63 and Counting: Preparation for First Impressions

“Whatever makes an impression on the heart seems lovely in the eye.”Saadi

Impressions matter in business and since aesthetics and experience are core to our values at Snapden, we are heading out to our first product photo shoot. Feels wonderful to see the fruits of so much labor and so many late nights come together at the hands of a talented photographer.

The photos are coming out great – finally things to update the website and our product literature with. Module Gen 2 is looking great! I’m very happy we were able to scrape together budget to do this.

In your business – what lengths have you gone to and financial decision have you made to impact your image, your first impression?

Have a creative and productive day,
Brandon Larson

74 and Counting: Poop in the Batter?

Lots of folks confuse bad management with destiny.” – Kin Hubbard

Warning: The following contains the word poop a lot. It’s also a pretty rough post.

As mentioned before I’m a very observant person. I like people watching, I like to see what makes people tick, I like to find trends, and I LOVE when I notice something that does or does not work. I’m an observer and proud of it.

This pertains to something I’ve observed about leadership and management. It is a theory of mine I call the Principle of Poop Location. Yeah it’s a bit strange, but hopefully it will make more sense very shortly.

I have heard horror stories from all over about really bad bosses. For me, I can’t say I have had one myself, but I have definitely observed them and listened to and read many a detailed story about this breed.

I should back up for a moment and give some perspective on how my opinion was formed. I believe that leaders are not always managers and managers are not always leaders. I also firmly believe that a managers role is to create an environment in which workers can succeed. A manager, when you really break it down, usually does not do much of the work him/herself but instead oversees the work of others and in this role the manager really is there to work hard for the employees, not boss them around, not rule with an iron fist, etc. This is not to be confused with the person, a leader, who adds inspiration and motivation to the equations. I’ve known tons and tons of managers in my life, but very few leaders.

A manager is an assistant to his men.” –Thomas J. Watson

Okay, back to the poop.

The theory goes like this: There are two trays of brownies. The first tray looks really delicious until you notice a large pile of poop in the corner of the tray. You are immediately turned toward the other tray which looks even more delicious. As you go to take a piece the baker says there was a tiny tiny bit of poop in the batter of that dish of brownies. You are now faced with a dilemma – you can eat from the tray with the pile of poop and very easily eat around it, or you can take a bite from the tray where a “small” amount was baked in. Either way you are in sh*tty situation, but you have to make a choice.

I don’t know about you, but I’d go for the brownie that I could clearly see the poop and avoid it by cutting around it. It’s a little more extreme of an example but similar to dropping something on the ground and then picking off the bad spot and still being able to eat it.

This applies all too well to many work situations I have been in as well as some corporate cultures I’ve observed. In the aerospace company I currently work for, every product/business unit has a slightly different culture. One building can be full of happy people and another can be full of really unhappy stressed out people. The work isn’t that much different from one to the other so what’s the deal? I’ve noticed that in the happy buildings there are more leaders and more career managers. In the unhappy buildings I’ve seen a track record of promotion of technical minds into management. These individuals often lack the skills to be managers and their technical powers often cloud their understanding of what a good manager is and is supposed to do for their team. This is where the poop comes in. In an environment of leaders and good managers and positive culture, the brownies are cooked perfectly and ready to be consumed. If a bad manager is introduced into that system it’s poop on top of the brownie and while a little brownie will get ruined, you can often avoid the problem until it is removed. No baby being tossed out with the bath water. The system will eventually correct itself.

In the situation of bad managers (or in aerospace = promotion based on technical prowess only) there is a bad culture that develops and this is the case where the poop is put into the brownie batter. You can’t find, you can’t separate yourself from it. The only way to fix it is to start over. Sadly, many organizations will get stuck in this and can not simply start over as the organizations are large and change is more difficult the larger a company gets (mostly). It is sad to me because many times there are very talented people that will either leave or be under utilized due to this environment. Not many people like poop in their brownies.

Think about any jobs you’ve liked or didn’t like, teams you’ve liked or didn’t like. Can you find where the poop was? For me there was poop in the batter in my entire business unit and it made it really made me lose faith in the decision makers and lose trust that we as a company were operating effectively. My direct managers were great, but that means little when the batter has been tainted. Fortunately this has been a driver for me to work hard outside of the office to make a career for myself.

My advice here is to always think what you do as a leader or a manager or a worker and always try to avoid the poop. Try to create the poop resistant environment and culture. You and your employees will be a lot happier (and fuller) – I promise.

Have a creative and productive day,
Brandon Larson

77 and Counting: Taking Notes

Consider what a romantic expedition you are on; take notes.” – Anne Boyd

I think on the go… a lot.

I don’t know about you, but for me, this can be troublesome. I’m not always around a convenient method of note taking (lets not talk phones yet). Throughout college and even in the early days of the smart phone I relied on a little Moleskin note book and prided myself on finding cool, useful, leak free (very important), pocket size pens. I had my pen. I had my little note book. I could take notes where ever without the fear of losing my handwriting skills to that pocket computer that could occasionally make calls. There was just something so nostalgic, so raw, so socially acceptable, so real about taking out the pad of paper to write on. Then came the issues…

It was often hard to categorize my notes. The little note pads would only last a week or two. Sometimes I could lean against a wall and break my pen. Sometimes the pen would just walk away. The pens were all mail order and the pads were too. After a while I was forced to look for another option. Fortunately for me this right around the time that Android App Store (I’m a Droid user) starting filling with decent apps. I tried a few, betting on magic promises of little electronic wizards keeping and securing and saving all of my thoughts in a streamlined manner. In reality – they all stunk… until I found ColorNote.

I find that a good method of note taking is the key, scratch that, is critical to a clear and effective mind and a terrific tool for everyone who thinks, not just the entrepreneur. For me, my perfect note taking system is ColorNote (I’m not affiliated with them in any way – just so you know). It is a seriously simple note taking app where the beauty of it lies in the ability to color code your notes in up to 9 colors. I don’t even bother with the task list feature b/c I write tasks as notes anyway – that’s how it was with the pen and pad.

It is as easy as this:

  • Unlock the phone
  • Launch ColorNote (shortcut on home screen)
  • Select new note
  • Pick color (for me: yellow = general thoughts/quotes, blue = ideas, purple = Snapden related, black = secret project related and so on…)
  • Type type type in as little or as much detail as I want with the ability to put in a header/subject.
  • One button to exit when I’m done and it auto saves.

The beauty is in reviewing notes. I launch the program and instantly I can see all the colors and it helps me quickly visually search (good design!). If I can’t find what I’m looking for (has not happened yet) all of the notes are fully searchable. On top of that you can share notes with any application you have on your phone – sending to an email contacting, drop box, etc.

For me it’s nearly perfect. The only thing unavailable is backing up all of the notes or a batch download to my computer. This is a little scary b/c if something happens to the phone, the same happens to all my notes. Hopefully this will be fixed in future versions. Heck, I’d even pay for this if there was a cost.

To round it out, again I really recommend having a good note taking system. ColorNote is my choice since I’m such a visual person. IT may or may not work for you. If you find something cool out there – let me know, I’d love to give it a try.

Take care and happy note taking!
Brandon Larson

79 and Counting: Big Five for Life

“Our lives basically change in two ways: The people we meet and the books we read.” – Harvey Mackay.

I love reading. I love reading even more when I have time to really dive into a book and dedicate the block of time to learning and thinking about the material and only the material at hand. Reading is essential for the leader, the business owner, and especially the entrepreneur. Reading presents new perspectives, inspires, charges creatively, allows you think subjectively, and more. The benefits are pretty obvious and reading also plays heavily into The System to Success, which helps frame my life.

I tend to read business books, leadership books, lots of those “required reading for an MBA” type books. While they all have great information in them and I am always better for reading them, MANY books I read could communicate their ideas in fewer words and pages (e.i. The Tipping Point). With this I have a special place in my heart for books that keep my attention and inspire me.

Of all of my reading there is one book that I believe is  MUST read for everyone. It is a very engaging story that takes you on a journey of self reflection to find your Purpose for Living (PFE) and is the BEST book I’ve ever read on goal setting. It is not about goal setting, yet never have I seen a simpler or more palpable approach.

I have given this book out as gifts to many people. I have lent this book out and it has been passed on from one person to the next, all with great thanks as to the insight they gained from the story. I have even used this book as a litmus test in working with new people and building my teams (saved me a few times from doing business with the wrong people). If you’ve worked with me or are close to me, we’ve talked about this book, The Big Five for Life, by John Strelecky.

The book is a story about a great leader who is passing away and in his remaining time passes on his lessons for being a great leader and inspiring others. While the book itself is a really fast narrative style read, there are two or three underlying lessons that the book presents very well. The two main ones are finding your Purpose of Existence (PFE) and your Big Five for Life. The PFE is why you are here, why you are on this planet, what you must do with your life. The Big Five for Life are the 5 things that mean the most to you, the things that add fuel to the fire inside you, the principles that guide your life into the future. The book is a very introspective journey that pushes you to investigate these things. Some people can figure theirs out very easily, some people will struggle but will eventually find it, and others will have serious issues looking this deep into themselves (it has happened, I have witnessed it).

Once you’ve determined your PFE and Big Five, you are able to have a sense of clarity in goal setting. Do you have big decisions to make about your life, where you live, where you work, what you do day to day or week to week? If you have a very honest and true Big Five, you’ll be able to run any decisions through your Big Five. If it is in alignment or out of alignment it will become instantly clear and you can make decisions quickly. Further to that, if you have a strong and true PFE and Big Five, you are able to hold yourself accountable to yourself which is a great motivator when you have a clear sense of being.

I highly recommend this book and would lend you my copy if it was not already loaned out (it has been continuously passed around for over a year now).

If you feel comfortable sharing your Big Five and PFE with me, I would love to see them. Below are mine, but with a slight tweak. I’ve used the “You, Inc” model from The System to Success to format my goals more as a company with mission and vision statements and a 6th “Big Five” for posterity.

Brandon Larson, Inc.
Mission: To inspire others to be inspired; to find better ways to do things

  • Dream big and support this through curiosity and life long learning
  • Look for majesty in life; Travel to one international location a year
  • Build and run a successful company I love working for
  • Mentor whenever there is an opportunity to help others succeed
  • Raise a family with unconditional love and whole hearted support for chasing dreams
  • Give back to Centenary College of Louisiana



Have a creative and productive day,
Brandon Larson

82 and Counting: A System to Success and Happiness

“Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.” – Henry Ford

In 2008, I was asked to speak at my Alma Mata, Centenary College of Louisiana, where I received my physics undergraduate degree. I was excited to get a chance to think about what I had learned over the years since graduation and pass that on to some of the incoming students.

This was a great introspective opportunity and I leveraged my love of observing and surrounding myself with people who are happy and successful (by their own definition). Can’t imagine this would be a bad thing to do…

Thinking back over the years of observation (I’m a huge fan of psychology) and pulling data points from articles and books I came up with something I called “The System”, a representation based on reading about and watching successful people, happy people, and trying to find the trends in their lives. This is what I observed. It might be good to note that since 2008, I have used it to live by and couldn’t be happier.

I noticed over the years that there seemed to be 5 “buckets” around successful people that influence thinking and being. Balancing the buckets is what enhances that success. Let’s start with you. YOU are at the center of it all, your physical being, your ability to think, your values. Intrinsic to you is a definition of success. YOU define success and can choose the thought environment around you and how you interact with it, so you must control the buckets in a way that leads to your success definition.

Three quick caveats:

  • Success is what you define it to be
  • The pursuit is an ever-changing, very dynamic, continuous journey
  • These are “Brandon-isms”, they work for me, take what you want but I invite you to create your own “-isms”

The Buckets:

B1 – Curiosity: Keeping an open mind will allow you to think more clearly. It yields creativity (which I believe everyone has) and innovation (which I define as applied creativity). Actions: Pay attention to your surroundings – trends, sudden changes, google. There’s a reason for EVERYTHING! – What is it?

Actions: Ask questions! Interact with your physical environments.

B2 – Learning: “Thinking is a skill that must be learned” – Learning has little to do with how smart you are or your intelligence. Learning helps open new doors, find new hobbies,  develop new skills, improve current skills, etc. It keeps the brain young. Learning can yield positive thinking. Never stop learning – every entrepreneur will attribute a part of their success to the love of learning. Train yourself to find opportunity in failure – failure is part of learning. Reinforce what you have learned by doing. Good quote: “Our lives basically change in two ways: The people we meet and the books we read.” – Harvey Mackay. (Hint: those both involve learning)

Actions: Set a learning goal(s) every year, and never stop. Focus on your strengths! Don’t know yours? – Try stuff… how else will you learn?!

B3 – Travel: Immersing yourself in a place or culture different from your own often leads to open mindedness and a better macro/global understanding. The best part is that everyone’s experience is different. This yields greater understanding about diversity (another creativity booster). Good quote: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.“ – Mark Twain – I couldn’t agree more.

Actions: Take at least one interesting trip to a new place a year. This could be a new place across town, across the country, across the globe. No excuses – do it. Bonus points if you try something new while there.

B4 – Relationships: This is your network, your family and friends, your peers, other people with similar interests, and those that simply edify your life (a very true reality: It’s not what you know, it’s who). This can also be your spiritual relationships and relationship with self via mindfulness and awareness, which can be a long and challenging piece of self work, but well worth the time. Keeping this strong and healthy is a keystone to a strong support system and has roots to leadership skills.

Actions: Find a mentor; keep in touch with your network; surround yourself with people who will help you grow and build you up – avoid those that don’t. Since you are the CEO of “You, Inc” – find an advisory board to help with the success of “You, Inc”!

B5 – Goals: Set goals for yourself – we are on this planet for a short time, why not strive for something? Life goals, business goals, personal goals, whatever they are, they should be goals that matter to you. The premise – figure out what you want out of life! Write it down (this is important to do) and only do things that lead you toward it. “Focus on the things that matter and not on the things that don’t” – Randy Pausch. This really helps in decision making. Good goals simplify decisions.

Actions: Take an introspective moment and figure out what matters to you! Write it down and work towards that. If you need a starting place – read this book: The Big Five for Life, by John Strelecky. This is my highest recommended book. Make a goal to balance your buckets too…

Your Logic: All of these buckets give and take with your thought processes. Humans are logical creatures – we can not, by nature, arrive at conclusions through illogical thought. Logic is the sum of all your experiences, some deep rooted, but always slightly shifting. Logic is how we communicate to each other. I believe that b/c of this, it is impossible to Convince anyone of anything. When you can to find common ground between your logic and another person’s logic is when you can learn to Persuade the other person’s logic to agree/disagree with yours – it has to be logical to them too! Logic drives everything. This also drives your perception of reality. Creating the 5 buckets for yourself and working to balance those buckets rounds you out as a person. This maximizes your ability to find that common ground with others, giving you clarity, communication, contemplation and less stress in most situations. Sound, balanced logic = happy thinking. Look for a follow on post digging deeper into Logic in the future. 

You, Inc: I always liked the idea (coined by Burke Hedges?) that you where the CEO of your own company and all of your skills and abilities, etc were, to the world, your product(s). This seemed to bundle my observation very well, so I used it. Basically – you are in control in your life, and with the right stuff going on inside, you can maximize your happiness and achieve your definition of success. You’ll have a stellar product for the outside world!

For me, The System ensures I’ve got the right stuff going on for me to continue to progress toward the things I want in life. As mentioned, I still use it today to live by and for me at least, it is a reminder to keep my life balanced, to stay positive, and continue to push forward to maintain a happy life and improve. It’s not always easy, but rarely is anything worth working for easy. Whether you are at the top of your game, are a budding entrepreneur, or are just looking for sometime to help guide you – The System is a great foundation. I thought I would share. I hope this can give others insight.

Bottom line:
Be Curious!
Be an information sponge.
Try new things. Go new places.
Seek new and maintain relationships.
Work toward your own happiness.

Enjoy life.

Have a creative and productive day,
Brandon Larson