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!
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.
FIRST, AWAKEN TO YOUR HUMANITY 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.
EMBRACE AND CONQUER THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED 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.
WELCOME THE UNKNOWN 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.
UNDERSTAND THE TRUE NATURE OF OBSTACLES 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.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO INTERACT WITH THOSE WHO ARE DIFFERENT FROM YOU 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.
STRIVE TO CREATE AGENDA-FREE DIALOGUE 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.
BE WARY OF EGO 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.
WORK TOWARDS A BUSINESS WITHOUT BORDERS 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.
APPRECIATE THE GENERATION THAT WALKED BEFORE YOU 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.
LASTLY, WE HOPE THAT YOU LIVE IN A STATE OF CONSTANT WONDER 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.
Alicia Sama Rodriguez, age 79, of Boulder, CO, died peacefully at home on December 19, 2022. Alicia loved literature, art, theater, music, and travel, and was a devoted wife, mother, grandmother, daughter, sister, community member, and friend.
Alicia is survived by her husband of 58 years, Juan, her four children, Juan and wife Paige of Louisville CO, Diego and wife Helen of Palo Alto CA, Silvia and husband John of Boulder CO, Carlos and wife Vera of Haverford PA, her brother Valentín Sama López-Aranda of Madrid, and 12 grandchildren: Andrew, Calder, Gavin, Milena, Aurelia, Isabel, Silvia, Adrian, Eva, Emilia, Iris, and Linden.
Alicia Sama López-Aranda was born on April 17, 1943, at the Clínica Santa Alicia in Madrid. Her mother Julita thought the nurses there were extremely caring, and loved the clinic’s name, so she gave it to her daughter. Julita herself had been a nurse during the Spanish Civil War. Alicia’s father Valentin served as a Secretary of the Court in the Spanish judicial system. Both parents came from families who were accomplished professionally — many ancestors were doctors and lawyers — and extremely passionate intellectually; her maternal great-grandfather was Arturo Soria y Mata, whose innovative urban planning manifestos profoundly influenced (among many) the designs of Stanford University and Duke University — places whose threads would be woven through the lives of many of her family members.
Alicia grew up in various towns and cities across Spain, including Madridejos, Alicante, and San Sebastián. Her father began his career in smaller courts and with experience and success was granted more responsibilities, each promotion requiring a change of locale. A age nine, Alicia and family (she was now sister to a brother, Valentin) settled in her beloved San Sebastián. It was a wonderful, beautiful place to grow up and had a formative influence on her approach to life. Their home was a flat by the River Urumea; they could see the Bay of Biscay from their windows, and the beach of La Concha was but a 15 minute walk away. Alicia and her brother attended a bilingual German-Spanish school, commuting there by school bus (with an occasional adventure walking in the rain). In the Spanish way, they would come home in the early afternoon for dinner with their family, and then return to school. How Alicia relished a tasty croqueta! She delighted in walking everywhere, to the park to play with her brother and friends, to the hills for excursions in nature, to the fisherman’s port to watch the fishing boats arrive to be unloaded — on those days they knew they would have fresh tuna for dinner the next afternoon. Her parents enjoyed visiting nearby Biarritz, where Alicia would practice her French. Summers were idyllic, with mornings at the beach and afternoons hiking in the hills above the city. At age 17, Alicia matriculated in the five-year course at the venerable Universidad Complutense de Madrid, one of the oldest continuously operating institutions in the world. There she received her Licenciada en Filosofía y Letras, Germanística. Though her studies were rigorous, she reveled in the art, architecture, and culture of Madrid, and looked forward to spending a spare hour soaking in the luminous paintings of the Museo Sorolla. While at the university she completed her mandatory six months of Servicio Social, helping people in need.
Alicia met her future husband Juan in 1959 when his family came to San Sebastián as part of their first homecoming to Spain from New York, where they had eventually settled in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. The Sama and Rodriguez families had many points of connection before the war started, and in fact Alicia’s and Juan’s fathers were good friends. Juan was sitting on the floor of their flat working on an electric train set with Alicia’s younger brother when she walked into the room, and the rest was history! In an era before instant telecommunications, the two embarked on a correspondence via air mail, punctuated by yearly summer visits by Juan when he had time off of college and his job as a lifeguard at Rockaway Beach, New York. This was no run-of-the-mill love — everyone around them thought their dedication to each other was just the most romantic thing they had ever witnessed! Several years later in a letter to Juan, Alicia suggested that they get engaged, so Juan provided almost all of his savings so that she and her mother could buy a ring in Spain. They were married at the Basilica Santa Engracia in Zaragoza on July 23, 1964. After their nuptials they resided in Poughkeepsie NY where Juan was working as an electrical engineer for IBM. In doing so Alicia left behind everything and everyone she knew to move to a place where she had no social network, no family other than Juan, and would have to teach herself to speak English and to navigate life in the United States. In the meantime she studied to complete her university degree and, shortly after giving birth to their first son Juan, returned to Madrid to complete a battery of incredibly tough, pass-fail exams. Her move to the US was emblematic of so many aspects of Alicia’s character: her deep inner strength, her abiding curiosity about the world, and her unquenchable desire to experience life to its fullest.
As the saying goes, IBM stands for “I’m Being Moved”. Juan and Alicia were transferred to Boulder by the company to open its new facilities there in June of 1966. When they arrived, 30th Street was still a small dirt road, but in Boulder Alicia found a place where she could live a good life: a town which, while quite different at a surface level, in many ways evoked the effervescent physical and cultural dynamism of her native San Sebastián. Boulder became home, and it was here that she built her life and raised her four children. In her daily interactions with people, Alicia strove to be kind, thoughtful, and helpful to everyone. Generous, caring, and deeply empathic, Alicia contributed her time and energy to school and community events around Boulder. Whether it was carting a huge load of library books in her green Chevy Suburban to Burke Elementary, supplying sliced oranges to youth soccer games, or attending every piano recital, choir concert, theater performance, jazz band event, swim team meet, or music lesson her kids and grandchildren participated in, Alicia made the effort to show up in full force. Some called her dedication as a mother superhuman, and it went beyond Boulder — though her children ended up settling in places as far-flung as Boston, Palo Alto, and Philadelphia, she was present at the birth of all twelve of her grandchildren, always ready to provide support and love. And to pitch in with hard work. On top of all these family and community obligations, she was instrumental in the success of her husband Juan’s various entrepreneurial ventures. Her patient counsel and steadfast encouragement made all the difference in his professional success. They made a powerful team.
Alicia never stopped being that young student who would seek out inspiration in an oasis of Sorolla paintings. She believed that learning and culture were invaluable pursuits, and that was why she was a fixture at the Boulder Philharmonic, the CU Artist Series, the CU Shakespeare Festival, Bach Festival, Opera Colorado, the Colorado Music Festival at Chautauqua, the Boulder Dinner Theatre, Denver Art Museum, and her beloved Takács Quartet. Above all, she was entranced by literature and took great pleasure in books and reading. Drawing on her immense cultural knowledge, and motivated by empathy, Alicia delighted in recommending the perfect book for someone, especially children. Curious, patient, brave, and passionate, she helped everyone she touched learn to love art, literature, music, theater and culture. She taught us by example how to live on the right side of our brains, and to always trust our hearts.
May her memory be a blessing and inspiration to all those who strive to create a more beautiful world, and who bravely embark on grand adventures that lead them to unknown places and new experiences, to be navigated with dignity, strength, and elegance.
A Funeral Mass and the Committal were held for Alicia on December 21, 2022. To honor her love of the arts, donations in Alicia’s memory may be made to Opera Colorado.
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!
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.
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.
“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.”
I made it on to Jalopnik! Actually, I don’t think this is the first time something metacool-related has been on there (or was it AutoBlog?), but it’s always fun to see yourself on the web. When I was a kid in the 1970’s, finding a way to show up on the local evening news was pretty much the only way you’d ever see yourself on any electronic media. In a world where YouFace has become part of the fabric of everyday life, I assume that today’s digital natives don’t see much of a special thrill in this kind of an external event, but for me it’s still a thrill.
I attended Porsche Rennsport Reunion V this past Sunday. What an exhilarating yet overwhelming event. Every type of Porsche ever produced was there (though I didn’t see a Porsche tractor…), and most of them were THE one. The one that won Le Mans the year I was born, the one that first won Le Mans, the one that was driven by such-and-such famous driver. Everything. So awesome.
A few weeks ago I wrote an essay for RACER about the future of IndyCar. It’s part of a series called “IndyCar 2018”. Here is an overview from RACER editor David Malsher:
Welcome to a new series exclusively by RACER. While manufacturer aero kits will be the biggest technical story of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series, somewhere just over the horizon is the next-gen IndyCar, due to start racing in 2018.
If that sounds a long way off, it is…but ideas and philosophies need time to take root, germinate and grow before they finally bloom. It may sound conceited, but it’s true nonetheless – at RACER, we have the attention of the people who can make a difference to the path taken by IndyCar. And that “we,” includes you, the readers of RACER, which is why you’re invited to participate.
Over the next couple months, we’re running interviews with, and essays from, the great and the good of IndyCar past, present and future, asking what they think IndyCar should be in 2018. Topics included will be the basic design of the car; what technology it employs; how open the rules should be regarding engines, chassis and bodywork; safety; embracing “green” science; circuits; energizing the business model for teams, promoters, manufacturers, sponsors.
Some brave souls may tackle all these topics – just as IndyCar personnel collectively have to – but generally, we’ve let the interviewees/writers choose their points of focus.
I endeavored to look at the entire sport of IndyCar as a business system. If you had to balance the human experience, the technology platform, and the business model, what choices might you make? What might be a guiding framework for those decisions? Overall there’s been a positive reaction to my thoughts, with some impassioned debate in the comments section below the essay and in Robin Miller’s weekly reader mail column.
In my mind’s eye I expected all of the IndyCar 2018 essays and interviews to be released at one time—Netflix House of Cards style—but I am finding the actual serialization to be a much more interesting approach. Having everyone in the community focus on one point of view at a time helps focus the conversation in a way that having a buffet of options would hinder. That said, I’m very much looking forward to seeing the complete oeuvre—the public conversation RACER is facilitating is a fascinating way to share ideas and encourage innovation.
The first of the series is an interview with Indy 500 winner and F1 World Champion Mario Andretti. The third is an essay by four-time Indy 500 winner Rick Mears. The thoughts from yrs trly were sandwiched between those two, and it’s an honor to be there. For my own convenience, I’ll add links below to each entry as they’re published. Enjoy!
Jim Yurchenco is the design engineer behind everything from the first Apple mouse to the Palm V to the Plié Wand from Julep. He just retired from a 40-year career at IDEO creating products which brightened the lives of millions.
Jim’s work was also about helping everyone around him excel. I was fortunate to have Jim as a mentor, coach, and project leader at IDEO. I did some of the best work of my life working with him. And the “how” was great, too: we never pulled all-nighters, but we always hit our deadlines, routinely achieving extremely innovative outcomes.
How to do the best work of your life? Well, here is Jim’s secret:
“Don’t accept done for good. And don’t accept good for excellent.”
Jim’s approach to excellence is anything but passive. It is rooted in action, passionately and optimistically pursued. He’s never one to sit back and procrastinate, waiting for inspiration and perfection to magically appear. He is constantly thinking, building, pushing, failing, learning—always striving to figure out a way to make things better. All of this coupled with an urgency to make decisions quickly and be productive, but with the sage perspective to step back and let things percolate when need be. In Jim’s world, excellence is both something you pursue, and something that comes to the prepared.
One morning in the late 90’s, while noodling on ways to cool the chips in the Intel Pentium II cartridge we were designing, Jim decided that our pursuit of excellence demanded access to a temperature-controlled, variable-speed wind tunnel. Today. Of course, we didn’t have one. But by that evening, after scavenging all of Silicon Valley for parts and applying some scrappy ingenuity, we had a twenty-foot long wind tunnel up and running in an unoccupied office we found at IDEO (whose owner was mildly surprised when she returned from her business trip). And then we used that wind tunnel to create a breakthrough design solution.
When you’re committed to excellence—and when everyone you work with knows it—failure becomes a mere bump in the road along the way to success. Once you stop accepting good for excellent, you can transcend limitations that would stop a normal team. Scarcity becomes abundance, hurdles becomes ladders, and you start doing the best work of your life.
That’s how Jim did it. And you can too: commit to excellence, believe there’s always a better solution, and make it all happen with optimism.
You can hear more of Jim’s wisdom in this wonderful video: