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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Don’t Waste My Time!

24 07 2017

“Just as theft of money is theft, so is theft of time.”

                        (Mesillat Yesharim, ch. 11)

Yesterday, I was cranky.  I’m not usually that way.  But by morning’s end, I was in a sour frame of mind.  Frustration, kvetching, it was all there.  My wife thought it was funny.  She doesn’t get jalapeno from me often.

Why?

We went some place expecting one thing and got another.  As we get older, we’re a lot more sensitive to having our time wasted by others.  We wasted our time, an hour and a half gone.

Employers are well-aware of how much time is wasted in office and factory.  Web surfing, prolonged breaks and lunches, endless chatter around the water cooler.  There are stats on the web that give big estimates of time loss.  They’re not flattering.

Time is that limited commodity that cannot be replaced.  Our time is finite.  We all die.  If someone takes my money, it can be replaced.  But that lost ninety minutes yesterday is gone for good.

For reflection:

  • Do you chatter on endlessly either not answering when you’ve been questioned or filling the air with needless details? You’re wasting someone else’s time and energy.
  • Are you fully engaged in the tasks at hand or do you dilly-dally around in a half-hearted way, not giving your best effort and focused attention?
  • Can you challenge yourself going forward to answer questions simply and directly?
  • Are you able to refrain from giving unsolicited advice or when asked advice, padding it with lots of verbal filler?

In business, those who can sum up and not waste the boss’s time and energy will find favor much faster than those who spend precious minutes in needless circumlocutions.

Point of this post is not finger pointing.  I have been lousy at stewarding the time and energy of others.  I’m looking to change things up.  Time cannot be replaced.

Care to join?

 

Suggested Resources:

15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management: The Productivity Habits of 7 Billionaires, 13 Olympic Athletes, 29 Straight-A Students, and 239 Entrepreneurs (Kevin Kruse)

Time Management Hacks: 10 Ways to Do More With Less, Change Your Daily Habits, Increase Productivity and Accomplish More (Thomas Westover)

 

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Get In. Get to the Point. Get Out.

21 07 2017

The title of this post is tacked on the wall above my desk.  It’s a reminder to not waste time and multiply words needlessly.  “No one owes you a reading” (Ralph McInerny, author of the Father Dowling mysteries and late philosophy professor at the University of Notre Dame) is on the same page as well as famous Rule No. 17 from Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style, “omit needless words.”

We tend to multiply words in print or conversation for a variety of reasons.  Anxiety is a big one; an inflated sense of our own brilliance is another; and some of us simply like to hear ourselves talk and see our words in print.  None of these are good excuses for monopolizing someone else’s time and processing capacity.  Get in, get to the point, and get out.

I spent a good chunk of my time today listening to the wise words of Wall Street legend and Columbia University Adjunct Professor, Joel Greenblatt.  Here, watch this.  Joel was recommended by a cousin who attended Columbia Business School and, I suspect, studied under Greenblatt.

I know very little about the market and investing.  This post is not about that. What struck me as I listened to Joel was his ability to get to the point quickly, to use effective and homey metaphors to make arcane concepts accessible, and to avoid wasting the time of his moderator and audience, Google in this instance.  He isn’t in love with his own voice.  He’d rather get returns for his investors and himself and use his time doing so.

If you drone on and on.  If you “have to express yourself completely” in a torrent of words, either in conversation or in print–author Thomas Wolfe was famous for this, you need to be prepared for the following realities.  One, the attention spans of human beings are shorter than ever in 2017, about seven to eight seconds.  Two, time is money.  When you don’t distill and sum up, you will find out sooner or later that the “cost of doing business” with you—i.e. talking with you—is too expensive.  To be blunt, if you prattle on, people may avoid you because their time, like yours, is limited and valuable.

This has been a besetting sin of mine.  Family have said, “Okay Chris—get to the point.”  Now I’m taking stock and inventory with the help of people like Joel Greenblatt.

So, know what you want to say, say it quickly—think Hemingway and his sparse prose—then send people on their way.

You may find they come back more often.

 

Suggested Resources:

The Little Book That Still Beats the Market (Joel Greenblatt)

Get to the Point: How to Say What You Mean and Get What You Want (Andrew D. Gilman & Karen E. Berg)

Ernest Hemingway on Writing (Larry W. Phillips)

 

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“You Can’t Outsmart the Work”

7 07 2017

Chris, Jeff and I all went to the same school to work in our respective Master’s programs back in the early 2000’s.  Our studies were challenging and we enjoyed our learning experience.

Jeff went on to earn a Ph.D in Leadership Studies at a fine school on the Mid-Atlantic seaboard.  Those pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy degree spend a lot of time in books and writing, like their counterparts in the medical and legal professions, to name just two disciplines.

Some time later, Chris and Jeff got together—reflecting on their educational journeys.  Their conversation went along these lines.

Chris:  “So, how is your Ph.D program going, Jeff.  I bet it’s intense.”

Jeff:  “For sure.  I’ve never read and wrote so much in my life.”

Chris:  “What does it take to get through a Ph.D program?”

Jeff:  “You’d be surprised.”

Chris:  “Oh really?  What do you mean?”

Jeff:  “Well, the ones who make it through a doctoral program like this aren’t the ones you’d expect.”

Chris:  “Really.  Who make it through and who don’t?”

Jeff:  “Not the geniuses.  The ‘Einsteins’ are the ones who wash out.”

Chris:  “Really?! Why?” (This goes against the standard assumptions of genius and success.)

Jeff:  “Because you can’t outsmart the work.

 

Well.

 

There is gold here.  And it is this.  There is no substitute for putting in your time and paces to earn a high degree/platform or income.  10,000 hour rule again.   One could fairly apply the 19th century label of “snake oil” to a lot of get-rich-quick schemes and thinking that so many of us gravitate to to make as much money in as little time with as little effort as possible.

We cheat ourselves when we do this.  Self-deception is delicious but it bites hard in the end.

Here’s a couple of quotes to ponder on the value of hard work:

  • “Wizard?  Pshaw. It’s plain hard work that does it.” (Thomas Edison, on being called a wizard)
  • “I was made to work. If you are equally industrious, you will be equally successful.” (Johann Sebastian Bach, author of over 1000 musical works in all sorts of genres)
  • “The only way to escape the personal corruption of praise is to go on working. One is tempted to stop and listen to it. The only thing is to turn away and go on working. Work. There is nothing else.” (Albert Einstein)

Questions:

  • Do you love work or loathe it, seeking to avoid it if at all possible?
  • If you loathe your work, what can you do to change your approach to it? Perhaps cultivate a new field of work, a new discipline?
  • Are you aware of the genius/talent discussion embodied in the “10,000 hour rule” and the Edisonian maxim, “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration?” As a counter to the rule read here.

 

Suggested Resources:

Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else (Geoff Colvin)

Outliers: The Story of Success (Malcolm Gladwell)

 

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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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Declare Your Independence!

4 07 2017

It is the 4th of July.  The sun is out, the weather balmy.  A holiday from work for many of us.  Naturally, our thoughts turn to independence.  Here in the United States, it is Independence Day, when we celebrate the founding of our nation.

The birth of our republic involved a declaration of colonial independence from England and King George III.  Taxation without representation was one of the catalysts.  There were others.  The history is well-known.  No need to recite here.

What does it mean to really be “independent”? (Here we are reminded of Hermie and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer striking out on their own.  “We’re IN-DE-PEND-ENT!”)

Independence might also be called “undependence” or “nondependence.”  The underlying theme is standing on one’s own, not relying on others for certain things, being personally responsible.  In many areas of our lives this is a good and healthy thing, a mark of maturity and emotional stability.  Personal responsibility is not enjoying good press but it’s still the soundest approach to life there is.

Here are some healthy declarations of independence.  You can add your own (please!):

  • I am responsible for my happiness in life or lack of it. I will not blame others if my life is not the one I’d hoped for and want.
  • I am responsible for my choices. After all, I made them.  People and situations may have influenced me, but in almost, if not all, situations where I needed to make a choice, I did not have a gun to my head.
  • I can improve my lot in life. Ultimately, I am not dependent on others.  If I don’t like my job, I can find another.
  • I don’t have to accept the biases of the broadcast and print media, of either the Left or the Right. I can—and must—do my own homework and think for myself.
  • I don’t need to be owned by the zeitgeist, with its irresponsibility and blame-shifting and constant need to be made much of. The story of Echo and Narcissus should be writ large again in our land.  Were that the case, there would, at the least, be way less selfies plastered all over the net.
  • I can handle losing the approval, even of those closest to me, if I’m being true to my values, conscience and identity. Rejection, while unpleasant, is survivable.

Questions:

  • Are you quick to take responsibility for your life—your choices, successes, failures? Or do you blame others (“you made me this way”)?
  • What areas of your life are passive—meaning you’re depending on someone else when you shouldn’t? Where have you been responsible and independent?  If you take charge of your failures, you have the right to take credit for your successes.

Suggested Resources:

The Success Principles: How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be (Jack Canfield)

Man’s Search for Meaning (Viktor E. Frankl)

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change (Stephen R. Covey)

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Downsize

1 07 2017

A year ago today my wife and I unloaded a 16’ Uhaul truck and moved into our new apartment, 455 miles from our little lakeside village in northern New York where we made our home.  In prepping for the move, we got rid of a lot of stuff.  Sold nearly all our bedroom and living room furniture in New York in anticipation of buying new furniture once settled in Michigan, which we did.

There is something marvelously freeing about divesting yourself of stuff.  We got rid of a lot of things—books, knick-knacks, odds and ends, etc. before our move.  It was a relief.  There is so much we are sure we have to have.  Once parted from them, we learn that traveling and living lighter is easier than we’d imagined.

Today, we are again downsizing.  Our small apartment is crammed with stuff we’ve not seen in the past year.  So, it’s time again to enrich the local thrift store.

There is something to be said for the Zen concept of minimalism.  We are not the things we possess, though often they possess us.  Letting go of clutter, even if sentiment and nostalgia is attached, is, we have found, more satisfying than holding on to things to be enjoyed briefly from time to time.

Questions:

  • Have you ever thought about the reality of holding on to all sorts of things and what burden it may put upon your loved ones, who have to sort, toss, donate or take home, once you’ve passed?
  • Do you know that often we enjoy fewer things more simply because we have less options at our disposal, causing us at least the anxiety of having to choose what we give attention to?
  • Could it be that some of your stuff might be a real help to someone else, taking on a sort of second life of their own?

Suggested Resources:

The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life (Francine Jay)

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing (Marie Kondō)

 

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