To Surprise and Invigorate

The group that looks after our neighborhood park — Friends of Anderson Park — recently won a Historical Preservation Award. (My kids are “acorn members.”) The last line in the award description seems particularly relevant to a variety of endeavors. It could stand as a description of any good business, school, or community organization (though I’m going to make you read the whole citation to get to it).

Anderson Park is an oasis of greenery and tranquility adjoining the Upper Montclair Historic Business District, the Boonton-Greenwood Lake commuter train line and the residential areas of Oakcroft and North Mountain Ave. An Olmsted Brothers designed landscape gives Anderson Park a naturalistic setting with informal plantings and winding pathways. Scott Kevelson, president and founder of the Friends of Anderson Park, a non-profit conservancy, has worked tirelessly to promote the natural, cultural, historic and educational qualities of the site. Their stewardship includes maintenance and replenishment of the original Olmsted plantings. Since 2006, they have planted 160 trees and 60 shrubs, including a rose bed, in cooperation with the Essex County Parks. They host an annual “Music Under the June Moon” event, plus numerous educational incentives such as the short-story contest and art projects. Nominated to the State and National registers in 2009, through the efforts of Lisanne Renner, Anderson Park with Scott Kevelson at the helm, continues to surprise and invigorate the current residents of Montclair.

Offense or Defense?

A question, utterly out of context, that I like to ask people is: “do you prefer offense or defense?”

Here’s a quote from investor and author Morgan Housel, subtly in praise of defense.

The importance of every endeavor is its potential multiplied by the odds of it working and how long it will work for. Conservation and efficiency don’t rank high on the first part, but they’re so strong on the second two that over time their impact exceeds what’s been done in more exciting parts of the industry.


I just discovered that Make Yourself Clear is available as an audiobook. I’ve only listened to the sample material, but it seems like a solid offering if you prefer to listen to books when you drive or exercise (or whatever). The reader is a voice actor and a true pro.

Boston College, 21 Years Later

This past Saturday, I went back to Boston College for the first time in a long time. (I graduated with a B.A. in English in 1998.) I walked the entire campus with my family and noted what was different and what remained the same. I watched my memory as it worked to reconstruct and recover experiences and names and stories. Sometimes it worked; sometimes it didn’t. Regardless, I felt happy as I walked from the academic buildings to the dorms, from the big library to the smaller library, from the breathtaking view to the quieter, still lovely view.

Still, having made my career in education, I couldn’t help but ask myself: why is this place so special to me after all these years? Why hadn’t it faded from my mind? And why would I go out of my way to return with my family — in the rain and on foot?

My fondness for Boston College has some pretty simple roots, all of which, I’m sure, were not planted by accident. They were designed, planned for, trained for, supported, and nurtured.

At Boston College, I was safe. (I realize that not everyone gets to feel that way on a college campus or in life. It really does matter, especially when you’re forming your identity and trying to learn.)

I had a few teachers — professors — who took a deep and lasting interest in my work. They encouraged me in realistic ways, never promising me that a writing life or a teaching life, or a bit of both, would be easy.

I formed deep and lasting friendships with people who helped me to be resilient and talked with me late into the night and ran around the reservoir with me and taught me the best of what they learned. (And these friends also encourage me in unrealistic ways, balancing out my professors’ more reasoned approach.)

I was able to find my own, unique path. Sure, there were requirements and rules and norms and limits. But, within those constraints, I felt like I found a story that was mine.

I had a job on campus. This meant that, without having to commute, I could earn the money that I needed to earn to bridge a few gaps. I could be in the library studying one minute and on my job site the next.

I was celebrated (just enough) for pursuing learning for its own sake. Writing poetry wasn’t practical. Reading old, unknown books wasn’t practical. Writing a thesis about epistemology and William Blake wasn’t practical. But because I fell into these pursuits so deeply, I came to shore, years later, with the ability to contribute in my chosen field. Each day now, I work hard with language. Each day, I communicate. Each day, I try to implement a vision great than my own. Poetry, literature, and William Blake made me whatever I am.

I was able to travel . . . into the city of Boston many weekends and to England, Italy, Spain, France — even Slovakia! — for my entire junior year. Graduation requirements didn’t hold me back; instead, they kept me loosely tied to Boston College, a home base, a place that was interested in hearing all my stories when I returned.

Walking Sticks for Effective Listening

Did I hear you say . . . ?

Can I repeat that back to you to make sure I understand?

I think I misunderstood that part. Can you explain it again?

I feel like you’re not saying something important. What else do you need to tell me?

Can you explain that in a different way? I didn’t understand.

What does _____ mean?

How are you using the word _____?

How do you know that?

Can you give me an example?

Business x Education

I was interested to learn that the Amazon deal in Northern Virginia came with an educational caveat / commitment:

[The] final deal with Virginia includes a commitment to build a $1.1 billion Northern Virginia Innovation Campus for Virginia Tech University with a mix of graduate academic instruction, research and development facilities, and space for startups. This campus should not only serve Amazon’s workforce needs but also create a pipeline of skilled workers for other local businesses. That means the plan could benefit the local economy even if Amazon does not create the full 25,000 jobs it promised or even if nothing Virginia offered actually influenced the company’s location decision. Source:

3 or 4 or 5 Purposes

I’ve followed the career of Professor Aswath Damodaran because he seems to be a master of teaching without boundaries, i.e., in classrooms, through books and articles, and across various platforms made possible by technology. In a recent interview with Elm Partners, an investment firm, he answered a question about productivity in a manner that was especially resonant for me. Being too “lazy” to compartmentalize his output seems to give him a distinct advantage in terms of distributing his ideas to as many people as possible.

VH: [I’ve] got to ask you: how you have been so prolific? Eleven books, I lost count of all the articles you’ve had published, a massive online presence, trying to get ideas and valuation techniques democratized, and hundreds of thousands of people reading and watching your teaching. And then on top of it, being a professor and getting all these awards for best professor at NYU, best business school professor in the whole country. It’s really remarkable, can you give any tips for people that are trying to be more productive?

AD: I have to tell you, I’m a pretty lazy person, I don’t work more than 40 hours per week. What I’ve discovered helps me is to not compartmentalize – because if I thought of my life as, “there’s teaching, there’s research, there’s writing on my blog, there’s X, Y and Z…” then you very quickly run out of hours in the day. But almost everything I do spills over into almost everything else I do. So I’m constantly looking for ways to take whatever I do and get it to serve three or four or five purposes.

I’ll give you an example: about five years ago I read The Wall Street Journal post on Uber. It was a Thursday afternoon, and I said, “This will be an interesting company to value.” I did a very rudimentary valuation, because I knew very little about ride sharing; it took me about three hours to do the valuation, about three hours to write the blog post. I put it up on Friday afternoon. That blog post took a day and a half of work, but it essentially became part of my classes, it became an entire seminar that I do on valuing young and startup companies, it became a book called “Narrative in Numbers.”

H/T to @morganhousel