CONVOSPARK BLOG

Our Meaningless Lives

Monday, January 28th, 2013

I was lucky to grow up with a mom that was…how do I say this…well, different. From the music she listened to, her fascination with testing her financial limitations, to the car she drove, she was different from any of the other moms I knew. She had an unwavering curiosity and sometimes a mild depression due to the harsh reality that was often casted over her unique idealism.

She would tell me things like: “I don’t want you to simply be happy, I want you to do more, to help the people of the world” and “You were made for this world”. These declarations were difficult to absorb being kid whose main objective was to fit in.

Today, her impact on me stretches throughout my life in all areas whether I like it or not. Some of her notions I reject while others I embrace; I believe she doesn’t want it any other way.

One of her passions in particular has always captivated me. She has a profound admiration for her heroes. Thinkers, artists, social reformers that she studies diligently. Books by Nietzsche, Aristotle, Carl Jung and others were consistently sprawled out throughout the house.

I often neglected one of her heroes for no particular reason. Maybe because he was a scientist, or possibly because he didn’t date back to antiquity or the enlightenment. However, Carl Sagan was never on my radar no matter how often she spoke about him in all his awesomeness.

Recently, I have bore witness to his awesomeness. His pleasant exterior patented by his combed over hair and softening smile, coupled with his syrupy voice made him science’s perfect ambassador. His ability to captivate even the most apathetic reader or viewer was a product of his tremendous storytelling ability. Sagan’s purpose was to integrate science into mainstream thought and practices. He challenged our beliefs all while strengthening our faith in our race.

One of his messages in particular struck me at my core.

Man’s search for meaning is a journey that pervades all of humanity. We have created gods, doctrinal stories, and religions to explain worldly phenomena and to give meaning to our lives. Institutions have been created to spread these ideas far and wide and to establish a sense of community that fortifies these ideas. Some people cultivate a more self-derived sense of purpose, which is a more postmodern approach that people like my mother harness to create meaning.

Sagan believed that manmade creations of meaning are often misguided. Science has constantly debunked comforting explanations of our existence; explanations that lead us to believe we’re in control of the universe. Science has the agency to scrutinize everything from concepts we have been indoctrinated with to conclusions deduced by using the scientific method. This leads us to the question: what did Sagan believe science was telling us about our purpose?

He believed science tells us that there is no greater purpose. That life is empty and meaningless. That humanity represents a miniscule microbe of the universe and is therefore relatively insignificant.

This is a terrifying idea to entertain.

Our lives are made of meaning, reasons, and fate. Does this mean that we live in a perpetual lie? Or does it mean that we have to reject the virtues of science to live worthy lives?

What it means is nothing. This statement has no meaning. No meaning gives way to emptiness and emptiness gives way to possibilities.

We as humans should not fear the unknown, our insignificance, or the cosmos. We instead should embrace the emptiness that exists. We should recognize and leverage the unlimited possibilities that this empty space yields.

As Sagan put it: “We are the custodians of life’s meaning”. There is no comic creator of meaning; we are the creators and purveyors of our very own purpose. What can possibly be more empowering than this?

So embrace god, your family, your relationships, your life’s mission—in this world, the possibilities of meaning are endless. Live big and bold lives that extend beyond the imaginable and inspire the minds and souls of others.

“If we crave some cosmic purpose, than let us find ourselves a worthy goal” -Carl Sagan

Thank you to my mother for helping shape my life’s purpose. Your influence has given me the strength and wisdom to live beyond my ephemeral self.

Startup Vision Validation

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

Building a startup is sexy.  The front-end developer with skinny jeans and hipster swag is the new version of a Scotch drinking Ad Man.

And this is all good…believe me I love to rock the fake nerd glasses just like the next SoMa hacker, but there is an issues that often arises along side new trends.  Trends tend to be superficial.  They are trends because they have hit some type of critical mass, and to gain critical mass you must have mass appeal.  Appeal typically lives on the surface…think about it.

Why do I bring this up?

Because I believe entrepreneurship should be about adding value instead of just solving problems (there is a difference).  Because I believe when you are not in touch with the purpose, the vision, or the “why”, you are not setting yourself or your organization up for long term success.

This is why I think every entrepreneur should go through thorough ”vision validation” before they start building a startup.

If you’re an entrepreneur you understand the concept of validation.  You’re constantly experimenting to validate certain assumptions you have.  You  ideate, build, test, learn and start all over again.  Going through this validation process helps you gauge your successes and failures and helps you pivot or preserve.

We often get caught up in the mechanics of building, the data and user feedback to the extent that we forget why we’re building what we’re building.  We need to validate our vision to see if the sleepless nights are worth it, if we can handle 40 “no’s” from VC’s, and if we’re ready to make a ding in the universe.

So how do you validate a vision or your dream?

I don’t know of a systematic process to rapidly test and validate a vision, mainly because when it comes to vision, your instincts or gut directs you.  Visions typically aren’t agents of the mind, strong visions aren’t intensely intellectualized, they live in the realm of passion.

Instead I believe that validating a vision should involve an inquiry-based learning process, where you are asking yourself questions to deeply inspect if your visions connects with your purpose, your interests, and the change you want to see in the world.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself in efforts to validate your vision:

Does my personal mission and company vision align?

Creating a successful company takes more than smarts and hard work…it takes passion.  The bigger the game you’re playing in, the more you are setting yourself up for temporary failure.  Smarts and hard work can do little to get you beyond those temporary failure; passion and vision does.

I have made it a point to only start businesses that I feel align with my personal mission, which is to add unique value with all I create.  If I don’t commit to that guideline when building a business, I know I won’t be able to commit to that business.

How will this idea push society forward?

This question tends to get lost in the sea of startup sexiness I talked about.  However, when reviewing the history of entrepreneurship, it’s evident that entrepreneur are creators that move the world forward.

If you are an entrepreneur this should be your underlying mission.  Go manage a hedge fund if your primary focus is money, politics for power and status…as an entrepreneur, your creativity and audacity is meant to transform society.

So ask yourself: if I execute on my vision, will the world be a better place?

Do I want to be doing this 10 years from now?

A friend of mine that sold one of his startups and Co-founded two Y Combinator companies was telling me about his new venture over the phone a few weeks ago.  Recently he’s been working on a few ideas that got some traction and had some legs, however he was not excited to grow those ideas.  This new ventures was different…I could hear it in his voice, he was pumped!  He told me that he took a bit of time to take a step back to reflect on the new idea he had…while “stepping back” he ask himself one simple question:

“Do I want to be doing this 10 years from now?”

He took a look at what his strengths, his passions, and the form of the business and answered the question with an emphatic “YES!”

Who else shares this vision with me?

This is a tricky one.

A competition audit is essential before starting a business.  Some industries support multiple players (like agencies and other service based companies), while others are winner take all (like network driven models like Facebook and Foursquare).  These varaibles are are important to access  before you start, however all this can be done with research.

When it comes to vision validation, it’s important to find peeople who shares your vision with you.  Most successful companies need a team to make it work, therefore inspiring a team that’s united under one grand vision is essential.

The best way to see if people share your vision is to simply share.  Start talking to people about your idea, and tell them why you’re doing it.  Don’t just tell anyone.  Tell people you look up to and really connect with.  People that if they backed you, you would know you’re on to something.

Lastly…

Before you build your next startup, take the time to validate your vision.  Look deep within (and sometimes outside) to see how your vision resonates with you, the people important to you and if it passes those tests…see if it resonates with your market.

The Misguided Media…Will Social Media Cave In?

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

bad tv

Walking through the mall over the weekend I ran into a conspicuous print advertisement of a soon to be brand new Show coming to TV this summer.  The print ad naturally snatched my eyes from the walk way ahead as it showcased shinny skinned, 25 year old girls, in short catholic school mini skirts, swagged out (like hips pointed in all types of directions swagger).  First thing that came to mind isn’t fit for my blog, but the second thing is “why is this in a mall?”.  Girls wearing barely nothing placed at a mall with families and impressionable  young girls didn’t sit well with me.  I can just see my future 7 year daughter (wayyyy future) tugging on my arm asking me to take her to Forever 21 so she can look just like the orange one (the crispy tan girl).  What was even more disheartening was after looked a bit closer I read “Coming to ABC Family this summer: Pretty Little Liars“.

I don’t watch ABC Family but I am savvy enough to know that this channel is for the American family.  I am sure mom and dad are comforted by the fact that their children watch “ABC Family” instead of Spike.  However, I feel like it’s safe to bet that parents will prefer their kids leaning about the greatest warriors in history rather then about promiscuity, deceit and what Paris Hilton showed to the camera this weekend.

Who is responsible for these misguided values and destructive priorities?

Is it the media moguls as they are the final say in what gets pushed out to the masses?  It does seem like their agenda is dictated by nothing else but the dollar sign.

Or is it our fault for casting our “vote” and handing our money over to the networks asking for more of the same garbage?

Who is responsible is only secondary.

Instead, the pressing issue is how freakishly awful the content is that the majority consumes.  What does it say about our priorities as a society if we would rather watch Jersey Shore than spend quality time with the people we love? (I have feel victim to Jersey Shore my fair share of times).

The answer to the “secondary” questions is that we are all responsible!  With the democratization of media happening right in front of us…we all have a say!

Social Media is different?…

In the upcoming year we will truly see who is responsible.  Why?  Because with emergence of social media becoming a preferred broadcasting center for businesses, politicians, large organizations and individuals alike…the “good” rises to the top.

Now more than ever can the general public: publish, vote on, comment on, rate, alter, augment the content on the web.  Not only can they affect the media but the masses are doing it more and more each day.

The voice of the people is now undeniable and to a certain extent uncensored.

Years from now if my future daughter watches Pretty Little Liars, I have no one else to blame but everyone!

What are your thoughts on the impact of media on our actions, values and priorities as a society?  How can we do better than this?

It’s Good to Follow…Just Follow Those Who “Get It”

Monday, March 15th, 2010

ideas

There is alot of noise these days.  Probably more than ever. The good thing is that filtering the noise is actually possible.  In the conversation age you have a choice of what you consume.  With choices comes decisions…asking yourself “what do I read”, “who do I become friends” with “what business opportunities I pursue”.

While chatting with Shane Mac the other week, he made a point to say he follows those who “get it”.  I mean we only have some much information we can consume, so many people we can stay in contact with (148 to be exact), we must discriminate some how for the mere fact that our time is finite.  So why not discriminate based on “who gets it”.

If someone “gets it”, then they have an understanding of who they are, what moves them, what their goals are.  They have reached a level of mental clarity beyond the norm.  These people or sources have genuine value to add to the world and a perceptive that differentiates them from the “normalized” majority.

So when you are choosing who or what to follow…keep the filtering process simple.  Don’t judge based on popularity or blind reciprocity, instead make sure they “get it” and just as importantly, that their followers “get it”.

If they leave you feeling awakened and slightly confused, you are heading down the right path.

Public is the New Default…Who Are YOU to the Web World?

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

Blank Profile

The world is rapidly becoming more social, all the while these socialites are hanging out behind a computer…counter intuitive I know! Twitter has shown the word what a public ecosystem can do for spreading messages and building communities. Facebook recently embraced a more public community when Marky Mark Zuckerberg announced that the default privacy settings will now be public. Even the search giants, Google, understand that human powered social data will mean the world to them (literally). More data more money yes we know, but from a more positive standpoint this shift towards a democratization of publicity allows astute and hardworking people to build a name from the ground up. Basically, the world is becoming more open and there is nothing you can do about other than embracing the culture or becoming irrelevant.

Right now I am reading the most relevant book for this topic and times “Trust Agents” (relevant for anyone who lives a digital life right now or wants to). Chris and Julien are able to run through the ever changing landscape of the extremely open and public digital space while expressing the importance of authenticity and engagement. If you engage people in your community and are authentic in your actions you have control over your online identity. If success is having control over your own destiny then a lot more people have the opportunity to be successful in this day and age.

So after enough “yes, yes I agree” statements and a couple “ah-ha” moments while reading Trust Agents I decided to check in on the blogosphere to see what the trust agents in my circle are saying. I stumbled across one of my favorites, the genius Matt C of “Life Without Pants” (I named my blog before I knew of him I swear!). We chatted a bit through his comment section discussing the topic bloggers identity and how to position one’s self. What struck me in particular was the simplicity of the message Matt expressed:

Be Yourself!

You have heard this time in time again I know. However, that message will never be more relevant than in the world we live in now! The world is open, life is public and people are social. You will be Googled, Facebooked, and put through the whole gamut of web 2.0 adopted verbs we are now accustom to. People will know you and if they don’t, they will at the very least know how to find you.
So just like your mother told you “just be yourself” and you will make friends. If you are looking to build a presence for yourself online…be yourself and be the best person you can be and watch a community form. Be the compelling and unique individual you are and package your offering in a way that will gain the interest of people on the web.

Public is the new default…no need to put up a front… just be yourself…say what you feel…and make new friends that believe in your message.

Let me know…

Do you think everyone should just be themselves online? Or is it a controlled process of showing the world who you want to be known as? Maybe a little of both…

Let us know your thoughts on the dynamics of the new public world.

What I Learned Today…

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

lightbulb

I have learned alot in the past month!  It seems like my January 2010 = the sum of my UCSB college years from an educational standpoint (it’s not you UCSB, it’s me).  I think I have already made my point, but just to reiterate…I am committed to learning this year.

I have committed 2010 to being my breakthrough year.  I have been pursuing new and worthwhile opportunities, establishing myself in my industry and trying to soak as much as I can in between.

The good thing is that the “stuff in between” is not slipping through the cracks as I have been “flippin” new videos of myself letting anyone who cares know “What I Learned Today“. Most of the videos are indirectly related to my life as an entrepreneur in the social media space.  However, I am hoping that there are takeaways for anyone trying to learn something new, helpful and insightful every day.  Here are a few videos on what I have learned last month:

Go to Bed Before 2:30am (Jan 5th)

How to Get Featured on the Tim Ferriss Blog (Jan 6th)

Creativity is Paramount! (Jan 12th)

Leaders are Direct (Jan 15th)

FindingWood.com Has Launched! (Jan 25th)

Partnerships: Leave Everything on the Table (Jan 27th)

For more of “What I Learned Today”, check out my Posterous blog Brenton’s QuikFix

If 2012 Is For Real…We Better Make 2010 Incredible!

Monday, December 28th, 2009
2012 Movie Poster

What Will You Do Before John Cusack Gets Another Leading Role?

The Mayans have done one of two things with their calendar.  Either, they have predicted the end of the world, in which we have only few years to live in a state of constant anxiety or with absolutely no reservation…ORRRrrrr they were too lazy to count beyond 2012, which means we will live beyond 2012 and wished we lived the past two year with no reservation instead of being anxiety ridden.

Just for the sake of positive pressure, why don’t we all assume that the world is going to end in 2012.  What would you do in 2010 that would make you’re entire life meaningful?  The world is changing rapidly, the people that are going to facilitate that change are the people that are going to be able to picture what they want, plan out how to get it and make meaning  behind their entire course of action.

You may get the sense that I intend on making the most of my upcoming years!  And it all begins with 2010.  We need to make this the year that we go beyond New Years Resolutions and achieve what we are meant to achieve.

With all that being said it takes a little more than putting your mind to it.  It takes understanding, planning and action to accomplish great things in 2010.

Understanding- Start With Resolutions

We have all fell victim to poor New Years Resolution planning before…there is no need to be ashamed.  Typically what happens is you jot down a few things you would like to do in the new year.  The resolutions are normally 180 behavioral shifts from stuff you did the year before.  That paper you jotted down your resolutions on is supposed to keep you accountable throughout the new year…full proof right?

Try this…

  • Jot down everything you want to accomplish in the new year.
  • Explain to yourself why you want to accomplish each item.
  • Move you resolutions onto a goal list and see if each resolution fits within your master plan.

Planning- Set Goals

Goal setting is where your real planning takes form.  These are the items that you are a 100% accountable for.  These goals should be near and dear to you and act as a constant reminder of what needs to be accomplished.

Here are the steps you can take to make sure you don’t only set goals, but you accomplish your goals:

  • Take your resolutions and begin to separate them based on category.  Example) write for Mashable goes in the Personal Branding/ Social Media category –> Finish my first course of French goes in the Personal category.
  • Start building goals around resolutions you have set in each category.
  • Make sure each goal is measurable.
  • Give a timeline for the accomplishment of that goal.
  • Access all your goals and begin to reduce your list.  Begin to take away the extraneous and time consuming goals that won’t fulfill your overall mission.  Note that reducing your scope of goals can be even more important that building you goal list out.  If your list is too big, you may be overwhelmed and discouraged by your lack of progress because you spread yourself too thin.

Last but not least…

Action-Track Your Milestones

I learned that goal lists often get lost in the shuffle (just like resolutions).  Therefore, I made an effort to break down my yearly goals into monthly action plans.  Monthly action plans is much easier to manage than a list full of goals.  I have seen the best results when I:

  • Take goals from each category which need to be addressed right away.
  • Break them down into quantifiable goals that can be met over the course of a month.  Example) If your goal is to have 20 guest posts published in 2010, your action plan for January should be to write 2 guest posts for x and y blogs.
  • Create milestones for each week.  Over the course of 7 days, what will need to be finished in order to finish up your monthly goals?
  • Take a Post It and write out what you need to accomplish for that day.  Make sure to keep it short and sweet (maximum 3 medium sized tasks).  This will make sure you never loose site of the task at hand.

What I will be doing…

In case you were curious…here are a few things I am focusing on in the upcoming year.

  • Less time in front of the computer and more time reading and being physically active.
  • Exploring the outdoors.
  • Building up myself as a go to resource in the social media and young entrepreneur niches.
  • Become even more active in meeting new and interesting people.
  • Start a highly successful business (more on this to come).
  • Create multiple streams of income.
  • Begin to put money away in reserve.
  • Begin to learn French.
  • Hang out more with family.
  • Hang out more with friends.
  • Love my girlfriend more and more each day.
  • Live everyday with gratitude.

For me, 2009 was the fastest year of my life.  I hope I was able to absorb everything I took in.

For everyone, I hope 2009 has been amazing and even more importantly, I hope you accomplish all that you truly want to accomplish before the world ends :)

Practical Tips on How to Increase Focus and Achieve Impractical Results

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

vipassana-meditation

I am boldly stating that one of the biggest obstacles entrepreneurs face with their ventures, or any type of online work for that manner, is to maintain keen focus on a task until completion. Being entrepreneurs (or aspiring ones) we are innately inquisitive to a point where learning about new and exciting topics can be a detriment to our productivity. In my case, I can’t help but uncovering a trail of interesting links: like a blog article that will help me market my brand on social media, then clicking a link that will show me how to boost my person brand, then of course I have to check out the author’s Twitter… I can’t help but to follow the bread crumbs (Is that the phrase?). All these social platforms that aggregate, syndicate and pollinate web content helps make social media enthusiasts’ lives easier by helping them discover and share information that they find important. However, on the other side of the coin, they create easily accessible distractions that can help steer you off course.  How can you find a balance between information input and output?…Here are 5 practical ideas to help you get there while working online:

1. Map 0ut your milestones ahead of time:

This is a key to the success in any endeavor!  I typically break down my list to three month periods, monthly milestones, weekly items and daily tasks (read this article by Jun Loayza to figure out how to do this).  Make sure each milestone written down aligns with your core focus in some way.  If it doesn’t, that task is secondary and must not be completed until your core milestones are finished.  This will let you envision your path before you have to pull out the machete and blaze the trail.

2. Use Google Tasks or another ToDo List Service:

I use Google Tasks (a tool included with Gmail) to organize my weekly milestones.  I believe keeping this list in your peripheral is vital.  I say peripheral because having the list in the forefront  is time consuming in its self and will gives your anxiety when you glance at the empty check boxes.  This list will hold you accountable and keep you in check (no pun) while you are performing a task.  No lie, checking a box once you fully completing a task is strangely satisfying.  Check out this list of other ToDo list products if Google Tasks doesn’t do it for you. (more…)

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