7 Paths to a Meaningful Life

I read an article based on a commencement speech given this year by Phillip Zimbardo, a professor of social psychology.  It  is a pretty cool list and it got me thinking about myself a little bit.  First, the 7 paths:

1 Use time wisely and well – make sure you are well-grounded in the past, being open to the present and being motivated to succeed “to the full extent of your ability in the hope-filled future”.

2. Love a lifetime of learning – being filled with curiosity and wonder about things

3. Nurture your passion – this will help guarantee that your life will never be meaningless

4. Transform shyness into social engagement – we choose to be shy; we are giving up freedom of association and freedom of speech

5. Remake your image – liberate yourself from the boredom of predictability

6. Become a positive deviant – there are so many social norms in place that hold us back

7. Train yourself to become an everyday hero – change the world in some small way every day.

Wow.  That is quite a formidable list.  Yet none of those activities require super human strength or intellect or good looks or money.  What holds us back? Why does that list look sooooooo hard?  It  requires us to be mindful.  The list requests us to get out of our comfort zones.  It makes us feel like we have to be superhuman.  But what about tackling just one of them first?  What about trying to be more meaningful?

As for me, I think I am pretty good at the first couple.  But once you get to the fourth one and beyond, I fall pretty short.  So the question for me is “Am I willing to do anything about it?”.

If I could do something about myself, I would love to work on #4: “transform shyness into social engagement”.  Here is more what he says about that one: “Just as we have a choice of being a leader or a follower, we can choose whether or not to adopt a shy persona, or a more outgoing one.  Shyness is a self-imposed social restriction that limits others from having access to your inner strengths and virtues because you have created a social barrier.”

Some people think I am outgoing, but those that know me best, especially Rose, know I am shy in social settings.   I marvel at Rose’s ability to talk to anyone about anything.  She has no fear of “putting herself out there”.  She allows others to have “access to (her) inner strengths and virtues”.  And people are lucky for that.  My Dad was also a great conversationalist.  He could talk to someone about a subject he knew nothing about.  I am pretty good when I am talking to someone who I perceive has a connection with one of my main interests – working out or college basketball for instance.  But get me in a place where I don’t perceive that connection and I clam up.  I am ready to leave.  What is sad is that this attitude is all based on MY PERCEPTION.  I allow it to happen. Hmmmm. Wonder if I’ll do anything about it?

Reading Zimbardo’s words makes me stop and think.  Isn’t that what a great writer or thinker is supposed to do?


Affordable Health Care

There were two articles in the newspaper the other day that caught my attention. One was a surprise, the other was not.

The surprise? Belgium has a new king. I did not even know Belgium had a king to be honest. But the old king abdicated so they have a new king. Good luck to King Phillippe. The other thing I did not know about Belgium was that the more prosperous North, which speaks Dutch, is at odds with the less-prosperous South which primarily speaks French. So things are not as good in Belgium as we might have imagined!

The other news item is not a surprise. It seems that more employers are hiring people for part time work. And more employers plan on cutting hours for their workers to below 30 hours. Why? The Affordable Health Care Act. Picture this scenario. You own a small business with about 51 full time employees. Under the Affordable Health Care Act, you must provide medical benefits to those people. Good idea for the employees, but costly for the employer. But if you make some of those employees part time workers (30 hours or less a week) you do NOT have to pay health care. Knowing that health care costs about $11,000 on average per employee, what would you do? According to the article I read, the % of workers who are part time has grown from 16.5% in 2000 to 22.2% in 2013 (a 40% increase).

In addition, the Affordable Health Care Act requires employers with 50 or more full-time employees to offer health care to everyone. If you have less that 50 employees, no requirement from the Feds. Would you be like most other small businesses that are responding that they intend to delay hiring, or only hire part-time workers in order to try to stay below 50 employees?  That is the old Law of Unintended Consequences coming into play again.
Don’t get me wrong on this. We must do something as a country to address out health care issues. I have had two of my children not have health insurance for part of their lives. One of my children only has an employer-sponsored catastrophic policy that basically doesn’t pay anything until he reaches $2,500 of medical bills (that means the trip to the doctor for a sore throat costs full price out of pocket).  And we all know costs are so screwed up on medical care that it is ridiculous.  So we need an answer.  Maybe the Affordable Health Care Law is a good start.  I don’t know.  But I do know that it is going to cause some employers to use behaviors we don’t want.  I believe a good friend of mine called this a “sticky problem”.

America grows more partisan

I have said it before, but the value of a tool like Twitter is underrated.  Sure, 95% of the stuff on there is worthless inside jokes, people drawing attention to themselves or someone trying to make news.  But some tweets point you towards interesting articles or news that you would not have found out about otherwise.  I found this the other day.

According to the Pew Research Center, “partisan polarization, in Congress and among the public, is greater than ever”.  Now the “greater than ever” I will have to take with a grain of salt.  But there seems to be little doubt that over the past few decades, Americans have grown further apart ideologically.  Pew’s research shows that people describing themselves as Republican or Democrat are 18 points apart on a wide range of questions of policy.  This is the largest number Pew has ever experienced.

Perhaps the most interesting statistic the article shared was from the New York Times.  The Times analysis showed that House of Representatives districts represented by Democrats are collectively 52% white and nearly 25% Hispanic.  On the other hand, House districts represented by Republicans are almost 75% white.  So Democrats and Republicans are representing different constituencies.  This is the result of all of the carefully drawn “safe” districts that I wrote about in a much earlier blog post.  Most Democrats or Republicans in the House are representing a constituent group that does not reflect America as a whole.  In fact, in the 2012 House election, only 30 of the 435 House seats were decided by less than five percentage points.  Most of them were landslides.

So that means our Congressmen are elected from districts that are dominated by a single party.  And most of the constituents in those parties are less moderate than past polls suggested.  When a representative looks to consider an issue, which side is pretty well settled.  When you throw in the money (aka “influence” or more correctly, bribes) from special interest groups, there is little doubt where they are going.  And compromise is not wanted.

Is it any wonder that Congress cannot do anything for us?

Technology and Education

One part of the Steve Jobs biography talked about a conversation that Jobs and Bill Gates had near the end of Jobs’ life.  As part of their discussion, they talked about computers and education.  According to the book, the two of them “agreed that computers had, so far, made surprisingly little impact on schools – far less than other realms of society such as media and medicine and law.”

That got me thinking.  For those of us who were in business the last 30 years, think about how much technology changed the way we did our jobs.  The availability of vast amounts of information became commonplace.  The ability to communicate became so much better.  The ability to calculate numbers or review records at your fingertips.  Productivity in an office environment skyrocketed for many years.

Think about law enforcement.  Criminal records available in the car for review.  Database searches can be done quickly.  The ability to analyze evidence and gather information from other jurisdictions.  The ubiquity of cameras that provide photos and videos of the streets from multiple angles.

Think about medicine.  The machines that are available now are light-years more productive and better quality.  Remember getting an x-ray 25 years ago?  Hours to “develop” the film?  Now the x-rays are available immediately.  Dentist drills that are quiet and much less invasive than the old ones.  I could go on and on with the improvements in the day-to-day business of medicine that make it more efficient, safe and less invasive for all of us.

I could make the same discussion points about manufacturing, but I think you get the point.  Relative to those other activities, schools are almost unchanged.

Why is that?

I do not know exactly.  But I have three three reasons that I can come up with.

1) Schools are a management/unionized workforce run by the Government.  The union and management typically are working at cross purposes.  They are focused on each other – not the customer.  In addition, having the Government involved makes change slower.  Government tries to please everybody and ends up pleasing no one. Every decision or discussion has a political tone to it.  By its very nature, having politicians involved means that one side or the other will always oppose change.

2) Teacher education.  My perception is that teacher training in the area of technology has just not kept pace.  With new “fads” in teaching coming up every other year (much like management fads in business – total quality, six sigma, etc.), the teacher curriculum changes.  But the incorporation of technology is not heavily emphasized from what I can see.

3) Lack of funding.  The funding model for schools is screwed up.

Bill Gates believes that computers and mobile devices have to focus on delivering more personalized lessons and providing motivational feedback.  An admittedly-weak example of this I discussed with Rose is this.  Let’s say we are teaching the Pythagorean theorem in math.  You have to learn the formula.  But after the basics are learned, the delivery needs to be personalized. For example, for someone interested in farming, the equation needs to be shown applying to how a farmer would use it.  For someone who is interested in medicine, a totally different set of applications needs to be shown.  For people who don’t like math or are not as adept with numbers, we need to show how the Pythagorean theorem applies throughout life.  The relevancy needs to be there. Technology is the key to being able to display that relevance.

What about text books that are digital?  How about teleconferencing with people who are experts?  How about linking with other schools to share lessons?  All kinds of ideas, few implemented.  It all comes back to the basics of this post.  For some reasons most businesses have flourished with technology.  Education has not.

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

One of the best things about the summer is I actually find time to read books. I recently read the biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.

Jobs was, to put it mildly, a very complicated man.

He was into Zen.  He needed his surroundings to reflect his beliefs.  He was a very picky eater.  He would go on binges of eating one thing for days on end.  He would do “purges” regularly.  We was a strict vegetarian.

He was a perfectionist in everything.  This made him unable to buy much furniture.  Despite being a billionaire, until he got married, he did not have enough furniture to entertain others.  He just could not decide which furniture he liked.  And he could not find furniture that was crafted perfectly enough for him.

He would have been unbearable for me to work for.  He demanded perfection.  He did not have the “filter” that most of us have to be somewhat diplomatic at times.  Apple employees talked about the “hero/sh#thead” dichotomy that existed in Jobs’ universe.  You were one or the other – oftentimes within the same day.  Whatever you presented or created was either “the best thing ever” or “a piece of crap unworthy of ever being seen”. He had no middle ground. A direct quote from him – “My job is to say when something sucks rather than just sugarcoat it.” He constantly changed his mind (like many creative geniuses would do).  He often claimed that he came up with an idea when others had done so.

I could go on and on. However his genius changed all of our lives measurably .

He went against the grain with his decision that Apple would be a “closed” system – no sharing with other companies, no selling of the Apple software so others could sell Apple “clones”, no way to connect other hardware or thumb drives. The Microsoft model worked extremely well for the past 30 years, but now Apple has overtaken them.

But when you look at his body of work, it is extraordinary – perhaps like an Edison or a Ben Franklin.  He nurtured Pixar into the #1 digital animation studio, changing that industry forever with movies like Toy Story and Finding Nemo.

He created the way we all listen to music – the iPod and the iTunes store.  It saved the music industry from pirated music and gave us all an elegant way to listen to music.

The iPhone reset the standard for how cell phones need to be.

The iPad really launched the tablet computing market.  I think we will see that this has a drastic impact in the future.

Perhaps my favorite part of the book was this part. Jobs said, Some people say ‘give the customers what they want’.  But that is not my approach.  Our job is to figure out what they are going to want before they do.  I think Henry Ford once said, ‘If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, a faster horse!’.

I thought that summed his thinking up very well.

This was an interesting book about a very interesting character.  For those of us that grew up during this period, it is a reminder of the many changes that have occurred over time.

June Quotes

Being home for the summer allows me to do a lot more of what I want to do to.  Me being me ends up with some unique situations. A couple of them resulted in some quotes that I thought I would share with you.

“I am married to a crazy man” – Rose.

Rose and I took a kick boxing class together at noon one day.  It was a hard workout that we were both tired from.  At about 5:00 that day, Rose asked me what I was doing.  I told her I was going for a five-mile run outside.  She looked at me and said, “I am married to a crazy man if you are going running after that workout”. Yep, that would be me.

“You don’t relax very well do you?”-  Jackie, fitness instructor.

I have taken a number of Jackie’s classes this summer at the fitness center.  It allows me to cross-train each day and gives me a different set of exercises to do.  The last two weeks on Friday, I have taken Jackie’s Yoga class after doing a bicycle spinning class.  Now I am not very flexible and I have not done most of the yoga moves before.  So I am probably focusing so much on doing the exercises right – and even trying to figure out how to do the exercise at all – that I am not doing the true yoga “relaxed breathing”.  Near the end of the session we do a series of stretches and then relax for about 2-3 minutes.  During this relaxing time we are supposed to be laying on the ground taking deep breaths.  For me, “relaxing” means “stretching”.  So during the “relaxing” time I am figiting around, thinking about all of the things I need or want to get done, planning the rest of my day, etc.  Not exactly what I am supposed to be doing in class.  Thus, Jackie says, quite correctly, “You don’t relax very well do you?”. Nope, I don’t

“Good, that means I can relax” – Rose

The other day Rose was taking care of clients in the morning.  I was home moving stuff around and organizing things (we had just brought back a lot of furniture and knick knacks from my Mom’s house).  So I did what I could.  Once Rose got home around 11:00, I asked her to help me move something.  Then I asked her a question about something else.  Then I asked her opinion about where I put something. I think you get the gist of my level of activity.  Finally Rose says to me, “what is next?”.  I tell her that I am about to leave to go work out.  That leads to her quote (spoken with a bit of frustration) “Good, that means I can relax.”

For those of you that know me well, you can get a few things out of this. I have not changed a whole lot in the last few years.  I am still working out.   I am still a bit hyper.   I am still a pain in the neck.  Lucky Rose.

Headline News (HLN)

Way back when in 1982, CNN decided that there was a need for a 7×24 news channel that gave viewers the news in 30 minute bites around the clock.  This was pretty radical thinking back in the day.  The channel, Headline News Network (HN), basically gave the viewer a 30 minute show that repeated every half hour.  So you could watch the show any time of day and get caught up on the news around the world, rather than having to catch the news at 6:00 p.m.  It was a novel concept and was pretty successful.

Of course, over time, you must change or die.  So HN changed.  It came up with a format that was about 15 minutes of news, a couple minutes of weather, a couple minutes of sports, a “Hollywood Minute” and it finished with a human interest story of some type.  Around 2005 due to the proliferation of news available everywhere, the channel had to change.  I don’t believe the channel even shows a daily news show anymore.  If it does, I have no idea when it does.  The format they settled on was “tabloid”-like “reporting” focusing on entertainment and crime reporting.

What I have noticed lately is that they specialize in providing “wall-to-wall” coverage of court cases.  Recently they ran the Jody Arias case for weeks.  I have to admit I do not know who Jody is or what she did specifically (I know it was murder).  Now they are running the Zimmerman case.  They intersperse court “action” with “expert” analysis.  I guess it is like watching a sporting event.  The only reason I know it is on TV is because someone almost always has it on at the Fitness Center I go to. I am trying to figure out who possibly watches this stuff.   Who could possibly find hours of watching boring court proceedings – with the added benefit of some expert telling you who blew their testimony and what legal procedure is being invoked?

Perhaps the same people who like Judge Judy or the People’s Court are watching.  Maybe it our insatiable desire for reality.  I don’t know but I don’t get it.  Watching days on end of a trial for ten hours a day is a waste of time in my opinion.  But someone must be watching.  The American public never ceases to amaze me.