Chris Hardie

Blog, Tech, Business and Community Building

adventures

March 14, 2014

How I learned to run a business

Meeting RoomContinuing in the theme of last week's post on how I became a computer geek, I thought I'd also share some thoughts on how I learned to run a business.

I get asked now and then what path led me to the world of business ownership/management, and I think the short answer is that I've always just learned what I needed to know to support my other interests and passions, and in one particular long-running case, that meant learning the world of business. I've never set out to run a business for the sake of running a business, and I don't have any formal educational training in that skill set.

I'm not sure that my story should be any kind of model for others; I don't claim that I've always learned to run a business well, and I'm sure that there are many things I could and should have done better over the years. But by at least a few traditional measures of my company Summersault's performance from 1997-2013 - profitability, financial stability and customer satisfaction - I think I can claim some success along the way.

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March 7, 2014

How I became a computer geek

chris-geekOccasionally people ask me how I got started working in the world of computers and Internet technology. There were a lot of different factors - from my own curiosity to the learning and discovering my parents and teachers encouraged to the timing of what tools/tech became available as I grew up. I don't think I can hold one particular decision or moment up over another as key, but I thought I'd try to hit some of the highlights.

As a kid I was apparently very, very curious about how things worked, especially appliances and other mechanical things. I would take them apart to understand the innards, and then try to put them back together again more or less in the same working order. I was fortunate to have parents who let me do this exploring, and where they might have had good reason to be exasperated by having household fixtures disassembled and strewn about, they instead were supportive.

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February 19, 2014

Getting rid of all my books

Tech BooksOkay, not ALL of my books.  But a few months ago I did start trying to significantly reduce the number of printed edition books that I was storing at home.  It was one part of an overall attempt to minimize the amount of physical stuff in my life. Here I'll share a few thoughts on how it worked.

I'm not quite sure when I made the mental shift toward being ready to get rid of a bunch of my printed books.  In the past I've always been someone who was skeptical of digital books and book-reading as a long-term substitute for printed books (though apparently I started changing my mind on that in 2011).  I've also always told myself that it's been worth the shelf space, moving boxes and related effort to own and carry around a healthy book collection.

If there was a book I thought I might ever want to reference for anything ever again, I should keep it.  A book that felt like it would be worthy of loaning out somewhere down the road was surely a keeper.  If I thought I could feel or seem a little smarter or a little more well-rounded by owning a certain book, it stayed on the shelf.  If a book was a gift or had an inscription from a friend or loved one, I felt obligated to keep it forever to honor that history.  If there was a book I hadn't gotten around to reading or finishing, I told myself it was better to hold on to it for when my interest returned.  Books on hobbies long since abandoned and ways of thinking long since changed were all there, just in case.

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January 1, 2014

The Year Without Pizza

Pizza

photo by rdpeyton

I decided at the beginning of 2013 that I was going to go for the entire year without eating pizza.  I guess you could have called it a New Year's Resolution.  For the past several years, I've tried to come up with a year-long sacrifice, discipline or other lifestyle change that would force me to experiencing something different just so I could see how it affected me, a kind of extended Lent season.

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November 25, 2013

What's happening with Chris and Summersault?

Chris on Cadillac Mountain2013 has been a year of change for me in my professional life and at my company, Summersault.  The changes were set in motion by a combination of intentional planning and dealing with the unexpected, and navigating them has been challenging and stressful, but I think ultimately worthwhile.

The company has been around since 1997, and so we have a number of supporters and interested observers who we've connected with over the years, locally here in Richmond, among our clients and vendors, and of course among our friends and families.  As I get questions from them about "what's happening with Summersault?" and "what's happening with you?" I know I haven't always been clear in my responses, in part because the answers (or how to talk about them) haven't always been clear to me.

As I've built Summersault with care and attention to the complex interactions between business needs and human needs, so I've also wanted to give that same care and attention to times of transition and restructuring. It was - and still is - a challenge to share publicly about professional changes that have many layers of complexity. It's a challenge to answer questions about what these changes might mean for individual employees while honoring their privacy. It's a challenge to talk about new directions while acknowledging the interests and concerns of our clients and the services we might still provide to them. It's a challenge to speak about areas where we have encountered difficulty with our local economy, talent pool and business climate without seeming to disparage the good work of people trying to improve the same. It's a challenge to share about the specific difficulties, frustrations, opportunities and realizations that have led to these changes while maintaining harmonious relationships with coworkers, clients and supporters who might have their own and different narratives about Summersault's history and evolution. It's a challenge to distill the feelings, hopes, disappointments, anxiety and messiness that go with owning and running a business with a history and identity in a community I care about, let alone making big changes in that identity. So, when people ask me "what's going on at Summersault?" and I find myself speaking in vague or jargony terms about it, it's clear that I've not done a good enough job of meeting all of the above challenges!

Here, then, is an attempt at answering those questions more clearly, based on what I know and can say now.

Q: What's changing at Summersault? - Read More -

November 12, 2013

Gadgets and apps that help me exercise

I really don't enjoy exercising for the sake of exercise.  In my ideal world, my daily activities in the course of making a living and living my life would be sufficiently physically active that I didn't need to add on artificial periods of activity.  Friends, I am far from living in my ideal world: much of making a living currently involves sitting in front of a computer, and fetching dinner is a trip to the grocery or a restaurant, not traipsing across the countryside on the hunt.  And so for now, I mostly have to choose between artificial exercising or not being physically healthy enough.

IMG_2374

The office exercise setup

For the last three months, I've been able to hold together a three-times weekly workout routine without interruption, except for one week off.  It includes running, biking and weight-lifting for around 45 minutes each time. This kind of consistency is rare for me; as seasons change or scheduling gets tricky, I've usually found excuses (sometimes as simple as "I don't wanna!") that lead to deferring a session which then leads to ending my routine altogether.

Three kinds of things have helped me stick with it:
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August 16, 2013

A welcome to Earlham College's incoming class

(This article originally appeared in the August 16, 2013 edition of The Earlham Word, printed for new students beginning their first year at the college.)

Like many of you are doing now, I arrived as a new student on this campus not so many years ago, ready to see what college would be about. With too much luggage and an anxious but supportive parent in tow, I experienced the enthusiastic welcome as we drove up the main drive, the surveying of my dorm room, the slightly awkward and then quickly enjoyable meeting of my roommate, checking out the cafeteria, figuring out my mailbox, and breathing in the sights and sounds of the new place I would call home for a while.

These are moments and traditions that you'll all experience differently, but they're just a few in the many pieces of a journey that, across space and time, you're sharing with thousands of other Earlhamites who have also called this place home.

The adventure of that journey will almost certainly contain deep joy and exceptional challenges. There will almost certainly be love and loss, shocking moments of new perspective, and changes in course that you'd swear today could never happen to you. You will be changed by this place in ways you may not fully notice until months or years later, and you will change those around you both with your big ideas and with the quiet moments of understanding or kindness that you show them. You will undoubtedly screw up, maybe in a big and public way, maybe in a small way that only you feel, but you'll also learn new kinds of humility and forgiveness that will serve you well.

If I have regrets about my own time at Earlham, there are three worth holding up here in case they're helpful to you:

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June 24, 2013

My programmable world

Unboxing the Twine sensor

I've always enjoyed hooking together pieces of technology in new and interesting ways.

When I was a kid I rigged up a small water pump to a series of pulleys, rope and switches to squirt water at anyone (read: my younger sister) who opened my bedroom door without using a special trick to disable it first.

In junior high school I may or may not have programmed my 1200 baud modem at home to make a certain classroom's phone ring during a certain class I didn't mind having interrupted.

In my first apartment after college, I had motion sensors rigged up to turn on lights in rooms I walked into, and turn them off again when motion stopped.

I like figuring out how to make real world things talk to each other.  Which is why it seems I was destined to live in the emerging "programmable world," this Internet of Things that has developed and flourished in recent years.

I thought I'd share some of the different things I've rigged up to talk to each other in my programmable world.  Some of these have practical uses, many of them are just for fun.  Some of them are products you can buy yourself, some are tools I've created or enhanced with my own software.

Oh, and you should consider consulting with your spouse, partner or housemates before deploying these technologies in a production living space.

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March 11, 2012

Learning to improvise

Seaport VillageIn December I received the great gift of a 7-week beginner improv acting class, which I've just completed this past week.  I'd apparently remarked casually several times in front of Kelly that it might be fun to take an acting class some day, and knowing me as she does around experiences that might be outside my comfort zone, she took matters into her own hands to see that it might actually happen instead of just being talked about.

And outside my comfort zone it was, but also incredibly enjoyable.

The instructor Kevin (a professional actor and playwright in his own regard) has a background that includes the Second City improv comedy theater in Chicago, and so he made heavy use of Viola Spolin's techniques for teaching improv.  There were lots of exercises and games designed to train us how to create an environment with only our bodies and maybe the occasional folding chair, how to show a character's age, social status, mood, origin, destination and other qualities by showing instead of telling, and how to build simple objects or circumstances into a full-fledged scene.  We didn't really start using dialog until the last few classes; building the foundation of movement and environment had to come first.

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December 30, 2011

My 2011 Year in Review

Family PortraitIt's "year in review" week!

There's just enough time between the Christmas holiday and New Year's Eve for people to get bored, but it's not a good time to launch new TV shows or announce new political initiatives, so we have to have something to keep us entertained.

(As a kid this meant me listening to countdowns of the top one billion songs on the charts for that year, and somehow a Celine Dion or Aaron Neville song always made it into the top five...this was painful, but perhaps reflects more poorly on me and the particular genre of music station I was listening to than it does on all of the music produced in those years.)

But it's been an unusually full year for me, so I thought I'd take a moment to reflect back on what that has included:
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