Learning about learning at DirtFish

Diego driving a Subaru BRZ sideways at DirtFish

That’s me behind the wheel of a rally-prepped Subaru! You may ask yourself, well, how did I get there? I’ll talk about that in a minute, but let’s first discuss what happens in a school.

We’ve all been students. We’ve all been to school. We kind of know what a good educational experience feels like, and we certainly know what a bad one is. But what exactly is the hallmark of a great educational experience? What are the design principles one would use to create something really awesome?

First — and the obvious part — you you to learn something. Table stakes.

But beyond that, how you are taken on that learning journey really matters. Do your teachers care — really care — about you as an individual? Do you learn alone, or collaboratively alongside other students who can provide you with insights and wisdom to complement that of your instructors? Does what you learn stick? Are you set on a climbing journey where every new challenge is just a bit beyond your existing skill level, and does that setup induce a state of being similar to what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi would call “flow”? 

And above all, at the end of the lesson, are you even more curious and hungry for learning than when you walked in the door?

I always wanted to learn to drive like a rally driver. As a young boy, I marveled at the racing trophies lining the walls of my uncle Valentin’s flat in Madrid. Before I could drive, I spent a LOT of time tuning (and breaking…) the suspension on a Tamiya RC buggy. In high school, I bugged and bugged my physics teacher until he relented and let me write my term paper on the dynamics of left-foot braking in a Saab 96. Needless to say, Erik Carlsson, Ari Vatanen, and Michele Mouton were among my sporting heroes.

Fast forward a few decades, I finally got to learn the basics of steering with my two feet! (and especially that left one). I was fortunate to spend three days learning from the wizards at DirtFish. Not only did that experience check the box on every educational element I listed above, I can honestly say that it was the best single educational experience of my entire life. Four days after leaving beautiful Snoqualmie, Washington, my brain is still buzzing with all that I learned. For the past month I’ve been dreaming of pendulum turns — I just can’t wait to get back on the dirt to practice it all some more. Here’s a quick video of me making a ton of mistakes driving the DirtFish Subaru BRZ around the Old Mill course, but making it though!:

My sincere thanks to the incredible staff and faculty at DirtFish. What you teach, how you teach it, and the obvious joy you find in the process — it’s truly remarkable. Given where I am in life, I’ll likely never be able to drive like my friend Jeff Zwart, but I look forward to being able to learn even more.  What more can you ask for than that?

Keep it sideways!

Okay, one more video of me learning how to drive sideways. So challenging, and so fun!

Wayne Shorter: be the director of the movie of your life

I first became aware of Wayne Shorter’s artistry when I was a teenager and heard him play in the fabulous Bertrand Tavernier film Round Midnight. As an aspiring saxophonist, his command of the instrument grabbed my full attention and inspired me.

The news of his death at age 89 today was so sad to hear. I grieve for his family and friends. His passing is also a reminder that one’s heroes are mortal, and that while we can remember them through their accomplishments, in the case of artists like Shorter we also mourn the loss of their future works of art. The sheer brilliance of future performances we will never hear, moments of insight and reverie we will never get to experience. All such a loss.

In 2016, Shorter and Herbie Hancock collaborated on a creative manifesto of sorts, the full text of which I’ve included below. I take particular inspiration from the last point of their letter, where they exhort us to live in a state of constant wonder:

All that exists is a product of someone’s imagination; treasure and nurture yours and you’ll always find yourself on the precipice of discovery… Be the leaders in the movie of your life. You are the director, producer, and actor. Be bold and tirelessly compassionate as you dance through the voyage that is this lifetime.

For me, striving to live in a state of constant wonder is perhaps the best and most meaningful way to live in the face of the inevitability and finality of death.

Rest in peace, Wayne Shorter. May your music and memory be a blessing.


An Open Letter To The Next Generation Of Artists
by Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter

To the Next Generation of Artists,

We find ourselves in turbulent and unpredictable times.

From the horror at the Bataclan to the upheaval in Syria and the senseless bloodshed in San Bernardino, we live in a time of great confusion and pain. As an artist, creator and dreamer of this world, we ask you not to be discouraged by what you see but to use your own lives, and by extension your art, as vehicles for the construction of peace.

While it’s true that the issues facing the world are complex, the answer to peace is simple; it begins with you. You don’t have to be living in a third world country or working for an NGO to make a difference. Each of us has a unique mission. We are all pieces in a giant, fluid puzzle, where the smallest of actions by one puzzle piece profoundly affects each of the others. You matter, your actions matter, your art matters.

We’d like to be clear that while this letter is written with an artistic audience in mind, these thoughts transcend professional boundaries and apply to all people, regardless of profession.

We are not alone. We do not exist alone and we cannot create alone. What this world needs is a humanistic awakening of the desire to raise one’s life condition to a place where our actions are rooted in altruism and compassion. You cannot hide behind a profession or instrument; you have to be human. Focus your energy on becoming the best human you can be. Focus on developing empathy and compassion. Through the process you’ll tap into a wealth of inspiration rooted in the complexity and curiosity of what it means to simply exist on this planet. Music is but a drop in the ocean of life.

The world needs new pathways. Don’t allow yourself to be hijacked by common rhetoric, or false beliefs and illusions about how life should be lived. It’s up to you to be the pioneers. Whether through the exploration of new sounds, rhythms, and harmonies or unexpected collaborations, processes and experiences, we encourage you to dispel repetition in all of its negative forms and consequences. Strive to create new actions both musically and with the pathway of your life. Never conform.

The unknown necessitates a moment-to-moment improvisation or creative process that is unparalleled in potential and fulfillment. There is no dress rehearsal for life because life, itself, is the real rehearsal. Every relationship, obstacle, interaction, etc. is a rehearsal for the next adventure in life. Everything is connected. Everything builds. Nothing is ever wasted. This type of thinking requires courage. Be courageous and do not lose your sense of exhilaration and reverence for this wonderful world around you.

We have this idea of failure, but it’s not real; it’s an illusion. There is no such thing as failure. What you perceive as failure is really a new opportunity, a new hand of cards, or a new canvas to create upon. In life there are unlimited opportunities. The words, “success” and “failure”, themselves, are nothing more than labels. Every moment is an opportunity. You, as a human being, have no limits; therefore infinite possibilities exist in any circumstance.

The world needs more one-on-one interaction among people of diverse origins with a greater emphasis on art, culture and education. Our differences are what we have in common. We can work to create an open and continuous plane where all types of people can exchange ideas, resources, thoughtfulness and kindness. We need to be connecting with one another, learning about one another, and experiencing life with one another. We can never have peace if we cannot understand the pain in each other’s hearts. The more we interact, the more we will come to realize that our humanity transcends all differences.

Art in any form is a medium for dialogue, which is a powerful tool. It is time for the music world to produce sound stories that ignite dialogue about the mystery of us. When we say the mystery of us, we’re talking about reflecting and challenging the fears, which prevent us from discovering our unlimited access to the courage inherent in us all. Yes, you are enough. Yes, you matter. Yes, you should keep going.

Arrogance can develop within artists, either from artists who believe that their status makes them more important, or those whose association with a creative field entitles them to some sort of superiority. Beware of ego; creativity cannot flow when only the ego is served.

The medical field has an organization called Doctors Without Borders. This lofty effort can serve as a model for transcending the limitations and strategies of old business formulas which are designed to perpetuate old systems in the guise of new ones. We’re speaking directly to a system that’s in place, a system that conditions consumers to purchase only the products that are dictated to be deemed marketable, a system where money is only the means to an end. The music business is a fraction of the business of life. Living with creative integrity can bring forth benefits never imagined.

Your elders can help you. They are a source of wealth in the form of wisdom. They have weathered storms and endured the same heartbreaks; let their struggles be the light that shines the way in the darkness. Don’t waste time repeating their mistakes. Instead, take what they’ve done and catapult you towards building a progressively better world for the progeny to come.

As we accumulate years, parts of our imagination tend to dull. Whether from sadness, prolonged struggle, or social conditioning, somewhere along the way people forget how to tap into the inherent magic that exists within our minds. Don’t let that part of your imagination fade away. Look up at the stars and imagine what it would be like to be an astronaut or a pilot. Imagine exploring the pyramids or Machu Picchu. Imagine flying like a bird or crashing through a wall like Superman. Imagine running with dinosaurs or swimming like mer-creatures. All that exists is a product of someone’s imagination; treasure and nurture yours and you’ll always find yourself on the precipice of discovery.

How does any of this lend to the creation of a peaceful society you ask? It begins with a cause. Your causes create the effects that shape your future and the future of all those around you. Be the leaders in the movie of your life. You are the director, producer, and actor. Be bold and tirelessly compassionate as you dance through the voyage that is this lifetime.

– Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock

Learning from Singer

This factory tour is incredibly interesting, for three reasons.

First, the Porsche 911 reimagined by Singer Vehicle Design. It’s beautiful and seductive and I just want to jump in one and back it into corners. It’s an exemplary instance of the right group of people doing something absolutely to the hilt and beyond. Singer’s mantra “Everything is Important” shines through on every detail of the car and its production process. It’s so rare to come across an object designed and produced without regard to cost, and it’s instructive to observe how that mindset shapes the finished product and the way the market receives it. (Spoiler: as revealed toward the end of the video, they don’t have to engage in any traditional go-to-market activities in order to sell these Porsches; demand is so high that they’re going to cap production lest Singer inadvertently jump the shark.)

Roman Mars exhorts us to Always Read the Plaque; in much the same way here at metacool HQ we endeavor to Always Take the Factory Tour. Always. In this case, Singer’s factory is a fascinating mix of industrial recycling (upcycling) center, Saville Row backroom, and aerospace carbon fiber fabrication skunkworks. So perhaps the second notable thing about this video is what it can teach us about organizational culture. Now, culture is about what you do and how people behave as opposed to what you say you do and how you hope people behave. And there’s no place in an organization more oriented toward the doing of things than a manufacturing line. It’s literally where the things that customers pay for are produced. From that standpoint, what we witness on the tour reveals so much of what makes Singer tick. This is no slick tour of Singer produced by a PR agency — it’s just CEO Mazen Fawaz taking us on an unscripted stroll around the building. A telling moment in the tour happens at the 1:35 mark where Mazen informs us that each incoming “donor” Porsche 964 gets dismantled offsite because doing so under this roof would be too messy. Not an obvious choice to make from a business perspective: more complex, likely more expensive. But, with that operating decision in mind, look at the gleaming white floors of the Singer factory as evidence that what the CEO says, what actually happens in the factory (or doesn’t, in the case of incoming car processing), and the stated company mantra are all in alignment. Everything is in fact important at Singer, and is executed upon as such.

Third, Quadrant Four and the future of objects whose value is rooted in the fact that they are singularly designed to evoke certain types of strong emotions. Eight years ago, at the behest of Reilly Brennan’s Future of Transportation forum, we discussed the forking of the 20th century conception of the automobile. Simply put, four radically different types of vehicles result from this fork in the road, the most interesting of which is called Quadrant Four. Per that 2015 essay:

Internal Combustion-powered cars as the new Patek Philippe watch—more complex and less capable than their solid-state cousins, but a visceral thrill as well as a status symbol for those who choose to display their money this way. The recent run-up in prices of vintage Porsches is evidence that non-autonomous cars with manual transmissions and gas motors are already being priced in anticipation of this scenario—the thrill of driving a complex machine fast will become a rarefied luxury experience. Here cars really will be like horses, a pastime of enthusiasts, with dedicated spaces for frolicking. 

Singer, the vehicles it creates, and all of its commercial success represent an existence proof for the idea of Quadrant Four. On paper, a reimagined Porsche 911 rolling out of the Singer factory is not quantifiably a better automobile than the brand new 992 you might spy on your local dealer’s lot. The newer 911 is faster, more economical, cleaner, safer. But for many people, a Singer is an infinitely more interesting (and therefore valuable) car — a car being the antithesis of a computerized, close-to-perfection auto-mobile. As Porsche from Singer is something you want to fall in love with, much as you would a horse, a mechanical watch, an old house, or any other analog object.

Isn’t that the point of creating great stuff? Making things that people can love?

The Curious Steve Jobs

If you’ve not signed up for the Steve Jobs Archive mailing list, I would encourage you to do so. What an instructive treasure trove of photos from his life and times.

Case in point:

Here’s what Leslie Berlin, founding Executive Editor of the archive, says about this photo:

Steve’s friend Jean Pigozzi, who calls himself a “serious amateur photographer,” took the image and told me the story behind it. Although Jean did not work in tech, Steve invited him along to a software conference in New Orleans. One evening after the event, as they were walking down O’Keefe Avenue looking for dinner, Steve—a notoriously fast walker—pulled to a halt. Someone in a store window was working on a Macintosh.

He had to take a closer look. How was this person using the Mac? Steve is so curious, so lasered in on trying to understand, that he is bent nearly double.

As a person whose career has been spent dreaming up and shipping products, I know this photo well — I’ve lived it. When you’ve been a part of building something and you spy it in the wild, you just have to stop and watch and see if it is living up to standards you dreamed of — and sweated over — during its development. Is it helping the person using it live a better life? Are they enjoying the experience? What’s not working? What’s getting in the way? What’s surprising? At the end of the day, it’s just fascinating to watch a person use any product, let alone your own.

Above all, what I see in this photo is a curious person. Curiosity is the fuel that powers the engines of innovation. We’re all born with it, but it needs to be cultivated less the vicissitudes of life dampen its fervor.

The best way to stay curious? Peer in office windows. Read a new magazine. Take photos of clouds next time you’re on an airplane. Listen. Look. See.

Act curious to be curious.

A Conversation With Michael Dearing

I typically don’t go around trumpeting the arrival my latest pod episode to friends and family. Everyone is busy with their own thing, and I figure that if they’re going to listen to it, they’re going to find their own way to it. Human nature being what it is, they’re not likely to establish a listening habit just because I’m reminding them that HEY, I JUST POURED MY SOUL INTO MAKING THIS LATEST RECORDING.

That’s overstating it a bit, but for me, compared to writing words on a screen/page, speaking into a microphone represents a markedly higher level of personal commitment, involvement, and vulnerability. You can edit an audio track, but your voice is your voice, and it’s challenging to read pre-written stuff on the air — it only sounds right when it’s done wholly or partially off-the-cuff. If writing is close to the iterative, drawn-out process of designing something, then podding is akin to the real-time dynamic of playing jazz saxophone

Having said all of that, here’s my latest pod episode, one I think you will like:

Michael is the founder of Harrison Metal. As you’ll hear in the podcast, he did a ton of remarkable things before launching Harrison Metal, too. Michael and I met over ten years ago when he helped out as an “Industry Coach” for the Creating Infectious Action class which Bob Sutton and I used to teach at the Stanford d.school. He subsequently became a Consulting Associate Professor at the d.school, and it was fun to be on the faculty there together.

I am a big fan of Michael’s character and intellect, from which it follows that I am also a big fan of his feed on the Twitter. For this pod, we use that as a launchpad to talk about venture mechanics, gross margin, the clocks in Greenwich, modern capitalism, organizational life, why Harrison Metal is called Harrison Metal, and how a certain type of aquatic mammal will inherit the earth.

With the release of each new pod over the past year (save for one), I’ve consistently felt like the latest one is my favorite one ever. Ferry Porsche once said something similar, that his favorite Porsche was the one yet to be designed. My favorite pod is actually the next one to be recorded: I learn so much making these, I listen to other people’s work and learn from it, and I try to roll whatever insights I’ve had into our next recording. So it’s safe to say that this episode is by far my favorite one until we record another one.

But who knows? — perhaps this is the high water mark. Let’s ask the dolphins.


Lapping Indianapolis Motor Speedway with Tristan Vautier

For as long as I can recall, every Memorial Day weekend I’ve watched the Indy 500. At its best, the race is where ingenious innovation meets courageous competition. For me, Indy’s race teams and drivers embody an entrepreneurial, just-do-it spirit which is just plain inspiring. Sports can bring out the best in humanity; the alliance of people and technology competing at the Indy 500 makes it a living, breathing exemplar of my favorite maxim: don’t get ready, get started.

I visited Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first time in 2016, joining 350,000 other fans to celebrate the 100th running of the Indy 500. For me this was a peak life experience… I’ll never forget that electric thrill I felt walking past the famous Pagoda and arriving at the hallowed yard of bricks on the front straight. Here’s a photo of me at the head of the grid on race day — you can just feel the pulsing, contagious energy that is Indy!:

Even better, the day before this photo was taken I found myself at the same spot on the track — only this time in a screaming two-seater IndyCar! Sporting my own metacool racing helmet and a loaner fire suit (so large it could have accommodated two Diego’s), I was extremely fortunate to experience two laps around the Speedway behind driving ace Tristan Vautier. Here’s a video of my ride:

So how did it feel to speed across the same tarmac graced by legends like Hanks, Mears, Clark, Sullivan, Franchitti, Foyt, de Ferran, Andretti, and Gurney?

It felt awesome!

It was:

LOUD!: as you can hear, I had a big Honda V-6 whirring away a few inches behind my spine. It’s a scintillating noise, but it certainly gets inside of your skull! And at higher track speeds so much air is rushing by your helmet (and trying to lift it off your head) that the wind almost downs out the sound of the motor.

Warp-speedy: Tristan really put his foot in it leaving the pits, so the acceleration we felt was, ahem, slightly more robust than what I encounter in my daily driver Honda Accord. I was pinned backward, doing my best to keep my helmet from bobble-heading to the right as we navigated the long left arc of the lane that popped us out at the exit of Turn 1. As it turns out, my neck muscles aren’t quite up to the standard of the tree trunk that props up Fernando Alonso’s noggin… I definitely felt those g-forces! Two other big impressions of speed: First, at only 46 feet wide, the track seems much tighter in person than it does on TV. And from the cockpit of a car at speed, it feels even narrower… as we were circling I kept thinking “How on earth do these drivers go three-wide into Turn 1 at over 220 mph?”. I still don’t know. My second vivid memory of Indy speed: entering Turns 1 and 3 there are “3… 2… 1…” sign markers along the fence, counting down in hundred-foot increments to the beginning of the corner. These sped by so quickly that I couldn’t quite process their blur!

Serene: between Tristan’s gentle control inputs and the seamless —even glassy — quality of the track surface, the rest of my ride can best be described as smooth and… relaxing. Really. It felt as if we were wafting along on a magic carpet. It was beautiful. I spent my time enjoying my unique view of the Pagoda and the grandstands. I could have stayed in the car for a whole hour.

So, did we go fast?

Yes. And no.

Yes, it was fast. At least by everyday standards. Those of you with a stopwatch will note that we lapped the track at a tick under 60 seconds. Indianapolis Motor Speedway measures 2.50 miles in length, so our average speed was a bit more than 150 mph (240 km/h). That’s not slow at all: it’s the takeoff speed of a Boeing 737, and it’s more than double the speed limit of a California highway. It’s even fast in the context of the 101-year history of the Indy 500: if Tristan and I had run our lap in 1962, we could have qualified on pole ahead of the legendary Parnelli Jones, the first driver to ever break the 150 mph barrier at Indy.

But on the other hand, it wasn’t that fast. IndyCar driver JR Hildebrand qualified for this weekend’s Indy 500 with a 230.889 mph run, just under a 40 second lap. Put another way, when Tristan and I are exiting Turn 3 in the video above, JR is so far ahead of us on track that he’s already flashing across the start/finish line. And when he arrives at Turn 1, he’s hurtling forward at an astounding 238 mph (383 km/h), almost 90 mph more than us. Visualize the fury of a train passing you at 90 mph — that’s one mighty speed differential. For the gearheads among us, at top speed JR’s car packs 250% more kinetic energy than does my car. And upon entering Turn 1, he experiences exactly 745% of my baseline pucker factor.

My biggest takeaway from lapping the Speedway? That the athleticism, courage, and skill required to race an IndyCar at speed is almost beyond comprehension.

What these men and women do is truly remarkable.

The Inevitable, with Kevin Kelly

I had a wonderful time in conversation with Kevin Kelly in this podcast. Not only did we speak about his new book The Inevitable, but we also explored Kevin’s creative process, which he defined as “write to think”. We share that creative approach in common, for sure — I have to be able to see my thinking in a sketch or prose in order to understand what I’m thinking. Ergo this blog, my love of sketching on my iPad pro, my abiding belief that no working room is complete without whiteboards stretching from floor to ceiling, and a preference for big pieces of paper over tiny Post-it notes. How can you flow an idea across a few square inches of paper, anyhow?

But I digress.

In my humble opinion, for anyone engaged in the art and science of bringing cool stuff to life, The Inevitable is one of the most important books of 2016. Or perhaps of the past few years. I highly recommend finding the time to read it and digest it and act upon it.

Spending time learning from the guests on our podcast is always a highlight for me, but having Kevin join us was an extra special thrill and honor for me. The first issue of Wired Magazine came out just as I was graduating from college (I still remember reading it!), and in many ways it has been the chronicle of so many of the digital technologies I’ve been able to shape over the course of my career. And a good part of the point of view I bring to that work is shaped by Kevin’s teachings and worldview, so it’s just plain neato to be sharing the same audio bits and bytes with him.

Hope you enjoy it!

metacool Thought of the Day

“Victory on the field is more often a result of three yards and a cloud of dust. I like that. So, too, startups. It’s not about being on stage at a Demo Day or featured in an article in TechCrunch or closing a $20 million round. It’s about continually shipping code. It’s about putting out menacing bugs. It’s about a 6:15am flight to a customer in Detroit in Winter for a $200k deal to hit your budget for the quarter.”

Mark Suster

The Fantastic Mr. Zanardi

What separates the great teams from the rest of the pack? Why are certain people able to make the best out of whatever situation they’re given? What enables an individual to keep pushing, again and again again?

I’m fascinated by all of these questions, and so I have a deep and abiding interest in the life and teams of Alex Zanardi. He’s one of a handful of people I am willing to call a hero. I’ve written about his exploits so many times here on the pages of metacool that I had to do a Google search to uncover them all. (I’ve included a list of hyperlinks below the body of this post)

But back to those questions. What is it about Alex Zanardi that allows him to do the amazing things that he does? I recently viewed this video about the most recent year in Zanardi’s life, and for those of you love racing of all kinds—bikes, cars, swimming—I heartily recommend watching the entire thing. It’s incredibly inspiring. It blew my mind.

WARNING: you will need something to wipe the tears away as you watch this:

For those you who don’t have the time to see it all right now, please index the video to the 3:18 mark. By doing so you will play a brief, but truly remarkable and insightful interview with the great Dario Franchitti, Zanardi’s friend and competitor. No stranger to the art of digging deeper than you thought you ever could, fellow racer Franchitti tells a remarkable story about Zanardi.

To the point of the questions I posed above, here’s a key insight from Franchitti’s interview, one that provides a keen insight into the inner workings of Zanardi’s character:

…he [Zanardi] never knew when he was beaten. You might have thought you had him beaten, but it didn’t register for him. As long as there was laps left in the race there was still a fighting chance. And it helped him when had his accident and what he had to deal with. That mindset helped him.

In racing, people who have this mindset are called “racers”. Not everyone who races is a racer. But those who are end up winning more than everyone else, because they know when not to give up. In life I don’t think it is wise to always persevere in everything that you do, because that would be exhausting. You don’t always have to stand in line to get the best seat at the movie theater, for example. But for those select few things that matter most to you, the ability to tell yourself after all said and done that you gave it your all, that’s worth everything.

Remarkable teams can do that. Remarkable people can do that, too. And I think it’s a life skill that can be learned—pushing through challenges, whether they be physical, emotional, intellectual—all of those build up your ability to do this. We can all be racers, or whatever your crowd calls those who set the standard.

To me, that’s the lesson of Alex Zanardi. That’s why I call him the Fantastic Mr. Zanardi. He’s fantastic in two ways. First, fantastic, as in hard to believe someone like him can exist—how did that ever come to be? And fantastic in the way he sets the standard for commitment and the excellence that inevitably flows from it.

Thank you, Alex.


More Zanardi inspiration on metacool: