Thursday, November 8, 2018

Positive Lessons from Judo Con

I learned a lot at Judo Con in Kansas City last week. It was a really positive event, with 54 people from 12 states and Chile (me) in attendance. The limit was supposed to be 50 attendees, with a focus on club leaders interested in improving technical skills, growing their martial arts programs in both size and quality (shameless plug, for example, by focusing on academics as well as athletics). However, there were a few young blue and purple belts who wanted to come and how can you say no to kids who want to do judo, so they slipped in for the technical sessions.

I learned a lot about marketing and social media from the sessions James Wall and Lester Martell did on how to recruit martial arts students. One lesson that really stuck with me was this quote from James,

"Every new white belt I get is a precious little nugget. I take care of them, polish them up like gold. Do you know how much time, effort and money it takes me to get a new student into my school? Take care of those new students! Don't take them for granted."

He's really correct, not just for judo, but for business in general. How much do we take care of our new customers versus just going back out there looking for more? I could go on quite a bit but you could listen to the Judo Chop Suey podcast for a lot of detail.

The biggest takeaway for me, though, was a personal one. Several times during the weekend and thought,

"I am surrounded by good people."

Usually, when I go to a judo event there are mostly good people there but some who are complete assholes or plain out frauds. We all know them, the people who have an eighth-degree black belt and flat don't know much judo.

At this event, every single person was either someone I had known for many years and knew was a hard-working, intelligent, honest person doing the very best he or she could to make the world a better place in their own way.

This is your reward for being a good, honest person - you get to be around people like yourself.

If you're all about pretending to be a ninth-degree black belt, you aren't going to get on the mat and actually roll around doing arm bars with us. No one on the mat was there to impress people. We were having fun. I grabbed Caitlyn, Madelyn, Sandi and Julie at various times and said, "Hey, let me try this move on you."

It's not often that I've been in a group of this size and thought to myself, "I can see being friends with every single person in here. These are the people that help their neighbor with a flat tire, take the time to talk to a kid who is having a bad day. They are also people who, regardless of age, keep learning."

I felt very privileged to be there.

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Sunday, October 28, 2018

I’m that kind of person : Another business lesson from judo

Many years ago I met a teenage girl who said she wanted to go to the Olympics . I had visited her club a few times, practiced with her and gave her a few tips about competing and training.

One day, when I took off my judo gi after practice she said,

“Ew! Look at your arms! You look like a man!”

I was surprised by her reaction, and told her that it was normal to put on a lot of muscle mass if you were weightlifting and doing judo. I explained that being stronger than my opponents had often been the deciding factor in matches and since it was something over which I had control, unlike, for example, the availability of training partners, that I highly recommended strength training .

She made a face and said,
“No thanks! I’m not that kind of person ! If I have to look like you to be a world champion, I don’t want it!”

I was kind of amused that she didn’t realize how insulting that was. Since I wasn’t really concerned about the opinions of random teenage girls about my looks, I took a shower, got dressed and drove home without giving her another thought . As you might expect, this girl never went on to win anything of note .

What, you might ask, does this have to do with business?

To find the answer and the rest of the story, click here

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Wednesday, October 24, 2018

How Judo Taught Me to Avoid Startup Burnout

One thing I gained from judo was the importance of persistence. There are no doubt a lot of people who have better technique than me. They had better instructors who came from famous clubs, maybe even the Kodokan. I started at the Alton YMCA.

There are probably lots of people who have more natural athletic talent than me. I was never particularly fast. I'm also very near-sighted, so I couldn't see the scoreboard or time clock for most of the years I was competing, until I finally got contacts. I injured my knee really badly when I was a teenager and couldn't do any technique that required putting all my weight on my right leg.

Despite many disadvantages, I won anyway, over and over.

What I did learn was to be persevere.


(This might be why Forgotten Trail is my favorite game, because we dropped a lesson on perseverance in there.)

Get Forgotten Trail

How did learning perseverance help me run a startup?

Face facts, winning a world championships is one hard slog. In my day, you had to win the state championships to qualify for nationals. After that, you had to be good enough to make it into at least the top five to get points toward the national team. There were several tournaments each year that earned points toward the world or Panamerican team. When the trials came around, the top 8 people were invited to compete.

So, there were a lot of times each year I had to be ready to win. After the World Trials, of course, there were still tournaments in Europe and then the world championships. There isn't a lot of time to just relax and decompress because each time after I'd win the next tournament was going to be at an even higher level of competition.

Running a startup is kind of like that. First, you need to make a prototype, which maybe you can do by yourself or with your one or two co-founders. Then, you need to get some customers. To scale, you probably need to bring in employees and the amount of money you require increases. You need to go out and get your first investors.

Our company is over five years old now. We've survived where many startups have run out of money, failed to gain customers, couldn't build the desired features. At each step, it gets harder. Now we have more products that need updates, to put on more devices. We have customers who have questions. More employees means we need more sales, more investor funds.

So, that is one place that judo helped. I have learned that success isn't just a matter of working hard but working hard over a very long period of time.

Many competitors I knew worked just as hard as me, or even harder, at a single practice or a single training camp, but the next time or the next month or year, they weren't there.

Judo also taught me successful strategies to keep moving forward.

Sometimes, I was just tired of fighting the same people over and over. I worked full time as an engineer in San Diego so I didn't often have the option of traveling all over for training. Manny Gamburyan described it well when he was talking about doing judo with Karo Parisyan,

"I've fought him so many times, it's like fighting myself."

My usual day was to come in, do 25 or 50 throws on the crash pad, a few rounds of matwork, randori (sparring), and finish off with newaza uchikomi (matwork drills). There would be days when I just was not feeling it. Maybe it had been a long week at work. Maybe I was sore or mentally tired.

Instead of not going to practice, I would mix it up. I might just come in and do 500 throws that day. Maybe I'd do all matwork.

That's what I'm doing at this very minute. It's been a pretty exhausting month, flying to conferences, talking to people about our educational software.


Hey! Don't tune out just because I said educational software. It is completely awesome and some of it is even completely bilingual. You can learn math, history and even a second language all at the same time. Don't be such a wimp. Check it out!

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 So, I'm writing a blog post and while I'm at it telling you to get our games.

Judo also taught me to be honest about how effective my work was

I knew someone who lost at a major tournament and, crying, turned to me and said she could not have trained any harder.  She was working out 6-8 hours a day. She worked at a health club and said she taught aerobics classes, ran on the treadmill 45 minutes every day, did at least a half-hour a day of weightlifting, taught spin cycling classes.

I tried pointing out that none of that was judo and she responded, "But I work SO HARD!"

I realize that writing a post like this probably won't get more than a few if you to check out our games, any more than just doing throws on the crash pad is an effective way to train for competition. Still, it is something and it helps.

I also realize that some things, like those endless tech meetups I'm invited to where people pitch their idea for electric underwear or something equally useless are a complete waste of my time, because I'm past that point, just like the woman doing the cycling classes was past the point of those being useful for her. That's a post for another day, though and now that I am less burned out, I'm going to go back to answering those emails.

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Monday, September 17, 2018

Supporting Judo by Making It Okay to Quit, Part 2

When I was in my teens and twenties, I realized there would be a day when I couldn’t compete any more and I expected that none of the rest of my life could possibly be as good as my competitive years. Other people competed to a much later age than I did but my knee was hanging together by a thread. I finally had a total knee replacement when I was 51 and my doctor said I could not put it off any longer.

So, I was done with competition after several knee surgeries, with many more in my future, after three national championships, three US Open gold medals, one world championships and some other stuff (as Lanny Clark would affectionately say, “you’re the bitch who would consider winning the Panamerican Games as some other stuff you did”).

Contrary to my expectations, life without judo was fine most of the time. I married a man I loved, had two more kids, got a Ph.D., had a good career, a few good careers, actually, but that’s another post. I taught judo here and there - class at the college where I was a professor, a class at the local YMCA, a clinic at one of my friends’ clubs.

When we moved back to Los Angeles after my husband died, I married another good husband, had another baby, started a business, taught at a few different clubs, some of them for several years each. I held several offices in state and national organizations. I spent A LOT of time on the mat and on the road with Ronda helping her develop into a great judo player.

Unlike some of my friends to whom judo is like a religion - some even jokingly refer to going to judo tournaments on the weekend as “attending church” - I’ve kind of dropped in and out of judo my whole life.

Currently, I’m splitting my time between the US where I run a company that makes educational games (you should check one out) and Chile where I’ve just opened a company that makes educational games.
 Cajon del Maipo, Chile

I know plenty of people for who Judo is their exercise, their social life, their family time and their community volunteer efforts all in one. I’m not one of them. 


I could write a lot of posts - and I have - about all of the benefits I have gotten from judo and trying to give other kids those benefits is why I’ve taught fro so many years in so many different cities and states throughout my life.

Even holding all of those volunteer positions taught me a lot. I think I’m a much better manager thanks to the practice I got running things as a volunteer. ( I got to screw up some for free and now I make fewer mistakes with our investors' money.)

If you are one of those people that judo is your whole life and you’re happy with that, then I’m happy for you.

For some people, they have an abusive coach, unfair treatment by officials, a club full of cliques or other negative experiences and quit judo.

Most people quit judo to do something else, and that’s okay



Cerro de los condores, Chile

For me, though , and I think most people, it’s a matter of opportunity cost. In the last few years I’ve gone hiking in the Atacama desert, climbed a mountain and had condors fly within a few feet of me, gone horseback riding in Belize with a Maya guide as flocks of parrots flew overhead. You get the idea.
Sully's Hill, North Dakota


Tobago
Doing research in Belize, on a pyramid for Meet the Maya

Then, there is also the writing software and making one educational game after another , publishing scientific articles. Of course, that’s not just me. I know some people who were really good judo players and are now really good physicians or scientists.



I make games that teach math, in Spanish and English
I bring all of this up because I often hear people brag about having been doing judo for 30 or 40 years straight as if that somehow makes them better than other people. Not really the best idea if you want to get those former judo players who are the scientists or the business owners to give money to judo and bring their kids to learn judo if they get the attitude you think they are “quitters” and just not as good or tough as you.

One thing I’ve found in business is you’ll have more success if you honestly respect your customers, and potential customers.

I wonder if we treated quitting judo more like no longer playing for your college basketball team and less like no longer being a member of a church if we’d see more former judo players referring their friends and family.

I wonder , do many judo clubs have reunions? I’ve heard of one or two but it seems to be really rare.

To be honest , I probably wouldn’t go because I’d be in Santiago or Albuquerque or Grand Forks or somewhere when it happened but I still think it’s a good idea.



Tuesday, September 11, 2018

It’s Okay for Kids to Quit Judo

Paradoxically, one of the reasons we may have fewer people doing judo is that we make them feel like such losers and traitors when they quit. A second reason, that perhaps has not been discussed enough, is our devaluation of recreational players, but that’s a post for another day.

I was listening to the first cut of the More Than Ordinary podcast where my daughter, Julia, was giving advice to her niece on middle school. She said something like,

“You should do sports. I did judo when I was little and then I quit but it really helped me in soccer because I had some athletic skills.”

Some of what she said ended up on the cutting room floor, but that's not the point.

Julia is in Texas right now for a soccer game with her university team.


Julia practiced judo for 7 years, from age 4 to 11. During that time, her sister Ronda was on two Olympic teams and won several national and international championships. Everyone but my husband and I thought we should force Julia to stay in judo. I made her continue practicing and competing for a year after she said she wanted to quit and play soccer because a) I think you don’t simply quit something because you are having a bad week or so and b) I was hoping she’d change her mind.

She didn’t change her mind and for the past 7 years, through middle school, high school and college, she has played soccer.

At the same age, many of her friends were forced to continue judo because,

 “In the ( insert family name here) family, we don’t quit things. My kids are staying in judo until they get their black belts.”

Some of those kids will go on and put their own kids in judo classes but others NEVER will. Instead of looking back on their judo experience as a net positive, like Julia does, they tell me about all of the things they didn’t get to do because of judo, from hanging out with their friends to trying other sports.

Now, some of those things, it might be just as well they didn’t get to do - I’ve seen some of those friends. On the other hand, they were forced to do a sport that is physically hard and even harder if you are not that good at it. Yes, there are lessons to be learned from judo but not too many that can’t also be learned from running track or being in the band.

As for me, I’m not doing much judo these days, I’m going hiking a lot and opening a new office of 7 Generation Games in Santiago, Chile.  So, you’ll just have to wait for my next post to hear why I think it is okay if adults quit judo.

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Sunday, August 12, 2018

Just who the fuck do I think I am ?

I may as well start with the swearing in the title because there is going to be  a lot of it in this post.

Recently, a friend of mine overheard a few people talking about my attitude. What terrible thing did I do? I said that I wasn't going to participate in  a bunch of pitch competitions and hackathons coming up because I could make more money doing work on the contracts I already have, so it wasn't worth my time.

One of the haters fumed,

"Just who the fuck does AnnMaria think she is?"

Another awful thing I had done, according to them,  was turn down three opportunities to speak at events. The fact is, I'm running a company, hiring people, meeting with customers, reviewing contracts, and yes, speaking at a lot of events. Hater number 2, chimed in with,

"Can you believe it? She said she gets asked to speak at 2 or 3 events a week? If people are still asking her to talk at her age, she should be grateful! Seriously, who does she think she is?"

My friend was appalled, but when I heard about this, and more, I found it highly amusing. First of all, I haven't met any of these people more than a couple of times and hadn't thought about them for a combined total of 30 minutes in my life. Second, everything they were complaining that I had said was true and in response to questions I had been asked. If you don't want me to give you a true answer, don't ask me. It's not like I'm on Reddit or on a street corner with a sign that says "Ask me anything."

The thing that makes it worth discussing, to me, is the apparent confusion between entitlement, gratitude and appreciation.

For example, if you are putting on a hackathon or a conference, if you run a start-up accelerator or anything else that is very hard work, I can appreciate that, defined by Webster as "to grasp the nature, worth, quality, or significance of".  Good for you, not spending all your money on cheap hookers and expensive whiskey. 

If someone is GRATEFUL on the other hand, they are "appreciative of benefits received".  Let me be clear, if I see your conference/ hackathon / accelerator / coffee-hair salon- ad agency or whatever it is as having exactly jackshit in terms of benefits to me, then, again, according to Webster,  I don't need to be grateful for it.

Yes, it's good you're not wasting your life, but if you want gratitude, to quote a friend of mine,

 "Call your mama, she probably still loves you."

I get offers all of the time from people who want me to fly to East Nowhere and think I should be grateful they are offering to let me attend the Lemon Festival for free, "and we can't afford to pay your plane fare but we'll put you up in a Motel 6".

You're not entitled to other people's time

 Entitlement: belief that one is deserving of or entitled to certain privileges 
  
Yes, I do get invited to speak at a lot of events. Sometimes, I'm grateful, because I know I will learn a lot, or it's in a lovely place I want to go or I expect to spend time with fascinating people, or all of the above. 

However, every two weeks, I need to make a payroll so that our artists, developers and administrators at 7 Generation Games keep coming to work. That means that I need to consider the schools and customers who are giving us money first, reaching them and providing services to them.

That's not the point, though. Even if I am not doing anything productive, if I'm just laying in bed drinking coffee and reading a book, that's perfectly fine.  You're not entitled to other people's time. 

I am, however, entitled to my own opinion and preferences. I'll be sixty next week. I've worked full-time for 45 years and taught judo as a volunteer for 47 years. I think I've done my fair share of contributing to society.  If you don't agree, oh well. If you get angry because you think I'm not appreciative enough of your event / program/ whatever to participate, oh well.

One thing I have learned for damn sure after all of these years is that time is not infinite. I have to make decisions and set priorities, and they will be my priorities, not yours, because I'll have to live with the consequences.


Here's why I think I really piss some people off

I have a sense of my own value and what I have earned,  defined as "to receive as return for effort and especially for work done or services rendered".  So, if you want me to come to your event, I'm not staying in a motel without heat and having ramen for breakfast because I don't want to do that any more and I have options to work with other people who don't expect me to do that.

I know that I am very good at a lot of things - software design, statistics, programming - and people will pay me well to do those things because there is a value to them, so I don't feel bad at all about refusing to do things that pay less. 

This, however, is the one thing that I think really, really makes people angry, and I find that very funny because I think it is one of the major keys to a happier life:

I refuse to be defined by other people's expectations.

 

Maybe you think I should not be doing another start-up in a new country at sixty years old. Maybe you think I should stay home and learn to knit. Maybe you think I should be grateful for the opportunity to spend 60 hours completing an application for $4,000 in funding that I may or may not get depending on some unpublished criteria. Maybe you think I should be more modest, quieter, less loud and proud about any accomplishments. You're entitled to your opinion. Just don't be surprised when I completely ignore it, because I've got shit to do.

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Friday, August 10, 2018

The thing about moving is you bring yourself with you

Therapists have a name for it, "Going geographic".

That is, the tendency of some people to change locations to solve their problems.

The problem is, wherever you go, you take yourself with you.

and, as my friend Steve Scott, adds,

Sometimes that's the worst guy to bring.

I'll be honest. I moved half-way around the world, learned a new language and I'm still doing pretty much the same thing. Or, as I can hear my other friend (yes, I have more than one), Dr. Jake Flores saying,

"What? You mean you didn't turn into an entirely different person?"

Way too much of my day still involves answering email and, despite that, I still have thousands of unread emails, and that's not spam but people that I think I should get back to.

I still spend way more time than I would like in meetings and much less time than I'd like on coding and data analysis.


My best times are hiking in the woods and hanging out with my family, and I spend far less time doing either than I would like. A wise psychologist once told me,

The only time changing places solves your problems is when your problems are because of that place

So, if you are unemployed because you live in a town of 120 people with no jobs, then moving might solve your problem. If you are unemployed because you drink too much, miss work, have a fourth-grade reading level, can't get up early enough to get to work on time and fight with your coworkers, no matter where you go, you'll probably end up unemployed.

People don't change all at once, but "going geographic" has caused a change in trajectory for me 

 Looking back, I can see that I've changed in 4 ways as a result of living in Chile.

1. I take Saturdays off - I realize most people take Saturday AND Sunday off, but I never have. I'm often asked how I get so much done and one answer is I work 7 days a week, 9 or 10 hours a day.  When Ronda was visiting she asked me what I'd do if I retired. I told her that I had no idea because all I do is work. So, I've started taking a day off once a week. What do I do? Usually, I go hiking for an hour or two. When my children and grandchildren were here, I hung out with them and did stuff like go to the playground.
In the Santiago metro station
It's still weird to me to wake up and have nothing scheduled for that day, other than, say, meeting a friend for coffee. I've actually kept to my Saturday off schedule for over a month. When Dennis comes to visit, I'm planning on taking a couple of extra days off one week.  This is a big change for me.

2. I'm 5% less likely to tell people to fuck off, an impact of Chilean culture. People here don't get upset if there is no non-fat soy milk for their latte or if someone cuts them off in traffic or they have to wait an hour for an answer until someone gets back from lunch. In the U.S., it's common to hear people say,

"But I have a RIGHT to be upset if I come in three days in a row and they don't have the product advertised on the sign."

You may have the right but you also have the choice. Chileans choose not to be easily bothered. Maybe Bob is a terrible manager, but if you don't work with Bob, you don't really have to tell him that. Being more willing to let things ride can be a good thing, until it isn't. As I said, I'm only 5% more likely to let things go. If you are interested in the opinions Maria and I have on our travels and life in the window seat, you can read our Startup Diaries blog.

3. I appreciate every day things more now. I like good coffee and central heating, both of which are hard to find in Chile. I miss having my own office. I can read and write very well with relatively effort, in English. I never appreciated that before having to do business in Spanish. I miss libraries and bookstores that are full of books I can read easily. Oh my God, I miss living some place that doesn't have winter! Santiago isn't Sioux Falls or Fargo by any means but it has actual winter where it gets below 50 degrees for weeks on end. I hadn't lived somewhere with winter for 21 years and I don't intend to do it again after this. I didn't realize how much of a drag it was on me until the last two days when it was finally in the 70s. Ronda has been talking to me about building a tiny house for retirement. I was intrigued by the idea but now I know for sure that if it's anywhere that has winter, I'm out. Maybe a tiny summer house.

4. Really starting to re-evaluate the time I spend on things I don't want to do. I've been saying for 30 years I want to do more research. Yet, no matter whether I'm in Santa Monica or Santiago, my time gets eaten up by answering a thousand emails a week, meetings, presentations. Yes, I know that our games are helping students learn. I know that our teacher resources are a godsend for many teachers. However, I've been working 45 years. I started working full-time when I was 15 and I'll be 60 next week. I've taught judo as a volunteer for almost as long. I've given so many guest lectures and conference presentations and seminars that I've totally lost track. So, I've decided that if I want to take an hour off and go walk in the park, that's fine. I'm starting to evaluate my success based on the number of times I say, "No" to opportunities that would take up my time.

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