March 16, 2020

Thoughts On Thoreau, John Farmer, & Happiness

Strawberry Reservoir

In the last paragraph of the chapter Higher Laws from Walden, Thoreau conjectures as to his neighbor’s thoughts after a hard day’s work in the fields. The subject, aptly named John Farmer, is an Irish migrant day-laborer who came to America in search of better a life. Though Farmer seems quite content with his newfound existence, Thoreau’s opinion is that Farmer has unwittingly become a cog in the system to his own pending demise. Despite Thoreau’s impudence, he does have a couple of interesting points worth exploring:

“Still, he thought of his work; but the burden of his thought was, that though this kept running in his head, and he found himself planning and contriving it against his will, yet it concerned him very little.”

Whether we’re mindlessly checking our inbox before bed, while standing in line, or rehearsing in our head that next email, how often do we find ourselves slipping back into thoughts of work that distract us from the present to little or no benefit (most often to our detriment), regardless of the consequence of the work? While we view this as a modern problem, it seems to have been an issue at least as far back as when Thoreau wrote Walden which was published in 1854.

However, in a rare moment of clarity after overhearing music from a neighbor’s porch, Farmer was able to slip into a brief mediation where the notion of a better life entered into his thinking. When the question of how to achieve such life arose, rather than pursue the notion, he simply repressed the thought and accepted his fate as a farm-hand with a renewed sense of virtue.

“But the notes of the flute came home to his ears out of a different sphere from that he worked in, and suggested work for certain faculties which slumbered in him. They gently did away with the street, and the village and the state in which he lived. A voice said to him, “Why do you stay here and live this mean moiling life, when a glorious existence is possible for you? Those same stars twinkle over other fields than these.” But how to come out of this condition and actually migrate thither? All that he could think of was to practice some new austerity, to let his mind descend into his body and redeem it, and treat himself with ever-increasing respect.


Unpacking the above:
  1. It’s only after being able to “turn-off” (in this case through over-hearing neighboring music) that we allow our sub-conscious and deeper thoughts to emerge and find clarity.
  2. How often do we behave as Farmer and rather than pursuing a greater path or challenge, simply settle for the seemingly easier path already set before us?
  3. Alternatively, happiness is often simply about deriving satisfaction and a sense of contentment in our current situation. So who’s to say that Farmer (or ourselves) would indeed be happier anywhere else. After all, he did immigrate from Ireland to American in search of the life he now has.
  4. What does Thoreau imagine as a “glorious existence” for Farmer? We know it’s not pursuing goods & luxury, after all, the entirety of his philosophy derived from his time at Walden Pond has been about doing without in search of a more simple life and shedding societal norms.

The one obvious takeaway is the importance of mindfulness. The ability to “turn-off” and be present in the moment without distraction has become increasingly difficult in modern times, however, as evidenced above, is a problem that has persisted throughout time.

While most agree on the importance of mindfulness, what’s less clear is where the balance between happiness and ambition lies. While one suggests that the path of happiness lies within the deep acceptance of the moment (and conversely that worry and unhappiness is a result of rejecting the moment), we are also taught that happiness is found in the pursuit of a better life, not only for ourselves but for others. How we resolve this seems to be the ultimate exercise in cognitive dissonance. In John Farmer’s case, perhaps he exhibits the ultimate wisdom in both pursuing a better life and then being content when he’s of the opinion he’s found it.


March 3, 2020

Closer to Fine

The less I seek my source for something definite the closer I am to fine.

The Indigo Girls, Covered above by Sicko

As I get older I am realizing that are many paths through life. None are inherently better or worse. Focus on what fulfills you and don’t worry about the rest.


January 21, 2020

The Four Client Types

Marketing guru Seth Godin offers four paths for clients seeking designers:

1. Those Who Know What They Want

These are clients who have done their research and have a sophisticated vision available to execute upon.

2. Those Who Aren’t Quite Sure, But Know What It Looks Like

While these clients may not have a complete vision, they have a good head start. They have industry/competitor references available and understand the overall shape the work needs to take.

3. Those Who Understand What it Needs to Convey

These are those who understand that design has the power to convert, and know the end-goal but aren’t sure how to make that happen or what it looks like.

4. Those Who Will Know it When They See It

The most frustrating path, this approach is not recommended for either clients or designers unless you have unlimited money and time.

So – how is this relevant for a design services agency or consultant? Well, as Sun Tzu would say, the first rule of battle is to know your opponent. Not that we should equate clients with opponents, but the point being, the better & sooner we can get into the mindset of our customers, the more equipped we are to deliver what they need and want. While the above represent the four paths to working with a designer, the flipside is true in that the above represent the four types of clients we are often serving. How we approach a project with a Type 1 Client is going to vary greatly from our approach with a Type 3 Client, and we should have the tools in place to identify the red flags common with Type 4 Clients before it’s too late.

Whether it be personal or professional, communication is the key to the success of any partnership. In asking the right questions at the onset of a new inquiry or discovery we can typically establish client type before investing much effort in the project. Often, a standard sales questionnaire or introductory call will provide the pre-requisite information.

Once we start viewing clients and projects through the additional context of Client Type, we have a better sense of what questions to ask (as well as what questions not to ask).


January 1, 2020

2019 In Review

Looking back over the past year, and the decade as a whole, I can’t help but feel overwhelmed by the good fortune I’ve been blessed with in life thus far. The last decade was certainly a monumental one personally, and I can only hope that the next is nearly as good.

A few memories from 2019:


Looking back at the decade as a whole:


Traveled:


As is common with the season, there has been a lot of reflection and introspection over the course of the past month or so. It’s hard to believe the decade has come to an end, and before I know it I’ll be writing, Lord willing, a similar post about the next. Speculating as to what tomorrow will bring is a fool’s errand, however, I do believe in the impact of intent. How we spend our days is how we spend our lives, and if we’re not conscious of our time – whether it be minutes, hours, days, weeks or years – before we know it, it is gone.

Here’s to 2020 & beyond!


October 28, 2019

Saying Goodbye To Mel Dogg

We lost Mel this weekend. Saying goodbye to a loved one is the hardest thing we have to do in life, especially when they’re as kind-hearted and loved as Mellie was. The only comfort available at the moment is in the knowledge that Mel lived a better life than most, if not all. She wanted for nothing except perhaps another hot dog, and something stinky to roll in. Mel was there with us through every major transition we faced as adults, from college graduation, moving across the country, buying our first home, marriage, and welcoming a child into the world. She is and will continue to be dearly missed.

Thanks for all the patience, kindness, & butt wiggles.

In the deepest dreams, the angels run with sweet Melissa.

Mel, 2005-2019


August 20, 2019

Everything But Fish


Ask a fisher-person what the allure of fishing is, and the response will mostly include everything but fish. Yes, catching fish is fun, and as the saying goes “the tug is the drug” – which is what ultimately keeps us coming back. However, for even the best angler, the amount of time spent landing a fish vs everything else is comparatively minute.

Needless to say, I’ve caught the fly fishing bug as of late, and in effort to reconcile with this silly sport, have been speculating as to what makes the practice of tricking these pea-brained creatures so captivating. In my research on the subject, I’ve been turned on to professional fishing guide and eldest son of the legendary late Townes Van Zandt, JT Van Zandt. As the latter, I can only imagine the refuge that fishing and the outdoors provided throughout JT’s childhood and early adult life.

Perhaps due to it’s meditative quality, fly fishing inspires many a provoking narratives. As I’ve gone down this rabbit hole, and learned about JT’s story, two such pieces have surfaced that are worth a watch and listen regardless of whether you’ve ever spent any time out on a river untangling knots while cursing.

The first (video above) is from the Yeti Presents: My Old Man Series where Van Zandt recounts a bit about his struggle to find direction as the son of a prolific American songwriter and rambler, as well as his personal experience with fatherhood.

I think the most important thing for a father these days is to show that’s it’s possible to do what you love and be really good at it – and then come home with tenderness and affection for them, missing them and give them everything you’ve got when you get home, and start it all over the next day.


The second piece is from JT’s podcast, Drifting, and features an interview with Dan Rather. Lot’s of wisdom and optimism to be had here, so I’d highly recommend the listen.

Life is not a given… whatever you’re going to do, you better get up today and go do it.


July 30, 2019

California Dreamin’

A few photos from our recent trip to Malibu & Santa Monica for Alejandro & Mariam’s nupitals. Insert all your favorite California song lyrics below.

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May 21, 2019

Settling In – Three Years Later

Above: It’s the simple things in life; such as riding your bike to and passing out in the park on a Sunday afternoon.

“In the long run, I will optimize a way to decrease car dependence…”

In early 2016, a month or two before Josie was born, I was listening to Tim Ferriss’s interview with Pete Adeney, aka Mr. Money Mustache, when Adeney answered with the above in response to Ferriss’s question about how he optimizes his life for happiness. This lit a spark in me.

Backstory – in 2015, we bought a home in a newly developed neighborhood about 15 miles outside of Park City towards Heber. It was, and still is, a beautiful home. Spacious, new construction, with overwhelming views of the Heber Valley and the mighty Mount Timpanogos for a backdrop. There was just one problem: it required us to be car dependent for anything beyond a neighborhood stroll. This turned out to be a deal-breaker for us.

That aforementioned spark eventually grew into full-on wildfire as I came to realize the absurdity of our car culture on every level – economically, environmentally, health & lifestyle. Let’s break it down.


Environment Impacts of Car Dependence

This one’s obvious and well documented. From the costs of constructing & maintaining car-centric infrastructure such as roads and parking areas, to the damage done by resource extraction, transport, and refinement, to the actual pollutants emitted by auto travel, driving gasoline powered automobiles is one of the most commonly accepted destructive & unsustainable practices there is.


Economic Impacts of Car Dependence

Most people recognize that cars are not good investments. The amount a new car depreciates simply by driving off the lot is something like 33%. Furthermore, happiness studies show that consumer satisfaction derived from a new vehicle purchase last about two weeks. However, aside from the initial investment, what most never factor into the true costs of car ownership is the everyday costs of driving. For work-related vehicles, the IRS allows a deduction of .53 cents/per mile. Given that it’s the IRS, let’s assume this is a conservative estimate, and just to make the math simple, let’s knock it down to .50 cents/mile. Kassie’s commute to work was 25 miles each way with taking Josie to daycare (without daycare it was still over 20 miles).

25 miles/day, 2x/day = 50 miles/day.
50 miles/day * 180 school days/year = 9,000 miles driven a year (assuming the absolute minimum)
9,000 miles * $0.50 = $4,500 yearly cost of driving.

So using a conservative estimate, based on the absolute minimum amount of possible driving allowable in a our current situation (I work from home, but am often out running errands, going to meetings, or transporting baby girl) we are spending a minimum of $4,500 on auto travel. Realistically, that number is likely at least double that after you factor in trips to the grocery, for activities, my travel costs, etc… I recently came across a statistic (though I can’t recall from where) that the average cost of car ownership is about $12,000/year, which based on the above math seems about right, especially if you have a car payment. Double that for a two car household, and then think about how much of that money you could be saving or putting towards a better investment, such as a closer home.

Furthermore, while people are quick to factor in gas prices to their commute, what they most typically leave out, and is way more valuable (and scarce) is their time. Kassie’s old commute was 45 minutes each way (factoring in the daycare stop) or 1.5 hr/day. That is 270 hours a year. Based on a conservative hourly wage of $20/hour, that’s over $5,000 of non-paid work time a year.

However, in addition to the 270 yours a year she is required to be doing something she’s not getting paid for, it’s time spent in an unhealthy, high-risk situation, which brings us to the health/lifestyle component of car dependence.


Health & Lifestyle Impacts of Car Dependence

What if I told you there was an epidemic more deadly than opioids and gun violence that is simply accepted as the status quo. While school shootings, drugs, and terrorism are what get headlines (which are equally horrific and preventable) the fact is, you and your child are more likely to be injured or die in an auto-related accident. This is even after years of enacted safety measures, councils on safety, transportation boards, etc… At only two years of age, Josie had already been in two car accidents (one going highway speed which totaled the vehicle and was one of the scariest phone calls I’ve yet to receive), and I simply can’t in good conscious put her on a deadly road twice a day so I can enjoy a nice view with a spacious open floor plan for a reasonable price per square foot.

In addition to the obvious accident related potential for injury and/or death, there are numerous studies that correlate car commuting with disease, shorter lifespans, declines in happiness, and depression. On the flip-side, there are numerous studies showing those who commute by foot or bicycle are healthier, happier, and tend to live longer.


The more the above lingered with me, all I could think about was getting out of Heber and back to Park City where I could walk, ride, or bus anywhere I needed to go. Our parents thought we were crazy for giving up what we had, after all we were ONLY 15 minutes away. However since selling and moving back to Park City, I haven’t looked back or once questioned whether or not it was the right decision.

Fast-forward to spring 2018, we put our house on the market, sold within a week, found a rental in Park City and have been scrupulously watching local real estate listings ever since. In April we finally found a small single family in the Blackhawk (thanks Christine!) neighborhood that checked most of the boxes. A month or so later, here we are starting to finally feel settled after years of debate over where we wanted to be and what was important to us in a home; which I think can be summed up best as:

  1. Live where we work/play. Park City is one of those unique places people choose to live. There are some natives, but by-in-large people seek it out. We’re very fortunate to have found the opportunities here we have and hope not ever to take it for granted.
  2. Ditch car dependence. Kassie can ride all the way to school on a designated bike path. We are one stop away from from the transit center. Josie can ride her bike and there are hundreds of miles of trails out the door. Theoretically, we could get all the way to SLC airport without stepping foot in a car. This is huge for us.
  3. Downsize – after living in a moderately sized house by American standards, we decided we never wanted a big house (over 2,000 sq ft). We ended up buying a home nearly half the size of our last house which has forced us to take a more minimalist approach to objects and consumption. This focuses us to spend money and time only on things that align most with our values.
  4. A long-term investment that would yield both comfort and monetary return. The home we bought was recently renovated, and has minimal required maintenance which allows us to enjoy the things we call Park City home for – skiing, biking, etc… Additionally, Park City has seen great real estate appreciation so even if we paid more than we would have liked to get in, we’re confident that 10-15 years down the road the return will be worth it.

Resources


March 17, 2019

The Effortless Experience

Optimizing for Simplicity

Think about your commute to work. If you’re in the majority, chances are it’s a hectic, stress-filled time of day. Maybe you have to drive, take a bus or train, taxi, walk great distances, or any combination of the above. Perhaps it takes 30 minutes, an hour, two hours, or even more time just to get to work and back every day. Most would probably rate their commute as one of the worst experiences of their daily routine.

Are commutes made better by being provided with more options? Some would choose to drive vs to take the bus and vice-versa if those are options are available.

Are commutes made better by additional features? Again, if there’s free wifi on the train or bus, perhaps some may choose one of these modes because of an available feature.

However, everything else being equal, if someone had to choose between a short (under 5 minute) walk to work, or endure a long commute, with all the options to choose from and modern features included, there is no doubt they would choose the short walk.

Why? Because it’s the experience that requires the least amount of effort, and perhaps is even a bit pleasurable.

In his book, The Effortless Experience: Conquering the New Battleground for Customer Loyalty, Product & Research Officer Matt Dixon found that customers were 94% more likely to repurchase a product or service that yielded a low-effort experience in comparison to experiences that were based on additional options, features, or “customer delight.” Furthermore, he found that 88% of customers increased spending as a result of a low-effort experience.

Back to the transportation example – why did Uber succeed in completely disrupting the taxi market? It wasn’t because they allowed you to choose the type of car, the interior features, or color. It was because they made getting a taxi easier than it had ever been before.

As we build, we need to continually be asking ourselves, “Does this option, feature, process, or transaction reduce effort for customers?” In the end, if the answer is no, then we should rethink the solution.

It’s not the option-filled experience.
It’s not the feature-packed experience.

It’s an effortless experience.


January 3, 2019

18 Bests from 2018

It occurs to me that my ’17 Bests from 2017′ post is only a few entries back. So maybe in 2019 I’ll resolve to write more. If not, then you can look forward to ’19 Bests from 2019′ a few posts away. Regardless, as with last year, while the rest of the world was riddled with chaos, 2018 turned out pretty well for the Deckard household. Here are a few of my favorite memories in order of occurrence.


1. Jan 26th – Alta Pow Day

For skiers, there is nothing that compares to an Alta weekday powder day when the snow is deep and the crowd’s are thin. The skiing was too good for picture-taking, so the only visual memory I have from the day is from the après portion.

Alta, Utah - Goldminer's Daughter

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