Welcome!

Who is Robert Schlaff?

I’m a devoted husband and father to an awesome family. For work, I’m a Product Manager who looks at the goals of the business and uses technology to deliver those business and customer goals. I’ve driven transformational change at Citi, AIG, and Amazon Web Services. For more information about what I do at work, please visit my LinkedIn profile.

About This Site

I collect stories. There are so many amazing things happening every day. I need to spend some time writing them down before they slip away. Madeleine L’Engle said that every writer needs to keep an honest, unpublishable journal that nobody reads, nobody but you. But some of this stuff is too good to keep to myself. So I’m sharing it with you.

When I’m writing, I picture having a conversation with some of the world’s smartest and most interesting people — you, my readers. I picture us all sitting around a table telling stories and having fun. I’d like to think we’re a digital version of the Algonquin Round Table. Throughout the 1920s, some friends would meet daily for lunch at the Algonquin Hotel in New York. They included the founding editor of the New Yorker Harold Ross, the playwright George S. Kaufmann and the writer Dorothy Parker. This group, called The Algonquin Round Table,  would meet to tell stories and share quips in a bustling city that was finding its place on the world stage. They were the original raconteurs of New York, getting together to share stories that would enlighten and entertain. In an age when we no longer have two-martini lunches, I wanted to humbly bring that sensibility online.

Highlights

Life Lessons

Product and Design

Art and Writing

Technical

Human Behavior

Math and Logic

Coronavirus Prevention – Everything Great is Bad for You

Summary: All the things that make a great social event like large groups, diverse groups of people, and close connections also create a great environment to spread coronavirus. After the pandemic is over, it’s worth using the coronavirus prevention guidelines, and going against them, to find great events.

What makes a great social event? Lots of people from all over the world are sharing their ideas and meeting new people. Some people are new, drawn there because they’d heard this is the place to be. Others are old friends, hugging and kissing each other hello. Everyone is interacting intensely, going out for drinks and dinner. Maybe they even share some appetizers or try each other’s drinks.

If you’re been paying attention to the news this week, these are also the things that spread coronavirus: lots of people, close contact, diversity, and sharing. This makes sense because viruses piggyback on the social nature of humans. When we get together and interact in a community, viruses are shared as well. Continue reading “Coronavirus Prevention – Everything Great is Bad for You”

Guest Post: Blake Schlaff on Fortnite Friendships

Guest Post: My 10-year-old son Blake is an avid Fortnite player who often plays with his friends. I thought it would be good for him (with my help) to tell everyone about the world of social gaming. 

Fortnite is not just a game about fighting. Yes, there is a lot of shooting, collecting guns, and exploring the world. The most exciting part isn’t about fighting it’s about spending time with friends online. Even though my parents only let me play Fortnite with people that I know, playing Fortnite with them is different, and in some ways better, than playing with them in the real world. Playing Fortnite is a lot like being in a virtual world together with my friends, like the Oasis in Ready Player One. Continue reading “Guest Post: Blake Schlaff on Fortnite Friendships”

Carpe Diem! How to Live Like an Emperor

At the end of last year, Bubbie, my last living grandparent, was fading away. She couldn’t see, could barely walk, and her kidneys were failing. It was becoming clear that we needed to savor each moment with her. So we created some great memories — like the last time we had a steak dinner with her and needed to push her on her walker around the corner to the restaurant. Or the last time she came to our house and Ari asked if he could snuggle her because he really likes snuggling people. We spent those last months finding special moments with Bubbie. And it was exciting because Bubbie was always up for some good fun. Continue reading “Carpe Diem! How to Live Like an Emperor”

Fiction Is the Lie That Tells the Truth

When my Bubbie died in January, I wasn’t sure how to deal with it. People kept telling me that, “She lived a good long life” and “Her memory will live forever” but this wasn’t helpful. I know that she lived a great life and I know that I was very lucky to be 41 when my last grandparent died. But how should I deal with her death? What do I do now?

I started thinking about a conversation I had 13 years ago with Mike McGill. Mike was the superintendent of the Scarsdale school district, one of the best school districts in the country. We were talking about what students should learn in high school to lead a good and productive life.

I thought I had the answer. At 28, I’d finally learned the key skills to be successful in the business world: analytics and communication. I’d spent two years in business school and then worked for two years as a  management consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton, one of the world’s most prestigious corporate strategy consultancies. Through this education, I learned to take data, analyze it, and communicate a story about it. Analytics and communication are also the skills needed to discuss issues and be a contributing member of society.

But Mike had a different perspective. He said, “Literature is the most important subject you can learn. It’s at the heart of being human. By reading a good book you learn key life lessons. There’s no better way to learn empathy and see things from someone else’s point of view.” Mike’s comment always stuck in my head and helped me understand how to read literature. So when Bubbie died I looked to literature for answers. Continue reading “Fiction Is the Lie That Tells the Truth”

How to be Happy — Yale’s Most Popular Class

This year Professor Laurie Santos created Yale’s most popular class of all time. The class is titled Psychology and the Good Life but it’s really a course on how to be happy both in the short and long term. I was excited to hear that Yale was offering the course but even more excited to see that the class is available online. While there’s little I hadn’t heard before, it did a great job of focusing me on what’s important and helped me get into the practice of being happier.

Continue reading “How to be Happy — Yale’s Most Popular Class”

Global Pandemic and Global Friendship

I keep hearing that we’re in a world of social distancing, but social distancing isn’t the right word. We need social connections more than ever to help keep us sane, but we need to physically distance ourselves from one another. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that the novel coronavirus uses our physical connections as a transmission vector, and the better the in person connections, the more dangerous it is. Continue reading “Global Pandemic and Global Friendship”

That Time I was Catfished by a Robot Secretary

 

Catfish: To trick someone into a relationship online using a fictional persona and/or photographs.

I was trying to set up a meeting with one of my friends. He has his own venture-capital firm so he runs a lean shop. Also, as a venture capitalist, he likes to leverage new forms of technology.

I sent an email and said, “Hey, let’s meet up.“

He writes me back, “That sounds great! Clara, can you set something up?” and CCed his secretary Clara. Continue reading “That Time I was Catfished by a Robot Secretary”

Cloud Banking 101: Technology Exists to Support the Business

Summary: In the beginning, computers were expensive and complicated machines and needed a cadre of high priests to cater to their every beck and call. However, as computers have become cheaper and more ubiquitous in business, technology processes need to become business processes. While many businesses know they have to do this, old habits and processes die hard. In order to be successful, technology needs to be fully integrated into the business, like any other function.  

In the early days of enterprise computing, computers were giant, room-sized machines. They spoke an arcane language and ate specially formulated punchcards. They were complicated and finicky, broke frequently and needed an army of technicians to keep them running.

The Monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey

Computing power was the most scarce resource in the company. A mistake in a punchcard could cause the business to waste thousands of dollars in lost processing time. In order to run these machines at peak efficiency, a cadre of high priests of computing grew up to tend to their every need. Much like ancient gods, these priests’ main goal is to make sure that the machines were kept happy with their daily supply of punchcards. Continue reading “Cloud Banking 101: Technology Exists to Support the Business”

Thomas Heatherwick, Designer and Master Builder

Great design combines a strong artistic vision with the fulfillment of a real-world need. Thomas Heatherwick, the builder behind the Vessel, exemplifies great design. The first time I saw the Vessel, I was biking along the West Side Highway and saw this wonderful staircase being built. Two things went through my head at the same time: “This staircase would be amazing to climb” and “There’s no way that I’ll be able to climb it because it’s going to be part of some new building.” When I learned that this was going to be an interactive sculpture that you can walk through, I had another two thoughts: “This is so amazing! I’m going to be able to climb those stairs!” and “What kind of person would spend $200 million on a bunch of stairs?!” Continue reading “Thomas Heatherwick, Designer and Master Builder”