You need to read less and think more!

This blog is about getting stoked and getting worthwhile things done. There is a sea of useless information bombarding you, and this is a desert island where you beach your boat and build a hut. There are also some clever little construction tricks to be presented.



Friday, December 26, 2014

I am so grateful for the insights I’ve gotten from the mavens of human performance. Not that I revel in my own awesomeness or whatever - it is just nice to be able to back up and see my own patterns with understanding of how brains and egos work in general.

One of my “secret weapons” is www.morningcoach.com I have seen JB Glossinger come a long way, and his daily 15 minute talks are better than ever. One thing I am not so sure about is the general idea of “Intelligent Life Design”. It seems to be one side of a coin that we ought to trade for a third alternative. 

At first blush, ILD seems naturally desirable. It is hard to argue with the idea of making more money with less effort. However, creating time and space to pursue hobbies (golf, MMA, languages, etc.) has an odor of frivolity that makes me want to burst outside to breathe. I have a hunch that strong men (and maybe women) are like diesel trucks: they function best when under a load.

The other side of that coin - work for work’s sake - is worse. When I read Aldous Huxley’s “People intoxicate themselves with work so they won't see how they really are” I thought of so many of my friends (and myself). So many of us are compulsive and need something to throw ourselves into. Work is a better alternative than drugs, etc. Side effects of “workaholism” (workahol is not actually a substance) include prosperity and respect. But again there is a third alternative. Something that is neither a cop-out nor frivolous.

It is Mission.  You know you are going to die, right? Can you imagine the deathbed realization that you spent your life frivolously or driving blindly? The third alternative is to find the biggest reason possible to give it all. Then give it your all. That’s what I have done, and I could not be happier. I bet that’s what JB is up to as well (the golf thing might partly be to motivate working stiffs that listen).

My mission is this: re-build the artisan class by building a business that makes of the most durable, aesthetically timeless floors on the planet. Everything other flooring material is future garbage. Most other jobs are pointless by comparison. Here are the results of this work:
  • Less things in landfills (Americans throw away billions of pounds of carpet every year - it is not recyclable).
  • Happy+productive men learning new skills and making things they feel great about.
  • Customers getting meaningfully crafted things instead of more boxes of whatever.

Here is a case study:
Lily + Bobby Garst wanted the graphic of this pin enlarged and cut into their concrete:



Translating a 1/2" pin to a 7' medallion means either creating a vectorized computer file line-by-line that a plotter can read to cut a stencil or just printing it out and cutting through the image with grinders and engravers.  The first approach is easier on the body, the second is better on the soul.
Here is a shot of the printed image on an interior floor (flattening out while we stain and seal the front porch where it would later be installed):
Cutting all that out is a ton of work, but there is no good way to translate the depth of a grey-scale image from a pin to concrete art without the depth you get with a grinder.  Here is a shot after a hard day of work:
The Greek key started to take shape:
At some point taking the paper off makes sense. The final shading comes from the artisan looking at the image and just translating it to the concrete:
Inspiration is not optional when you are working like a tattoo artist - except the vibration is 3X, the work is 3X the size, and you are on your knees all day cutting it in.


Finally the engraving is done:


Staining it black and sealing it makes it more subtle and keeps it from darkening from dirt over time:

The artisan behind this work has been with me for over 8 years now. He could not be happier with his job, and he and the other crew leaders can now afford to buy homes, feed their families single handedly (moms are home). Also, the Garst Family got a remarkable entry to their home that will never wear out, pop off, or go out of style. Our margins are very low, but over $1M has gone into the local economy in 2014 alone. To Garsts, the builders, architects, and the 100s of others we were able to serve this year, a big fat THANK YOU.
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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Why you stay connected with nerds like us.

I should say me: I am a materials nerd, but the rest of my team is largely cool-guys. I am known for reading technical data sheets like some guys look at pornography. It borders on addiction for me, but instead of making me a pervert or whatever, it can make the world better.

Here's what I found:

The ultimate garage floor.

It is like exposed aggregate concrete on steroids. More that 14,000 PSI, the ability to flex, gaps in the rocks that prevent puddling, all kinds of characteristics that allow us to put a 20 year warranty on it.  Shiny, slip-resistant, stain resistant, crack-proof, concrete of sorts that we can do tremendous things with.

This stuff would be terrific for garages, pool decks, walkways; anywhere you could clean with a hose rather than a mop. 

We call it the 14K Overlay, and we are all in:  Tuesday we purchased a special trailer-able mixer just for this material, and 4 pallets of it for mockups. Wednesday 10/22, we took all 15 people out of the field and had the manufacturer come down and train us properly.


 On Tuesday the 23rd, we installed this in the garage for a $1,000,000+ spec house built by Brother Sun Builders in Kingsland.  

I'm not saying our polished concrete floor inside or the stained porches or this new garage coating did it, but that house sold on Saturday the 25th. 

Builders / architects / designers that work with us have always had an edge. Now they have something new to offer as well.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Like Walter White, we make it, but we don’t take it.

Not methamphetamine. Market share.  Recently element7concrete started placing concrete, and it has made some of our friends uncomfortable.  Here’s why these kinds of things are good in general [that means in your world as much as ours]


There are two mindsets in the market: abundance and scarcity.  As a gawky 14 year old at Watertown High School in South Dakota I was told that “The basic economic problem is scarcity: unlimited wants vs. limited resources”. With all due respect, the real economic problem is having your ideas around money shaped by a government employee that makes around $30,000/year.  


Scarcity is a myth.  Man's creative work is what brings forth "Resources", and the limits of human resourcefulness is nowhere near known. It is bigger than you can imagine right now. 

In reality, the universe is expanding on all levels: planets, bio-mass, human population, human knowledge, and of course the markets. Remember the smartphone market before the iPhone?  How about the tablet market before the iPad? Anyone still seriously worried about us running out of sources of energy?

Back to concrete. For the better part of a decade, many local concrete contractors have recommended element7concrete to their customers because we break ourselves to make them look good. Before element7concrete flooring, plans specifying stained concrete flooring was bad news.  It meant their work would be scrutinized. Now it means their work would will be celebrated. Our customers learn to appreciate concrete for what it is, and everybody wins.

Before element7concrete placement, concrete was a commodity. Now it will become commissioned craftwork. We are detail guys. We will not squeeze out old concrete companies on parking lots and house slabs. We will attract customer they don't want - customers that want [and will pay for] attention to detail. We will create massive value in good work. Remember coffee before Starbucks? It sucked compared to coffee now. Howard Schultz was inspired by how good coffee could be. We are inspired with how good concrete can be. By the Grace of God, we will elevate concrete like they elevated coffee. Thank you so much for reading this. Please spread the word.


Friday, September 5, 2014

Adventure!

Last week, two future rockstars and I went to Padre Island for a decorative concrete adventure.  These "Young Guns" will be 1st class crew leaders in 2015, and I wanted to pour into them personally on an out-of-town job.  The 4 guys leading crews back in the Hill Country had things on lock, and frankly these guys are the only ones on the team without kids to raise, so it was all right-on.

This project was an unlikely recipient of the element7concrete experience. We don't normally go out of town to work, but the owner on this one was a childhood friend of my wife, and her and her husband are two of the coolest people I've met.  Remodel work is much harder than new construction, and we decline a lot of these projects when we are as busy as we are.  But, this beach house had great bones and bad surfaces. I guess I am a bit of a sucker for a chance to really contribute to a great space.

The builder warned us that the slab got tore up when they hammered the tile out. If he would have used phrases like "surface of the moon", it would have been more clear. Here's a shot of what we started with:

The 10 bags of Mapei M-20 we brought for patching covered maybe 10%.  The $150 of patching material covered another 10% of the deepest holes.  So, I dropped about $1000 on a floor leveler from Lowes and we spent 2-3 days patching, grinding, and cleaning before we ever dropped our first coat of EliteCrete ThinFinish.  Here is a quick video of the madness:

Our HTC 500 was priceless in grinding the floor flat before the ThinFinish.  That material is great, but it is so thin it does not hide much.  Here is the first coat being applied:


We started integrally coloring the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th coats of material (not counting the 2 coats of patching).  Here's what that looked like:

Kelly (the owner), collaborated well with us on this scoring design, and after sanding, scoring, sealing it looked like this:


Once the sealer cures out, the house is trimmed, painted, and cleaned, and the matte floor finish is applied, I would love to post some pictures of the finished work.  This is designed to be a mellow backdrop for the young family's furniture, art and life.  I am grateful for the chance to serve, and proud of how my team delivered.  Thank you for reading.





Monday, August 4, 2014

Frankly Threadbare.

I struggle with arrogance.  I used to struggle with lust, and it made it weird for me to be friends with hot women [also probably made life miserable for my wife]. I’m over that.  But I still struggle with pride enough that I overcompensate, and destroy myself for the builders I love and their clients.

What does that have to do with concrete, you, design, or anything else worth caring about?  Maybe nothing. Maybe this is the opposite of everything we value. No. It is not. Here’s what’s up:  I hope by openly sharing my most embarrassing struggle you feel more inspired and less alone.

Here’s the deal:  if you ever commissioned us to make something for you or your clients, it humbles me. I am so grateful for you and your business. I would really, really, really rather not let you down.  Problem is you are not alone.  Lots of people know about element7concrete now, and I was overcompensating for my ego when I stacked the schedule full of people I couldn’t say “no” to. 

My ego would love to work 6 killer hours a day, use our reputation to charge 3X what we do, and make you wait if I’m not ready. A good part of me wants my ego to get murdered.  So, I work 18 hours a day, charge the same prices we did in 2006, and have to re-schedule 3 projects a day. This is clearly off the mark.  

I wasn’t prescient enough to have a good story ready when you called.  I didn’t come with an “aw, shucks I wish we could schedule your project within a month, but we are already jammed up”. I though somehow, someway, we would pull a rabbit out of a hat and do stuff that didn’t add up, and everyone would feel good about it.  Problem is this is the real world, and it’s like 95 degrees out there, and my guys have young, growing families and our clients have CC cameras and feel short-changed if 4 guys know out their $1,500 project in 3 hours flat…blah blah blah…we come up short. I hate it. I wake up earlier, train harder, eat cleaner, think better, and work harder and it still doesn’t all get done. I hate it. I am sorry and sick of being sorry. I just want to be better. I hate my imperfections. I hate my shortcomings. I just want everyone to stay stoked. I want to stay stoked myself. That striving is hopeless, though. Balance is the point, not just “more”. 


Hope this somehow helps. I love you very much.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

It's hot: make it happen

So you are waking yourself up at like 4AM weekdays.  You work out, eat clean, keep your head on straight, and really want to represent the best to the world.  No matter what there are more people wanting your work than you can possibly serve.  You have a countertop project overdue because your team can stain and polish as well or better than you can, and it seems like most moments you are called to estimate, plan, and manage more than just make cool stuff. But overdue is not how you roll, and so you have to squash this quick.

So you throw the shims, adhesive, caulk gun, level, etc. in the bed of your truck and finally get a hand lifting the big top on your A-frame trailer at a time when you can sneak away and install right quick.  You cut your helper loose after about 10 minutes because you can move these things around and he's on track to be on OT by Thursday morning, and you bid tightly.  Everything looks tight and fits right with a shim or two, so you figure you can glue everything down and be home for dinner tonight and dammit...the tube of adhesive has been roughed up bouncing around the back of your truck.

So you try to straighten that junk...nothing doing.  You realize angle-grinders-spanner-wrenches are for you are like swag for a media-maven.  So you make a pool of glue and scoop it with the wrenches like this:

So you make it happen.  And you submit your invoice, and hope you get paid and can plow that money into land, molds, and training people to take the whole team to the next level.  Maybe none of it matters, but it looks cool and you are thankful for the job you made for yourself.  Here are some shots of the install:




 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Maybe all of it matters.

If we really pay attention to ourselves, we may notice that we say the same things (to ourselves or out loud) repeatedly.  One of my mantras has been “there are easier ways for me to feed my family than making stuff out of concrete”.  I say this because I feel like I could do anything, and this work makes my body hurt pretty regularly. There is no good reason to share that here, though.  

The point is, I am drawn to making things out of concrete for the same reason you are reading this.  There has to be some meaning here. Concrete is rad because the day it is placed is frozen in time. Man, material, intention, and this physical world all collide and fossilize the moment. If it is decent, it will be there 50 or so years.  Because humanity is imperfect, concrete installations are usually imperfect. Just as there are “perfect games” for pitchers in baseball, there are “perfect pours”.  Element7concrete is about the spiritual perfection available to humanity applied to concrete.  We apply it to concrete for the same reason serious street artists melt wax into walls, or etch their tag if possible. We know everything temporal will pass, but there is something in us that wants to make it last.  Something permanent. Something beautiful. We are not happy if it doesn’t come out. We need to come correct with the art within us. 


We can sear our consciouses, and pretend like non of this matters. It might not. It’s hard to really tell for the same reason it is precious. But maybe all of it matters. Maybe that part of us that gets outraged and enlivened and that is realer than anything keeps score on E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G.  Maybe not. But I will bet on it, because I know even if I lose, I will sort of win. I loved that you read all of this. I hope we can hang out someday and not be distracted at all.  I haven’t written much of anything outside of bids and project worksheets for a long time now, and I am glad we could share this time. I hope your day is just straight-up magical. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Stoked to keep on.

This interview between James Altucher and Austin Kleon inspired me yesterday:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-james-altucher-show/id794030859?mt=2

Especially striking was the idea that great works come with little chunks of time we seize from each day.  Nobody gets 3 months and free canvasses in Paris.  We have to steal the parts from Resistance to make our weapons for The Revolution.  James doesn't have a real pretty voice, but this talk is rich.

Friday, May 2, 2014

First of 7 stories - The Founder's Story

A guy dropped out of college and worked construction one summer like a million guys before him.  One day he was installing a roof on a college, watching all the other kids his age moving into their dorms.  Out of jealousy he decided to go back to school someday.  Someday turned out to be some 3 years later.  He thought he was bad at math, so when he took his first math class he bought 2 extra, outmoded textbooks so he could work 3X as hard as the smart kids and catch up.  He discovered almost anyone could be smart if they wanted to mentally work hard/long enough, so he changed his major to math to see how high he could climb up that hill before toppling over.  He kept working hard, and that tumble never happened.  Along the path, he got married and had a couple of kids, so the pressure to decide what to do when he grew up mounted.  He felt he had learned the big life lessons of college before getting any framable paperwork, so he dropped out and moved his family halfway across America to take over a little decorative concrete company.  The physically creative nature of the work was very enlivening.  He loved how his customers continued to love their floors and wanted more of that in the world. He wanted others to wake up to the joy of feeding their families by making pretty things. So now, he focuses on crafting consistently great customer experiences, the longest lasting floors possible, and meaningful jobs for the people around him. 

Stories to come:

The Homeowner's Story

The Artisan's Story

The Homebuilder's Story 

The Office Manager's Story 

The Shop Manager's Story... 





Saturday, March 22, 2014

Example of element7concrete

Element7concrete is concrete with a dollop of creativity infused in it.  Here is a great example of someone using masonry materials in a very cool way:

http://www.viralnova.com/dream-dome-home-thailand/


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

This guy is right.

I was just reminded to take personal responsibility, no matter what I or you are doing.  There is no greater mindset for you and everyone else.

Here's what reminded me:

http://profoundlydisconnected.com/mike-rowe-third-times-the-charm-or-so-we-believe/

He's absolutely right.  Providing PPE (personal protection equipment) is an employer's responsibility, and we should never encourage dangerous behavior.  We should chide our guys when they are not wearing respirators, or glasses when appropriate, but I think back to every time I told my guys their safety was my concern and cringe now.  Carelessness is the real enemy.  The way to fight carelessness is to point out who is really gambling the most with safety.  I can't wait to re-address this with my crews before they go out tomorrow.  The takeaway for you?  Whatever you are doing, take personal responsibility.  There is no greater mindset for you and everyone else.  Encourage this with others, and maybe we will all do less stupid things and live better.  Amen?

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Profile of a successful project.

My team and I recently completed a 4450sf stamped concrete project and it could not have gone better.  Here are some counterintuitive things that may have contributed to our success:


  1. Use cheap concrete. Johnny Maldonado of Epic Concrete made the call to just get a 5" slump 3000 PSI mix over lots of steel.  This is wise because a huge house slab will usually crack because of a lack of substrate preparation or tensile strength rather than a lack of compressive strength, and high performance mixes tend to set up faster and less predictably than these.  Also, welded wire mesh is less expensive than "fatty" concrete and can impart tensile strength towards the top of the slab while the heavier steel bears the engineered loads towards the bottom. 
  2. Two big crews.  Epic Concrete had at least 10 guys to place and finish the concrete and Element7concrete brought 12 to stamp it.  Both of these jobs are hard work, and the stamping requires a high attention to detail, so having a fresh set of guys to take over and finish strong is worth the labor costs.  You only get one chance to really do it right.
  3. Two separate crews.  Sometimes the things that make a guy good at placing a lot of concrete make them bad at decorative work.  Similarly, the attention to detail that the element7concrete guys have makes them bad at big placement jobs.  Put negatively, we are slow and they are sloppy.  Go sloppy first and finish slowly and it is very good.
  4. Pray, tithe, and give thanks.  At the end of the day, 40% or so of this game is luck.  Nobody gets hurt, nobody woke up sick, the weather held, the bleed water evaporated at just the right time, the pump didn't break, we all just got really lucky.  We are all lucky to be here.  Make great stuff and enjoy your days.  Thank you for reading.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Please replace me with a robot.

This is one of the coolest stories I have come across lately.

http://innovation.uk.msn.com/design/the-3d-printer-that-can-build-a-house-in-24-hours#scpshrjwfbs

One main reason I work in the decorative concrete industry is to create strong middle class jobs.  So, I find the the part of the article where they address the social concerns of innovation most interesting. The idea that a rising tide does anything other than raise all ships is ridiculous.  Any good tool frees us up to work more creatively and efficiently than before we had it.  I guess the only negative thing about innovation is that by removing the constraint, we may become lazy.  That is, if we don't have to work, some of us will not work.  Some of us work best when we are free, though.  Am I all alone caring about any of this though?

Saturday, January 11, 2014

How I stay passionate through rough weeks.

Some days I feel like a hammer - this past Thursday I was more like a nail.  Here's what my left hand looks like as I type this out:



The point is though I think I am the luckiest man alive to feed my family with this work, it is not all wine and cupcakes.  Even when we don't tear up our bodies, this is very strenuous yet tedious work.

I once heard that there are production guys (they go fast, but are sloppy), and detail guys (they do great stuff, but go slow).  To sustainably compete, our guys must be super-efficient detail guys.  Ask nearly any of our customers - we tend to roll clean, and knock out great jobs quickly.  One has to cultivate a massive energy level, a good attitude, an ability to move fast and still keep a sharp eye and high standards even when tired.  What is the secret?  We really, really, care.

Care about what?  To be sure, people can be more or less inherently careful.  Some people don't care about anything (the world that comes to mind for such a guy is inappropriate to write, but it ends in "-hole").  We attract careful people, but what keeps us careful and pulls us back is THE WHY

  • Our mission to the market:  Every year billions of pounds of carpet and other floor covering end up in landfills.  Every other flooring option will wear out, burn, rot from water exposure,  out or go out of style before a polished concrete floor by element7concrete.  Everything other than element7concrete flooring is future garbage.    
  • Our mission to our workforce:  80% or so people hate their jobs and they should:  many jobs are seriously disconnected from the process of creating value for other human beings and people fell into them for the money. I've personally had a job that paid really well for what I did, but was frankly unnecessary to society.  I felt quietly bad about it, and it took me awhile to figure out why.  Sadly, millions of these jobs exist in our society, and the lives of the people filling them dwindle away.  On the other hand, our guys go home most days exhausted but proud that they made something awesome with their day.  The fact that these beautiful structures and surfaces are made directly for people they meet add to the meaningfulness of the work.
  • Our mission to the world:  The ripple effect of creating great physical spaces could be greater than we realize.  The effect of creating meaningful jobs is more obvious and may ripple out further.  Who knows - but it is definitely worth building systems around to make more of that.
So my hands are tore up.  My back hurts.  I even have a black eye from running into a 2X6 (another story).  But I am stoked.  I hope you are, too.  If not, message me directly; we might need your help with something that matters.