Tattoo: A Tale of Courage and Sorrow

by Jason Patočka on January 19, 2015

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One can’t be a student of Korean culture and language for very long without stumbling into the atrocities committed against women during the Imperial Japanese occupation of the Korean Peninsula during the mid-20th Century. It’s a perennial hot topic in East Asian affairs, and a case study that rivals Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness in depicting humanity at its most barbaric and monstrous worst.

There are many Japanese people who acknowledge horrors of the past, just as there are Americans who grieve for the innocent who suffered in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Nationalistic denial knows no cultural boundaries.

Yet, nearly three generations of people have come of age since the end of the Imperial Japanese occupation of Korea and Eastern China, and there remain thousands of women who still maintain a living memory of kidnapping, torture, maiming, and forced sexual slavery.

Even now they continue to be accused of lying by hard-line Japanese nationalists and the politicians who represent them.

A recent New York Times article examined the latest efforts of Japan’s face saving attempts to white-wash history.

With the news of the latest denial agenda fresh in my mind, coming across Park Sun-woong’s manga, “Tattoo” today compelled me to share it with you, despite its graphic and gut-wrenching illustration of Jung Ok-sun’s indescribable suffering.

The voices of those who survived need to be heard and acknowledged, lest we find ourselves condemned to repeat this dark chapter in human history.

You can read the Korean translation of Tattoo here, or grudgingly endure it’s English translation. Be warned, if you need a trigger disclaimer now is your chance to avert your attention elsewhere.

Extra: Not depressed enough? Check out the animated project Herstory.

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Book Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

by Jason Patočka on January 6, 2015

martian-cover-2_3861A hard reality of my existence is accepting that most people don’t share my goal of opening up a robot brothel at the base of Mars’ tallest inactive volcano, Olympus Mons. I’m sorry to report that after reading Andy Weir’s exceptional book, The Martian, I’m starting to reconsider my post-retirement career as Mars’ version of a robot-hustling Heff incarnate.

Whatever you do, don’t let my lifestyle choices deter you from reading this fascinating narrative.

While the story of a man stranded on a dessert island is nothing new, there is no island of isolation comparable to a failed mission to Mars.  This tale of a shipwrecked astronaut will leave you holding your breath while it defies the belief suspending hallmarks of the sci-fi genre. Weir skillfully grounds science fiction in the realities of actual rocket and planetary science while lovingly brushing the mullet of  your inner MacGuyver.

Not once did I have to bend science to conform to a plot while reading this sci-fi novel.  This is quite the feat.

While the narrative could easily descend into navel gazing and exploring the dynamics of friendship with a volleyball, it avoids that pitfall by exploring the tension between the protagonist’s technical ingenuity and the hostile reality of an alien world.  Weir takes the man vs. nature storyline to its contemporary extreme.

This novel may have jettisoned my entrepreneurial dream of managing a crater-based opium den out of an airlock. But I think that is a fair price to pay for getting swept away with the romance of human exploration and heroic survival in the face of insurmountable odds.

True, the atmosphere may flash-boil my blood, but the prospect of being the first person to make moonshine from martian potatoes in a little juke-joint overlooking the Valles Marineris?

One can dream, dear readers. One can dream.

The Martian was a true pleasure. Download that shit already.

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You smelt it, you dealt it.

The other day, I had the tortuous experience of sitting through a surreal form of office space limbo called the modern meeting.

Did you know that in nature, if you get close enough to a black hole, theoretically you pass a point of no return where even light can’t escape?

That’s called an event horizon, and it has an analog in business.

And it will be the death of us all.

The meeting singularity knows no boundaries. Its cold, calculating and indiscriminate. If there is even the smallest hairline fissure in your general expectations of management, before you know it – the ship buckles, and attention span vaporizes in a cloud of brainfarts.

There are no escape pods.

That my friend, is a terrible fate.

In the early stages, this lack of focus can be totally innocent. Yet if left unchecked it will metastasize into a whole host of other potentially critical business issues like morale and bureaucratic friction. If there are experienced or influential people around the table, it costs you credibility.

Unprofessional behavior adds cost.

As such, in order to safeguard yourself from being ambushed by a galaxy swallowing meeting, you really should apply meeting vetting criteria.

Lets load for bear, shall we?

The 6 Rules of Meeting Validation

All meetings that I attend need to adhere to the following universal guidelines. Sometimes there are exceptions to these rules but I try to make sure exceptions are few and far between. Much of this came from the excellent book Rework, which I strongly recommend.

1. The Rule of Minimal Viable Meetings

The first rule of having successful meetings is to have as few meetings as possible.

Encourage colleagues and students to become problem solving prodigies.  Lots of times meetings are called because we don’t empower people to solve their own problems.  They feel like they have to insulate themselves within a chain of command.

Abdicated decisions are not decisions.

Give them the confidence they need to solve their problems independently.  Let them be the first person that attempts to diffuse the bomb.

Its why you hired them.

If they get stumped, have them contact an expert.  If it escalates, it escalates.

This initial firewall is worth its weight in diamonds.

2. The Rule of Explicit Problems

Meetings are never called to gather consensus and identify what the problem is. Meetings are only called to remedy specific problems and figure out the why behind them.

Being asked out to Power Point Prom is about as much fun as it was being asked out to actual prom. In hindsight, you will regret it.

Figure it out, zero in on what you are going to solve and get your post-mortem on.

3. The Walkout Rule

If the meeting organizer can’t explain the the meeting’s objective in the first five minutes of the meeting, everyone has the right to walk out.

Flipping the bird is optional, but encouraged.

4. The Rule of Professional Courtesy

I never cease to be completely floored when people ask for time without presenting an agenda.

To be included:

Who: If they’re strangers, introductions and hyperlinks to bio’s, blogs or LinkedIn profiles might be nice. You can also use this time to ensure you have the right skills at the table.

What: What is the explicit problem you are going to solve?

Where: If its off site, locations on Google maps kick ass.  If it’s the weekend it better not be in a boardroom. Unless you’re a sadist.

When: See 20 minute rule.

Why: This is your value proposition.

How: This is where you outline discussion on solving said problem and assign tasks.

Send it to everyone at least a day in advance. Obvious, really.

No agenda. No meeting.  Period.

5. The 20 Minute Rule

The vast majority of meetings should take no more than 20 minutes.

GE CEO emeritus Jack Welch disagrees with this.  If he had his way, he would prefer that you marinate, take your time to get to know people, and point out problems related to the human aspects of managing purely through the metric of efficiency.

There is some truth to this. Sometimes there are exceptions to this rule, but they should be outliers and not the norm. Finding balance is an art.  Error towards respecting people’s time.

Don’t underestimate the power of time saving tools like g-chat and Asana.  This isn’t to say that old fashioned face-to-face interaction isn’t important, but virtual tools save time and resource overhead.

In either scenario, you have to account for minds to be present, attentive, and focused.  Brevity doesn’t allow attention spans to wander.

6. The Rule of Empty Suits.

The meeting organizer needs to ensure that the right skill sets are present.  You perform surgery with surgeons, anesthesiologists, and surgical nurses.  You don’t perform open heart surgery with interpretive dance artists.

If they don’t need to be there, don’t invite them.

Everyone in the meeting needs to take notes and everyone leaves the meeting with something to do.

If they don’t have a task at the end of the meeting, you never should have invited them in the first place.  That’s on you.

Take time to effectively assess and vet everyone’s contribution towards the desired goal.  Everyone will appreciate this.

Don’t be a Twonk

These guidelines were totally absent on my most recent fated afternoon.  I did my best not to look enraged but that’s only because I was daydreaming about being hoodwinked and enslaved by cenobites in a less painful dimension of existence.

Despite monopolizing an entire business unit’s time, within five minutes it was clear that everyone’s time was going to be wasted.

The people gathered around the table didn’t have the talent needed to tackle the problem and only one person was taking notes. One poor sucker was dialed in via conference call. Only two people walked away with an assignment.

What was that assignment you ask? They had to put together a subsequent meeting to follow up.

All that time invested, and nothing to show for it.

Avoiding all of this is easy.  All you have to do is send a link to this article next time you get asked to sit in a room where you know your very atoms will become speghettified by the sheer weight of despair.

Enjoy thy sanity.

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Just like crack, reading ruins everything.

Unfortunately that tradeoff is the grand bargain for not being a complete and total fucking rube.   Ignorance may be bliss, but ignorance is often an essential ingredient in irrelevance.

Those things don’t jive too well with ambitious people.  They really don’t jive if you aspire to the Sisyphean exercise of building great organizations or meaningful things.

In order to help other people learn from my own catastrophes of ambition, I’ve decided to jot down a list of what I like to call the ‘Entrepreneurial Crack Stack.’  A collection of works I really wish I would have read a long, long time ago.

Perhaps more importantly, a collection of works I wish I had applied a long time ago.

No secrets here.  These books show up on a lot of MBA must read lists, but they’re on mine for a reason.  They’re a litmus test to separate very serious people from mere pretenders.  They could have saved me a lot of time and money in the past.

The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

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Sand Hill Road golden child Eric Ries’ book is a really great introduction into running a nimble, focused, and burn conscious start-up.  If you’ve never heard of Minimal Viable Product (MVP) or want to integrate agile development / business practices more cohesively across your teams, this is your pilot’s manual.

Four Steps tot he Epiphany by Steven Gary Blank

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Steve Blank’s start-up opus is about the closest thing you will find to a Rosetta Stone for validating product-market fit and building a product that people actually want.  This is a vastly different endeavour from building a product that you think people want.  Building something nobody wants after all, is quite expensive.  The Stanford entrepreneurship guru also has a follow up work called the Startup Owner’s Manual that is less academic and equally outstanding.

Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

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Also known as the quintessential butcher’s guide to slaughtering the sacred cows of the cube farm.  Vampiric meetings getting in the way of productive work?  Stake those blood-suckers with 5 simple rules, get things done.  Trying to juice artificial scale with some venture capital when you don’t have organic cash flow?  Don’t do that.   Concise and to the point, a must read for fixing business-as-usual Fortune 500 clusterfuckery.

Bargaining for Advantage by G. Richard Shell

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Negotiation is an essential part of life.  Most people are horrible at it.  This isn’t a book about simply identifying when negotiations occur. Rather,  it provides a strategic reference that spans across formal and informal negotiation processes.  In my opinion, strong negotiation skills are one of the key criteria in determining what separates a young professional from a young executive.  You’ll easily use it’s insights everyday.  When was the last time you needed to organize consensus?  Establish partnerships?  Face down a team of smug lawyers?  Thought so.

Influence by Robert B. Cialdini

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Not just any book on the art of persuasion, but a study of psychological factors that automate compliance behaviour in your fellow human beings.  Really fascinating research that plumbs the depths of confounding human nature.  At the very least, read it to fail-safe yourself.

The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries & Jack Trout

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These ‘laws’ are an essential checklist for any business or organization that wants to build a scalable resonance with people.  Marketing isn’t an afterthought; it’s a core design issue for everything that you do.  If you like logarithmic business growth, its best not to blithely defy the marketing equivalents of gravity, thermodynamics, and the likelihood of the Cubs winning the World Series in your lifetime.

I’m fully aware that these books only highlight broad business processes, and that it doesn’t cover the more nuanced engineering intensive actions of physically building a product.  Yet I don’t know of a single engineer, coalition builder, or technical founder who wouldn’t benefit from the wisdom contained here.

Go dare mighty things.  Build something amazing.

*About the topic-unrelated lead photograph: Fred Korematsu is a pipe smoking American badass.  Educate yourself.

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