Use the “MVP” approach for purchase decisions

I can’t seem to find the proper quote on the Internet, but Brian Boyer, of many awesome things  the most recent being, “How to Be Happy” a project management in journalism/tech blog, said something a few years ago that stuck with me (I’m paraphrasing here and maybe totally screwing up the meaning since Google has failed me):

“Buy the cheapest tool and use it until you use it so frequently/hard that it breaks. Then buy the best tool.”

Over the past couple years, I’ve taken this approach to a lot of pieces of my life, especially trying to be frugal and thoughtful in the stuff and tools we use in our lives. Unless I’m absolutely certain I will use something for life, I’ll go cheap. Then if I actually use the cheap version so much that it breaks and I feel I need an upgrade, I’ll go find the Buy It For Life product.

For instance, can openers.

You can spend less than a dollar for a cheap, basic one that you might use once in a blue moon, or spend double–maybe even triple–digits on a machine operated can opener that has all sorts of bonus features. But starting out, when you’re unsure if you really need something, go inexpensive/basic to prove that you need that in your life. To use lean project management terminology, get your “MVP” (minimum viable product) out the door and see how it works out. I’ve had the same, basic can opener for at least a decade.

It’s so easy to fill your life with stuff, and like a goldfish I think people will often fill the space they have regardless if they need to. Since I want to focus on living a rich, full life, and buying my freedom back from a job that I have to work until 70, so not spending copious amounts on material goods is important.

A quick gut-check on living the Kaizen Will lifestyle

I found a great gut/perspective-check on the Kaizen Will lifestyle in The Atlantic this week from Barry Schwartz’s work (the author of The Paradox of Choice):

One of my favorite Schwartzisms is this: If you ever aren’t sure if you attended the very best party or bought the very best computer, just settle for “good enough.” People who do this are called “satisficers,” and they’re consistently happier, he’s found, than are “maximizers,” people who feel that they must choose the very best possible option. Maximizers earn more, Schwartz has found, but they’re also less satisfied with their jobs. In fact, they’re more likely to be clinically depressed in general.

The reason this happens, as Schwartz explained in a paper with his Swarthmore colleague Andrew Ward, is that as life circumstances improve, expectations rise. People begin comparing their experiences to peers who are doing better, or to past experiences they’ve personally had that were better:

As people have contact with items of high quality, they begin to suffer from “the curse of discernment.” The lower quality items that used to be perfectly acceptable are no longer good enough. The hedonic zero point keeps rising, and expectations and aspirations rise with it. As a result, the rising quality of experience is met with rising expectations, and people are just running in place. As long as expectations keep pace with realizations, people may live better, but they won’t feel better about how they live.

The grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Read more at The Atlantic.

Best purchases of 2013: First generation Nexus 7 tablet 32 GB


In 2013, I was preparing for a bucket list dream trip: Backpacking around Asia for 6 weeks. Back before I took this epic journey, I needed to figure out how to manage my technology effectively and didn’t want to lug around a full computer but have the ability to do ‘most’ of my computer related tasks. After much searching, I ended up settling on a Google Nexus 7 with 32 GB on storage that I found (oddly) on sale for cheaper than directly through Google at a GameStop across the street from my house.

While it’s getting a couple years old (which is decades in the mobile timeline) it still is my one of my favorite tablets for many of the reasons I outlined here on Journerdism. I’m still finding great value in the device, even to this day since it’s a Google Nexus device (which I almost exclusively buy for personal devices), so I get updates and the latest OS software when it’s available (I’m on Lollipop now), not when some provider or hardware manufacturer determines.

The hardware especially is the part that makes me appreciate this device. The size is just perfect for fitting in my hands and the backing is sticky enough that I feel very comfortable holding it even in bumpy situations. It’s light and feel lighter than the iPad Mini Retina (a close runner up). The difference in visuals and processing power is starting to make the iPad more of my go-to for more intensive work, but I still find myself snagging the Nexus 7 for a lot of my consumption driven activities, especially reading books and digging through RSS, social media and other aggregation tools. It’s still delivering great value and at under half the price if iPad minis at that time (and still now) I’m definitely getting great value out of it.

Cut your risk of cyber crime by 85% using these simple 5 best practices

This week I caught an excellent and thought-provoking interview on The Art of Charm (one of my top 10 must-listen podcasts) with Marc Goodman, a Resident Global Security Futurist for the FBI, author and adviser for the Singularity UniversityGoodman was promoting/discussing his new book, “Future Crimes” and it was fascinating to hear about how the future is definitely here and while not evenly distributed, but it can be disturbing. Like how the big Target credit card hack this past Winter happened from hackers accessing the Target air conditioning infrastructure to get to the financial systems. I remember first hearing about Goodman when he spoke on Tim Ferriss’ show in December (great episode to check out too) and it blew my mind some of the things he talked about. He also has a Ted Talk on the topic from a couple years ago that is excellent.

One of the great kaizen takeaways from the most recent podcast discussion was his “UPDATE” strategy for everyone to protect yourself from 85% of the risk of being a victim of cyber crime. These simple steps include:

  • U – Update software frequently — Almost all the time software updates are to patch bugs, vulnerabilities and provide improvements of some sort. Don’t let the time between updates go too long or you leave yourself open to trouble. This goes for both mobile and desktop devices. Even freaking Adobe’s stupid auto updater that alerts you every other day of a new patch. :(
  • P – Passwords — Use a different, complex password for every site and get a reliable, trusted and established password manager like LastPass (which I recommend) or 1Password.
  • D – Downloads – Always be careful of what you download and never click on something from an untrusted source.
  • A – Administrator rights — Don’t run your computer from the main, full-access “administrator” rights profile. Create a second one and use that as your primary to restrict and at least notify you when programs are asking to modify the system (they don’t usually do this on the admin rights account). Similarly, I recommend bloggers do the same. Create a secret account with the full admin rights — don’t use the default “Admin” username that blogs like WordPress provide with full access.
  • T – Turn off — This is a simple one and also a good one for just saving battery life — turn off your computer when you’re not using. Turn off your wifi, bluetooth, nfc and other phone communication protocols if you’re not using them and it’ll greatly reduce the potential of someone accessing your device.
  • E – Encrypt everything — He spoke about 2 types (encrypt the data on your computer hard drive and using a VPN to encrypt your connections). I think, soon, a third level of encrypting — your website publishing through https on almost all domains will soon become much more mainstream over the next 3 years to create a safer web. Google has already started to use this as an SEO value indicator and I know the browser developers working on projects to verify certain potential target websites are secure and using the https protocol.

I’m definitely going to pick up the book and you can too — it was just released this week in print, digital and audio.

Cosco 3-in-1 Hand Truck – One of My Best Purchases of 2011

The amazing Cosco 3-in-1 Hand Cart with 1,000 lb. capacity!

The amazing Cosco 3-in-1 Hand Cart with 1,000 lb. capacity!

2011-2012 was a year of big moves for me. I wrapped up my Fellowship at Mizzou and moved from Columbia, MO back to St. Louis to take on a role as Director of Mobile News for Lee Enterprises corporate. Then a year later I moved to DC for my gig at the BBG — first moving into a temporary sublet with a friend for the summer and then at the end of the summer moving into my newly-purchased house. Throughout this intense moving period one of the best purchases, nay investments, I made was a Cosco 3-in-1 Hand Truck at Costco for about $80. (Yes, it’s a Cosco product at Costco, but they’re not the same company. And yes, if you have a Costco membership, definitely buy this there, it’s currently retailing for $181 on Amazon.)

This marvel of machinery has paid for itself multiple times over and helped me complete amazing feats like moving a full-size, fold-out couch, by myself to the 9th floor sublet apartment. It can support up to 1,000 pounds, has three modes from two wheeled dolly, to 4 wheeled supportive dolly, to full 4 wheel cart. It’s all aluminum, tall (unlike some of the dollies you can rent from Uhaul) and has solid tires that won’t pop.

I’m kind of ridiculously a fanatic about this dolly and have lent it out to four sets of friends for moving (DC people move a lot) and each of them have confessed that they thought I was being ridiculous, but in fact they were convinced of the Cosco’s awesomeness. I highly recommend it if you plan on moving several times over a period (and have the space) because it will pay for itself compared to the $20 a time rental charges for Uhaul dollies, plus it’s a much higher quality and easier to use tool.

How to exponentially impact the world — a recipe from “Bold” an inspirational book by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler

The 6 Stages of Exponential Growth from Peter Diamandis

The book “Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World” is the next big thing I’m excited about from Peter Diamandis, the Chairman of the X Prize, who helped create all sorts of futuristic amazing things like Singularity University, Hyperloop and Space X, and Steven Kotler. They prescribe to create ground-breaking, world-changing, exponential businesses (the kind Peter Thiel talks about in Zero to One) to focus on opportunities:

Digitalization. This idea starts with the fact that culture makes progress cumulative. Innovation occurs as humans share and exchange ideas. I build on your idea; you build on mine. This type of exchange was slow in the early days of our species (when all we had as a means of transmission was storytelling around the campfire), picked up with the printing press, then exploded with the digital representation, storage, and exchange of ideas made possible by computers. Anything that could be digitized—that is, represented by ones and zeros—could spread at the speed of light (or at least the speed of the Internet) and became free to reproduce and share.

Deception. What follows digitalization is deception, a period during which exponential growth goes mostly unnoticed. This happens because the doubling of small numbers often produces results so minuscule they are often mistaken for the plotter’s progress of linear growth. Imagine Kodak’s first digital camera with 0.01 megapixels doubling to 0.02, 0.02 to 0.04, 0.04 to 0.08. To the casual observer, these numbers all look like zero. Yet big change is on the horizon. Once these doublings break the whole-number barrier (become 1, 2, 4, 8, etc.), they are only twenty doublings away from a million-fold improvement, and only thirty doublings away from a billionfold improvement. It is at this stage that exponential growth, initially deceptive, starts becoming visibly disruptive.

Disruption. In simple terms, a disruptive technology is any innovation that creates a new market and disrupts an existing one. Unfortunately, as disruption always follows deception, the original technological threat often seems laughably insignificant. Take the first digital camera. Kodak took great pride in things like convenience and image fidelity. Neither were present in Sasson’s original offering. His camera took twenty-three seconds to snap and store a .01 megapixel, black-and-white photograph. Well, no threat there…

Demonetization. This means the removal of money from the equation. Consider Kodak. Their legacy business evaporated when people stopped buying film. Who needs film when there are megapixels? Suddenly one of Kodak’s once-unassailable revenue streams came free of charge with any digital camera.

Dematerialization. While demonetization describes the vanishing of the money once paid for goods and services, dematerialization is about the vanishing of the goods and services themselves. In Kodak’s case, their woes didn’t end with the vanishing of film. Following the invention of the digital camera came the invention of the smartphone—which soon came standard with a high-quality, multi-megapixel camera. Poof! Now you see it; now you don’t. Once those smartphones hit the market, the digital camera itself dematerialized.

It has me really thinking about life, my accomplishments and impact on the world.

Buy It For Life: Eastpak backpack

Eastpak Backpack

Buy It For Life: My ole trusty Eastpak backpack

When I was trying to think of the first item to feature in my “buy it for life” pro tips, it didn’t take long to surface the one item that has been with me probably the longest time of my life — my black Eastpak backpack.

This is one of the very few items that has made it through decades of wear from Junior High School through backpacking across Asia as my day-pack and most recently on Safari in Kenya. While there are more fancy backpacks out there with more pockets, mesh liners, carabiner clips and more, this simple, two pocket design with minimal but functional padding gets the job done from toting my daily work gear to the office to working as a compressible and compact day pack while traveling.

Sure, it has some small holes developing in the bottom, (I’ve sewn a few over the years) and the zippers have been sent back to Eastpak to be replaced twice, but they’ve always held up their end of the lifetime warranty (although, it appears they have changed for new purchases and maybe even given up U.S. distribution) it’s still truckin’ and keeping all my gear together. I don’t think they make the same model as what I have, but here’s something similar if you want to pick up your own lifetime friend.

Kevin Kelly on consumerism, technology — and balance

If you don’t listen regularly to Freakonomics (and you should) check out this recent episode with Wired’s Kevin Kelly that really nails my personal struggle with technology and consumerism and how you have to keep focused and balanced.

“I think of myself as a minimalist in the sense that I am looking for the minimum amount of technology that will maximize my options. So while I am, in my role at Wired, a cheerleader for the benefits of technology, I’m trying to maximize the number of choices that we have in the world, I’m trying to actually minimize the number of things in my own life at the same time. That’s sort of why I’m not Amish. The Amish are minimized in the sense that they are really very selectively choosing… I’m Amish-ish, in the sense that I am in minimizing the number in my life. But the Amish are not interested in maximizing the number of options in the world and I am. So Cool Tools A Catalog of Possibilities, because I’m not encouraging people to buy all the tools in there. I mean, you kind of page through it and say, ‘Oh, I want this, I want that.’ It’s more important that you know that these exist rather than that you purchase them because a tool is really just an opportunity with a handle. It’s just a way of thinking about something differently that we make real. And so you can use this as a resource of getting ideas about what is possible to do. And that’s why I think it’s really great for young people is to say look, you’ve been through school, you’ve been through college, but here is a whole realm of things that are possible for an individual to do these things. You can rent a bulldozer if you want to. You can design your own home and build your own home if you want to. It’s not that difficult. And so just knowing that can give you confidence to do other things that haven’t been done yet.”

Kevin Kelly on the Freakonomics Podcast

Welcome to Kaizen Will

Kai Zen - "Good Change" in Japanese

Kai Zen – “Good Change” in Japanese

Welcome to Kaizen Will, a new site about living a life of continuous improvement.

I have to thank my parents for my curious thirst for knowledge and constantly improving nature; they were both teachers whom with modest means, medium salaries and resources constantly strove for excellence, balancing frugality with finding a high quality of life and sought constant improvement and education to achieve this.

Throughout my life those values have influenced my journey. When I finished my Masters degree at Northwestern University, I made a promise to myself that school was not over; I was just beginning my voyage of continuous, lifelong learning and improvement.

I couldn’t have envisioned how massive, rapid and constant change came (and still comes) to the media and technology industry. But embracing kaizen helps you face that challenge. It translates to “continuous improvement” or “good change.”

This constant thirst for knowledge was channeled into into (one of the early leading online media blogs), more than a decade of attending, speaking, leading and organizing workshops and training for the rapidly evolving media.

This practice also crosses over to my professional life. While at The Palm Beach Post, working as Interactive Projects Editor, a brilliant colleague, W. Mark Hartnett pointed me to the revolutionary business and management book, The Toyota Way, which discusses the practice of kaizen.

As I advanced in my career through project management and leadership positions, this principle continued to become a reoccurring theme in my life. From Jim Collins’ book Good To Great to getting certified as a scrum master building products with Agile processes — the same kaizen concept has been reinforced again and again in different forms and with different names.

This year I decided I wanted to get back on the horse and start creating some content and sharing my experiences and advice with the world. I wrestled with a lot of concepts for how to tackle my focus, but kept coming back to kaizen. How to change and evolve to get better and better and better. To go from having a good life, a good family, a good relationship to a great–the greatest life.

Will synonyms

And since I’m Will Sullivan, “Kaizen Will” seemed to fit perfectly.

The attitude.

The resolve.

The passion.

The discipline to create a life of continuous improvement.

Let’s start the journey and see where it takes us. :)

To start off, I believe I’ll focus on these Kaizen Will categories and topics (subject to change/grow/shrink as the blog evolves):

  • Management & Leadership – Throughout my career I’ve been fortunate to have some amazing mentors and bosses and a couple some terrible bosses — and I’ve learned immensely from both, as well as extensive study on how to develop as a manager and leader in the modern tech and media business and entrepreneurship world. I’ll share best practices, advice, lessons learned and things “I wish someone had told me” so that you can improve yourself.
  • Money & Personal Finance – Being fiscally responsible, frugal and smart about your spending, saving and investing helps give you the resources to enjoy time, stuff and share with people, so I’ll share what I’ve learned to help you get this in line.
  • People & Relationships – People are the most important part of my life. From inspirational mentors, family, friends to speakers, authors or even characters in fiction, our humanity and relationships are what helps humans to survive and thrive. Growing from a socially-awkward, introverted teenage nerd up to a professional executive has had it’s growing pains and plenty of bruises and bumps along the way. I’ll share what I’ve learned to help others on my journey, as well as stories about people who have been inspirational.
  • Travel & Adventures – Travel and finding adventures ‘exploring the infinite abyss’ is a huge part of my life. From finding quirky local secret spots to backpacking across Asia alone, I love exploring new cultures, places and perspectives. I’ll share some of my best practices and pro tips here.
  • Recommended Gear, Books & Stuff – I was raised rather frugally and to appreciate a Spartan, non-consumerist life, relish libraries and shared resources, so this definitely isn’t a shopping blog or anything, but also to appreciate and take care of the things you do purchase.
    • Best Purchases of … – The past few years I’ve really relished a few purchases that have changed or enhanced my life. These might not be indestructible “Buy It For Life” items, but they’ve really been great purchases that have added a lot of value for me.
    • Buy It For Life – Gear that will last your entire life (or close to it) that you can give to your grand kids (largely inspired by the BIFL Sub-Reddit I’m a huge fan of).
    • Treat Yo SelfLike Tom and Donna on Parks and Rec said, sometimes you gotta treat yo self. This is once-in-a-blue-moon stuff to splurge on that I’ve found worthwhile. They might not be ‘buy it for life’ or the best purchases, ever, but they were worth it on special occasions.

Welcome to Kaizen Will.

Let’s all get better together.