring to the process that sets it apart with true experience that helps shape a different future.

This cycle never stops and leaders rise over time with experience by mastering this, being comfortable and poised in that zone of uncertainty.

When I meet new entrepreneurs or evaluate a project or a leadership team to join—this is what I look for.

Their depth of visceral shared beliefs. Their articulation of a vision that makes me feel their narrative under my skin.  Their resiliency to throw themselves into this decision-making process, time after time. The humility to know what they don’t know and the propensity to embrace change

Making decisions is simply what we do as entrepreneurs.

In enterprise mobility, group connectivity, wellness or the food biz it is common ground. And at all levels, from the exec team down to the individuals that sell, market, write and tell stories across the multiplicity of channels.

That’s just what it is.

In building a company, there are many good days and way too many really challenging ones. What we can count on that change is a constant, that complacency is death and that full assurance in decision making will simply never be. It will always be hard.

This is the pulse of it all and the gist of what we do.

Smart Cities

As go our cities, so goes the world.

Some 80+% of us live in urban centers. And the vast majority of population growth this century will happen in these and new cities not yet even imagined.

This is one of the most urgent challenges and the largest opportunities of our times. Fix our cities and you impact the planet and global culture in truly formative ways.

Cities are in many ways both the cause and the solution to a large part of what worries us today: global warming, food supplies and practicality of local sourcing, our health as a population, how fiscally solvent are governments are, how open we are to diversity and how human in our responsibility to take care of each other.

And while certainly, the reality on the streets of New York is not the norm, how we address our problems here creates learnings that can be used everywhere–from Cincinnati to Tbilisi to Porto t0 Ljubjana.

What is a Smart City really?

Honestly, while I think about urban density and its impact on every piece of our lives often, the moniker of a smart city didn’t engage me till my friend Tom Critchlow sent over the link for the upcoming Smart Cities NYC event.

Two of their premises dragged me in:

-Defining Smart Cities very broadly as a category, similar to the terminology we use for the Wellness market or Natural in the food and wine segments. A high-level umbrella to aggregate community and innovations under without limiting the scope of our thinking.

-While broad and multidisciplinary by definition, there is a lot of tool talk, tech especially and understandably so. Cities are built on broad horizontal platforms and tech is transforming most of them daily.

The organizers of the event define Smart Cities as the ‘ intersection of curating technology to the benefits of urban life’ which while this is true, I think of it more from a people first perspective.

Starting with the needs of urban populations as captured in these five simple concepts:

1. Safety first

The overarching necessity that we are all ok and safe because of the depth and mass of humanity, not in spite of it.

2. Mobility and transportation

How to enable literally millions of people to get around on foot, on bikes, in cars, on subways, by water taxi in a seemingly effortless way to gather in groups at an infinite number of destinations.

3. Information and communications

The real-time massively-scalable need to find out what-is-where-when, through each individual’s smartphone regardless of language or economic status.

4. Community and neighborhood

The super glue that makes cities work. We need laws and enforcement but the community and civic ownership is prime.

Without it, without interpersonal and cultural respect, the world and NY itself will simply become unhinged.

5. Public spaces

This is the beating heart of our urban lives and the soul of our cities.

Each of us feels that every open foot of public space is our own. They are and that is what makes it all work in a reality that is almost impossible in its complexity.

People first is always where to start

Cities by definitions are their own markets. People and their well-being are the only criteria for success.

I lived in NY and in many other cities before Citbike and Zipcar, Uber and Lyft, Google maps and endless data feeds that make safety, navigation, transportation, communication and community possible.

Life is immeasurably better today through the hooks horizontally into our broad social nets and vertically through countless apps and solutions.

But even prior to the Internet, places like NY have been dramatically transformed through open space planning and community actions, way before the advantages of networks became a tool for us.

The safety and beauty of a place like Bryant Park today from the true slum that it was in the 80s.

Central Park truly a scary place then, now one of the wonders of the world, open till 1 AM every night and safe without being antiseptic or tame in the least.

The openness of new ideas in recreational spaces like the Hudson River Park, that extends from the South Seaport up to the GW Bridge. Free and clean and available to everyone.

Or the brilliance of the private-public partnership that built The Highline, one of the most innovative new parks in any city in the last decade.

In each of these, there are components of community organizing, of urban design, of crowdsourced funding, of city government cooperation and of tech, that came together in impossible ways to make each possible.

But we are simply just getting started.

Many say that the future is defined by where technology and urbanism meet.

I think the future of urban life is where livability, affordability, and environmentalism meet collectively with the people who inhabit these places. Where the goals are clear and the tools to get there—part technology, part community, part government–are shared by all.

Nothing is perfect obviously and there are monstrous problems that we don’t even know how to approach here in NY.

Affordable high-speed connectivity where you can’t lay fiber is a massive gotcha for NYC.  Figuring out how to fund all of this and still make the city affordable for all, damn near impossible.

But I’m completely in on this idea of the city as the schematic for the world.

And as a New Yorker, a technologist, a community builder and marketer, and a pragmatic optimist it feels personal to me to help try and solve these problems.

So–do share if you have ideas of orgs or people that I should know about.

Blogs and podcasts are a good place for me to start so I can get to know the person and narrative, not just the ideas.

If you are attending Smart Cities NYC, contact me as I plan on being there.

The liberal arts

I’ve been asking myself how I got to where I am today.

What’s the unique piece in the crazy mix of education, life experiences and lucky breaks that made me who I am?

As counterintuitive as it may seem in the face of today’s connected reality and my role in the tech world, I sense that my core as an individual is grounded in the perspectives that I cultivated as a liberal arts student.

Giving myself the unencumbered freedom to plunge with abandon into literature, philosophy, and film. Studying the connections between art and architecture. Writing incessantly and debating fiercely on the most nuanced and obscure of topics.

Play acting the thoughts of the greatest thinkers and artists of all time.

Is there really a connecting thread between what I do today as a profession to that kid spouting Rilke, Baudelaire and e.e. cummings? Sartre and Artaud? Bergman and Kurasawa?

I think absolutely so.

Obviously, we are all products of our times.  When I emerged out of this period studying the history of thought and the human condition, I fell headfirst–and hard–into the beginnings of the software and tech revolution.

And I stayed there through each piece of its growth, from the first computer publishing programs to computer games to well…. today. Software publisher, market maker, online business builder, enterprise sales strategist, community and web thinker.

I’m still obsessed with contextual interconnections, with the power and fluidity of the nature of thought and behavior.

With the realization that what we say or create is less important than what is heard or seen. That the true visionaries are those that listen to the quiet pulses of the world, too faint for most to hear. That language extant from stories that touch emotions and spur reflection is always inadequate.

This is true in art. True in communications. True even in the architecture of platforms. And certainly true in the power of community and brands that touch the heart of the market.

Up to this very day, every time it is my turn at the whiteboard, or in front of a group, surrounded by brilliant technical minds, I lean on this perspective and strength. It is what makes me feel I can give it an authentic shot without fear of falling flat. Or fall prey to thinking that the status quo is something to hold onto.

That part of myself I believe came from the freedom as a student to play act my way through the thoughts and ideas of the world’s most disruptive minds. As while we look at classics as just that, in context they were each historically the crazy ones. The futurists. The free thinkers. The often misunderstood.

This is, of course, more nuanced than simply saying I got this from studying Camus or reading Faulkner or Charles Olson.

Even though I’ll admit, I cannot ride my bike over the Brooklyn Bridge without hearing Hart Crane, I rarely, reread many of these books.

The grasp of the power of the ineffable as a defining truth is what I made my own from my education. That was my takeaway.

Liberal arts as an unencumbered poise towards integrated thought and embracing completely the process of discovery.  A curriculum designed to pursue literacy as a vocation and fluidity of open thinking as a platform for lifelong learning.

I lean on this every day.

And I give it credit for those breakthrough moments when I get something just right, something that touches people with an idea or a product or something they can make their own.

I believe this point of view, this personal DNA if you will, had time to discover itself, back in those college and university days, tempered of course over time by the rigors of experience.

It’s intriguing that recently there’s been a mini-meme floating around, forecasting a resurgence of sorts for the liberal arts.

The idea is that with more leisure time, with distributed, flex-time workforces, a greater segment of the population will tend towards studying and appreciating the arts. That when automation removes countless jobs that today move data and paper around, there will be a shift towards lionizing the thinker and artist to the status of the maker and developer today.

I honestly doubt this will happen hard or fast, but I do think, in the best minds, business and technical alike, it’s already there.

Not a rereading per se of the masters in an isolated world of classrooms certainly. But an understanding that the integration of multidisciplinary thought is necessary to intuit our way forward in an always shifting world. That the arcane can be instructive. That the obvious is often the wrong course.

This is food for thought for all of us.

Just maybe liberal arts is already having a subtle renaissance, reimagined to our times, and in context to the world as it is today.

Try it on and see if works.

It does for me.

 

The new normal is anything but

Our lives and the very markets we inhabit have become increasingly and overtly politicized at their core.

Our personal conversations online and off, our relationships to our customers and the connections we have to the brands that matter to us.

At an atomic and principled level, communications and language as well.

This has been sucking our time, inflating our emotions, and scattering our efforts.  It’s no surprise that an exhaustion permeates many of our social channels.

And the most unnatural thing is to act like everything is still the same.

It is not.

Many of us have desperately needed personal reboots and the more we find actions that satisfy the need to do something in the face of a changed world, the better we move forward.

Professionally as well, there needs to be a refresh.

In this unique instance in history, personal and professional both need to be rethought together. From the ground up on how we communicate. How we make decisions on what to engage with. How we market and advertise and affiliate ourselves.

The reality of course is that when emotions drive the majority of our responses–which they are more and more today–we need to re-examine communications at a behavioral protocol level itself.

We need to realize that the politicized spark is omnipresent, and ready to surface just about everywhere. And depending on who you are and what you selling, it is the smart move to step back and decide how to address this upfront.

The social nets are both the cause and the effect in many ways.

We are flocking there in even greater numbers to search out community and conversation. The base population for advertising and commercial engagement has never been greater, yet the the core state of the engaged has been transformed.

What we see is for the most part, laced with an underlying layer of vitriol and anger.

An endless array of arguments. Trollism as a new characteristic on all sides. And nothing be it the Superbowl or workout gear,  movies or art is extant from this. Behavior-and likewise commerce—has become a political statement by default.

This is the new normal.

It’s been a switch of utterances of the things that we like (the Facebook effect) to things raved against, the never ending list of things that cause disgust, fear and frustration of having few avenues to act on.

It’s become a normal reaction though invariably shrill. And wildly unproductive.

From a cultural perspective, we are all in need of avenues of expression. Somewhere, someplace to connect, talk, act out.

It’s uncovered the raw technological holes in our social platforms (see my post here) and if you are blogger or online brand, or anyone who spends a part of their waking hours online looking for community, it has also challenged you to find a poise around this.

So what do we do?

And how do we as individuals, as leaders, as companies find a productive and actionable poise towards socialization and work in a reality this raw and politicized?

A loaded question without a lot clear answers.

I started writing this post a few weeks ago and thought—wait!—maybe a new equilibrium will arise and we will inherit the normal again.

I think not.

We’ve turned a cultural corner and that door is shut behind us forever.

What’s telling is that the new normal touches everything from the education of our kids, our belief systems about the planet, animal rights, basic income, welfare of the unfortunate, the power of the 1%. Everything!

So how do we find a new pace? A new poise?

How do clothing manufacturers change their ads for underwear or socks on Facebook? How does this stylize how we talk about wine? Or exercise? Or vacations? Or the software we sell?

I’m not a believer that we need to wear all of our beliefs on our sleeves. But I do think we need to make decisions on how to address this new world in how we communicate, how we market, how we design new products and platforms for this new world.

To me there are three top-of-the-list rules that have been helpful:

Own your beliefs and understand that they are who you are, and how your market will view you.

Think hard about your beliefs, and then own them. Whether you shout them from your Facebook wall or not, they are who you are. Whining is unacceptable. Ownership of your thoughts is the new ethos of authenticity.

Pretending that nothing is changed is a losing strategy.

Embracing change and making it your own is always the right choice to make.

This is especially true if you work on the social nets. Understand that you are what you post and that no act, even a decision not to engage, is an act in itself.

Learn that the most powerful choice is often not to respond at all.

And that the common knowledge on the value of engagement has changed.

Posting is one thing. Fueling conversations quite another.

As blasphemous as it is coming from me,  I am much choosier about whether to respond at all in many instances. Often I don’t.

So…

We have had cataclysmic change before. But unlike the collective response to  9/11, for example, this shift is divisive more than disruptive, and in these early days seemingly isolating not connecting.

And this change is fed by the very amplification of the social web itself. Supercharged momentum living by gesture alone and the seeming enemy of nuance and reflection.

We as a culture are beginning to find our way in this.

But this is not a blip in time that peaks and ebbs. It is, I believe, the beginning of a rippling dramatic change, that will change everything about how we work, govern and live.

Whether it is circumstantial or serendipitous, I don’t know but the gates are very much open.

And as well, this post, for me, is a beginning.

Re-energized and inspired to figure out how not only to think about the new normal but use it, to manage this change to its advantage and move on to the business of life.