Today is the 60th anniversary of President JFK’s famous Moon Speech. 60 years ago he stood in Rice Stadium and inspired a nation to take up the seemingly impossible challenge of putting a person on the Moon by the end of the decade.
This remains my favorite speech of all time and I still get chills – and sometimes tears – when I hear it. JFK blended calls to action (“We choose to go to the moon!”) with basic human motivation (“not because they are easy, but because they are hard”) and even humor (“Why does Rice play Texas?”). As was later said about it, “From now on, we live in a world where man has walked on the moon. And it’s not a miracle, we just decided to go.”
We just decided to go. Well, it was much more than that, but that sentiment really does distill down the agency we had and the infinite possibility of our commitment. The speech truly was virtuosic oration and it has played a large role in my life – including my decision to play football in the very stadium where it was given!
I had the privilege today to return to Rice Stadium to celebrate the speech’s anniversary. Speeches were made by leaders of Rice, NASA, the US federal government, and the Houston local government. 6,000+ students from local schools came to join the festivities too!
I’m not ready to announce my next great climatetech adventure yet, but as a tease, my new startup was also participating in the program, exhibiting and demonstrating how we will create a Moonshot-scale climate impact of 2+ gigatons in this decade – not because it is easy, but because it is hard. Big announcement coming soon – stay tuned!
Let me be clear that this had nothing to do with my skills as a Thespian; I was, as is often the case, simply in the right place at the right time. Still, performing the Bard‘s work for the queen of England is an experience that most professional actors would kill for, so I am incredibly grateful for that unique moment.
It’s amazing too that I can still remember my lines from that play 30+ years later. In honor of HRH Queen Elizabeth II’s passing, though, let me share some lines from a different character in the same play:
“Thus I die. Thus, thus, thus. Now I am dead, Now I am fled, My soul is in the sky. Tongue, lose thy light. Moon take thy flight. Now die, die, die, die.” -Pyramus (Nick Bottom, the weaver)
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is my favorite of Shakespeare’s works and I have loved it since before I had this serendipitous honor. Let me conclude with my favorite line from the play, a line that is as true today as it was in the 17th century, when it was written.
Someone recently asked me what were the big challenges in climate tech and what were the areas where I personally hoped to help. Following is a high-level overview that won’t be earth-shattering to anyone already in the field but should be a decent synopsis for outsiders and neophytes. If you’re someone looking for the right on-ramp into climate tech, I hope you will see below that there are lots of possibilities – pick a lane and let’s go!
There are many challenges in the way of building the sustainable, prosperous, equitable future and we need to be working on all of them simultaneously. Actually we need to go back in time and start working on all of them decades ago! Physicists haven’t yet solved time travel yet, though, so we’ll have to settle for making very rapid progress in the present. As they say, the best time to start working on these problems is decades ago, the second best time is today, and the worst time is in the future.
To borrow a bit from fellow Rice alum, John Doerr, in his book Speed & Scale, our efforts need to fall into several categories:
Electrify everything that can be easily electrified: vehicles, of course, but also buildings – especially heating and cooling – and production of some materials. As a bonus, electrification of vehicles and homes dramatically improves the quality of the air that we breathe.
Completely decarbonize electricity so that all of these electrified goods and services are running on green energy. This will take more than just deploying more renewables; it will also take innovations in electricity storage, smart grid optimization, and distributed energy resources. As a bonus, this improves reliability and resilience of our power infrastructure.
Fix food & agriculture, which right now are incredibly inefficient, carbon-intensive global supply chains. We need to transition to more sustainable agricultural practices (eliminate food waste, increase land use efficiency, deploy regenerative techniques, farm vertically in urban areas) while also developing new scalable technologies. I am particularly excited by advances in synthetic biology, such as lab-grown meat.
Protect nature – forests, peat bogs, coastlines, etc. We need to protect and restore these existing carbon sinks and find nonintrusive ways to introduce new ones. This is an extra challenge because climate change tipping points are already working against us – e.g. increased wildfires are depleting our stock of forested trees. Although these are referred to as “natured-based” solutions, technology can be a huge help, for example by using drones to plant seeds and satellite data to monitor and optimize the growth of new forests.
Decarbonize air travel and shipping – these modes of moving people and goods are hard to electrify due to the high density and weight of batteries. Of course battery technology is improving daily and new paradigms for electrified logistics are being developed but, in the meantime, carbon-neutral and carbon-negative fuels such as green hydrogen and ammonia are being explored.
Decarbonize industry – another hard-to-electrify category is heavy industry: the manufacturing of steel, concrete, and many chemicals. The raw materials for these products often have a high carbon footprint and then the manufacturing processes require very high temperatures that are historically hard to achieve with electricity. There are interesting innovations under development that use carbon-negative materials for cement and concrete, green hydrogen for smelting steel, and point source carbon capture to reduce chemical manufacturing emissions.
Scale up carbon removal. Because it will be hard to power some sectors with carbon-free electricity, we will likely find ourselves still contributing a surplus of greenhouse gases (GHGs) for a long time – possibly indefinitely. And even if we achieved zero GHG emissions tomorrow, there is so much accumulated GHG already in our atmosphere that 9 out of 16 predicted climate change tipping points are already active. The clear conclusion is that it won’t be enough for us to slow down or even stop our GHG emissions; we will need to get really good at pulling GHGs out of the atmosphere and possibly the ocean as well if we want to keep anthropogenic global warming to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius. These technologies are in their infancy right now so we need a moonshot-caliber approach to improve their efficacy, efficiency, scalability, and costs as quickly as possible.
Note that nowhere did I suggest austerity measures or people needing to forego things that improve their quality of life. My vision of the sustainable, prosperous, equitable future is one of abundance. Technological innovation is not a panacea but, not only can it help ward off climate change, it can improve the lives of many at the same time. Insomuch as these are challenges, they are also incredible opportunities.
I will add one more challenge/opportunity than must not be ignored: equity. It will take investment of more than USD $100T to address everything I have listed above and the returns will be exponential – the greatest wealth creation opportunity in the history of human civilization. If we do it right, many people and communities – including and especially those most affected by climate change – will participate in that upside. If we do it the way it’s traditionally been done, though, it will concentrate wealth even further in the hands of mostly White, mostly male people who are already rich. Sociofinancial innovation is needed to share climate wealth more equitably.
As for the big challenges I think I can personally help with, much of my career and expertise (including my patents) have been in smart grid and smart building innovation. There is still a lot of work to do there, but I think we have pretty clear pathways to success in those areas now.
In optimizing my time – the one resource of which I can never raise more – for impact and additionality, I think I add the most value now by focusing on the much harder and ambiguous challenges of decarbonizing industry and carbon removal. These are crucial challenges with incredible opportunities for innovation and we are already behind in addressing them.
To paraphrase JFK at Rice Stadium as he exhorted a nation to achieve the similarly hard and ambiguous challenge of putting a person on the Moon:
We choose to decarbonize industry and scale up carbon removal in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.
“A person needs new experiences. It jars something deep inside, allowing them to grow. Without change something sleeps inside us, and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken.”
-Duke Leto Atreides, Dune
I know I’m mixing references here but the key message is that, with incredibly mixed emotions, I must share that I am leaving Third Derivative to pursue my next climatetech [ad]venture.
You may recall my Third Derivative origin story and first progress report. I was brought in to found, launch, and lead a game-changing climatetech startup – the most ambitious (in terms of both speed and scale) accelerator ever attempted. Our founding hypothesis was that our deeply integrated ecosystem approach would bridge key valleys of death in the process of commercializing, deploying, and scaling hard climatetech, attracting the USD $Trillions that need to be invested in the sector.
And . . . we’ve done it. I am incredibly proud of what we’ve built during two [very challenging!] years:
a diverse, world class team that performs at the highest level despite the challenges of being forged in the crucible of multiple global crises
an unprecedented ecosystem of corporate partners (worth USD $4T+ in market cap), investors (with $7B+ in assets under management), and startups (the largest cohort of climatetech startups in history)
$300M+ invested into our 60+ game-changing climatetech startups in the year since we launched our first cohort
a financially thriving venture with $Millions ARR (annually recurring revenue) and multiple years of runway
the people, systems, processes, and tools in place for scaleup
Although winning at all is crucial in addressing the climate crisis, I also believe that how we win really matters. Through this lens, I am most proud of several key aspects of “the Third Derivative way:”
Urgency and Purpose – we launched in the midst of a global pandemic but we didn’t let that deter us. We lived a mantra of “the climate isn’t waiting so neither can we.”
Positivity and Hope – we worked to be a shining beacon of optimistic light in a field that can be consumed by darkness and pessimism with each new climate report.
Humility and Learning – in a field (venture capital) known for everyone purporting to be the smartest people in the room, we tried to be upfront about all the things we don’t know and we open-sourced / shared our learnings along the way.
Gratitude – we began each week sharing all the things for which we were grateful; these meetings mostly turned into lovefests for our teammates and was an incredibly energizing way to kick off each purpose-driven week of ambitious mission fulfillment.
JEDI as a feature, not a tradeoff – we put JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) front and center, driving not just our hiring but also our strategy. Much more than just “checking boxes,” this approach was key to our success. This is a presentation I gave last year about our JEDI failures, learnings, and aspirations:
All of these not-so-humble-brags belong not to me but to the entire Third Derivative team and it has been one of the great privileges of my career to have been entrusted with its leadership. Of all the mixed emotions I referenced above, the most significant is gratitude to have worked with such wonderful people. The outpouring of love and support I received from my colleagues after announcing this transition has been moving beyond words. I treasure our time together and earnestly hope we will work together again:
My gratitude, though, extends far beyond the boundaries of the Third Derivative team. Our “parents,” RMI and New Energy Nexus, were critical to our success through their expertise, networks, and support. As an entrepreneur I always look for an “unfair advantage” in launching a new venture and these awesome NGOs have definitely been that unfair advantage for Third Derivative.
Don’t misunderstand me that Third Derivative has achieved all of our aspirations. There is still a lot to learn and do . . . but it isn’t really a startup anymore. A startup is a temporary organization searching for a scalable, repeatable business model (and impact model, in this case). To paraphrase Yoda, “Searching? Found something, you have!”
Third Derivative has everything it needs to take the next step and my skills as an entrepreneurial builder are less additive at this point. My leadership style is to build an incredible leadership team, trust and empower them, and keep myself out of the critical path. Accordingly, my transition out of the CEO role is going very smoothly.
We have already begun the search for my successor so please send us great candidates! This should be the easiest job in the world, stepping in to lead such a capable, bonded, high-performing team!
Now that Third Derivative is in such a great place, I feel the call to start building the next game-changing climatetech venture. I’m not sure what that will be specifically yet but I have been inundated with opportunities (See previous post about this amazing time for climatetech.) and I haven’t been able to free up any capacity to evaluate them while heads-down building and growing Third Derivative.
As I step back from Third Derivative, I am intending to take some time off to reflect (Stay tuned for blog posts about lessons learned while building Third Derivative.), recharge (Building Third Derivative has been a sprint!), and reconnect with family, friends, and colleagues before bringing my focus to my next venture. This will hopefully be a good time for me to catch up on reading, fitness, and reclaiming some of my e-sports world records too. We’ll see, though; I have a notoriously poor track record when it comes to taking time off! Please help keep me accountable if you notice me diving headlong into a new venture too quickly!
As for Third Derivative, although I will no longer be the CEO, I will always be a founder. I believe deeply in Third Derivative’s mission and especially its team. I will always be cheering for it and even working actively to continue increasing its success, but now in the background – like a Force ghost!
It has been an incredible journey, Third Derivative, and climatetech is a small world so . . . I’ll see you out there!
I could get used to the Olympic Games on an every six months cadence! Another Olympics has come and gone so it is once again time to take a look at who “won” the Games by several different metrics. Per my previous posts, I continue to use a weighted scoring system to tally up Olympic medals by country. This year I once again tracked not just the medal counts but also economic and demographic metrics for each country – you can see my full spreadsheet here.
20 more medals (327 in total) were given at these Olympics games than were given four years ago (307). That continues a strong trend (291 in 2014 and 217 in 2010) of more than 50% growth over a little more than a decade – talk about inflation!
Norway has benefited from the added events and repeated this year as the clear victor in weighted medal score, total medals, and gold medals. They weren’t quite as dominant as they were in 2018, when they also won the most silvers and bronzes, but they were still way ahead of second place. The top performers by weighted medal score were: 117 – Norway 95 – Germany 80 – ROC* 77 – USA 60 – Sweden 60 – Austria Russia is still banned from Olympic competition and for good reason as they have at least one doping controversy already. If they lose a medal due to that instance, their athletes will slip from third to fourth but they really shouldn’t be counted anyway; Allowing Russia to compete as “Russian Olympic Committee” is a farce of a penalty for their systematic cheating.
Because Norway is so small, it crushed the competition even (especially!) when normalized by population. The top performers by weighted medal score per million citizens were: 21.59 – Norway 10.10 – Slovenia 6.67 – Austria 5.94 – Sweden 5.32 – Switzerland
These countries are mostly pretty affluent, though, so how do things change if we normalize instead by GDP? Not much! The top performers by weighted medal score per $B GDP (PPP) were: 0.31 – Norway 0.24 – Slovenia 0.12 – Austria 0.10 – Sweden 0.07 – Finland
We can mix up the leaderboard a little bit if we normalize by GDP per capita. The top performers by weighted medal score per $1,000 GDP per capita were: 3.19 – China 2.70 – ROC* 1.70 – Norway 1.68 – Germany 1.12 – USA 1.10 – Canada
Many congratulations to Norway, a small country that absolutely crushed much larger and richer countries than itself at this year’s Olympics – well done! Keep up the good (and, as far as we know, clean) work and we’ll hope to give you more competition in four years!
Another Super Bowl has come and gone. The end of the season always leaves me reflecting on the greatest games, teams, and players of all time. Tom Brady’s recent retirement has many people talking about his legacy as the “Greatest Of All Time,” or GOAT for short.
First off, can we agree that GOAT is a terrible and unflattering term with which to honor someone? I prefer the term “Greatest Ever To Play The Game” or simply the “Greatest Ever.” Second, that designation doesn’t belong to Brady; as I demonstrate below, Joe Montana is the greatest QB ever to play the game.
Montana Did It Better When It Was Harder – It’s always hard to compare players of different eras and we can always wonder how well Brady would have done at a time when QBs and receivers were beat to hell. Montana might have had three(!) additional Superbowl rings had he not been knocked out (as in an immediate trip to the hospital) of three conference championship games. Brady benefited from numerous rule changes meant to protect QBs and receivers, increase their passing productivity, and increase scoring. To Brady’s credit, he fully capitalized on those rule changes – but it makes Montana’s accomplishments in a tougher era all the more impressive. It’s hard to imagine Brady, who established a reputation for lobbying refs for penalties, having much success against the punishing NFC defenses of the 1980s.
Montana Did It Better Faster – We can also wonder how much more Montana would have accomplished had he not been so beat to hell / injured and if he hadn’t had a really bizarre QB controversy foist upon him by coaches. With the advantages of the rule changes above, a coach committed to his longevity, and advances in drugs and physical therapy, Brady played for 22 seasons while Montana was limited to only 13. It only took Montana 10 seasons to earn his four Super Bowl rings, though; while it took Brady 14 seasons to earn his first four. Or, framed another way: Joe Montana: 164 starts, 8 Pro Bowl, 4 Super Bowl wins, 3 First Team All Pro, 2 NFL MVP Tom Brady: 381 starts, 15 Pro Bowl, 7 Super Bowl Wins, 3 First Team All Pro, 3 NFL MVP Montana simply packed a much greater density of achievement into his career.
Montana Earned All Of His Super Bowl Wins – Brady got away with lots of crazy wins attributed to his kicker (2001, 2003), the opposing team’s ineptitude (2003 out of bounds kickoff, 2004 McNabb 3 INTs, 2014 end zone INT, 2016 offense implosion), etc. while Montana was the deciding factor for all of his wins.
Montana Beat The Best Of The Best – Brady mostly took on forgettable teams and was out dueled by so-so QBs while Montana out dueled NFL MVP QBs and Hall Of Famers in his Super Bowl wins. Let’s look at Brady’s opponent QBs: 2001: Beat Kurt Warner, an elite QB and HOFer 2003: Beat Jake Delhomme, a forgettable QB with nearly as many INTs as TDs 2004: Beat Donovan McNabb, a good QB who never shined on the big stage 2007: Beaten by Eli Manning, a mediocre QB who outperformed Brady when it counted 2011: Beaten by Eli Manning, a mediocre QB who once again outperformed Brady when it counted 2014: Beat Russell Wilson, who didn’t make the Pro Bowl that year 2016: Beat Matt Ryan, an elite QB that year (but limited by Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s trademark choking in big games) 2017: Beaten by Nick Foles, a forgettable backup 2018: Beat Jared Goff, who? 2020: Beat Patrick Mahomes, probably an elite QB in the making but still too early to tell Now let’s look at Montana’s opponent QBs: 1981: Beat Ken Anderson, NFL MVP that year, 2x NFL passing leader, widely regarded as one of the best NFL players not in the HOF 1984: Beat Dan Marino, NFL MVP that year, HOFer, NFL 100-year All Time Team, retired as all-time NFL passing leader 1988: Beat Boomer Esiason, NFL MVP that year 1989: Beat John Elway, former NFL MVP, HOFer, two Super Bowl rings It really isn’t close; Montana stepped into the ring against the best of the best every Super Bowl and beat them every time.
Montana Was a More Dynamic Player – Brady was an immobile pocket passer throwing route trees – more of a game manager for the first part of his career – while Montana was elusive, mobile, and able to stretch plays / improvise.
Montana Was Iconic – Montana is responsible for multiple signature plays (“The Catch“) and drives (“The John Candy Drive“) that have been immortalized whereas the signature big game moments associated with Brady are attached to his opponents (Atlanta’s second-half collapse, New York’s helmet catch, Seattle’s interception in the end zone).
Montana Was A Leader – Montana’s physical attributes weren’t the best of all time – or even of his time – but his leadership was a force multiplier that made everyone on his team – even on defense – better, especially in big moments. Brady, by comparison, was known for having his wife publicly blame and disparage his teammates when he lost.
Montana Did It All Cleanly – Brady will always have an asterisk next to his name due to Spygate, Deflategate, and who knows how many other instances of cheating that were never discovered.
Montana Won At Multiple Levels – While Brady was a good-not-great college QB, Montana led his team to a national championship.
Bonus: Montana Won In The Recording Studio Too – Montana’s off-the-field endeavors met with great success as well. He, Dwight Clark, and other 49ers sang backup on the 1985 Huey Lewis & The News #1 Hit “Hip To Be Square.” Brady’s off-the-field endeavors are more known for pseudoscience, such as “The TB12 Method.”
In general, I think people overemphasize the importance of QBs in American football and underemphasize the importance of other players – especially linemen. If we really wanted to debate the greatest football player of all time, I think it likely wouldn’t be a QB. It might be a running back like Jim Brown or a linebacker like Lawrence Taylor – players that were so dominant that they changed the way the game was played.
If we’re going to focus on QBs, though, it comes down to this: the NFL changed the game to help QBs like Brady be more successful. Montana, on the other hand, was so successful that he changed the game.
Joe Montana is the greatest QB ever to play the game. If you would like to learn more, I recommend watching “Joe Montana: Cool Under Pressure,” a six-part series about his magical career.
Last week we finished watching the marathon Beatles documentary series, Get Back. It’s really slow and probably not for anyone who isn’t a die hard Beatles Fan. As I am such a fan, though, I really enjoyed it! It pulls back the curtain for an intimate view of how one of the most accomplished bands in the world made an incredibly successful album in just a few weeks – with many surprises [to me] along the way.
My first impression is just how insanely talented the Beatles were – as individuals and as a group. Every one of them was able to play all the instruments and it was inspiring to see them effortlessly change from one to another depending on what was needed. It was also incredible to see just how much the music was in each of them. They really couldn’t sit still and had to be jamming, strumming, playing, singing, etc. at all times. Well, except for Ringo, who seemed to be asleep much of the time but then he would just wake up and rip off perfect drum fills! They were in their mid-20s and absolutely at the top of their game.
Still, it was apparent how, by this point, they were all already heading in different directions. Ringo was doing movies, George was quitting to explore his individual creativity, John was throwing himself into a partnership with Yoko, and Paul was evolving from a bassist to a piano troubadour. The tensions were quite evident, especially with Paul’s “one more take” perfectionism, which was a fantastic note (pun intended) on which to end the film.
Although they each went on to have successful solo careers, their real magic was as a group and, indeed, it was magical to watch them build on each other’s ideas to create songs in which the whole was greater than the sum of their individual contributions. Here the addition of Billy Preston seemed catalytic in unlocking their group dynamic, as if his presence collimated their previously incoherent energy. This effect had been observed previously when Eric Clapton joined the recording of While My Guitar Gently Weeps so it would seem that, by this point, the Beatles needed this sort of kick in the pants to focus. The music was truly in Billy too and it was a joy to watch him riff.
The other major catalyst seems to have been the forcing function of the concert. With their backs against the wall, they really seemed to gel in the days leading up to the rooftop concert (And, by the way, the movie catching the epiphanic moment of Paul considering the rooftop as a venue for the first time was sublime.) such that they only needed one further day of recording to complete the album. What can you say – the Beatles were gamers. It was incredible to watch what began as aimless chaos take form, focus, and substance into an iconic performance and album – all the more so because they built so much momentum that they were back in the studio three months later to record yet another album!
A few other observations:
So. Much. Smoking! I don’t think there was a single shot without at least one cigarette or cigar butt. It’s amazing they could still nail their vocal harmonies.
The Beatles looked . . . old. They were in their mid-20s with crow’s feet, pasty skin, and bags under their eyes. Their meteoric rise had clearly taken its toll – also see previous note.
John seemed high much of the time, with unfocused eyes and zany antics – or maybe that’s just how he was?
Yoko was a ghost – always there, never interfering, just kind of hanging around (and occasionally wailing or dancing with John).
They say you don’t want to see how the sausage is made but this labor of love from Peter Jackson and team shows sausage making at its finest. At more than 8 hours in length, there is a high temporal cost to watch Get Back but, to me, it was more than worth it. Let It Be isn’t one of my favorite Beatles albums but the opportunity to be a fly on the wall while arguably the greatest band of all time does its thing is truly priceless.
The last two weekends we have escaped to Colorado mountain towns and they have lived up to the hype!
Two weekends ago we visited some dear friends in Beaver Creek. We found Beaver Creek to be a small, secluded town with a real feeling of getting away. The architecture was very Swiss-inspired, which took us back to our time en suisse many years ago. This was a quiet weekend for us, spending time with our friends, watching the Olympics, and hiking and eating our way through charming Beaver Creek.
Last weekend we traveled to Breckenridge, which in many ways was the opposite of Beaver Creek: big, very commercial, and very American-feeling (in contrast to Beaver Creek’s more European feel). This was a more extended vacation for us and we spent the time hiking, biking, and participating in summer mountain activities (gondola rides, roller coasters, alpine slides). I even bumped into a beach volleyball teammate of mine from Houston – what a small world!
Although we are still largely keeping to ourselves during this COVID resurgence, it has felt very liberating to begin exploring our environs. We moved to Boulder more than a year ago and only recently are we starting to access the rest of Colorado. Suffice it to say that Colorado offers a lot of natural beauty; driving to/from is almost as breathtaking as the destinations themselves. Many aspects of this state remind me of my time in Switzerland – which is a very good thing! We are very much looking forward to continuing our adventures here!
The USA was the clear victor in medal scores, winning in every category: golds, silvers, bronzes, total medals, and weighted medal score. The top performers by weighted medal score were: 351 – USA 304 – China 207 – ROC (Russia) 195 – Great Britain 194 – Japan Japan went from a weighted medal count of 37 in 2008 to displace Germany in the top 5 this year for the first time – how gratifying for the host country! Meanwhile Russia continues to hold a top spot despite technically being banned from competition this year for doping . . . it’s kind of hard to take any of their athletes seriously as clean competitors at this point.
The leaders in these summer Olympics are all large countries; the leaderboard changes quite a bit when normalized by population (or by GDP). The top performers by weighted medal score per million citizens were: 12.00 – New Zealand 9.50 – Slovenia 9.00 – Jamaica 6.50 – Croatia 5.88 – Netherlands Kudos to these countries for high performance despite having small athletic talent pools.
It was a fun Olympics to watch this year – full of surprises, records, and inspiring performances. Moreover, it was the first Olympics I have been able to watch with my kid, which made it all the more fun! Due to the COVID delay, the Winter Olympics are now only months away and the next Summer Olympics just around the corner – we can’t wait!
I spent the back half of June in the Roaring Fork Valley of Colorado. This was the first trip I’ve taken since moving to Colorado a year ago in the midst of the COVID pandemic. Although the trip was for business, my family managed to join for part of it and the change of scenery was beneficial for all of us.
We drove up on a Wednesday evening to give our 3yo a chance to fall asleep in the car and just transfer into our hotel. The Basalt Mountain Inn, where we stayed, turned out to be more of a motel – pretty bare bones but just fine for our purposes. It was walking distance from everything in Basalt – including the RMI office – so we were very glad for the location, location, location.
Thursday morning we woke up and had breakfast at Two Rivers Cafe – the only place in Basalt open before 8:00! I was initially very excited about the menu, which featured lots of Southwestern fare – eggs with enchiladas, tamales, etc. – but none of it was very spicy at all. That’s all right, though; it was good diner food and available when we needed it!
After breakfast, I met up with the Third Derivative team and we kicked off our two-day strategy retreat with a hike above the beautiful Roaring Fork Valley. It was amazing to meet in person people I had hired, led, and collaborated with virtually for more than a year. We are enormously privileged to have access to vaccines and we took full advantage.
After our hike, we settled into RMI’s headquarters and innovation center in Basalt. The building itself is amazing and it had been set up for extra airflow plus lots of event space outside to minimize risk of any COVID transmission. We were well catered, including a little sign advising RMI staff who were not part of our event that the food was for us – it felt very much like my IMD MBA experience except that now I was in the group for which the food was meant, not the mooch coming to clean up afterward!
We spent the afternoon talking strategy, sharing out the results of the integrated strategic planning we had done over the prior two months, and soliciting further feedback/refinement from the entire team. Then it was time to kick back with dinner and drinks on the patio right along the Frying Pan River at the Tipsy Trout. It was wonderful social time with people I had been craving time with since we launched Third Derivative!
Toward the end, Katie came out so I split off from the group and Katie and I got a little date night for the first time in . . . ever? That’s how it felt!
On Friday I returned to the RMI office for a day of team exercises, working together to define how we would execute on our grand ambitions. After we wrapped up, we went to take a tour of Amory Lovins‘s groundbreaking energy efficient house in Snowmass, which was an inspiring experience.
While most of the Third Derivative team went to Aspen and Carbondale for dinner, I helped Katie put our 3yo down to bed. By the time they were asleep I couldn’t pin down the team so . . . Katie and I had our second date night in a row! We had a lovely outdoor dinner at Cafe Bernard (The elk tenderloin was wonderful!) and turned in early.
Saturday most of the Third Derivative team returned home so Katie, our 3yo, and my mom went to explore Aspen. We hiked Hunter Creek Trail and then walked around the town center, frequented the farmer’s market, and grabbed brunch with the remaining Third Derivative team members.
Honestly I didn’t love Aspen. It seemed pretty superficial and didn’t seem to offer a whole lot I couldn’t get in any number of other Colorado mountain towns. I was only there for a few hours, though, and not during the winter so maybe my opinion will change in future.
Saturday evening we had an early goodbye dinner for the last of the Third Derivative team and then . . . Katie and I had a third date night!
Sunday was technically Fathers Day but for me it was a working day. My family returned home in the morning and I spent the day preparing for the intense week ahead. I didn’t mind at all, though; for me, every day is Fathers Day!
Monday we held Third Derivative’s Board meeting, at which we aligned on the strategic and operating plan. We’re looking to more than double our activity over the next year so the Board pushed us a bit on our execution risk. At the end of the day, though, we all agreed to pursue an ambitious path – after all, it’s what the climate needs.
I spent most of Tuesday prepping for RMI’s leadership strategy retreat. In classic Bryan fashion, all of my materials came in right at the deadline. It’s a good thing they did too, because, by Tuesday afternoon, colleagues were arriving from all corners of the world. Just as with the Third Derivative team, it was amazing to see them and spend time with them in person. This was capped off by happy hour at a colleague’s place in Carbondale and dinner nearby at Phat Thai.
Wednesday we held RMI program reviews, meaning every program – including Third Derivative – shared out our strategic self assessment and received feedback from all of the other program leads. This was exhausting but also incredibly useful; I learned more about what else is happening at RMI in that one day than I had learned in my prior 15 months. We wrapped up with dinner at Tempranillo and all crashed pretty early to secure adequate recovery before the next day.
Thursday we worked in breakout groups to ideate ways that all of RMI’s programs might better collaborate together. Right now we are relatively silo’ed but there is an opportunity for the RMI whole to be greater than the sum of its parts if we can better coordinate between/among us. I think the content of these sessions was productive but the best part was spending time with these smart, motivated, diverse colleagues for the first time. We wrapped up with a “social” dinner where all we talked about was work at Free Range.
Because my family had already returned home with our car, I had no ride back to Boulder so I decided to test out Colorado’s mass transit. Friday morning I took the VelociRFTA bus from Basalt to Glenwood Springs. There I picked up the Bustang to Denver Union Station. Brant, Third Derivative’s dynamic COO, lives at Union Station so I grabbed lunch with him before taking a Lyft to my house in Boulder. It was quite an odyssey!
Later Friday evening I bumped into one of my RMI colleagues – with whom I had just spent two full days in Basalt – at our mailboxes. It turns out that he has been my nextdoor neighbor the entire time we have lived here and I never knew! #onlyduringcovid could we be on weekly Zoom calls together and never notice that we were physically only a few meters a part!
It was an exhausting, energizing, exhilarating trip to Basalt and I am so grateful for the privilege to have been able to meet safely in person. I’m a technologist and tech tools make it easier than ever to collaborate virtually – but, as the saying goes, ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby!