2013: Goal, Theme & Challenge

Every year since 2008 I’ve done an exercise on December 31st where I jot down a few notes about the previous year and make predictions about the next year. I make guesses on 20 items regarding my life, the world, etc. The answers usually resemble a probability density function that I then evaluate the following year.

This year I wanted to add something new to my repertoire of yearly focus that I think fits well in a public setting like this blog. Stating these items publicly and providing regular updates should provide a bit of extra accountability and pressure to achieving them.

Goal – Something I want to accomplish that is measurable and relatively continual. eg. exercise more or watch less TV.

Theme – A central topic for the year – something I can look back on and pinpoint that N was the year of X. eg. develop independence or work like crazy

Challenge – Something big that I want to conquer. eg. climb Mr. Everest or run a 10 hour Ironman

Photo by: http://www.flickr.com/photos/44282411@N04/

2013 Goal: Create With My Hands

I am more and more realizing the consumer state I am immersed in and the many unintended consequences of it. Where once there were imperfect hand made goods we now have conformity.

A lot of my furniture is from IKEA – you probably have some of the exact same furniture. When I was younger I had furniture and toys that my grandfather made with his hands in the wood shop. These are some of my favorite things. They are unique and they were made with love. They took time to make and that time leaves room for thought.

I’ve made a few things with my hands; a surfboard, a bed frame and some art. I always enjoy it, even if it doesn’t work as well or look as nice as the store bought kind. It has a story to it and I get to tell that story to friends when they come to my house. I enjoy having company over and being able to share with them those stories and the use of the items I made.

So for 2013 my goal is to create more with my hands. To not buy when I can build.

Photo by: http://www.flickr.com/photos/calsidyrose/

2013 Theme: Grow As A Leader

In 2012 I was introduced to a lot of new leadership opportunities. At home, I got married – at work, I started managing a team that grew to 5 people. Leading is tough. No longer can you optimize your patterns and goals to your own interests and styles. You have to be flexible, you have to communicate more than you would think necessary and you have to be prepared for a lot of the unexpected.

Leading is something I intend to do a lot more of in my life. I would like to start another company and grow it. I would like to have kids. I have a lot to learn, but fortunately for me I have a lot of people to learn from.

Photo by: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dennis/

2013 Challenge: Surf Mavericks

I set this goal for myself last year on Facebook.


I took a few steps towards it, (including getting a board) but unfortunately, I never achieved it.

In June I injured my shoulder taking me out of commission from surfing for a few months. I thought things would heal up, but it is taking longer than I would like. I can surf some, but not enough to paddle into a 25ft+ wave.

Mavericks breaks in the winter, which means my next real window is next November-December. I’m hoping to be able to heal up, start training and get it done next December.

I plan on making regular updates for each of these to show what steps I am taking and how I have been progressing at each of them.

Innovation Session: Gathering Data on Myself

If you can measure it, you can improve it.

With that in mind I plan on measuring more things about myself in 2013 as I continue optimizing areas of my life. I currently do a quarterly review of how I spend my time and an annual 50K ft look – but I think there can be benefit to a daily granularity.

In general, I am a strong advocate of data based decision making.  Often this does not require complicated computation or advanced statistical techniques – it simply requires having the right question in mind and some relevant data to look at over time. Trends will show themselves. This is especially true when the area in question is not already highly optimized.

As anyone that works with data will tell you, though, getting clean relevant data is often what most of the effort goes into on a project.

There are a lot of really cool things going on with self measurement right now – it is sometimes called quantified self . The focus on it is making it easier to find tools that seamlessly track aspects of your life. Some that come to mind are:

Tonight, I’m going to put some energy into creating a system that lets me easily gather data about myself. Hopefully I’ll be able to iterate through a few versions before the new year starts.


  1. Daily – I have done some sampling before but want something more consistant and granular
  2. Easy – it is hardly optimizing if the process costs more time & energy than the results
  3. Diverse – it should include structured & unstructured data, qualitative & quantitative about a wide range of topics
  4. Actionable – I want to stick to those things which I can impact
  5. Future-proof – there are questions I will want to ask later that I don’t know yet

First off I need to select a system to use. I was thinking about daytum.com but am hesitant because of the fact that the founders now work at Facebook. I don’t want to rely to heavily on a system that might become unsupported or shut down shortly.

After a bit of looking, it seems like most of the forward thinkers are using custom tools. I’m going to opt for Google Docs & use the form tool which gives me both ease of entry and organized storage. I’m then going to set up a reoccurring calendar event that will pop up a link to the form every day at 8:00 pm on my phone. That should take care of requirements #1 & #2.


Now to come up with questions – I am immediately thinking of three categories I want to measure.

  1. Things I want to quantify so I can later try to correlate them
  2. Things I want to codify so I can later look back on them
  3. Things I want to ask so they will stay on my mind

1. Quantifiable info

The first few items will likely include items I just want to get raw number for and which are fairly factual by nature. I’m guessing that most of these will be interesting but more so when used to shed light on other items.

  • How many hours did you sleep?
  • How many hours did you work?
  • How many hours of deep concentration did you have?
  • How many hours did you read for?
  • How many meaningful conversations did you have?
  • Did you exercise?

Then there are items I’m going to put numbers to that are a little more abstract. These ones are starting to drift away from requirement #4 as they are less actionable – but I suspect they will indicate problems with the items above.

Health in each of the following:

  • Physical
  • Mental
  • Social
  • Emotional
  • Spiritual
  • Vocational

2. Situational items

These questions, I’m hoping will provide deeper context for the items listed above. Mini-snapshots of my life.

  • What is the thing you are most excited about today?
  • What is the thing you are most worried about today?
  • What was one thing you accomplished today?
  • What was one way you failed today?

3. Items to keep on my mind

There are some things, that by keeping them on the top of your mind will affect your actions. I’m hoping these questions have that result.

  • What new thing did you do today?
  • How did you serve others today?
  • What did your actions today say about your character?
  • How were you a loving husband today?
  • What time did you spend today that you now wish you hadn’t?


 Here is the final product on my phone – just in time to wrap the session. It is a bit long at 24 questions, but I like a lot of it. I’m going to consider the next 10 days a test run and make some tweaks before settling on something to consistently use for 2013.

Edit: After a few days of working with the longer list I realized that I needed to drop a few questions. I was able to get it down to 13 without losing too much by dropping the first set of quantifiable questions. I’m not too concerned with time tracking here and that I can get fairly accurate data on that with a sampling method I use elsewhere.

I also realized that for the health questions, 1-4 was not a granular enough scale so I’ve changed that to 1-10.

Innovation Session: Pothole-No-More

I live in San Francisco and bike everywhere. It is the fastest and easiest way to get around the city. There are a few things that make the life of bikers in the city difficult though; hills, rain, cars & road conditions. Tonight I’m going to invest some energy into a creative solution to one of those – potholes.


There seem to be two steps in the process of a pothole getting fixed. First, the pothole has to be identified by the necessary party, second, a crew needs to show up with materials to fix it.

Part One: Identifying potholes

San Francisco is actually pretty advanced in how it deals with potholes. The public works department lets you call into 311 where you can report a hole and they will add it to a queue to get fixed. Unfortunately like most things the government does, speed is not their strength. On the other side of the state in San Diego, one citizen got so frustrated after repeatedly calling about a pothole that he eventually fixed it himself.

Part Two: Fixing potholes

Apparently pothole fixing presents a few limitations. The first problem – like that of any government funded operation is budget constraints. The second is that some potholes get fixed hastily and then break again (sounds like software). Apparently the city would need to spend upwards of $40 Million per year to keep the roads in even decent condition. We currently don’t have the money and raising taxes doesn’t always go over well.

An individual pothole can cost between $20-40 to be properly fixed which isn’t a ton on its own, but apparently there are over one million potholes in San Francisco. Woah! The causes include traffic, water & damaged sewers – all of which the roads are repeatedly subjected to – so new potholes pop up every year.


Combining the citizen servant-hood of the aforementioned San Diegan, Primo Vannicelli, with mobile infrastructure and a micro-payment bidding system I’ve come up with ‘Pothole-No-More’.

Potholes are something that affect people personally and specifically. While a resident might have a hard time agreeing to a tax increase for a general repairs project – they would feel closer tied to a specific pothole that they encounter on their everyday commute. You know – that pothole you always have to dodge on your way home.

The system lets you use your mobile phone to capture the location and a picture of the pothole which is then submitted for processing.

Google maps on an iPhone?Instagram filters recommended

We then categorize (read: mechanical turk, image recognition &/or task rabbit) each pothole to come up with a project completion cost. Once the pothole is processed it goes live on the site where anyone can donate money towards it getting fixed.

No that is not VLC player - though VLC does cost $0 - bless them.

 Once the full amount has been donated the funds are routed to the city to be repaired by the appropriate team. ALTERNATE ENDING: we take the money, send a crew to get supplies and fix the pothole ourselves using the cover of night and ninja outfits to avoid arrest!


I can think of a number of ideas to iterate on as this idea gets traction.

1) Potholes get cheaper to fix the more you fix – economies of scale and all. If this gets popular enough we can use our friend math to optimize the best route for repairs and batch the fixes in an appropriate manner.

2) With this system potholes in areas of high traffic will likely get fixed sooner which is good. There might also be a bias however towards potholes in more affluent areas being fixed – as people living there will have more discretionary income to donate. We could explore charging a slight premium on potholes and using the excess money towards fixing potholes in other parts of the city. We might also need to explore using some of those funds for app maintenance.

3) Some cities won’t be on board with a project like this. Tough. If you’re not getting arrested or sued, you’re probably not disrupting hard enough. Working with local governments will certainly be important though – most will likely be fine having citizens provide extra money towards public projects – but the implementation will look different in every city. Having local champions help get the app introduced to the city will have to be a part of the growth hacking plan.

4) Army of robotic pothole fixers. Automation for the win!

5) Map-my-ride feature. Use the app to automatically map your frequent commutes and dedicate a set amount per month towards fixing any potholes on that commute line. Don’t just fix the problem – get proactive and make sure new potholes are addressed quickly before they get out of hand.

Final Note

I am not currently planning on doing this project – tonight was more of a thought exercise. If it sounds interesting to you though – you have my blessing to follow through with it.

If you want to pitch in but are looking for other people to help – contact me using the link above and I’ll connect you to whoever else replies. Safe biking!