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Two Wild and Crazy, Worldview-Changing Revelations from Gardening and Home Brewing

That picture on the left is my first batch of homemade beer of 2014. It's only my second attempt at home brewing, but if it turns out as well as my first one, it should be tasty.

I tried two new things in 2013 that changed my outlook on how things are produced and consumed in today's culture. The first was a real, serious attempt at a garden. The second was my first home brew.

While I took up neither in search of enlightenment, after doing both I realized I had learned two really important insights into how we produce and consume.

1) We are too far removed from what we consume

For the most part, we have no idea how any of what we consume is produced. We take for granted the hard work that goes into making quality products, and we're for the most part clueless when shortcuts are taken (and the effects of those shortcuts on quality and health).

The ability for people to feed themselves is the most fundemental principle of self-sufficiency, yet if our economy were all of the sudden to face massive disruptions, most people would have no idea how to grow and produce anything they consume.

In today's economy, it makes sense that most people don't produce their own food, but we should all have some idea how to do it in case we ever have to. Plus when you get engaged with how to make things for yourself, you start to get engaged with how others make it for you. That's a good thing.

2) The economic precision with which products are made is amazing

I'm glad I'm gardening. I'm glad I'm making my own beer.

To be clear, however, it's very difficult to do any of it cheaper than what you would have paid for it at the store. Even if things are going well, whether growing vegetables in the back yard, or brewing beer, when you calculate all out of pocket expenses for everything required to produce, there's a good chance you could have gone to the store and bought the same quantities that you made for not much more money.

Even if you're good and you're able to brew or garden for a lot less money than you would spend at the store, there's another thing to factor: your time. The truth of the matter is, from the standpoint of just pure cash flow, your time is much better spent doing what it is that you do that makes money, rather than gardening or brewing to save money.

The DIY ethic is important to participate in and pass along to your children. I can't wait to do more. However, our free market economy has allowed incredible economies of scale to flourish, and you really learn to respect them and appreciate them when you try to compete against them. The precision with which our economy runs is amazing, and it's something to be respected and protected.

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Online Reputation Management - The Best Way to Fight Negative Online Comments & Reviews

Lately, you may be hearing & seeing ads promoting a service that can help businesses who suffer from negative comments left by customers. They use a new marketing buzzphrase: online reputation management.

The business hook used by these types of companies is simple. You, the business, receive a poor online reviews from customers. When new potential customers search for your business, the poor reviews come up, sometimes even before your actual business website. The poor reviews are seen by potential customers who decide to not do business with you, hurting your bottom line. These businesses, they claim, can get the negative reviews buried so that they are tough to see.

Some of these companies may be legitimate, but you should tread carefully with anyone who claims that they can give you any kind of notable adjustment of search results, whether they be online reputation management companies, or organic SEO companies in general. (SEO stands for search engine optimization).

Why the skepticism? Because search engines, not online reputation management companies, determine which content comes up in a search. Furthermore, if a search engine feels a company gamed the system and tried to trick its search algorithms, that company could be penalized. You might remember Google notably going after and a few years ago.

So, what's a business owner to do to fight negative online reviews? It boils down to this: give excellent customer service, respond to problems promptly and professionally, and encourage positive feedback.

Key #1: Excellent customer service. People who are happy with your business don't leave negative feedback. In fact, they might just tell their friends, both in person and through social media, how happy they were with your service. They say the best advertising is word of mouth advertising, and that starts with excellent customer service.

Key #2: Respond to problems promptly and professionally. If someone leaves negative feedback about you, why not try to correct the situation instead of spending time and money trying to get the comment buried? By fixing the problem, the customer might just delete the negative comment. If you can only contact them back via the place where the comment was left, a reply from your business saying your sorry for the poor experience and asking them to contact you directly to try to rectify the situation could help show other potential customers that you're engaged in trying to keep customers satisfied.

Key #3: Encourage positive feedback. Be honest: how often do you go out of your way to tell others about good experiences you've had with a business, versus how much will you go out of your way if the experience is poor? In a world where people are much more likely to talk about the negative than the positive, why not ask customers whom you know have had a positive experience to give you a positive online review?

Customer reviews are becoming increasingly more important in how business is conducted across the world. More and more customers are relying on them, and more and more customers are getting comfortable leaving them. Rather than fighting to see the negative reviews buried, your much better off engaging in the types of behavior that lead to the kinds of reviews you WANT to see for your business.

Update: A new court ruling says that Yelp must release the identities of 7 anonymous reviewers as part of a lawsuit filed by an Virginia carpet cleaning company. My take: maybe this business owner's suit has merit, and maybe it doesn't - he knows his individual circumstances best. For the majority of businesses, however, the advice still stands: the best way to fight negative reviews is to give service that encourages the exact opposite.

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Five Ways to Promote More Awesomeness in 2014

There are a whole lot of people who are smarter than me who are good at deciding whether some years are better than others. For a lot of those people, 2013 seems to be rather unimpressive.


I suppose that's okay if your measuring stick is simply what dominated the headlines. The reality, though, is that every year has its ups and downs, triumphs and defeats, innovations and set-backs, and that makes 2013 no different than any other year that's come and gone before it. It left lessons for those who seek wisdom and created opportunities for those who choose to see them and take advantage of them.


On a personal level, 2013 was a good year of clarity for me. We are all given unique gifts. Mine is the ability to communicate. And my job, my task in 2014, is to promote more awesomeness.


Silly as it may seem, that's my motto. I've identified five good ways to do it, knowing there are many more.  These are the guiding principles I'm going to do my best to operate by in 2014, and I hope you'll commit to trying to do them as well.

Five ways to promote more awesomeness in 2014


1) Promote innovation, not criticism. Critics can make money, but nobody remembers a critic. There are so many great ideas to be shared. Some from you. Some from others. Share them. Be excited about them. Dream big and encourage others to dream big with you. Big ideas change the world.


2) Facilitate connection, not division. Innovation happens when bright minds work together. Division and partisanship holds back progress and harmony. Competing ideas are good because they force constructive examinations of beliefs, but too many bright minds get caught up in the mistaken belief that disagreement in some areas means they can't work together in others. Be one who facilitates people coming together and stay out of petty arguments.


3) Honor art, not force of habit. Monotonized repetitiveness in business and life has its place. Anticeptic as they may be, best-practice efficiencies get things done that need to be done with a minimal allocation of resources. But art is important. When every-day things are done from the heart and soul of the producer, it makes interactions and transactions that much more enjoyable for everyone. Art helps express core values, helps us see things in a unique light and breeds innovation. There are artisans everywhere making things cooler for everyone. Celebrate them and encourage everyone to be an artist.


4) Promote giving, not greed. The idea that those without resources can't give is absolutely true, and there's nothing wrong with building a better life for yourself. But we all know excess when we see it, and we all know when we have the opportunity to give. There are many people who could use help, and there are many ways to improve communities with just a little bit of extra time and money from those who have means. Look for ways you can help, and when you see them, do them. Encourage others to do the same by being an example yourself.


5) Celebrate every day acts of kindness. One act of kindness can have an impact on an individual's entire outlook on life. I still remember, at 20 years old after packing everything I had into the back of my pickup and moving to the big city (lookout, St. Louis!) the guy who stopped to help me move my futon (the one thing I was having a hard time moving myself). He welcomed me to the neighborhood and told me about a local hangout that a guy my age would like. That one act helped me know that moving to the city was fine and moving away from home in general was fine, because you'll always find people that will welcome you and help you fit in wherever life takes you. Be the person that helps brightens another person's day and celebrate the simple things that others do that accomplishes the same.


More personally for me, some resolutions I've committed to trying to do every day in the new year:

  • Do something physically healthy every day

  • Do something spiritually healthy every day

  • Learn something new every day

  • Write something every day

  • Be a good father and husband every day.

Do you have some additional ways to promote more awesomeness? Share them with me in the comments below, on Twitter or on Facebook. Here's to a happy and prosperous 2014!


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On Phil Robertson, Please Stop the Self-Righteous Indignation

A funny thing happened when Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson spouted off on gays in a GQ Magazine interview: I didn't care.

I'm supposed to be a social progressive. I've defended gay rights for years. Mean spirited hate directed towards gay people makes me mad.

But the situation with Phil Robertson seems like a take-down that's wholly unnecessary and part of a larger battle that isn't really even about him. This is about a culture war in which Phil's just a pawn – someone to be vilified by one side or a rallying cause by another. At the end of the day, neither side will mind if he winds up being collateral damage if they can claim they won the battle in a larger war that never seems to end.

Perhaps my views on a guy like Phil Robertson have to do with my upbringing. For most of my life, I've lived in liberal college towns in otherwise conservative parts of the country. I've always been exposed to diverse viewpoints. I've had dinner with staunch conservatives and flaming liberals. I've been around “both sides” enough to realize that for most people, their political leanings are just a very small part of who they are.

That Phil, a 67-year-old white southern evangelical Christian, professed that he didn't agree with homosexuality, should surprise no one.  Phil's wrong on the issue, but people can be wrong on issues and still be decent people. To demand that he be fired for his personal belief shows a form of intolerance that's wrong in its own right.

Many of Phil's detractors have gone into an irrational frenzy over his comments, but so have those who are rallying behind him. Is a full-scale boycott of A&E over their decision to indefinitely suspend him really where conservatives want to make their stand? Let's not act like Phil's a completely innocent victim. Phil didn't just disagree with homosexuality; he decided to expand on his thoughts and pontificate on the virtues of vaginas versus anuses. Should we really be surprised that A&E was uncomfortable with that type of language coming from one of its stars? A company's not allowed to say that crosses the line?


At some point, we have to ask ourselves just how much of the reaction we see from both sides is simply people reacting in the way they think they are supposed to react. When people express outrage at Phil's comments, are they doing so because they are truly upset, or is it because they're worried about being seen as insensitive themselves if they don't speak out? Do Phil's defenders really think his, um, detailed discussion on heterosexuality versus homosexuality is really worth defending, or are they worried that by not defending him they'll be seen as anti-Christian, or perhaps worse yet, pro-gay?

The question on motives is one worth asking, because neither side is furthering any kind of viewpoint worth fighting for. Nobody is furthering the argument for better acceptance of gays, and nobody is furthering the argument for a better understanding of how Christians believe.

What we're left with are mob mentalities in action where the challenge is to see who can yell the loudest. Everyone seems to agree that Phil has a First Amendment right to say what he says without government prosecution, but that A&E has the right to fire him for saying it. So, what's the end-game here? Is the contest about waiting to see who gets destroyed first so that one side will get to say, “We won this round!” Is that what this whole thing is about? 

We need to learn to save our outrage and offense for those true cases where someone is truly trying to injure, demean or persecute another. Not every slight is a cause worth going to war over.   

This debate seems like one big giant waste of time. To all of us: enough of the self-righteous indignation, please.

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Mike Rowe on Promoting Skilled Trades, What He Learned on Dirty Jobs & Why "Follow Your Passion" is Poor Advice

As the star of Discovery Channel's Dirty Jobs, and national spokesperson for Ford, Mike Rowe is in the midst of using his celebrity to promote one of the most overlooked economic opportunities in the United States: the skilled trades. See some of his current work here.

With millions of Americans in debt from college degrees that are of little or no use to them, he's going against the conventional wisdom that college is a necessity. Instead, his foundation is focused on awarding trade scholorships.

We just stumbled upon a TED talk of his from 2008 and immediately had to share it. It's spot on and worth every minute. Enjoy!

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