I am sorry

It has been some time since I last wrote about personal failures. I stumbed accidentially on “I am sorry” poem-list of utterances by men who fail to be noticed, appreciated and loved by women. Men, as it usually is when serious feelings are invovled, are quite perseverant and tolerant, but even then they might become disillusioned. Many women come to an eventual realization of what they really were looking for or cared about. However, it is too late…Below find that poem-list of common I am sorry-s (my own formatting)

I’m sorry
that I bought you roses
to tell you that i like you

I’m sorry
That I was raised with respect
not to sleep with you when you were drunk

I’m sorry
That my body’s not ripped enough
to “satisfy” your wants

I’m sorry
that I open your car door,
and pull out your chair like I was raised

I’m sorry
That I’m not cute enough
to be “your guy”

I’m sorry
That I am actually nice;
not a jerk

I’m sorry
I don’t have a huge bank account
to buy you expensive things

I’m sorry
I like to spend quality nights at home
cuddling with you, instead of at a club

I’m sorry
I would rather make love to you then just screw you
like some random guy.

I’m sorry
That I am always the one you need to talk to,
but never good enough to date

I’m sorry
That I always held your hair back when you threw up,and didn’t get mad at you for puking in my car, but when we went out you went home with another guy

I’m sorry
That I am there to pick you up at 4am when your new man hit you and dropped you off in the middle of nowhere, but not good enough to listen to me when I need a friend

I’m sorry
If I start not being there because it hurts being used as a door mat, only to be thrown to the side when the new jerk comes around

I’m sorry
If I don’t answer my phone anymore when you call, to listen to you cry for hours, instead of getting a couple hours of sleep before work

I’m sorry
that you can’t realize.. I’ve been the one all along.

I’m sorry
If you read this and know somebody like this but don’t care

But most of all

I’m sorry
For not being sorry anymore

I’m sorry
That you can’t accept me for who I am

I’m sorry
I can never do anything right, and nothing that I do is good enough to make it in your world.

I’m sorry
I caught your boyfriend with another girl and told you about it, I thought that was what friends were for…

I’m sorry
That I told you I loved you and actually meant it.

I’m sorry
That I talked to you for nine hours on Thanksgiving when your boyfriend was threatening you instead of spending time with my family.

I’m Sorry
That I cared

I’m sorry
that I listen to you at night talking about how you wish you could have done something different.

The author concludes:

Ladies always complain and gripe to their friends that there is never any good guys out there, and they always end up with assholes who mistreat them. Well ladies next time you’re complaining, maybe look up to see who you’re complaining to, maybe that special someone is right there hanging on your every word as usual, screaming in his head “Why won’t you give me a chance?”
Because the person you are usually searching for is right by you.

To work or not to work

Work brings a sense of content and fulfillment, or so claims the traditional wisdom. Those who have work seem happy or satisfied or both. Those who are unemployed usually have an air of depression, despair, and one can always tell there is something “missing” about them. But there also those who work but, besides financial and other inherent benefits of having a job, do not get satisfaction.  As one such person confessed (back in November 2007) – he knew full well that there are many who starve and die every day – he has a work but he considers himself a failure at work

…which is not to say that I can’t do my job – I’m actually quite good at it. But work, as a lifestyle, eventually wears me down. In the past I have started out at each new job with optimism and pleasure. After a few years working in the same location, I am completely burnt out. I have no desire to go to work, when I’m there, have little desire to do anything but go home early. I am a bear of very little ambition.

When I took my current job, I had decided to finally ‘grow up’, settle down, and stop looking for the perfect job. All it would take, I thought, was an attitude adjustment and 150 mg of Effexor/day. I’d stay in my job and enjoy the fruits of stability, for a change. I would focus on my personal life (another area where I am kind of a failure, but that’s for another, longer, more irritating post.)

In the 90’s I took a brief stab at being self-employed, but I was completely unsuited. Not only am I bad employee, I am a terrible boss. I lacked the confidence and skills needed to carry it off. I eventually went on strike, and finally had to let myself go.

So I’m caught on the horns of dilemma, as they say. I have a job I no longer want, and no longer want any job. On the other hand, I do enjoy the benefits of having a job. I’m not sure whether I should take the plunge and do something incredibly out of character, or hunker down and stop whining.
In the mean-time, millions of people around the world are being tortured, starved, and dying from lack of drinking water. I hope none of them read this post, I would die from embarrassment.

Nearly a year later, in the wake of the current economic crisis raging all over the world and America not in the least, he wrote a sequel to his original post.

The more I observe the workings of the average administrator, the more convinced I am that the concept of competence in the American business is a myth.  For instance, administrators in my workplace do little but attend meetings all day long.  When I express my opinion that meetings are mostly a waste of time, they agree heartily.  They don’t seem to worry that what they do all day is waste time.  Why should you?

The current state of American business is a perfect example of why the lowly worker should relax and go with the flow.  Corporate CEOs are raking in millions in bonuses without any proof of competence.  If they are fired, they will easily find a similar job elsewhere.  How?  Because other CEOs and future CEOs sit on the hiring committees of American corporations.  These people certainly don’t want to start a trend of businesses demanding results as a condition for gargantuan golden parachutes.  To do so would be to ensure smaller payouts for them in the future.

So administration has the game rigged.  Workers do not enjoy the same power.  So the least you can do is stop believing the lie, the lie that you are somehow required to attain a level of competence unnecessary for your “betters.”  All they have that you don’t have is a $1000 suit and an old-boy conspiracy network.

What he says, especially about CEOs and their disproportionate salaries and bonuses versus their overly long time spent in meetings half in slumber half in dream, rings true to my ears from the personal experience and from what I have read and seen.

To work or not to work, this is the question.

Two business failures == third business success?

Dot.com bubble witnessed many young, bright and entrepreneurial spirits launch themselves into the tech gold rush only to see themselves chasing the fool’s gold. Too many entrepreneurs wound up in searching for jobs in not-so-inspiring companies and earning not-so-high a salaries. But few found courage to continue their entrepreneurial march and found new beginnings, although not necessarily with happy endings. Eric Ries of IMVU, named as one of the Best Young Entrepreneurs of Tech in 2007 by BusinessWeek, is a case in point.

Eric, like many other talented and bright young men in America, had a rather typical start at Yale: have an idea/dream, find a soulmate, work on the idea.

While pursuing a degree in computer science at Yale, Ries took cues from young techies in Silicon Valley who had no problem getting VC firms to back their software dreams. So he and a roommate started CatalystRecruiting.com, an online database of student résumés, and lined up their own slice of the VC pie. “In retrospect it was not such a good idea for investors to give money to kids who just barely knew what they were doing,” Ries says. “They were just throwing money at these companies. But when the bubble burst we had no chance.”

This first idea failed along with ideas and dreams of many others in the same dot.com lot. His next go? There.com.

Soon another lesson would begin. Ries describes There.com as a “traditional VC-model startup,” characterized by high fixed costs, a focused marketing strategy—and an underdeveloped sense of what consumers want. “They start a marketing buzz and a beautiful PR launch,” he says of the strategy too often pursued by startups, There.com included. Ries rattles off other hallmarks: blow through cash by bulking up on staff, hire a vice-president of marketing “and the burn rate keeps growing.” The trouble is, “they never tested if there would be immediate consumer adoption,” Ries says. Worse, the company couldn’t easily adapt to change, he says. “It was rigid and top-down.” Neither Ries nor Harvey lasted long.

The second time failed as well. None of the two did not seem to be a killer startup and couldn’t not wither turbulent and volatile tech market conditions. He did not digest well the errors he has made during the first two gos. One pattern he could however clearly see in both of his failures was the perceived gap between the tech strategy and business strategy, i.e. the tech-centered approach versus the customer-centered one.

For Ries, try No. 3 would be a charm. After losing their jobs at There.com, Ries and Harvey began working on their own startup, IMVU. This time, Ries says, the lessons stuck. “I knew I couldn’t just be a tech entrepreneur,” he says. “The tech strategy needs to be determined by the business strategy, not the other way around,” he says. So the company’s first meeting was all about determining culture and values. “Startups don’t fail from lack of technology,” he says. “They fail from lack of customers.”

His discipline, creativity and determination led him and his partner-in-crime Harvey into founding IMVU. This time, he knew well how to organize his startup; he had learnt it a bitter way, but he did. This time he knew well what there was to know about founding a startup, he had two failures under his belt, and he was determined to succeed.

Early on in his tenure as IMVU’s chief technology officer, Ries audited a class at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. The instructor, Steve Blank, was so impressed with Ries’ attention to strategy and understanding of business R&D, that he called Shawn Carolan, a managing director at Menlo Ventures, and advised him to invest. Carolan describes Ries as the guy who would go out and read a business strategy book the moment someone mentioned it.

Fruits of his protracted efforts, failures and unfettered passion for what he believed started showing up, the first sign being almost a lucky strike.

Menlo became a backer, as did Allegis Capital (IMVU also had angel investors). “In the consumer market you have to have humility to admit you don’t know exactly what the consumer wants, so that you can be proactive and test features and make changes,” Carolan says. “Eric has an unusual amount of humility and he is unique as a tech person in his ability to be strategic in his business.”

IMVU showed all signs of success early on. Ries started practicing a lean approach for his own startup. Lean startups are resources-, money- and energy-frugal from the very beginning, and as a result are poised better for sustainable growth and long lifetime.

Part of that strategy was taking the product to the customer for testing as early as possible and keeping site development costs low. IMVU.com had a beta version up and running within six months. By contrast, there hadn’t been a test of There.com in its first five years. To prove that the product resonates with customers, there is a small fee associated with participation, and so far, the test phase has met or exceeded the corresponding financial targets.

Additionally, Ries has helped keep expenses in check by adopting a low-cost, low-risk software development process that maximizes ways to improve the site.

IMVU turned out to be an ultimate success and so did Ries, who is not only a full-time in his own startup but serves on boards of other leading tech boxes like pbWiki, Causes and KaChing.

Now the world is facing a recession, the worst one since the Great Depression. But entrepreneurial world is not necessarily crying doom and end to new ideas and initiatives. While some do, others are more moderate by providing an advice/how-to and still others are outright optimistic for launching a startup especially during this recession.

Make your choices.

Stories common and uncommon

Any conversation, casual discussion or even a short encounter might and usually is accompanied by a story. Some stories talk of peaks; some – of lows. All stories have one thing in common: their structure. Stories start by setting a context (location, main “players,” initial conditions), then proceed with developments (events, interactions) and conclude with an endnote. Many stories, like parables, impart not only useful information but also the between-lines, and unconsciously, an inevitable “conclusion.”

Below are two stories, which Ford Harding, the founder and President of Harding & Company, came across during his long and successful career path.

Bob Hillier, an architect who knows how to bring in business, showed how powerful the sadder-but-wiser anecdote can be, when a prospective client said to him, “I’ve had some bad experiences with architects. How can I be sure you’re going to bring this project in on budget.”  Everyone in the room knew that the engagement hung on the answer to this question.  I looked at Bob.  He responded with the following story:

When I had only been in business a short time, I won a project to help renovate a classroom building at a local university.  Our design substantially exceeded the client’s budget, but I thought it was so beautiful that I could talk them into spending the money. When I met with the facilities manager, he looked at my design and immediately asked what it would cost. I told him, and he handed me back my drawings and told me the engagement was over. I said I would redo the work to fit his budget, but he said no, he couldn’t work with someone who didn’t listen to him. I’ve never forgotten that lesson.

With that story, so much more effective than promises or statistics, he won the engagement.

Similar incidents litter professional careers and lives of everyone. Tale-like, informative and full of powerful implications, such events leave an indelible mark on those affected first-hand and make an unforgettable impression on those hearing their account.

Here is a story that I heard an attorney tell to an accountant he was hoping to get referrals from:

When I was a young lawyer, I was trying a case in front of the judge with a reputation for being hard-nosed. I found myself getting so wrapped up in my client’s case at one point that I stopped and apologized. The judge got mad at me right there in front of my client. “How dare you apologize,” he said. “If you don’t feel emotional about your client’s case, why should I?”  Ever since then, I have never felt embarrassed about being emotionally committed to my clients’ cases.

This story is far more persuasive than a statement like, “I will really fight for any client you refer to me.”

These two anecdotes were illustrative of two people who had learnt from their previous mistakes the hard way.  Stories are also a cure when facing awkward/frustrating but critical moments. There are many such stories associated to rainmakers. There is something visceral in our fascination with stories, especially when we feel relating to or identifying with them.

Stories can be inspirational and funny. In the business world, for example, Bill Gates is notorious for his association to a plethora of stories – some true, some exaggerated and some utmost lies. Here is one at the same time informative and entertaining.

“Bill Gates and the president of General Motors have met for lunch, and Bill is going on and on about computer technology. ‘If automotive technology had kept pace with computer technology over the past few decades, you would now be driving a V-32 instead of a V-8, and it would have a top speed of 10,000 miles per hour,’ says Gates.

“‘Or, you could have an economy car that weighs 30 pounds and gets a thousand miles to a gallon of gas. In either case, the sticker price of a new car would be less than $50. Why haven’t you guys kept up?’

“The president of GM smiles and says, ‘Because the federal government won’t let us build cars that crash four times a day!'”

Many other business anecdotes can be found here, here and here.

For all of those in the business world, remember that many stories, especially those with bad ending, are caused, ironically, by what Ambrose Bierce once defined in his Devil’s Dictionary.

Corporation: An ingenious device for obtaining profit without individual responsibility.

Happy storytelling.

How things sometimes turn out

This is a story about David, a good friend of mine from university days.

David was an unsmiling, straightforward, lonesome, and very candid person. From day one, it was obvious that his interests did not lie in physics (his domain of specialization). He didn’t have a knack for physics, math or computers. His knowledge of English was scarce. The results of his exams varied from mediocre to average. He neither tried to excel nor allowed himself to fail the courses he took. He floated…during four years of undergrad studies.

He finally obtained his bachelors in physics. After these four years, he had no knowledge, experience or aspiration in any particular field including physics. He didn’t want to continue in physics, but the alternative of serving two years in the army compelled him otherwise. He continued his studies on graduate level. In the meantime, he became restless. He wanted to quit the country and take a job in some place calm where he could drive trucks. “Me, the road and nothing else” he used to say. He preferred solitude.

Seeing many young people going to America, David decided to take his chances. One day he informed me that he found a “great opportunity to go to the US.” It was the American green card lottery. He read that there is a good chance of winning the lottery and getting a green card. He got very enthused and optimistic. He applied for it and some time after, surprisingly for everyone, he received a notification that he passed the first stage of selection. The second stage of the lottery was to take place in Moscow, Russia. David’s family was not financially stable, but he managed to scrap together ticket money, borrowing from friends and family. When he came back from Moscow, he announced that he had a good chance of obtaining the green card. There was a big change in David. A joking, superstitious and overly confident David seemed completely unrelated to the formerly grave, isolated life-hater he once was.

After two years and a Masters degree, David left his family – he was 24 then – and took off to America in search of good career path and money.

Months passed. I got an email that he settled with a Russian girl and undertook a long chain of short-lived temporary jobs on gas stations, cafés and trade centers. He didn’t sound happy or content. He was surviving. He wrote he spared some money and sent it to his family. No mention of trucks.

More months passed. Another email. He enrolled in a PhD programme in physics. What? Why? He said: “They pay well to doctoral students, and I don’t have to do crappy stuff.” He was in desperate need to bone up his computer skills in order to advance in his studies. He needed to learn computers from scratch, which he didn’t feel like doing. He managed to buy some time from his supervisor. However after six months or so, he quit. His supervisor finally understood that David would not be able to complete his studies. In addition, a sad incident, a quarrel with his Russian girlfriend who fabricated some false evidence, resulted in David’s incarceration in a local prison for a week. He didn’t have money; he was in prison; his family was not aware; few friends were aware and bailed him out. Shortly after, he was put into prison for three weeks, again based on false witnessing. After jail, he wouldn’t be able to find a job in that state because of his criminal record.

Three weeks later, he was out of prison. He had no money and no job. He managed to borrow enough money for a return ticket to Armenia. Four years passed since he left. What changed? David now spoke English fluently. He brought back with him no money, no promises for a job, no valuable knowledge, but many memories of unpleasant experiences, glimmers of which could be seen in his shadowy and grave expression of face.

He was 28… I met him when he was back few weeks prior to my visit. We had a drink and a long conversation. He was looking for a job; he needed a fresh start…

A Museum Of Personal Failure

Americans, it turns out, are not only in habit of establishing durable monuments and institutions commemorating their success and achievements, but also their failures.

Located in the Bucktown neighborhood, American Mini-Storage is one of Chicago’s best-kept secrets, but don’t expect it to stay that way for long. The self-storage facility houses what is arguably the nation’s most impressive collection of personal items accumulated during periods of failure.

A whole museum dedicated to failures. Not by accident many say that we learn more from failures than from successes. Some think that personal failure “becomes not an indicator of personal inadequacy, but a sign that you are expanding your horizons and making progress.”

“There are 250 storage units here, and each one has a different pathetic story to tell,” said Carlos Garcia, one of several client-relations managers at American Mini-Storage. “They run the gamut—from libraries of unread college textbooks to abandoned bolts of canvas to half-restored antique chests of drawers. Each storage locker is like a window into a separate life of disappointment and inadequacy.”

American Mini-Storage opened on Armitage Street in autumn of 1996. Despite being relatively new to the market, facility managers have amassed an impressive collection, thanks to location, word of mouth, and generous contributions from anonymous donors.

It also seems that many people, while not at ease with their present and past failures, still prefer to store or keep these somewhere – perhaps out of their sight – where they can mingle from time to time and be reminded.

“This is the Mueller space,” Garcia says. “It holds a crate of five partially written detective novels. And over here in the Sherman room, we have one of my favorite collections: the leftover inventory from a failed salad-dressing business. Oh, and take a look inside the Curtis collection. It boasts the decaying remains of an entire family’s failure, including a sixth-place intramural-tennis trophy, a moth-eaten gymnastics uniform, and a file cabinet jammed with overdraft bank notices.”

Gymnastic uniforms and overdraft bank notices and everything in between. Imagine that now this entire “wealth” of personal failures of countless types of human endeavors, thoughts and ideas is open to the public. What will be the long-term impact of such an exposition: failures exposition? Would we learn something new?  Or would be be reminded of our own well-hidden failures?

While the storage facility is by no means the only one of its kind, several factors have contributed to the breadth of its fascinating collection.

“Part of the reason for our success is that the neighborhood itself has been in drastic flux over the past 15 years,” Garcia said. “As a result of Bucktown’s gentrification, the Puerto Rican population has been displaced, followed by the artists and musicians, then the people on the first steps to their career. Everyone who has come and gone has needed a place to store painful reminders of the past. We are not just a storage facility, we are a repository for every imaginable setback a person can experience.”

Here is the entire The Onion article.

Murphy’s law of failure

Murphy’s Law (“If anything can go wrong, it will“) was born at Edwards Air Force Base in 1949 at North Base.

It was named after Capt. Edward Murphy (born in 1918), an engineer working on Air Force Project MX981, a project designed to see how much sudden deceleration a person/humanoid can stand in a crash with subsequent tests performed by medical doctor John P. Stapp, then an Air Force captain. Featured on the cover of Time magazine in the 1950’s, Stapp became known as the “Fastest Man on Earth” for his G-force experiments, which involved the use of rocket sleds. He was a famous researcher who helped develop restraint systems including automobile seatbelts.

Murphy was engaged in supporting this research using high speed centrifuges to generate G-forces. One day, Murphy’s assistant wired the harness, and a trial was run using a chimpanzee. The sensors provided a zero reading, however; it became apparent that they had been installed incorrectly, with each sensor wired backwards. It was at this point that a disgusted Murphy cursed the technician responsible and said, “If there is any way to do it wrong, he’ll find it,” despite having the possibility to calibrate and test the sensor installation prior to the test proper, which he declined, not getting along well with the project team.

The contractor’s project manager, present at the time when Murphy told the phrase, kept a list of “laws” and added this one, which he called Murphy’s Law.

While the origins of the law are still debated, everyone agreed that Stapp played a critical role in popularizing Murphy’s Law. After the incident, he gave a press conference during which he said that their good safety record on the project was due to a firm belief in Murphy’s Law and in the necessity to try and circumvent it. Aerospace manufacturers picked it up and used it widely in their ads during the next few months, and soon it was being quoted in many news and magazine articles.

Murphy’s Law was born .

One dark evening in 1990, Murphy’s car ran out of gas. As he hitchhiked to a gas station, while facing traffic, he was struck from behind by a British tourist who was driving on the wrong side of the road.

A variation of the original Murphy law favored among hackers is a takeoff on the second law of thermodynamics: The perversity of the Universe tends towards a maximum.

P.S. Stapp had a paradox of his own, Stapp’s Ironical Paradox, which says, “The universal aptitude for ineptitude makes any human accomplishment an incredible miracle.”

Sources: Murphy’s Laws site; The Desert Wings, March 3, 1978; Annals of Improbable Research (AIR)

My first big failure

After few stories about historic, technological and strategic failures, time is perhaps ripe for a personal story – my story.

I am originally from Armenia.

A year before my last high school year, I was in a school where I was actively participating in “Applied Economics” program introduced by Junior Achievement – a program designed for high school kids to acquaint themselves with various aspects of micro and macroeconomics. After completion of the program, there was a country-wide competition in applied economics and nearly 1000 pre-selected participants from all high schools across the country took part in it. I came 19th in this competition, and by virtue of being among the first thirty, we were offered one-week long, all-paid holidays in one of resorts in Armenia. This was a week full of economics-related games, stock exchange simulations, and constant interactions with most famous businessmen and bankers of the country. This was when I decided I would become an economist. Next year, however, I was forced to change school and spent my last high school year at a phys-math school.

I wound up in the physics – mathematics school # 1, the best and most prestigious high school in the country specialized in physics and mathematics. I spent my last high school year at this school. This was 1996. Post-Soviet era started few years before, but corruption and nepotism were ubiquitous. Demand for economists, lawyers and doctors soared, and universities reflected well that tendency. The only possibility to enter in an economics department in any of state universities at that time was to obtain maximum scores from three exams: English, Armenian, math.

My family and friends advised against wasting my choices and applying for another department – my father was especially insisting that I apply for physics department, cherishing hopes that I would follow in his steps (he is a nuclear physicist) after graduation. When time came to apply for undergraduate studies, I was still completely in love with economics (especially macro) and without hesitation specified three of my preferences (out of four possible) in one or another of economics or related departments. I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else. I was living in my own world and couldn’t care less on advises and hints of those who loved me and who had more life experience.

I made my decision and no one was able to make me change my mind. I went for exams. Examination committees were where loads of money circulation was happening. “Give me this much and your kid is guaranteed to get that score” was unwritten policy but was so widely known and followed as if it were legal. No one questioned, no one demanded justice. Corruption chain could be traced all the way to the top, including Ministry of Education. Besides one of subjects, mathematics, examination committees for other subjects were only giving high scores to those who paid or those with connections to committee members. I (and my parents) didn’t have enough money or connections.

Knowing well in advance these initial conditions, I still went for it. I did pass all exams and scored maximum in only one: mathematics. For the other two, English and Armenian, my work was scored worse than it was worth, predictably. Appealing to both committees provided no results. My total score from three required exams fell short by 2 or 3 (out of 20) from minimum pass score for all three departments that I applied for. This was one of the most painful times for me. I felt doomed not least because all young men above 16 not accepted to any university were automatically subject for conscription to the army. Armenian army however is (still) a place many readily pay loads of money to avoid. It is a waste of life for two years without guarantee that health and mental states of a person would be normal after the service (indeed, quite few return with different ailments and mental problems).

Luckily for me however, my fourth (and last) option specified in the application form was physics department. I put physics department as my last choice for exactly such a reason, but I hoped not to be in need of this option. If nothing else worked, I thought, I would at least have a high probability of not being drifted to the army but doing physics instead. After failing for the first three options, I came to the fourth (cheers Murphy): I was accepted to the physics department at Yerevan State University.

I forgot to mention that I could have gotten into the same physics department without any exam but by a simple interview due to a special agreement between my (physics – mathematics) high school and the university.

What I could have achieved by a simple 15-min effortless interview I achieved after passing four exams during one month (the three plus the physics exam), spending money, lot of nerves and countless unaccountable-for time and efforts.

Even when I started studying physics – not being “eligible” for the army – I felt horrible. I started my university days with gloomy expression of face and dark spirits. I really didn’t want to do physics. My future, as I saw and envisioned then, was anywhere but in physics. My perspective changed ever since.

Am I in physics now? No. But I did continue studying physics, which I later realized was more beneficial for me in terms of mentality and attitude than actual knowledge, on graduate and post-graduate levels.