Mustache Bash App

I haven’t posted on gu.e since early December. Though I don’t feel the need to defend myself, I would like to inform my faithful readers—all three of you—that I haven’t forgotten about the blog or stopped writing.

About a week before Christmas I crunched some numbers and discovered that to meet my goal for the year—two posts on average per week—I would need to write a post every day for the rest of December. More and more days slipped by, as they tend to do during the holidays, and the day after Christmas, I found that the number had doubled: I would need to write two blogs posts every day to meet my goal.

My goal went unmet.

This is first a confession and second, an introduction.

I pledged to write 104 blog posts in 2011, and though no one will be taking me to court or demanding satisfaction, I want to come clean: I failed to meet my goal. A couple of dozen first drafts are waiting on my hard drive. I could have met the goal without producing any new work, but I made the choice to spend that time with my family instead.

I have tried to set a good example in the way of setting, publicizing, and meeting goals, but I am a mere mortal after all.

As to the introduction, I have decided to take a hiatus from gu.e to pursue two other creative projects. The first is a novel. I have been chipping away at a stupidly ambitious, Tolkienesque high fantasy affair that will probably take me ten years and several gallons of blood to write.

I committed the first two chapters to paper last June, and in the months since, the many characters and places and themes and Near Eastern mythologies in orbit around the main character have taken on too much gravity. I can’t ignore them anymore. For better or worse, I have to finish a first draft. Maybe then I will enjoy some peace and quiet, though I doubt it.

I have also embarked on another adventure that is part creative hijinks, part entrepreneurship.

This quote from Steve Jobs about his colleagues in the early seventies has helped me understand why I had to do it:

“The best people in computers would have normally been poets and writers and musicians….They went into computers because it was so compelling. It was fresh and new. It was a new medium of expression for their creative talents.”

I created a mustache app for iPhone called Mustache Bash ( The core functionality of the app is simple: the user takes a picture or selects one from the camera roll and then adds a mustache or beard to it from a gallery of mustaches and beards. Some of the bells and whistles include being able to tap the mustache to change its color and share it with other people via Facebook, Twitter, or email.

For those early adopting app-ivores out there who might be thinking, “Wait, haven’t I already seen several apps like that?” I have an answer: You’ve already seen several apps like that.

mustache bash appMustache Bash is not a novel idea. I didn’t set out to create something new but to bring a better option to an existing audience. My designer’s work up to this point gives me confidence that my app will be the belle of the ball. Thankfully, the design of the other apps made that part easy.

Many of the other apps have a tendency to crash and have either too few features or too many. I have spent several hours reading reviews of the other mustache apps and identifying their users’ major frustrations with them, and my developer has helped me refine the concept and to spend time and money implementing only those features that people will use.

Steve Jobs became famous for saying something along the lines of, “You have to give people what they want before they know that they want it.” The inverse is also true, especially with apps: Don’t give people what they don’t want.

The iPod had plenty of competition, and the way it beat out other mp3 players was by stripping away, not adding, superfluous features. The iPod makes it easy to organize and play music, and more importantly, to buy more. The genius of the iPod wasn’t what it did. The genius of the iPod was its seamless integration with iTunes—and thus, with the millions of credit cards that Apple has on file.

I wrote about Thomas Edison quite a bit last year, but I don’t think I shared his most important discovery. He had made several improvements and upgrades to the run-of-the-mill telegraph that people around the country were using and successfully developed a better telegraph.

He ran into a problem: nobody wanted to pay for a better telegraph.

From that point forward, Edison vowed to focus on inventions that he could bring to market, and history—at least the way history is told in textbooks—vouches for this discovery: the people who receive credit for inventions aren’t the first ones to have the idea but often the ones who were able to  make the idea popular enough to spread and cheap enough to sell.

Mustache Bash is ridiculous, yes, but there’s just something funny about putting a mustache on a picture. It seems perfectly in keeping with everything gu.e has come to represent. Bristly moles and unibrows will be even better, but I’ll save those facial embellishments for future apps.Church family portrait

Mobile application development isn’t the same as good writing and storytelling, but Mustache Bash is one of the next chapters my own story will tell.

It is alive and well in the App Store. Download it here:

Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to read one of my posts. I’ll still make the occasional post here, and I’ll send out regular updates in my email newsletter.

The Man in the Arena

teddy rooseveltI recently received some neckties from my friend Xan’s soon-to-be-renamed clothing company, Buffalo & Company, and I found a card with this Teddy Roosevelt quote in the box:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

I need to reread that one every couple of months.

Conan O’Brien on Hard Work and Kindness

My friend David at Yeah Yeah Creative pointed me to Conan’s farewell during his last night of hosting The Tonight Show. His sincerity will surprise and inspire you:

“If you work really hard, and you’re kind, amazing things will happen. I’m telling you, amazing things will happen.”

What to do with Christmas money

Perhaps you remember—but hopefully you don’t—back in February when Ellen DeGeneres put a lock of Justin Bieber’s hair up for auction on eBay. Complete with plexiglass box, Justin Bieber’s signature, and a letter of authenticity signed by Ellen, the auction closed with a final bid of $40,668. Proceeds benefitted The Gentle Barn, a charitable organization that provides a safe haven for abused animals and at-risk and special needs children.

Though our society’s adulation of celebrities disturbs me, I admire both Justin and Ellen for using their celebrity to do good.

I may not have Justin Bieber’s ability to cause fifteen-year-old girls to hyperventilate, but I can have his hair. If any of you received cash for Christmas or returned gifts and are wondering what to do with the money, then you can too.

Stop making excuses for your lusterless locks, buy your Justin Bieber wig, and start smooching Selena Gomez. Or, if that’s illegal, the Hollywood diva of your choice. Ana de la Reguera of Nacho Libre fame is underrated.

justin bieber wig

Swashbuckling, or how to respond to failure

swashbucklingBack in November, I read these words from Seth Godin:

“Learning from a failure is critical. Connecting effort with failure at an emotional level is crippling. … Early in our careers, we’re encouraged to avoid failure, and one way we do that is by building up a set of emotions around failure, emotions we try to avoid, and emotions that we associate with the effort of people who fail. It turns out that this is precisely the opposite of the approach of people who end up succeeding.”

Godin points out the obvious: failure doesn’t feel good.

By the time most of us reach young adulthood, we, or at least our subconscious minds, have come to associate “failure” with a whole spectrum of negative emotions: rejection and ostracism, embarrassment and humiliation, disappointment and resentment, envy and jealousy. When the next failure comes, that old poison leaks back into our minds and causes us to balk, to second guess, to overanalyze.

We shrink before an overbearing boss who dredges up the same mixture of anger and helplessness that you felt when your high school football coach chewed out the team for his mistakes.

The attractive woman at the coffeeshop who after an otherwise pleasant and encouraging conversation declines your invitation to dinner dumps you into a state of depression that you can’t shake for several weeks. She isn’t the girl who broke your heart when you were fifteen, but the sickness is the same.

Why is that?

Why can some people stand up to their bosses without getting fired? How can some men respond to rejection with optimism and nonchalance? Because once we reach adulthood, we have a choice in how we respond to failure. We can study it, or we can allow negative emotions to incapacitate us.

I’m not saying that you should stifle or invalidate how you feel. After all, contents under pressure have a tendency to explode. Airing out what you’re feeling is healthy because stress is linked to cardiovascular disease, among other illnesses. Not talking about your feelings can quite literally kill you.

You may not at first have a choice how you feel, but you do have a choice in how to act and what to do after the first storm has passed.

I try—but often fail (sigh)—to respond to failure with these 8 Steps to Swashbuckling:

1. Give myself the freedom to feel whatever I’m feeling for a short time and talk it out with my wife or a close friend.

2. Strive for some degree of detachment. This is very difficult in the moment when anger or sadness are making more noise in my mind than sirens at 3am.

3. Once separated from that tumult of emotion, practice discernment, unpack those emotions, and parse out what is a knee-jerk reaction from pride, what is scar tissue from past experiences, and what is legitimate frustration at someone else’s mistake or wrongdoing.

4. Ask, even if someone else was in the wrong, “What can this teach me?”

5. Decide then what I will do or try, how I will act or change. How will I prepare to fail again with more boldness than before?

6. Remind myself that my most of my fears are groundless and most of the possible negative outcomes that cause my anxiety will never come to pass. The majority of the bad things that could happen don’t, and many, many good things that I never foresaw do, in fact, happen.

7. Stop blaming all of the “idiots” for my failure.

8. Cut down on my diet of self-pity.


I love the word “swashbuckling” both because it comes with a mouthful of delicious syllables and because it denotes a daring, adventurous, flamboyant confidence. You can’t be swashbuckling and be afraid of failure. Failure is always an option, but the emotions you associate with it make you either a musketeer or malcontent.

Toward the end of my dating career before I got married I realized that for a woman to say yes when I asked her out on a date was less important than for me to exercise boldness. I couldn’t control her feelings or her answer, but I could take deliberate steps to become a man not paralyzed by fear of rejection and failure.

Can you ask someone out on a date, get a no, and think, “Your loss!”? Can you face failure without slipping into a vortex of self-loathing? Step out of the whirlwind. Take stock of your surroundings. Form your next plan of attack.


The Importance of Optimism – Part 2

Optimism is a choice. Events do not change us. Our perceptions of events change us.

A man loses a child in a car wreck and shakes his fist at God: if God were good, then he never would have let this happen. The man’s wife instead sees a broken world where an unhappy stranger drinks to much, runs a stop sign, and kills her child. God is good. Only he can bring comfort and peace after such a loss. Only he can fix the world’s brokenness.

The man loses his child, and his faith atrophies. His wife loses her child, and her faith grows. Both experience the same traumatic event. Both change because of it, but their perceptions of that trauma determine the change.

Circumstances may turn optimism and hope for a better world into a daily wrestling match, but our perceptions of those circumstances and the attitudes that those perceptions form over time either increase or diminish our ability to recover from trauma, disappointment, and failure. Optimism will cost you more than pessimism, but pessimism never pays dividends.

Perhaps the world is not full of idiots but of splendor.

The Importance of Optimism

dragonfruitIn a recent post, I wrote about the importance of curiosity. Thomas Edison never would have gotten 1093 patents without a mountain of it. Another personality trait that I believe Edison must have had in abundance is optimism. I can’t speak for Edison’s day or his business colleagues, but I know more pessimists than optimists.

Pessimism is easier than optimism. The pessimist sees negative outcomes everywhere. The pessimist is a conspiracy theorist whose theories all involve a small but powerful terrorist group called the FDC: failure, disappointment, and compromise.

The pessimist romantic may still admire the beauty of every woman who walks through the door, but he doesn’t go talk to them because he knows that all women are the same and all romances lead to heartbreak.

The pessimist student studies less and less for each test because she believes she will make the same mediocre grade no matter how hard she tries.

The pessimist ex-believer watches people pray and pities their ignorance. Their pious words set his teeth on edge because he cannot separate their faith from his experience of a hypocritical pastor and a couple of judgmental, legalistic ex-friends.

God doesn’t hand out merit badges for predicting the future, yet many people still pride themselves in pointing out weaknesses, blowing the whistle on “naivete,” and asking “hard questions.” Somebody has to do it for these chumps, right?

That entrepreneurial friend who is making plans to open a coffeeshop? The Pessimist harps on the travails of the food service industry, including but not limited to long hours, unreliable employees, and low profit margins. “It’s a fun idea, but I just don’t want you to lose your shirt,” Pessimist says with a sad but subtly superior smile. You watch the light in your friend’s eyes fade. “Someone had to be honest with him,” Pessimist thinks.

That killing of innocents is a grim job, but Pessimist believes that he is more mature, more courageous, more noble even, because he helped a friend make a list of negative outcomes.

Pessimism generates a gravity that pulls everything down. It sucks other people and their plans into its orbit. The world is full of idiots, and idiots run the world, right? If it weren’t full of them, then Pessimist and his friends and family would be happier, more successful, more hopeful.

That’s the problem with pessimism: it leads to passivity. Passivity does not lead to significant work. Optimism leads to fruitfulness, and fruitfulness leads to significance.


The Importance of Curiosity

Of course, Thomas Edison’s perspiration wouldn’t have produced marketable incandescent light bulbs without some other factors. How did Thomas Edison keep that hard work effective even if he couldn’t have always been efficient?

I think it’s safe to say that Edison worked very, very hard while building a team of brilliant, talented people. Or perhaps he attracted them. You may have heard this saying: “A rising tide floats all boats.” You may have also heard someone say, “If you want to be successful, you must surround yourself with successful people.”

A habitat that celebrates ingenuity, perseverance, and resilience in the face of failure doesn’t simply happen like a fairy ring. Other kinds are more plentiful, and you’ll end up in one of these unless you know exactly what you’re looking for or intentionally grow a habitat yourself.

My first job out of grad school at a design and marketing firm involved creating press releases, writing web content, meeting with clients, and figuring out a way to sell social media strategy and tactics.

I have never claimed to be a graphic designer, but I have been told by graphic designers that I have “a good eye.” I would on occasion would see something on one of the designer’s screens that didn’t look quite right and would say so. Many of my observations even influenced the final version.

One day I was walking by the desk of the creative director, and I pointed something out and offered an alternate idea.

“Oh, so you’re a designer now?” he said.

The creative director had set himself up as the arbiter of good ideas. Quality control was his job, up to a point, but after he made one of the designers cry not one but twice and humiliated her in front of her co-workers—all for the purpose of helping her produce better work?—I should have realized that he felt threatened by other people’s talent and got territorial. He would sometimes assert the power of his title and squelch whatever playfulness and camaraderie we had all been feeling.

When management becomes obsessed with profitability and efficiency and tracks time in fifteen-minute increments, taking risks was about as welcome as roadkill in the foyer.

From what I can tell about Thomas Edison, he led the charge. His curiosity compelled him to take a lot of risks, and those risks brought rewards.

Though I took issue with the creative director’s style of leadership, I couldn’t help but empathize: he was frazzled, overworked and underappreciated. His boss was the last to show up at the office and the first to leave, and when Boss Man felt out of the loop, he would give everybody a tongue lashing, beginning with the creative director, and would then micro-manage all the projects for a day or two before vanishing again.

I learned later of circumstances that helped to explain their behavior, so I would like to give them the benefit of the doubt. I am thankful for all of the experiences I had with that company because I discovered one kind of habitat in which I could not thrive.

The Beatings-Will-Continue-Until-Morale-Improves may lead to compliance but it never encourages excellence. And you can’t do significant work without a significant amount of freedom, curiosity,  and creativity. The freedom to make mistakes, the freedom to fail, is to excellence what water is to swimming.

Freedom leads to curiosity, and curiosity, to creativity, and creativity, to failure. Failure is inevitable, but whether it limits freedom, stifles curiosity, and cows creativity is not. A wise boss, a wise leader, says, “Try again.” A fearful one says, “Be more careful with company resources.” Fear often operates in the guise of practicality.

Curiosity was one of Edison’s greatest strengths: “If I try this, what will happen?” Now, repeat 10,000 times.

Creating a habitat that nurtures curiosity requires a leader who believes that good ideas can come from anywhere and who views failure as soil in which success grows.

Curiosity may kill cats, but the lack of it kills whatever legacy you might have left. To get the bird, the cat must sometimes climb the tall tree. Curiosity is inefficient and may lead you to dangerous places, but who wants to look back on a birdless life?

importance of curiosity

99% Perspiration

Thomas EdisonA man who truly understood the importance of failing better, Thomas Edison is often credited with inventing the light bulb. He did not, in fact, invent the light bulb. If as many as twenty-two other inventors created an incandescent lamp, then why do we associate Edison with this ubiquitous invention?

Historians make plenty of speculations, but one plausible explanation is this: Edison’s team didn’t just stop with the components but created an integrated electrical lighting system.

Even a working light bulb could only burn as long as a generator fed it electricity, and other factors like the sophistication of the inventor’s tools, the power of the vacuum within the bulb, and the amount of resistance within the power distribution system itself either enhanced or sabotaged the light bulb’s efficiency.

In his search for a filament material that would burn for an acceptable length of time, Edison imported exotic botanicals from all over the world, and before he tested a filament of carbonized cotton thread that burned for fifteen hours, he claimed to have tried over 6,000 “vegetable growths,” not to mention various metals. His success rate finally landed somewhere below .0167%—a dismal percentage by anyone’s standards.

Edison wasted countless hours of his own time and that of his team. He meet payroll along the way, without or without success, and he also had to pay for materials, research, and facilities.

Edison was a Board of Directors’ nightmare, yet by the time of his death in 1931, Edison had patents for 1,093 of his inventions, which include the microphone, telephone receiver, phonograph, mimeograph, storage battery, and of course his
electric lamp, patent number 223,898.

We associate Edison with incandescent lamps because he made them affordable and brought them to the masses.

But we have the luxury of hindsight, unlike the New York Times reporter who asked Edison, “How does it feel to have failed seven hundred times?”

Edison answered, “I have not failed 700 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”

Though Edison’s response shows remarkable poise and wisdom what intrigues me more about this exchange is that no one remembers the reporter’s name.

I doubt this now-anonymous person was trying to lampoon Edison, but time isn’t kind to the people who pride themselves on asking “the hard questions” and pointing out the flaws in other people’s work. I dub these self-important critics and naysayers “dementors” because they suck out one’s vitality.

They claim to have a firm grasp on “reality” and to concern themselves with the practical details of any project or endeavor. They’re more than happy to tell you that you’re inefficient; you’re wasting time and money. You’re burning through valuable resources at an alarming rate without any clear ROI (Return-On-Investment).

Significant work seldom consorts with that beast called efficiency. I doubt that Michelangelo stressed about the number of hours he invested in the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. I doubt that my parents thought, “We’re putting way too much time into rearing our three children.” If we had any clear idea of what a Sistine Chapel or child was going to require of us, most of us would decline the invitation.

But we know better, don’t we? Significant work almost always asks more of us than we think we can give. I doubt Edison walked around with a slaphappy smile on his face at all hours: “Isn’t this great, men? We’re inventing!”

I’ll bet he fretted and shed a few tears and prayers over his ledgers and apologized again and again to his family for long hours at the lab. He often spent the night there.

One of Edison’s teachers called him “addled,” implying that he was slow. His mother took him out of that school and taught him herself. Edison struggled with poor health during his childhood, and by his early teens, Edison had lost almost all his hearing. His deafness made him shy.

Edison had a disability, but he didn’t use it as an excuse.

How can a person like Thomas Edison exist? What was his secret? Some people can bounce back from an occasional failure, but if the light bulb was any indication, then the volume of his failures would have been enough to drown anyone. How does one become an Edison?

It would be easy to say that Edison ran off of some inborn battery of perseverance, that he was different from the rest of us, that he was special. He certainly had intelligence and tenacity, but I don’t want to let the rest of us of the hook so easily and discount his hard work.

That, of course, is one of the primary reasons that Edison succeeded: he was willing to work very, very hard. He said so himself in Harper’s Monthly in September 1932: “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.”

Fail Better

If technology will never replace perspiration, then how does one become a master of one’s craft? I mentioned briefly in an earlier post, “Living A Life of Significance,” Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers. In it, Gladwell borrows from the work of psychologist K. Anders Ericsson, who had studied how people developer expertise for many years.

Simply put, becoming a master or expert takes time and lots of it—at least 10,000 hours, to be exact. I broke down that number further:

· 3 hours a day
· 6 days a week
· 50 weeks a year
· 10 years

Now you understand why the world has more amateurs than experts in any given discipline unless of course you count sleeping, checking email, and watching television as disciplines.

Most of us don’t carve out and protect enough time. We don’t apprentice ourselves to a craft because we have many other obligations and responsibilities, everything from a “day job” to rearing children to yard work.

Though I won’t speculate about other generations, I will speculate about my own. I’ll be thirty years old in April, and if I can say one thing with confidence about Generation Y, it is this: many of us are chronically noncommittal.

Getting a “yes” or a “no” out of someone my age is like asking for an organ donation. We have more free time than perhaps any generation that has come before us, and thus we have the luxury of big dreams. Yet, we hesitate before committing to anything that will take longer than an hour or two.

Of course I’m making a generalization and building a straw man to have something to knock down, but I hope my point is clear:

Gaining the expertise necessary to do significant work takes a tremendous amount of time. This dedication acts as a deterrent. We want the food without the plow, the muscles without the exercise, the prestige without the practice.

Practice is simply failing in a particular direction, but we want success without failure.

We live in a world of bowling lanes with bumpers. When we cushion children from failure at every juncture, we teach them that success is a birth right. When everyone gets a superlative, superlatives lose their meaning, and Samuel Beckett’s words from Worstward Ho read like an antique primer:

“All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

If I could teach my children—were my wife and I to be blessed with any—anything about doing significant work and pursuing one’s passion, then I would teach them that simple phrase, “Fail better.”

How many layups and jump shots did Michael Jordan miss? How much money has British billionaire Richard Branson lost of the course of his career? How many songs did The Beatles write and never record? How many pages of how many words did Jane Austen write and throw away?

Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs. He struck out 1,330 times. If you swing for the fences, you always run the risk of embarrassing yourself.

It’s hard to be cool and fail better at the same time. The cult of convenience will keep many of us from developing a stockpile of patience and diligence, and the cult of cool will keep many of us from failing fast and often enough to succeed.

Now, whenever someone shares a dream or a goal with me, I find myself passing on a piece of advice that is at once ancient and ultra-modern:

Dedicate your time to learning how to fail better.