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Blogging me


Economics, the data business, and free time


Changes are afoot.  

As I mentioned on my LinkedIn page and via a fairly broad e-mail, Onvia and I are parting ways effective March 1. The parting is amicable and Onvia is abiding by every commitment they made to me, I am financially in good shape, and I have a lot of former colleagues who are very encouraging and willing to offer good ideas and contacts to help me out.   I will be fine.

But my cage is still rattled, just like everyone else who has been in my position.

This experience will, in the end, be very good for me.  I will be more empathetic to those who lose their jobs, to those who feel they are letting themselves and others down, and those who wonder why everyone around them seem to be so much successful than them.  Yeah, my overactive brain has been down all those paths.

But now, it’s time to push forward and take full advantage of the experience.  An executive coach had one recommendation, that I am enthusiastically following now:  writing articles on LinkedIn’s publishing platform to highlight my thoughts on my industry of  the past 16 years, my love of business economics, and my sometimes controversial views as to how they come together.   In otherwords, channel my overactive brain into the data geekiness I enjoy.

Post one and two are already out, and I have four more in the queue.  Look for something once a week.  I welcome your responses and enjoy a good (that means healthy, intellectual, and without vitriol) debate.  It’s just data and economics, after all.

Read, geek out with me, and send me your thoughts!


“Why is Data Such a Hard Sell?"


“Data is not SaaS"

Photo sources:  Sean MacEntee. https://www.flickr.com/photos/smemon/ ; Martin Howard. https://www.flickr.com/photos/martinjhoward2/.  Used under Creative Commons license.



Back at it

Yeah, it’s been a while, and shame on me for letting the content get so stale, but between settling into a new city, starting with a new company, and moving my (and my partner’s) life from one coast to another, I found myself distracted.

I will use the next few posts to catch up on some of the highlights of the last 12 months, but I will use this one to focus on the current.

The past week or so has been spent recovering from a nasty cold (local folks are referring this one as the “Seattle Plague”) and getting the year started at work.   I am feeling better and my team is in a great place for the year, so I guess that is progress.  Now, it’s time to move beyond the tactics and get longer-term plans in place.

I plan to focus on three things:

  • Grow my professional skills and exposure.  I have been pretty heads-down and tactical with the new job, and haven’t looked outside the four walls enough.  Time to meet people, learn new things, and think about what I want career-wise in 3-5 years.  My team can do the job, so it’s time for me to look for new approaches and strategies.
  • Get the fitness regimen back in place.  Before the “Plague” knocked me off my routine,  I have been active, but I need to step it up, lose about 10-15 pounds (or get my body fat % down where it should be), and push harder to get stronger.  It’s work, but I know I feel better physically and psychologically when I do it.  
  • Work on my compulsion for order and conclusion.  For those of you who subscribe to the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), I am an ENTJ.  The E/I part is not that strong either way, but wow, the N, T and, to a lesser-degree, J, are really high.  What that all means is that I like order, logic, concepts, and having everything wrapped up.  “Loose ends” and me just don’t get along.  That’s neither inherently good or bad, unless it means that I get too wound-up about the realities of life, which often aren’t as conclusive as I’d like.

I guess I just listed belated New Year’s resolutions, but so be it.  I have a to-do list — which is very “J” of me.

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Reunited


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After two months apart, last week began Mark’s official move from Atlanta to Seattle.  It’s a big ask I made — leave the place of your birth, life, ancestors, and heritage, and move to the other corner of the country and relaunch.  He’s been a real trooper about it all.

This move has really brought into view the importance of rootedness.  One can definitely  live without being rooted in a community, but I think you miss out on a lot.  We are wired to be social and to look to others to better understand ourselves and a jolt like this can be both incredibly enlightening and incredibly stressful.  When you leave (almost) all of your reference points and reintroduce yourself to a new community, you have to rebuild a big part of yourself.  It’s not all bad, and can be stimulating and liberating, but the process is not easy.

I have moved several times in my life and understand the process, the stress, and the effort.  I really appreciate that at 40-something, Mark is willing to try this for the first time.   I am thrilled to have him hear to join me on the journey!


A little roadtrip to paradise


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I took advantage of some (rare) cloudless January weather to drive Route 101 around the Olympic Peninsula.  Given the heavy rain in December, the mountains were covered in heavy snow, so many of the higher-elevation sites were inaccessible, so I limited myself to some sightseeing along the lakes, beaches, and rainforests.

What a place.

I guess I found the relative isolation of the Peninsula (one has to drive a circuitous route or take a ferry to get there from Seattle) a true gift.  The land is beautiful and it has a distinct feel that I have not seen anywhere else.  It has a been of Vermont crunchiness (especially in Port Angeles), a strong American Indian character, and an otherworldly feel from the fog, rain, and mountains. There is such an air of mystery and remoteness to the place, which I hope it never loses.

I have always been fascinated by places “at the end of the Earth.”  Key West in Florida, The Upper Peninsula in Michigan, Sedona, and even New Orleans.  These are places where historic (if not current) remoteness kept them belessedly out of sync with their surrounding areas and preserved a kind of quirkiness and charm that can only come from not being too integrated with the mainstream.  The Olympic Peninsula, in addition to being naturally one of the most beautiful places in the world, also feels like the end of the Earth.

Yet another reason I am so glad I am exploring this corner of the country.

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Ah, the Honeymoon

I had a great week this week.  Wrapped-up week two at my new job and finally had the opprtunity to present my background, goals, and expectations to my new team.  The team is really impressive, by the way, and reminded me how much I missed the positive energy of a work team that is engaged, energetic, and ready to take on the world.  I am still smiling.

I also had a chance to reflect on the “honeymoon periods” we all go through as we enter different phases of our lives.  Whether it is a new job, new city, new relationship, or whatever, there is a magical time window when people around you extend trust to you in a way they otherwise would never do.  When you’re in a honeymoon period, it is so critical to recognize and appreciate that extension of trust and make the most of it.  Manage it well and you can build very positive momentum; mishandle it, and you can permanently diminish your chances for success.  Yes, it’s magical and enjoyable, but the honeymoon can be stressful too.

I am still in my honeymoon with Seattle (do long-time residents really appreciate how beautiful this city is?) and with my job (I am very happy I made the move and feel a very strong pull to do whatever I can to make my team wildly successful), but I can’t help but wonder how long it will last and how much positive momentum I can really build.

I am committed to giving it a damned good try, though.

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Go West, (not so) young man!


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After 19 years (!) in Atlanta and almost nine in my current job with CMD, I have decided to make a big change.  I accepted a sales leader position with Onvia — a leading provider of information on procurement by state and local government and educational institutions — and am moving to Seattle.

I have had a great run in the South and will always have a soft spot for its people, food, landscape, and culture.  Maybe I won’t miss the heat in August, but all in all, it will be hard to leave.  That beings said, the Pacific Northwest is, to me, the most beautiful part of the US, with incredible beauty amongst its mountains, islands, sounds, and beaches.  Is it a bit gray and drizzly?  Sure, but it’s also cultured, smart, and full of people who are incredibly proud and protective of their beautiful corner of the world.

Mark and I will likely have a footprint in both cities to maintain close ties to friends and family.  I will start my new job in mid-November and will migrate westward over the coming months.  From past experience, I know that change can be a bit scary and stressful, but is generally good.  I grow, gain perspective, and meet a ton of new and wonderful people along the way.  I expect that this transition will be no different.


My newest acquisition


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Atthe risk of sounding like an old(er) man, while my friends were boozing it up over Labor Day weekend in New Orleans, I was wandering up and down Julia and Royal Streets (the end towards  Esplanade) browsing modern art galleries.   I am always pleasantly surprised with the quality and accessibility of art in NoLa and make a point of taking an afternoon for a quiet art walk.   The danger of this hobby, however, is that all of these works are for sale and that I am tempted to buy one of them.

Which leads to the painting above.   It’s titled i need you to be an adult and make adult decisions by Bossier City, Louisiana, artist Joshua Chambers.   It is an acrylic on wood featuring a sloth pulling a cord attached to a cinder block all on a gray to green gradiated background.   Funny thing is that I am not usually interested in surrealist art — I never caught the Dali or Miró bug — yet this one really caught me.   I think it’s because Chambers's style is a quieter and more intellectual take on surrealism.  I also like that he captures a small thought — in this case the anxiety of growing up and facing adult situations — rather than trying to flood the work with mutiple concepts and representations.   In addition, his conciseness in choosing the sloth and the cinder block balances the absurd with the dreamlike, all in a quiet and contemplative way.  There is no shouting nightmare here — just a quiet pang of anxiety.  

Big thanks to Taylor Lyon of Graphite Galleries for his help and his flawless shipping.  Now, I have to find a home for this — any recommendations as to what room best fits a sloth painting? :-)


Art is not dead

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I make no secret that I am an art museum junkie.  Whenever I travel for work or pleasure, I try to carve out time to visit a local exhibit, museum, or commercial gallery.  Most of the time I find the experience calming, challenging, reflective, and immensely enjoyable — especially at smaller museums or galleries.  Other times — especially at the best-known museums — I find the very opposite.  The crowds of trophy seekers (you know, the ones who visit the Louvre just to see the Mona Lisa, crowd the room, the leave) make the experience crass and commercialized.  Instead of trying to explore new ways of visualizing and interpreting the world of the artist, so many people want to check the box, take a pic, then chase the next conquest.  

If I am in the National Gallery in DC (although I much prefer the Phillips Collection or the Hirshhorn), I spend my time with the Dutch Masters or the Raphaels and skip the Impressionists.  Nothing personal, Monsieur Monet, but I still have bruises from the babey strollers from my last attempt to see your work.  MOMA has a stunning collection of modern art trophies that are very well curated, displayed, and explained, but I dare you to try to look at a Van Gogh without having a mobile phone blocking your view.  The Phillips has three Van Goghs by the way, hanging quietly in an old sitting room with maybe 2-3 people looking at them — a much more pleasant experience.


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So does that mean art is becoming just another tourist attraction?  I used to fear that, but I saw an announcement from an artist collective in England featuring Banksy and (meh) Damien Hirst that gives me great hope.  Set up in the town of Weston-super-Mare, Dismaland is an art exhibit laid out like a theme park that features “amusement and anarchism.”  A look at some of the news articles (such as this one from The Guardian) give you an idea of what he (and they) have designed, but this is a tremendousely exciting development.  Art is big, it is out of the marble and Doric columned museums, it is away from the million-dollar auctions with bidding hedge fund managers, and it is pushing the boundaries without relying on cheap shocks.

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Art is most definitely not dead — it is simply thriving away from the traditional palaces where the trophy hunters roam.




P.S.  One day after posting this, the Atlanta Journal Constitution published this article on the lack of decorum in major art museums.  Remember, you heard it here first! 

Why we love the bureaucracies we hate

How many companies have you worked for where this could be the org chart?


Yeah, me too….  but the question for me is why?  Article after article has been written about the dangers of stifling bureaucracy and the power of the nimble and “flat” new competitor, yet the hierarchies reappear over and over.

I’ll offer my take;  bureaucracies reappear because we humans are drawn to hierarchy and stability — and bureaucracies offer the illusion of both. 

As an example, I have been through several big changes at my current company — an aborted divestiture, multiple reorganizations, a private equity buyout, and the spinoff of a division — all within eight years.  Yet, if you listened to the buzz in the hallways, most of my colleagues talk about the “good old days” before all of these changes.  Never mind that they are forgetting to mention about 80% of the changes that actually happened, and that while the company “wasn’t changing” it laid-off almost 30% of its staff, changed CEOs four times, and replaced all of its systems.  

My colleagues are just as human as everyone else — we cling to the appearance of certainty and stability, even if it’s illusory and comes at a very high price.  And who can blame us?  Most Americans aren’t making windfall profits from these changes — and our jobs seem to be getting harder every year.  Stability would be nice given that “change” doesn’t seem to bring many rewards.

The problem is that we really haven’t ever had “stability.”   American society has changed rapidly and constantly since the Revolution (and well before that) — but we too often forget about the disruption, uncertainty,  and trauma as time marches on and instead focus on the changes we face today and tomorrow.  We look back with nostalgia and look forward with anxiety.  Neither perspective is 100% accurate and together they make for a very stressful state of mind.

So, we seek structure, certainty, and definition to counter the stress of the many things we see changing all around us.  In my office, the code phrases are “I need to know my job responsibilities,” or “I need to know who I report to and how I will be measured.”  We are making the classic tradeoff of freedom and flexibility for perceived stability and security.

How do we do that in the workplace? — set up structures and processes, aka bureaucracy.  Bureaucracies promise clear authority, defined responsibility, and strong accountability, while flat organizations depend on teams to sort things out for themselves with a minimum of guidance and daily direction. That “chaos” from a flat organization is admittedly hard to scale and can bring its own problems, but what does bureaucracy bring?  We all know the downside — slow decisions, lack of accountability, stagnation, disengagement, and social stratification.

So why do it?  I think we simply can’t help ourselves.  When chaos hits, we seek certainty and forget the price of that certainty.  Yes, we will take the shit as long as we know who is doing the shitting on us and we know on whom we can shit.

Maybe coming to peace with our stability-loving ways and learning to love the org chart is the answer...


Rainy nights in Georgia

Brooks Benton sang about them and I love watching them from my screened-in porch.  It’s a simple pleasure, but watching, hearing, and feeling the rain while sipping a cool drink….. instant stress relief.  Enjoy.


© Steve Ritchie 2017