Gamification is Poised for a Podcast-like Resurgence

Gamification Origins

Gamification is a stupid word. I think at this point just about all of us agree on that. Yet despite the words silliness, the definition is important: the process of applying game-based elements to non-game activities. We humans have been trying to gamify non-game situations (at least knowingly, at scale, in business, according to this definition) since the 1990s. That should come as no surprise given the influence the video game revolution of the 1970s had on youngsters of that time.

Twenty years later the kids that grew up in front of arcade cabinets and playing early-gen home consoles were heading off to college and joining the workforce. Their mental models, full of Pac-Man, Space Invaders, and Galaga patterns, mechanics, and scoring systems, acted as the lens through which they viewed nearly everything.

It was inevitable that they would bring systems of play with them, both to the work they did and to the way they thought. As they did, people took notice when things worked, copied their ideas, and then tweaked and hyped gamification until the weight of the gluttonous idea collapsed on itself, thereby negating most of the footing it had gained.

Game Over

To the masses, gamification faded as quickly as it came. Google searches for gamification peaked in September 2012, after a half-decade of fever pitch hype.  Amara’s Law says “We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.” Side note, Amara’s Law would be a great title for an RPG.

The cause of death for gamification, I think, was its rapid ascendance in our psyche as the silver bullet for moving people through unfriendly systems with the intention of extracting as much value from them as possible.

Need a student to learn something? Gamify it.

Need an employee to be more productive? Gamify it.

Need a customer to be more loyal? Gamify it.

I could go on and on – that list is endless. Where the silver bullet failed though, was that the implementation of these ideologies used simple mechanics to push people through systems, and I’ll say this again, focused on the extraction of value rather than the creation and exchange of it. Before people had time to ask why and how gamification worked, consultants and designers were throwing point systems, leaderboards, and badges on anything they could hoping those minimal incentives would push users to do more. To want more. To buy more.

Points, badges, and leaderboard mechanics can be important for some gamified systems success, yes, but most implementations forgot that those systems were merely the scoreboards of the games being played. Points, badges, and leaderboards (or PBLs as they’ve come to be known) are not they themselves the game.

The hype of gamification didn’t deliver,, and the phrase itself was so pervasive that it reached a point of cringe-inducing cliché whenever it was used. Our collective culture constructed a conscious block for mentions of the practice, and it’s been largely ignored or muted since.

But it’s there, in that out-of-sight out-of-mind basement, that the cognoscenti have continued to hypothesize and test the mechanisms that make gamification what it is. It’s there, that modern innovations in technology, and further research into behavioral economics and neuroscience have been applied to the frameworks that lay under gamification.

And it’s there, where the word gamification is hardly used but its essence still permeates, that the concept has gone through a string of evolutions to become a stronger, more diverse, more capable – albeit more complex – version of itself.

The purveyors of the hype train a decade ago may disagree. They may still sore from being burned by the number of consumer audiences they tried to inflict PBLs upon, but the rapid failure of their work was their own fault. They’re likely the same people that have run from social media platform after platform, scratching the surface and never seeing results. They’re the groups that hyped VR and built cheesy systems that customers didn’t use. They’re the clowns that are cobbling together too-simple Messenger chat-bots and voice recognition apps for the Alexa’s of the world, with the only aspiration of being as functional as the already much-hated voice navigation phone trees. No doubt in time they’ll declare that they too don’t work and will start pushing something new. These are the modern day snake oil salesmen, except these days they even have the snake oil to sell you, just an ever changing recipe.

Our first go-round with 8-bit gamification ran out of lives too soon. But what I think you will see is that this time around, the new 64-bit gamification system is ready to explode.

Marketing Evolutions

If you take an aggressively oversimplified view of marketing during the last hundred or so years, it’s safe to posit that the business function has gone through some changes.

Originally, marketing was basically just made up of sales functions. Something was made, someone went out and told others about it, and subsequently sold it to them. If people were interested enough after seeing someone else use the thing, maybe they would even come to the salesperson. But at the core of it, was that one person, with the insight and swagger and salesmanship that could get people to bite .

Things got more complicated when marketing decided that it’s main function should be showing people “the thing”. The salespeople needed the good leads. So marketing became advertising. Plus, getting people to come to you was far easier than trying to go out to each and every one of them.  Marketing became less about the hard sell to the customer, and more about spreading word of your product (often with a disregard for truth – hello regulation), so that people would come to see the salesperson.

But as marketing and sales diverged, they quickly realized their distinct need for proximity to one another.. Every operational discussion became “sales and marketing have to work hand in hand.” But how do you symbolize that work and the hand-off from a mass messaging strategy to the hard sell? How about a marketing funnel, made ever-so-simple with the application of the acronym AIDA? It so very conveniently helps us symbolize the movement of a person from Awareness at the top-of-the-funnel (tofu) to the Action at the bottom-of-the-funnel (bofu). And if we want to be REALLY customer centric, we’ll slap a Satisfying “S” at the end, so those customer service people feel included too. Voila! Marketing becomes the funnel. That is, until we acknowledge the leaks.

The more we know about something, the more we realize that we don’t know anything about it at all. As we adopted the marketing funnel, we allowed ourselves to think more complexly about the systems at play. But then we gained access to more and more data, thanks to technological advances. The data said that our attempts to linearize consumer purchase decisions with a funnel. AIDAS turned into AIAAIAIDDDIIAIDDA…..S? Add in multiple devices per user, and poof – that right there is some finely observed chaos. So what do we do? We revise our definition of marketing again to be based upon… say it with me, the Customer Journey. And we love journeys now because they’re non-linear! If the customer isn’t moving through the system, we can just diagnose that they must be looping and need more content. Problem solved, right?

The journey we measure, now covers the space from *pre-awareness* to *brand advocacy*. That’s a large swath of land to manage, so while most of the visuals created depicting the journey make it look simple, it’s far from it. It’s great that we’re finally thinking about how all these pieces fit together, and with so many moving and changing concurrently, it’s really difficult to manage.

I know you’re probably thinking “thanks for the history lesson, but you said this had something to do with games.”

Well, next we’ll need something to help us understand a customer’s movement throughout the journey. To make sense of the motivations that compel a consumer from one stage to the next, for the right reasons, for the right value exchange. Have you ever used a 5-by to made a piece of content that was supposed to move a consumer along their decision journey that didn’t work? Then you know what I mean.

Attention is a currency. For messaging to be given attention there has to be either, 1) value within each individual interaction with your brand or 2) a whole gob of value at the end of all interactions with your brand. Gamification, done thoughtfully, establishes how to assess those value transactions and how to make progress with your messaging.

Datas Ex Machina

If you’re going to manage the customer journey properly, you need one thing more than anything else: data. I guess we’re lucky then that our data sources, storage, and reporting capabilities have progressed tremendously since our last go-round with gamification.

We now have more and better data on individuals that don’t know our brand, those that do, and those that really-really do. Today’s’ digital tracking (and increasingly, offline tracking) allows us to maintain robust real-time databases, to link those databases with hundreds of others, and to query them simultaneously for instant results. This access to consumer data allows us to paint elaborate pictures of our audiences, and their needs and desires. These databases store consumers history and algorithms can predict their future. Properly analyzed data can tell us where consumers struggle, and where they’re apt. The data can tell us how to engage in a way that makes consumers, the real humans on the other end, want to actually engage back with us.

If we’re smart enough to have that portrait for each one of our customers (not personas), then we’re beginning to have the underlying structure we need to effectively implement a gamified system into our entire marketing ecosystem.

Netflixification

Another big change in the last decade has been the shift to subscription-based services like Netflix, Spotify, and Blue Apron. Businesses have gone from a buy once mentality, to what is essentially a membership model. Heck even Microsoft is starting to sell their XBOX game consoles as part of a subscription model. Activity looping, like membership and subscriptions, is ABUNDANT in games.

As humans, we love the safety of repetition. But also quickly get bored with it. Game designers have for years found ways to adjust games in-flight so that the boredom arising from the repetition is mitigated. As brands and non-profits alike come to grips with the cyclicality of their work, and as those kinds of systems become increasingly more common, they’re a veritable breeding ground for gamification. Every year members renew service, but what considerations are made that need accounted for? How can you make that transaction more exciting? More inviting?

Consistency, Familiarity, Simplicity = Experience

The final piece of the gamification 2.0 mentality is our renewed focus on Customer Experience. You know, the end to end experience. The online and offline experience. Every touchpoint crafted in the perfect way, for just that user and where they are in their journey, with the right message delivered at the right time in the right medium. All done by cheap and efficient AI so we don’t have to pay real employees to do anything. The holy grail of marketing.

Right now, people are obsessive about “experience”, and they should be. Maybe not quite as pumped as they are for design thinking, but that’s another post. And I totally get it. Getting experiential consistency, familiarity, and simplicity right is critical. Establishing solid constraints, feedback mechanisms, and recovery options are just as. But you know what modern UX has in common with game design? Everything I just said. Modern mass-applied UX is many cases is following in the footsteps of what game designers have been doing for decades. The only difference is that game designers have been crafting these systems in worlds where they have full control, so it’s no wonder it’s taken us a bit of time to figure out how to make that play in the real world where we aren’t in control of anything.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some UX innovations that video games need to learn from too – it’s a two-way street after all. But games themselves are self-contained experiences. If you’re going to craft an experience, you should accept some insights from a domain that’s been successful for hundreds of years.

Motivatification

You might be asking yourself “if we’ve got the journey figured out, and we’ve got the data figured out, and we’ve got the experience figured out… why do we need gamification?”

To address that, we need to explore where the cognoscenti have been spending their time with gamification. It’s not unexpected, but it is a bit of a deviation. The experts who continued working in game-based systems found that the application of game mechanics, as I mentioned earlier, were not enough.

The most successful implementations of gamification relied on a deeper level of design, that provoked humans into acting. Those implementations have been in educational/learning arenas. They knew the systems would fit perfectly in this space, but have to finely tune the use case for each environment. They’ve found that successful gamification is reliant upon motivational systems that are balanced between extrinsic motivators and intrinsic motivators, and between black-hat and white-hat motivators. And it’s those understandings that will start to creep into the regular business world, to be adopted for better, and likely for worse by the nefarians that always show up when something is working.

Where gamification 1.0 was merely the process of applying game elements to non-games, modern gamification 2.0 has become more of a motivational design. Or as prominent gamification author Yukai Chou (@yukaichou) calls it, Human-Focused Design. We are after all humans, with 99.9% of the same genetic and evolutionary composition. Our lizard brains react with fear and love in similar ways regardless of geography, skin color, or deity. Good human-focused design starts with that at the core, and works its way out – all the way out – to those points, badges, and leaderboards we started with. That’s the difference between good and bad gamification. Between where we were, and where we are now.

Epilogue

So do I really think gamification is going to blow up like podcasting did after languishing for a while? Very much yes! All the underlying technological tools that enable gamification are reaching a point of usable maturity, while neuroscience and psychology are helping distill down specific human conditions we’re all attuned to. All these elements are coming together at a time when marketers are finally exploring meaningful, lasting relationships with consumers by adding value to their lives, which is btw, the real goal of any business.

Here’s to hoping that the next wave of gamification does just that.

What is The Gen Z Frequency?

I was selected by publisher Kogan Page to read an advance copy of one of their upcoming titles, The Gen Z Frequency (scheduled for release on September 28). Over the last few weeks, I’ve worked my way through the text with relative ease. It’s a well written, fun book.

In what I would now call the quintessential guide-book for marketing to Gen Z, authors Gregg Witt and Derek Baird explore everything from finding relevance with the cohort to the procedural steps needed to align with Gen Z’s culture and expectations. The book’s tips and frameworks are explored via well-known brands, but examples including Nike, Lego, Carhartt, Glossier aren’t the same stories you’re used to hearing. There are even some case studies from unnamed companies exposing how they’ve failed trying to implement tactics to reach Gen Z. It’s all incredibly insightful.

Here are some key take-aways about Gen Z that you’ll get to explore even further throughout the book.

Gen-Z:

  • is comprised of individuals born between 1996 and 2011 (approximately)
  • is estimated to be a little more than 1.9 billion, or 27% of the global population, with the most significant proportions being in South America and Sub-Saharan Africa
  • is estimated to be between 62-65 million people in the US
  • has a minimal tolerance for companies that don’t take the time to get to know them individually (you’re going to need better data)
  • expects brands to see and adapt to trends before they become cliched
  • rejects being called anything besides Gen-Z, as the notion of a cohesive generation is nonsense to them
  • is open to all ethnicities, races, genders and orientations; and expects that those values will be reflected in the brands they are loyal to
  • manage their social media profiles more like brands, having watched and learned from Millennials mistakes of over-sharing
  • tends to reject companies without a clear brand story that they can ascribe cogent values to, if they can’t find out who you are and what you stand for, they won’t risk buying from or working for you
  • seeks brands that connect with their passions and interests, and contribute to their lives (are you adding value, or selling stuff)
  • expects “unique”, hyper-individualism is the norm
  • wants to interact with companies who produce content that makes them feel cool and look unique, using all the digital assets available today like emoji, artificial and mixed reality, stickers, etc.

The latter half of the book is filled with deliberate examinations of and recommendations for building a marketing ecosystem that works for Gen Z. The authors expose you to their “youth culture engagement playbook”, which, by itself, is probably worth the price of the book. They also break down specific social strategies for each and every dominant digital platform, explain content strategies and appropriate brand voice development, and they explore how you can parlay engagement with your content into the creation of a vibrant community.

There’s a lot here, and the book doesn’t waste words. Gregg and Derek are the experts that have been working with the biggest brands in this space, and their experience and omniscience is clearly evident. It’s an engaging and illuminating look into the next big driver of our economy, and subsequently, your organization.

The Gen Z Frequency is a worthwhile way to start exploring the audience you’ll be working with, and the marketing operations you’ll need in place in the not-so-distant future.

My 2018 Personal Balanced Scorecard

Every year, I take a different approach to resolutions. Since 2013 I’ve crafted a personal balanced scorecard to guide my personal behaviour, and, hopefully, improve it. Most of this is pretty personal to me, but I’m happy to talk with anyone about it if you have questions.

For the last few years, I’ve broken my scorecard into four categories; mind, body, spirit, and wallet. Not every item fits perfectly into a category, but I’ve done my best to organize them in a way that seems most logical.

Mind / Learn 

  • Read books for 30 minutes a Day
    • Goal: Read 24 Books in 2018
      • New
        • Great at Work (Jan)
        • Empower: What happens when students own their learning (Jan)
        • Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus (Jan)
        • Blood, Sweat and Pixels
        • Slaughterhouse Five
        • In Praise of Slowness
        • Die Empty
        • Superbetter
      • Reread
        • Octalysis
        • Nonsense
        • Ready Player One
        • In the Line of Fire
  • Use Duolingo for 1 Lesson Per Day
    • Goal: Learn basic Mandarin
  • Spend an hour a week training w/ After Effects
    • Goal: Fluency in core skills
      • Organization
      • Masks
      • Animation Curves
      • Kinetic Text
      • Motion Titles
      • 2D to 3D images
      • Screen Replacement
      • Double Exposure

Body 

  • Workout every day
    • Goal: Weight – 250, BMI – <35
      • Walk 30 min or 1 mile or Leg/Arm/Core Sets
      • Daily back stretches
  • Zero soda intake
    • Goal: reduced heartburn and sleeplessness
      • Focus on 1 gallon of water daily
  • Visit physicians for ailments
    • Goal: Improved mobility/health
      • Left knee
      • Spine T7-T10 area

Spirit 

  • Meditate for 15 min a day
    • Goal: Relaxation/Mindfulness
  • Engage thoughtfully about how weekly church scripture applies to my life
    • Goal: Build habit of bringing message home
  • Volunteer 1x per quarter
    • Goal: Support orgs/missions I care about
      • Focused on core focus areas of hunger, shelter, or equality
      • Possible: Iowa Homeless Youth Shelters via Nationwide Volunteer Match

Wallet

  • Pay off smallest fed student loan – $3k
    • Goal: Reduce monthly bill obligations
  • Do all 100k maintenance to Venza – $1.2k
    • Goal: Preserve condition
  • Do all 50k maintenance xB – $500
    • Goal: Preserve condition
  • Contribute to kids 529 plan
    • Goal: Double existing balances

What Can Video Game Design Teach Marketers?

It’s more than the gamification buzz that’s been thrown around.

 I’m a total nerd. It took me a long time to realize how big of nerd I really am though. In high school, I was friends with people that played sports (when I did not). Being friends with “jocks” clouded my self-assessment accuracy, and drowned out all of the Pokemon I watched which would have normally allowed me to easily establish my nerditude. I also spent a lot of time playing video games, both with friends and alone. Video games offered a source of connection and camaraderie with jocks that I couldn’t fake on the court/field/pitch, and an escape into a more heroic self when I was alone.
College was a lot of the same. Other than my roommate, I didn’t socialize much. I spent most of my time studying, learning how to film and edit video, learning to do a little bit of coding, and re-watching movies pursuant to my film criticism courses. All of that learning led me down the marketing/communications route, which I fell in love with. Marketing, coupled with my newly found interest in criticism of movies (and in turn everything else I encountered) let me down the road of looking at all of those video games I’d played differently.

Fast forward a dozen years, and here I am. Sucked down a flooded rabbit hole of marketing, drowning in buzzwords and phrases preaching “starting with why”, “building the customer life-cycle experience journey round”, and “content and context and con-queso are kings”. As I’ve struggled to parse together the thought-leadership from a million different and disconnected applications of modern marketing theology, I think I’ve found a group of disciplined professionals building a framework for what modern marketers are trying to say.

That group of unwitting pioneers are video game designers. Game design is a complicated thing, grounded tightly in behavioral psychology. That obviously closely aligns it with marketing as a discipline, but game designers have been testing and perfecting their craft differently than marketers for the last 30 years. To that end, I think we have a lot to learn. And while I’m obviously not a video game designer, I feel confident enough that my understanding of the concepts will allow me to make the connections over to a marketing application far better than the standard analogy post we’d usually get from the idea.

I’ve spent some time researching and dissecting this already with the intention of putting together a blog post. Unfortunately, I’m already well over 5k words and feel like I could finish with 3x that. So, I’ve decided to turn it into a (small) book. I know nothing about writing a book, or getting it edited. I only know how to put words down on “paper”. So that’s where I’m starting. I’m excited about how it’s making me think differently, and I can’t wait to keep working on it.  I’ll keep you posted.

 

PC Upgrade

Last month I decided it was time to do a new custom PC build. It wasn’t much on the “budget” side, but I did already have a Nvidia GTX 1070 that I’d picked up last year, so I didn’t have to worry about a GPU.

Here’s a capture from CAM of the system upon completion:

CamImage

Down the left-hand details pane you’ll see the basic stats.

It’s not an uncommon setup, so I’m not going to run any benchmarks. I’m not overclocked (obv. with the 7700), so no cool water cooler.

Eventually I’ll add in some LED strips to take advance of the jled port on the mobo, and some LED Corsair Vengeance RAM to brighten up the guts a bit. Oh, and the case is last year NZXT s340 (last year’s model, of which the new came out 10 days after I completed this build.)  Even for being last years model, I do love this case. The cabling options are choice, I’ve never had a box that looked this clean.

[picture incoming]

The primary reason for the build was handling HD video for editing in Premiere. As I seem to be doing more and more video worklately , both professionally and personally, my old rig just wasn’t keeping up. I picked up the GPU last year to help out my six year old i7-870, and it did its job for gaming, but the system still struggled to keep up on big video file renders.

Alas, new beefy desktop that should last another 6 years. Also, building a PC is so much more fun and rewarding that buying one. But if you’ve read this far, you already knew that.

My Homelessness Video Script

Dialogue(conscious thought dialogue)

0:00
Good Morning Iowa, welcome to November!

We’re digging in to fall, the holiday season is nearly upon us, and so as we take a break from plowing through the bucket of leftover Halloween candy, it’s a good time for chit-chat

I love Iowa. Were an amazing state, but even great states can always do better at a few things. 

So let’s channel that sugar energy … because its time to talk about something we’d rather not think about, especially this time of year.. homelessness. I know, I know. It’s not fun and it’s complicated, but it’s really important. 

Every individual person has some preconceived opinion about what homelessness is and what creates it, and how to fix… no, how to manage it. But, just, bear with me. Let mash the reset button on those preconceptions, and try to reconstruct how it is we think about homelessness. 

But before I can get into this, we’ve got to look at some definitions because it’s… complicated.

1:00

Homelessness is primarily documented by counting persons suffering at a point in time. To capture this, collective data is reported by various sources like shelter/nutrition/etc, on how many folks are trying being served by providers. Homeless individuals are defined in the social services space as being sheltered and unsheltered. But the point in time numbers only include people who are able to be counted. Unfortunately there are always individuals that aren’t able to be counted. 

Another measure, usually of service capacity is the number of “beds” available. Beds are important for understanding overnight occupancy, but in terms of need and movement throughout the shelter system. It lets you compare demand to supply. (You’ve maybe heard “beds” used in the hospitality or healthcare industries, which is pretty appropriate, but I’ll get into that in a minute. Like the fact that we only have 2 psychiatric beds for every 100,000 residents, which places us last in the country, compared to the national average of 12 beds per 100k residents. http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/editorials/2016/06/11/editorial-mentally-ill-locked-out-psychiatric-care/85550738/)

The final term to understand, and this one is important, mostly because of money, is the definition of Chronic Homelessness. You see, the federal government has a definition for chronic homelessness so that it can allocate funding to social service organizations. Anyway, to be chronically homeless, and I’m paraphrasing, you must: have a disabling condition AND either have been homeless for the last year or have had four episodes of homelessness in the prior three years.

2:00

Types of housing

 • Day Shelters 

 • Emergency Homeless Shelters 

 • Halfway Housing 

 • Permanent Affordable Housing 

 • Drug And Alcohol Rehab

 • Supportive Housing 

 • Shared Housing

 • Rooming House or Boarding House 

————————–

Cut scene to location 2

Open letter to homelessness – Why you gotta be so complicated? As humans, we have a hard time fixing complicated things. No no no, not even that, we even have a hard time just grasping the tenets of complicated problems, let alone fixing them. And here you go mixing economics and health and religion and interpersonal relationship into a drudge of confusion. 

————————–

3:00

OK, we’re done with definitions. Now for some Iowa stats. Here are basic numbers on Iowa that you probably already know:

 – 99 Counties [state map], 

 – 3.2 Million People 

 – and 1.1 Million Families – links to the last census data in the doobly-do (that’s the comments area). 

And then, here are some homeless statistics. According to the 2015 Point In Time assessment (which is done every year the last wed of January), in the state of Iowa we have: 

  • 12,918 individuals who were considered homeless and sough support from some type of organization

  • And 8,174 individuals who were at risk for homelessness and sough support from an organization

   § 21,092 Total

 – Included in those numbers are the 2,424 families made up of 5,800 people; including 3,392 children under the age of 18 years (who were served by shelters, transitional housing or permanent supportive housing.)

So 1.1 million families in Iowa, and 2,400 sought help for being homeless or at risk of it. That’s 0.22% of our population, which is incredibly manageable for a group of people who pride themselves on their “niceness”. But helping them happens one person, and one family at a time. No silver bullets here.

When those individuals receive services, they self report the cause of their situation. Those causes are aggregated into four buckets: 

 • 52% say economics caused their homelessness. 

 • 16% say disability, including mental health or an addiction 

 • 21% report a breakdown in their support network. and

 • 11% respond Jail or other causes

And while they may report one of those causes, a problem with one almost always snowballs into problems with the others. 

3:45
So we’re left with a complicated situation, where different forms for homelessness impacting individuals of different cultures, backgrounds, and family composition require different resources and funding. And the way we’ve traditionally handled this, at least in Iowa, is through an amalgamation of funding and service providers (all with noble intentions) that have to operate across a multi-year spectrum moving individuals through a train of housing providers, all the while trying to stabilize each individuals health, employability, income, and most importantly relationships. 

Wait, what? Relationships Seth? Yes. 

The relationship piece of this is really where most homeless starts and end. Most people have a certain aptitude in life and relationship skills, so that when economic or other troubles arise, they’re able to find social support through friends and family. When extraneous factors limit someone’s ability to turn to those individuals (maybe drugs or crime or plain old struggle with human courtesy), they’re left to find a way through the system we’ve established. And then, if they struggle with that, the slide from short term, to long term, to chronic homelessness happens. And the further someone wanders into the maze, the more difficult and most costly it is to help them back out. And all of that doesn’t even touch on the psychological consequences of being homeless, being both internally against yourself and stereotyped by others.

4:30
That’s a lot to take in. But the reason I wanted to do this video was to illustrate that even though the situation seems limited (20k people out of more than 3 million), it’s incredibly complicated for each individual facing homelessness, both in the personal obstacles they have to overcome, but also in the system that we’ve designed. But just because it’s challenging, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. If you’re interested in making a contribution, volunteering time or clothing or food items, I’m putting a list of links below for you check out.

———–

A lot of this got edited out, but here’s the video if you want to watch: https://youtu.be/2WrBXNcvNgQ

2017 Personal Balanced Scorecard

# Mind / Professional

  • Read 1 book p/month (track at Goodreads.com)
  • Dedicate 30 minutes p/night to reading
  • January: What Is Not Yours is Not Yours
  • Write 1 long-form blog post per month (sethmsparks.com)
  • Dedicate 60 min p/week to research, draft, and/or proof.
  • Vlog 1x per month (YouTube.com/vlogwithseth)
  • Dedicate 60 min p/week to research, draft, and/or proof.
  • *Continue*:
  1. Reading Scott Monty and Chris Penn weekly newsletter
  2. Reading “gold marketing” RSS feed daily
  3. Reading DSM Register/Wash Post/Fox News/etc daily

# Body / Health (Track at twitter.com/healthyseth)

  • Lose 5 pounds per month (tracked at loseit.com)
  • Q1: Follow daily-do’s –Q2/3/4: Changes TBD based on success
  • Do not eat out for lunch
  • Maintain strict portion control at dinner when hungriest
  • Walk a 10 minute mile
  • Walk 30 minutes 3x p/week, address speed and difficulty and progress
  • Establish benchmark end of Q1
  • Sleep 8.5 hours p/night
  • *Continue* spine health regiment, focusing on pain management and flexibility
  1. 15 min routine each morning; simple back stretches, side-walks, hamstring stretches
  2. 30 min routine each night; advanced back stretches, squats, clamshells, & 10 min of icing

# Spirit / Religion

  • Prayer each morning and night
  • Meditate 10 minutes p/day
  • Reflect on weekly church message for 10 min 3x p/week
  • Read a spectate book concurrently on the topic of religion and spirituality for 30 min p/week
  • Contribute time for volunteer work monthly
  • Begin screenplay big board and draft
  • *Continue paying attention and being grateful for the little things

# Financial

  • *Credit*:
  1. Reduce credit to revolving monthly $0 balance
  2. Snowball excess payments in order until paid off
  • *Belongings*:
  1. Reduce volume of owned goods via sell/trade, replace with digital versions when applicable
  2. Collect unused items and donate monthly
  3. Observe 1 day p/$10 rule to assess transactions before buying

Leveling Up – Backyard Additions

This post was written on July 29, but went unpublished as I’d hoped that it could be edited in favor of our situation. It has not, so the original post is being published, along with a more recent update.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, Hampton. Our new dog, as of May 2016.

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Yes, he’s adorable, and fluffy, and a living creature that needs access to the outdoors, for.. well, his business. Naturally, that meant that we needed a fence to contain the little guy. We’d always talked down putting in a fence, but since 2 of 3 sides of our yard was already enclosed by neighbors fences, we decided it would be for the best to finish off the enclosure.

What we had forgotten to consider, was that if we were putting a fence in, we needed to move quickly on installing a concrete patio. It was something that we’d both wanted to put in eventually, but getting a fence for a dog would now speed that up. The space outside our walkout basement is ideal for hosting and lounging in the evenings. But as far as new construction goes, we didn’t have a lot to work with in it’s original state.

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So, we reached out a few local contractors around Ankeny and Central Iowa to get bids for 396 sq ft of concrete patio, laid out in the design below:

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The  bids varied, with the minimum being $3,500 (Fox Concrete) and the highest being $7,500 (Tom’s Concrete). We’re incredibly frugal, and after having read many positive reviews on our communities Facebook group about Fox Concrete being really reliable, we pulled the trigger.

The project started out as you’d expect, with Fox very roughly marking the layout of the patio.

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We also did some quick landscaping prior to the work as well, since Fox said they would move the rock wherever we wanted. Bonus points for them.

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On June 9 we left town on vacation and they began the work. By the end of the day 2, they had everything poured, and it looked really good based on the pictures. There was a lot of debris left at that point, but they had to come back to clean up so we weren’t worried.

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On June 21 we returned home from vacation, and were excited to check out our new outdoor living space. We were so excited, and at first it looked great. But as we inspected more closely, we were alarmed at the volume and composition of the remaining debris (concrete bits, wood, nails, rebar chunks, dirt, and rock). It was heaped around the patio and left for us to clean up. Not cool. (And you might notice the cracks in the cement there too, which I’ll get to in a second.)

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The mess of course prompted a call to Fox Concrete, and after a bit of complaining and the sending of photos, they were nice enough to come check it out. They hauled away THREE garbage bags of junk that was left from the original work and, honestly, could have taken another couple. But hey, they came back and cleaned up, so I was happy.

But that left us with the biggest problem of our brand new patio: hairline cracks across much of the concrete’s surface. At this point, we were both upset and worried that something was wrong. Was it still structurally sound? Would the cracks get worse over time, after rain or over winter with ice expansion? Even if we went with the cheapest option, even if the problem was purely cosmetic, it was incredibly frustrating to know that our $3,500 project had landed us a patio that we were embarrassed to show off.

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This of course led to another call to Fox Concrete, who assured me at that point that they would come back out and remedy the “cosmetic flaws” with a concrete overlay. Our first assurance of a fix was during our conversation on on June 23, and on July 1 Fox provided a picture of this overlay as a recommendation (which is probably the cheapest and easiest option, which I said I was fine with).

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I’m hopeful that they return to finish up the job, so that I can call this project complete, but as of now, July 29, I’ve not heard any confirmed day, week, or month that they plan to come back. I’m sitting tight, and hoping for the best out of the little contractor that could, but I’ll be honest, it seems like we’re getting strung along by Fox, which is sad since I live two blocks away from the owners house.

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** Update – August 1, 2016 – We’ve been told that the work is scheduled to be completed at the end of the month. 

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** Update – August 31, 2016: End of the month, with no word. Follow-up eluded to calling us on Friday September 2 to schedule completion.

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** Update – Monday, September 19, 2016: Another follow-up, and blown off again. Now stretching the delivery window to sometime within 1 year “for warranty work”. It was, albeit, the nicest let down I’ve had from a contractor.

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** Update – Wednesday, September 21, 2016: Two days later and nothing…

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** Update – October 8: Still nothing from Fox, and I haven’t sent any more reminders.


Ok, so here’s a Spring ’17 update. 


 

March 31 – Texted Brant to ask about the fix. Response was that once it dried up and warmed up they’d be out.

May 12 – I followed up again. Brant responded that they would be back the first week of June.

June 13 – Another follow up. Reply was that “once a crew opens up” they’d be over.

June 19 – Brant texted me a request for my address.

June 20 – Crew showed up for work, and rather than being able to do an overlay (as he’d said last fall) they were going to have to rip out the cracked patio and install new in 3 of the six sections. He said they would return later to use a tint-able seal to make the concrete match old to new.

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Here’s how the concrete replacement went:

Now, I’ll give them credit. The new slab looks a ton better than the old one. The guys that did the work did great work. I’m writing this on Aug 21, and two months later the new replaced portion has held up as expected.

July 25 – Inquired about the staining to match the grays.

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August 21 – But as you may have expected since I’m writing this, we’re STILL not completely done. That bit about coming back to stain to match the old and new, still hasn’t happened. As you tell from the picture above of the dry patio, there’s some ugliness from with work. but when it rains like it has much of today, it looks like this:

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So, we’re closer. But in a different predicament now waiting on another fix. But at least the patio should be stable right? :) At this point, I’m not sure if they’d even be able to stain the patio without damaging the landscaping.

I guess we’ll find out if they ever call me back…

Learning From John Green at Brandcast 2015

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m what some people would call a Nerdfighter. And one of the guys (John Green) that “founded” the vlog that created the community now known as Nerdfighteria recently spoke to an audience of advertisers at Brandcast 2015 (an event held by Google to celebrate YouTube’s 10th birthaversary).

Being a fan of John and a student of marketing, I found this presentation fantastic.

There are some really good insights in his words:

– John and Hank (the Vlogbrothers) make less than 20% of revenue from ads, and it lessens significantly every year

– Creators are finding ways to support their channels outside of advertising, like going on tours, selling merchandise, and crowd funding through sites like Patreon

– He is in the community business building a legion of raving fans, not the eyeballs business (impressions and views), and I know this has been a hot topic for a while now so much that “raving fans” has become buzzword worthy, but the Vlogbrothers actually built the legion of raving fans before talking about it as the model, rather than selling an unexecuted idea

– He doesn’t care how many people see his work, he cares how many people LOVE his work — people who love his work engaged with it, mimic it, use it to create new and inspired things, not just use it as a distraction

I will also add that his last paragraph seems like an appeasement to Google, telling advertisers they can help keep creators funded and viewers will support those business that do. However, I think John knows that that isn’t necessarily true. At least, not as long as they try to approach creators with tradition advertising messages.

What do you think? Do advertisers need YouTubers more? Or vice versa?

Here’s the audio of John’s presentation: https://soundcloud.com/sethmsparks/brandcast-2015-john-green-audio-only

And the transcript: https://medium.com/@johngreen/john-green-s-brandcast-speech-d5b7564773c