Tag Archives: kay ballard

5 questions with Tim Walker

You may remember that I started a series of 5 questions posts awhile back. I haven’t put one up for awhile. The last one, a conversation with Kay Ballard, has such an atrocious introduction that I couldn’t put up a new one without ap0logizing publicly (I’ve already taken care of that privately), and I couldn’t figure out quite what to say.

However, the best way you do what you don’t know how to do, Tim Walker would probably say, is to do it.

So know that Kay is a good friend, all the more evident because of her graciousness in private as well as in public. We have known each other through twitter for a year or so, we tease each other, and talk by email. Sometime we might actually talk by phone. She encourages me more than you know (and likely more than she knows).

Now, go back and read 5 questions with Kay Ballard and then come back and read my conversation with the aforementioned Tim Walker.


Tim Walker lives in Austin and is working on a doctorate in history at The University of Texas (“hook ’em Horns”).  (He has a really cool day-job with Hoovers, too.)  We started talking because I was intrigued with the Austin connection (having a degree from there myself) and because he introduced me to the concept of “deliberate practice.”  That concept has shaped my thinking for the last year in remarkable ways.

Tim also keeps pushing me (and all of us) on getting rid of multitasking and just working. He’s really annoying that way. Which is, of course, why I wanted to ask him five questions.

1. You are, by training, an historian. Your writing for Hoovers is about the present. What aspects of being an historian shape how you write about (and think about) now (in contrast to the occasional delightful historical presentations you do (the Gutenberg one, for example)? (How much is the way of thinking, how much is the training of just being a scholar, how much is the long view, how much is ___)

I hope that my historical training brings me two things: (1) a long-view perspective, and (2) a critical eye for evidence. The second point should be common to all scholars, whether they’re in the humanities, the social sciences, the hard sciences, or a professional field like business or law. Good scholars constantly ask “But how do we know?” — and, when evidence is presented to answer that question, they then ask, “But how do we know this evidence is valid?”

Bringing that back to my work, I see many assertions about business — Twitter, for one, is full of them — that link causes to effects in ways that a scholar couldn’t support. Yes, I see that A happened and that B happened, but how do we know that A caused B? What if B caused A? What if A and B both arose from C? What if A and B arose one after the other by pure coincidence? Or by some much more complicated string of causes and effects? It pains me when people draw a straight line from A to B based on their own ideological leanings or their own shortsighted self-interest. So I try to provide a corrective for that.

Getting back to my first point about long-view perspective, it also pains me when people make assertions that are uninformed by historical knowledge — and especially when they make glib assertions about how something (poster child: social media) “is totally unlike anything we’ve ever seen.” Well, no, it isn’t totally unlike anything we’ve ever seen — and the parallels between Thing X and what’s gone before are actually quite instructive. So I try to instruct a bit, but always with a spoonful of sugar (humor, stories) to help the medicine go down.

2. You write against multitasking. I’ve been thinking about why we do bits of so many things at once. I’m wondering if, for pleasers in particular, it’s a way of keeping as many people partially happy as possible. Because there are so many “I can do that for you” commitments on the todo list, the pleaser does a little bit of every one of them to keep people happy. The result, of course, is that everything falls behind. Does this make sense?

It makes perfect sense, and in fact it’s common for extroverted ADD-ers (ahem) to be pleasers. We make sense of the world by relating to people, we have interests in a large number of things, we get frustrated or bored when we have to stick to any one thing for too long, and if we’re lucky we may even have talents that span many areas. So we try to do it all and please everyone.

The reason this is categorically unwise is that every single one of us is going to die.

Here’s what I mean: our time is finite. To make the most impact, we must — absolutely, incontrovertibly must — focus our attention on just a few areas if not on one. (You can be the exception to this rule if you’re Schweitzer or Goethe. I’m not.) Multitasking is a lazy, fearful, and death-aversive response to this reality.

(Aversion to thoughts of death, by the way, is a major problem for most people in our culture — but maybe that’s a topic for a separate discussion.)

3. You make your Hoovers writing have a very personal voice. However, it isn’t Tim the whole person because it is a business blog. You have, I think, struggled with keeping a personal blog going. When we write so personally for work, does that complicate the private blogging? (and does that question make sense?)

The question makes sense, but I don’t think that’s the logic that has hampered my personal blog. My lack of time- and priority-management has hampered my personal blog.

And, by the way, I think you’ll see a much higher output — on both blogs — in the months to come.

4. “Have you been working out?” You tweeted about someone saying that. Why are you going back to fitness (and what triggered it?)

We’re ridiculously spoiled in this country. We’re fat and lazy. This is not an effort to channel the colonel from Dr. Strangelove (“precious bodily fluids”), but just an observation about the ailments — physical and otherwise — that waylay us.

I figure I have several mutually reinforcing obligations to keep myself in good health:

  • Our bodies are a blessing to us, and we’re beholden to be good stewards of them.
  • As a father and husband, I’m intent on modeling healthy behaviors for my family.
  • As a friend to many, I’m intent on modeling healthy behaviors for those around me.
  • Being fit is important to me psychologically, to the point that if I don’t do it I feel like I’ve betrayed myself. That’s not a good spot to be in.

On top of all of this, lifting weights and running are fun and meditative activities for me.

5. Do I remember correctly that you grew up in a pastor’s family? What should we not assume about kids that grow up that way (including my own two kids)?

We shouldn’t assume that they’re fundamentally different from other kids, just that they grow up under more scrutiny for their behavior. And, to put it mildly, sometimes it’s the scrutiny itself that leads to adverse behavior.


5 questions with Kay Ballard

I wish I could tell you how I met Kay. I don’t know. Somehow on twitter, I think. We’re talked that way, some by email, some in comments on posts back and forth. I’ll let our 5 questions introduce her more.

1. You describe yourself as a “recovering lawyer.” I’m guessing that means that being a lawyer is an addiction? What is so addictive, and how is that different than most other professions? (Or did you mean that you mostly are about property recovery cases)?

I admit without shame that the description of myself on my twitter profile is somewhat disingenuous.  I call myself a recovering lawyer there because so many find that description amusing.  When I say it, it ALWAYS gets a laugh. This confounds and amazes me, yet I bask in it.

Here is how the lawyer thing happened. For years I said to myself, “I wish I had gone to law school.”  “I should go to law school.”  “I want to go to law school.”  Eventually I did–The Ohio State University College of Law. Here is the punch line: I never even noticed or thought about the fact that I had never said, “I want to be a lawyer.” This realization happened after the deed was done.

I had my own “boutique” estate planning firm in Ohio, serving clients who, at that time, had net worths of 3-10 $million.  I loved my clients and helping them with tax planning, philanthropic planning, business continuity planning, and legacy planning.  I had a successful practice, happy clients, and a fat bank account.  I worked very hard to build and maintain my practice, but I didn’t “burn out” as a lawyer. When I made the decision to dissolve my practice, it was because I wanted to try something new. And I did.

But,I shall always be a lawyer. I am licensed to practice law in Ohio and Illinois. Currently I am seeking the opportunity to be Of Counsel to an Intellectual Property / Technology firm. I am a good lawyer and an excellent rainmaker.  I suppose I shall never fully recover.

2. You are starting a soiree, a social media soiree. If I understand, that’s like a talking party, where people get to mingle and chat, but the music isn’t so loud that you have to shout, and people are getting intoxicated on words and ideas rather than cocktails. Why do you find ideas so intoxicating?

Thank you for asking your question about ideas by framing it around the Social Media #Soiree. As you know, the Social Media #Soiree is a project that involves a 30 member production team, most of whom share my love for ideas.  And, that I suppose is the point I would make–loving ideas doesn’t make me unique.

But, Jon, you use the word intoxicated to describe my orientation towards ideas, so perhaps you have sensed something more. Here’s the more:  Yes, I am intoxicated with ideas–my own ideas. I laugh as I write this because I laugh at the truth of it.  I am totally, crazy in love with my own ideas. Frequently, I am the only one who sees the beauty of my ideas. But fortunately, that arrogant belief in the beauty of my own ideas, a dangerous form of self-confidence, has mostly served me well.

3. A tax collector in first century Israel would have been a wealthy low-life. So when one of them had a big party and invited Jesus to come and meet his friends, the professional clergy were pretty critical. But why would they have invited Jesus anyway? Isn’t he the last person that would have been invited?

The story you tell is easy for me to imagine. Everything we know about Jesus would make us believe that he would be the perfect party guest.  He was charismatic and well-spoken. It was said that he performed miracles.  He was provocative and had powerful enemies. Anyone would have found him fascinating. Having him as a party “get” would ensure an interesting party that the tax collector’s friends would want to attend.

Your story reminds me of the industrial barons in this country who built huge, ostentatious mansions (“cottages”) in Newport, Rhode Island to permit them to meet and entertain an eclectic assortment of celebrities. I myself would like to own such a cottage so that I could invite guests as diverse as Henry Kissinger, Cher, Alice Waters, and you, Jon for a weekend pageant of a party.

4. You tweet. A lot. As far as I know, you don’t blog, and I keep waiting for more to show up at your website. Are 140 characters easier than paragraphs or are they different in some significant way?

Jon, I like to write. I mostly like the writing I do whether it is for business or pleasure. However, I tend to be too wordy and long winded. And my emails are widely known as Russian novels. Friends and colleagues actually begin to weep when they spot an email from me in their inboxes.

Several years ago, I had half a dozen blogs. Strangely enough, at the time, I didn’t really want any readers. I told myself that I needed first to “find my voice.”  One of my blogs was called “Can’t Marry Me.”  Everyday it featured a prominent man from the obituary section of the New York Times. I would speculate somewhat briefly about what my marriage to that particular man might be like but for the fact that he was, well, dead.

As you can see, I was no great loss to the world of blogging.

Despite that, I have every intention to return. I own over 80 domain names, and who knows?  I might end up having a blog on every one of them. I laugh at that notion.

As far as twitter, I just love it and have dozens and dozens of fun conversations with dozens and dozens of friends there. Since I fancy myself amusing, I tend to be rather silly there–when I am not being outrageous.  The truth is, I have made wonderful connections with any number of dynamic and high achieving people, you among them.

5. I just remembered that you lived in Chicago for awhile (or maybe it was that you visited).  So which is better: Gino’s East pizza or Texas brisket?

I have never lived in Chicago, but I have taken a bar exam there, seen Sarah Bernhardt’s one woman show there, discovered the art of Julian Schnabel there, raised money from major donors there, shopped like Paris Hilton on speed there–you get the idea. Chicago is a place to have fun. But for the bar exam, Chicago, for me, is and has always been, a destination. I love it. You can’t get a park downtown. It is deadly cold in the winter. But there are plenty of cabs and you can wear a fur coat on the street.  I love Chicago.


This is one in a series of 5 Questions conversations. For more information, go to my 5 Questions page.