I grew up in suburbs of Los Angeles. California was a great place to be when I was a kid; the generally good weather (except for smog alert days) meant lots of outdoor play. We biked everywhere. We lived adjacent to areas not yet replaced with housing tracks, so avocado groves and chaparral were our natural environment.
Age 12: “I want to lead a business like Lee Iacocca.”
I thought a lot about having a company as a kid, particularly one that designed airplanes. I drew and made and flew all sorts of things made out of paper and wood. My heroes were those people who created the future with their force-of-will. For reference: Robert Heinlein’s ‘The Man Who Sold the Moon’ or Lee Iacocca’s creatively named autobiography, “Iacocca”.
Age 17: “I want my Eagle Scout badge.”
I managed to earn Boy Scouts’ highest rank, and then discovered that it didn’t matter to anyone except other Eagle Scouts and a few, mostly bearded, older men.
College turned out to be where I shined. Especially junior college. Here was an environment where I could study any subject that interested me, with the only real cost being time, the value of which I didn’t yet understand. (When I attended J.C., classes were $15/unit.) My old line is that “I took everything from Art to Welding”; while not literally true, I did have an opportunity to take a broad selection of coursework, including, yes, both art and welding.
And then art school in San Francisco. It’s taken a lot of effort to put this time of my life in perspective. Traumatic. Junior college and in fact, life in general, failed to prepare me for the experiences. First time living alone, dirt poor and way out of my depth in school, and suffering from a complete lack of perspective. It was a dark time of furtive desperation.
Age 21: “I want to be Ansel Adams. And Minor White. And Robert Adams.”
For many years my life revolved around photography, eventually delivering me to well-respected art college in San Francisco. I quickly discovered that ‘going to art school in San Francisco’ is something you survive, not enjoy. Which I did, barely. The scars remain. Despite this, I am now an active artist and photographer.
Age 24: “If Tarantino and Rodriguez can do it, so can I.”
With the release of early digital video equipment, I became insanely passionate about the idea that anyone with a camera and a story could create a film. I conceived and directed many short films, all of dubious quality.
Age 29: “Hey, hardly anyone knows how to make websites and also, I’m pretty good at it. (Or so I thought.)”
Or at least I didn’t know I wasn’t. I had been already using Photoshop for several years by that point, so I taught myself to code. Those first few websites give me the confidence to apply for work at a world class interactive agency. Somehow I lucked into a junior designer role, and I quickly learned how much I didn’t know.
Age 33: “I’ll launch an internet startup like Jeff Bezos!”
Lots of learning here: forming a business, leading teams, developing marketing and promotion plans, doing everything on the cheap. I actually took two swings at this. Both got to the MVP stage before dying the slow death from lack of attention. I don’t consider these failures, and still inside my chest beats the heart of an entrepreneur.
Age 36: “How can we better serve the user?”
My constant push for better, more thought-through projects lead my eventual transition from UX into product roles. Lots more growing here: building a product roadmap, running financials, biz dev, writing FRDs, and getting buy-in.
The Now: “Creating amazing products”
This is what sets my heart afire. This is the intersection of my interests and where I add most value. Not necessarily running a company, but all creating great things. Product leverages my visual and experience design background and marries it to the strategic goals.