The Company You Keep

Seth Godin delivers daily wisdom, not sure how he does it.

You are the company you keep.
It’s an old saying, but there’s wisdom in that old saw.

Here’s another similar thought:

“You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

That’s a quote attributed most often to motivational speaker Jim Rohn.
Those concepts led to a lively discussion recently with a few friends.

I’d like to add that what you read also plays a large part in how you think. Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett’s long time partner, says that he has never met a smart person who doesn’t read—incessantly. Charlie is 95 and has met a lot of people, so I trust his insights.

So in the spirit of Charlie Munger and Jim Rohn, I thought I’d share  a few of my regular “sources.”

Seth Godin—a hugely popular author and blogger, Seth is an influential marketing and business mind. He blogs daily and he usually nails it. His books are outstanding too. I once applied to work with Seth. His rejection letter was crushing but was so well written that I realized on the spot that there was no way could I hang with him. He’s just another level. Like asking to play hoops with LeBron James when you can’t jump or shoot.

Fred Wilson—a well-known New York City based venture capitalist, Wilson also blogs daily and reading his thoughts is akin to taking a daily MBA course. Very insightful.

Bob Lefsetz—The Lefsetz letter is a provocative blog that talks about music, tech, politics and culture. Lefsetz is a great writer and while I sometimes disagree with him, his writing is so vivid and interesting his work becomes a must read. He regularly angers his audience is incredibly brave and transparent.

Bernadette Jiwa—an Australian marketing guru who reminds me of Seth Godin.

Peggy Noonan—Wall Street Journal columnist who always seems to nail it. She writes with perspective and historical insight. Just terrific.

Frank Bruni—New York Times columnist, has very different politics than Noonan, but also seems to see past the noise to get to the root of issues.

Tom Friedman—-in a word, brilliant. He’s the guy I’d want at any dream dinner party. We saw speak in Fort Lauderdale last year and he was just wonderful.

David Brooks—a conservative voice that I enjoy reading because he’s smart, reasonable and open minded, three traits sorely lacking today.

Tim Ferris—-he’s endlessly fascinating and his podcast is always amazing. Ferris is all about peak human performance and his interviews are in depth and fascinating.  He has some great books too.

Terry Gross—I think she may be the best interviewer alive. Just a master class in getting her subjects to open up and share.

Peter Coy—Bloomberg Business Week writer. Always terrific essays on world events and trends.

Shane Parrish—His blog is aptly called brain food.

Polina Marinova:  Polina scans the web so we don’t have to and points us to the most interesting stories. Her blog is called The Profile.

Kevin Siskar: cool stuff on the start up life.

Joseph Lichterman—writes beautifully about innovative approaches to journalism. And journalism needs innovation.

Lawrence Tribe—really entertaining Twitter feed. A law school professor who explains the world we are in through the lens of a constitutional expert.

Modern Love—a Sunday Times staple. The best ones are amazing. The worst ones are still worth a read.

Steve Van Zant—his Twitter feed is funny, combative and always interesting. Plus, he plays guitar for the E Street Band and starred in The Sopranos. What a life!

Axios: great way to start the day and feel smart. Bite size nuggets about politics, business, culture and the world.

Simon Sinek—daily sayings that remind me of my “why.”

Reid Hoffman—his master of scale podcast tells the stories of entrepreneurs who have successfully scaled their businesses. I’m reading his new book “Blitzscaling” and it’s full of insights on business model innovation.

Otis White–Otis is a friend who has written extensively about Delray Beach. His blog on local government is simply the best on the subject anywhere.

Kevin Klineberg–An urbanist and champion of walkability, Klineberg writes about the “Messy City” with flair and intelligence.

Nancy Koehn–The Harvard leadership expert and author of “Forged in Crisis” has a lively and always interesting presence on social media.

There are more..I just love to read. Hopefully this list gets you thinking about your reading list. Or spurs you to start hanging out with your sharper friends. And please send me some suggestions.


Water Cooler Wednesday: Warren & Charlie’s Wisdom

When Charlie Munger speaks smart people listen.

When Charlie Munger speaks smart people listen.

Charlie Munger may be the coolest 90-year-old on the planet.

He’s certainly among the savviest investors of his or possibly any other age.

His partner is a gentleman named Warren Buffett and together Warren and Charlie have built Berkshire Hathaway into a colossus.

Last I checked, a single share of Berkshire was trading at nearly $210,000—that is not a typo.

The market share is over $330 billion, more than GE, way, way more.

So when Charlie talks—which is rare—people listen.

So last week, when he spoke at a meeting at a tiny legal publishing firm owned by Berkshire, people flocked from all over to hear him speak.

What they heard was pure wisdom, delivered with a huge dose of humor.

I didn’t go to the event and sadly I am still saving up to buy a single share.

But I did catch the coverage of the talk in the Wall Street Journal and one Charlie statement jumped off the page and struck me.

Next year, Warren and Charlie will be celebrating their 50th anniversary together at Berkshire. To honor their golden anniversary, Warren asked Charlie to ponder two questions: “Why did it work? And will it continue?”

Simple questions– on the surface at least –until you start to think about them and realize how deeply you have to delve to figure out why something was successful.

Since this blog is about Delray and Boca, I thought about Warren’s questions and how we might answer them.

So why did Delray and Boca work?
I think we can agree that while both cities are not perfect and must grapple with serious issues, for the most part fair minded people would characterize them as successful cities.

Boca has a famous brand name and is known for its great schools, superior parks, booming economy and manicured neighborhoods. I could go on.

Delray is known for its rocking downtown and its beautiful beach. It also has some interesting cultural assets as does Boca.

But those are symptoms, indicators, outcomes that don’t really answer why these cities have worked? They also aren’t guaranteed to continue, which is interesting to think about because it points out the fact that nothing is permanent. Success is not permanent, and happily neither is failure.

Downtowns can dry up. Big employers can move in and move out. Natural disasters can do damage and great schools can suffer if you take your eye off the blackboard.

So again, why did it work?
Let’s take a look at Delray first.

I think Delray worked because the city was entrepreneurial when it needed to be.

I recently had lunch with a former veteran department head, one in a series of thought provoking lunches that I have come to look forward too. We spoke about how Delray was focused on outcomes more so than process.

The leadership tasked city staff with getting things done (legally and morally of course) which allowed for some creativity and innovation on the staff level.

The results were dramatic: the city came a long way and went from Dull Ray to Delray over a two decade period of time. Problems were solved, solutions were shared and the city earned a reputation for innovation and a style that some called the “Delray way.”

There’s a lot of upside to focusing on outcomes. But there are some downsides as well.

When process is sacrificed, it can sometimes stray a little too far (for instance, you need to bid contracts, you should always engage the public and even flexible zoning should have limits).  So yes, cities and businesses need process, but not at the expense of creativity, fairness and predictability. City planning is more art than science; which is why it was genius in Delray to have something called “conditional use.”

Conditional use has been demonized and misunderstood over the years. It’s been lumped in with waivers and variances and all those other loaded terms, but in reality conditional use is a tool that allows developers (another loaded term) to get something if they give something. As a policymaker, I loved it. Why? Because it allowed us to make good projects happen and it allowed us to kill bad projects.

I liked having that flexibility.

Conditional use was one of the reasons why it happened, Mr. Munger.

I can’t be as opinionated about Boca, I don’t know that city as well. So I would invite readers to opine. But my guess is that Boca placed a high value on business and quality of life, as evidenced by a magnificent parks system, funded in part by a tax district.

As for whether it will continue, that’s up to us and who we elect to lead us.

Stray too far from the winning formula and it probably won’t continue. There are all sorts of examples of places that boomed and then went bust. But if you refuse to innovate and acknowledge change, you’re also dooming yourself.

Regardless, Warren’s questions of his partner Charlie are queries we all should ponder.