Think It Through!

11 08 2017

IBM founder Thomas Watson became famous, in part, because of a slogan he’d picked up as a young sales manager for National Cash Register Company.  He made it the defining motif for Big Blue from the 1920’s to the present.

Think.

“Think” signs were plastered all over IBM so that every employee, from the janitor to the senior vice president, would capture the vision that strategic thinking would help the company to grow and flourish.  He made a forceful case that the phrase “I didn’t think” was one of the main reasons why companies lost millions of dollars.  Many IBM employees—engineers and others—would carve out big chunks of time every day simply to think.

One of the reasons why things tend to stress us out us is the bad habit of not thinking a thing through and solving the problem by thoroughly understanding it.  We tend to be impatient and want everything now, especially solutions.  This applies to any area of life, not just mechanical headaches like a malfunctioning smartphone.

In his book The Road Less Traveled and Beyond, M. Scott Peck points out that simplistic thinking, which he labels simplism, is the plague of our times.  And the reason for not thinking challenges through is that real thought is hard work!

I know a dad who regularly counseled his adult sons when first entering the real world of work to “think it through” when considering possible courses of action.  My wife likes to call this process “playing the tape to the end.”

Here are some tips to improve your own strategic, solution-based thinking:

  • Create an undistracted atmosphere.  Turn off your smartphone for a while and give yourself to the task at hand.
  • Think with pencil and paper in hand.  Or pen and Moleskine. Leonardo Da Vinci is famous for his Journals, filled with math, drawings, aphorisms and sundry jottings.  Writing things out clarifies your own muddy thinking.
  • Look at your challenge from multiple angles.  Da Vinci again.  He used to sketch things from three different angles, including upside-down, so that he would not miss details and had a better picture of the whole.  Thomas Aquinas, in his famous Summa Theologica, used to state a thesis. Then he’d come up with every possible argument against  Then he’d finish with even more powerful arguments in favor of his position.
  • Try seeing your riddle through the eyes of a child.  Albert Einstein was famous for this.  His child-like approach to physics gave us his theories of special and general relativity.  A true “outside-the-box” thinker.

Remember that thinking is hard work, but well worth the effort.  You will be surprised how many more solutions will emerge as you give patience and focus to thinking things through.

 

Suggested Resources:

Good Thinking: What You Need to Know to be Smarter, Safer, Wealthier, and Wiser (Guy P. Harrison)

Leonardo’s Notebooks: Writing and Art of the Great Master (Leonardo da Vinci & H. Anna Suh)

 

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Switchfoot and Hope

31 07 2017

“Hope deserves an anthem and that’s why we sing.”

(Jon Foreman)

Kath and I attended a superb concert last night.  Switchfoot came to our town and played Meadowbrook Theatre, a venue at my alma mater, Oakland University, in suburban Detroit.

She was blown away.

So was I.

The band was superb.  Tight.  Didn’t miss a note.  Engaged from the opening “Hello Hurricane” to the final encore “Dare You to Move.”

I’m not a kid anymore.  That was four decades ago.  But I was a kid last night.

I first heard of Switchfoot, an alternative band from San Diego, about fourteen years ago.  Their album “The Beautiful Letdown” put them on the map in a big way.  Indeed, their performances of “Meant to Live” and “Dare You to Move” from that breakout album at the concert’s end capped the night brilliantly.

Today, I listened to interviews with the band’s co-founder, front man Jon Foreman.  When asked what Switchfoot’s music is all about, Jon answered, “Hope deserves an anthem and that’s why we sing.”

Odd, I came into their music in a big way after I passed the half-century mark.  I’m fifty-three and rock and roll for me means Led Zeppelin.  And more Led Zeppelin.  (Factoid: Jon Foreman was a part of a Led Zeppelin tribute band in his teens.  Factoid no. 2: During the middle section of “Bull In a China Shop” last night, lead guitarist Drew Shirley launched into the solo from “Whole Lotta Love.”  It was spectacular.)

As I’ve gotten to know Switchfoot’s music, I’ve become very uncomfortable.  Hope is a theme.  So are themes like “live life fully, unafraid and without regrets” and “is this who you want to be?”

Ouch.  A little too near the heart and conscience

Check them out.  They’re raw and real, all flawed humanoids trying to figure life out.  It’s all spelled out in the music.

 

Recommended Resources:

“Where the Light Shines Through” (Switchfoot)

“Fading West” (Switchfoot)

“The Beautiful Letdown” (Switchfoot)

“Fading West” – Film (Switchfoot)

 

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(Written for homeless kids in San Diego)





Failure ≠ Final

20 07 2017

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

(Thomas Edison)

 

Suggested Resources:

Edison: A Biography (Matthew Josephson)

Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones for Success (John C. Maxwell)

Hannibal and Me: What History’s Greatest Military Strategist Can Teach Us About Success and Failure (Andreas Kluth)

 

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Minimize Future Regrets–Today!

18 07 2017

Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, is the third richest man in the world.  His net worth in 2016 was something like 85.1 billion US dollars.

Let’s go back in time.  The internet was about seven years old.  Jeff was a member of a quantitative hedge fund, the D.E. Shaw Group in New York.  He had a very good job.  He also had an idea.  His idea was to begin selling books on the internet.

He and his boss, D.E. Shaw, went for a two hour walk around Central Park.  Jeff was thinking seriously about leaving the Shaw Group and striking out on his own.  He presented the idea to his employer.  Mr. Shaw said, “I think it’s a great idea.  But not for someone who already has a good job.”  He asked Jeff to think about it for forty-eight hours before making his decision.

Jeff formulated his pending decision within a nerdy concept called a “Regret Minimization Framework.”  Summed up, it went like this:  Project yourself ahead into the future when you’re eighty years old.  Looking back, you ask the question “If I do X and I fail at X, will I regret having tried and failed?”  Answer: “No.”

Next question.  “If I don’t try X (and thus never know what could happen), will I have regrets?”  Answer: “Yes.”

Jeff moved to Seattle and started Amazon.

We know now just how successful his choice was.  But he could not have known what 2017 would look like way back in the early 2000’s.  Amazon is ubiquitous.  We all shop there.

Regret Minimization Framework.  A big term.  Summed up, what kinds of decisions can you or I make now that won’t leave us tossing and turning at night in the twilight years wondering what might have been?

For reflection:

  • What choices have you already made that have left you with definite regrets? What would you have done differently?
  • Do you have an idea, knowing ideas carry risk, that you would like to develop and see through? If you choose not to follow through on this idea, will you regret the missed opportunities and adventures which could have been yours as your life nears its end?
  • Are you aware, as JK Rowling said, that allowing fear to keep you from stepping out on your dream is ultimately to fail by default?

Suggested Resources:

The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon (Brad Stone)

Think like Jeff Bezos: Making of an e-commerce business mammoth from yesterday for tomorrow : 23 life changing lessons from Jeff Bezos on Life,People,Business, Technology and Leadership (Jamie Morris)

 

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Blackwing 602

11 07 2017

This is a Palomino Blackwing 602 pencil.  Blackwing?  Sounds like something out of Gothic horror or at least Batman.

No.  It’s an iconic writing instrument, the Mercedes-Benz of pencils.  Not the original Blackwing 602s, manufactured by the Eberhard Faber Pencil Company.  [Those of us half a century or older remember Faber pencils in grade school.] Those gems, which went out of production in 1989, can fetch upwards of $40.00 per pencil on eBay.

Years later, the Blackwing 602 brand was acquired by California Cedar Products Company which started making them again under their Palomino division.  Purists still prefer the original Faber Blackwing 602s, but they are disappearing.  And who wants to pay $40.00 for a pencil?

The script on the barrel of the pencil says HALF THE PRESSURE, TWICE THE SPEED.  There is something about the recipe of the 602’s graphite that gives the user a very smooth writing experience.  I test drove one and compared it with a number of other pencils last Christmas.  There is a difference.  All pencils are not created equal.

Other coolness factors:

  • The flat, square and replaceable ferrule-encased eraser gives one the added bonus of an expensive pencil not rolling off the table and breaking the lead. At $22.95 for a dozen through Amazon.com, this is a big deal.
  • Luminaries in many artistic fields have sworn by the Blackwing 602 for years. Writers (John Steinbeck, Vladimir Nabokov); Composers & Arrangers  (Stephen Sondheim, Nelson Riddle, Johnny Mercer); Cartoonists (Chuck Jones).  It’s even shown up on Mad Men!  

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There is something wonderfully sensual about the experience of writing longhand, composing music, or sketching with a superior writing instrument.  You can try this famous pencil for yourself.  Be aware, these pencils are not easy to track down in most towns.  You won’t find them in Staples or Office Max, unless they’ve begun selling them.  They’re not carried in a lot of brick-and-mortar stores.  However, you can find them here for about $2/each, including shipping.  I never dreamed I’d consider a single pencil worth two bucks a piece but this one is.

Try it and see for yourself.

PS  Buy the Blackwing sharpener and sharpen your 602s by hand. Never sharpen a Blackwing 602 with an electric sharpener!  You’ll discover soon enough that not all sharpeners are designed well–well enough, that is, to get a long life out of your Blackwing 602.  Here you are.

 

Suggested Resources:

How to Sharpen Pencils: A Practical & Theoretical Treatise on the Artisanal Craft of Pencil Sharpening for Writers, Artists, Contractors, Flange Turners, Anglesmiths, & Civil Servants (David Rees)

Blackwing Pages: For Fans of the Genuine Blackwing 602

 

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Start Stuff!

5 07 2017

Seth Godin is funny, bright and gets to the point.  I learned today that human beings have an attention span of about seven seconds.  And that puts us bipeds behind goldfish who can pay attention for eight seconds. (Kudos, Michael Levin, for that insight.)  So for this reason, among others, you should read Seth or watch his TED talks.

Back to Seth.  In his book, Poke the Box, Seth talks about initiative.  In answer to the workplace question “what do you do here?” Seth points out that “almost no one says ‘I start stuff.’”

How do you start stuff?

Seth says you “poke the box.”  You try something out.  Sit at a piano and start hitting keys and listen to what comes out.  Initiative is something we take; it isn’t handed to us.  Failing to take initiative will tend to make us reactive rather than proactive.

I’ve learned the hard way that if I wait around for  inspiration to drop by my apartment for a cup of coffee, I will never write anything.  Inspiration usually shows up after I just start.

Okay.  What kind of stuff can you start?  Remember feeling and inspiration aren’t the most important variables in actually getting something rolling.  A decision is.  Try these and add your own:

  • A regular exercise program—weights, walking, cardio. Start small.
  • A blog. Write enough to fill one screen’s worth of space, about 200-400 words.  Or like me, start writing again in the blog you already have.
  • A well-crafted, eye-catching résumé. Put it together and post it on LinkedIn and Indeed. Or update the one you’ve already posted.
  • A regular, undistracted reading program.  “Regular” = every day. Start small—maybe all you can manage is ten minutes.  Start there and build it up.  And unhook your connections to the outside world so you can focus.
  • Teach yourself to write code and try it out (Seth’s suggestion, this). The reward center in your brain will light up when it works.

Go!

Suggested Resources:

Poke the Box: When Was the Last Time You Did Something For the First Time? (Seth Godin)

17 Anti-Procrastination Hacks: How to Stop Being Lazy, Overcome Procrastination, and Finally Get Stuff Done (Dominic Mann)

 

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Ray Bradbury On the Joy of Writing

3 07 2017

“You write to please yourself. You write for the joy of writing. And then your public reads you and it begins to gather around…The enthusiasm, the joy itself draws me — so that means, every day of my life, I’ve written. When the joy stops, I’ll stop writing.”

Suggested Resources:

Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity (Ray Bradbury)

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (Stephen King)

 

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