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Whisky, cigars and a fire pit

This I’ve learned… nothing is for sure. It’s all by chance, depending upon the circumstance. You may fly high and touch the sun, or fall from grace before you’re done. But this I know and this I’ve learned, if you give it your all you can hold your head high, and shine bright for having the guts to give it a try. It takes bravery, and grit to get to the end and live a life. Whatever you do, don’t half ass it. Pour whatever you’ve got into whatever you find yourself in. It may not make a damned bit of difference, but then again it might. You’ll never know unless you try…

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Lessons of a Pandemic

“My only hope for my future is I learn to dot the landscape of my life once more with question marks instead of periods. To turn judgments into queries. To turn “this” into “that?” To make every problem a maze. To be like a six-year-old.” ~ James Altucher

“I am losing precious days. I am degenerating into a machine for making money. I am learning nothing in this trivial world of men. I must break away and get out into the mountains to learn the news.” ~ John Muir

The Corona Virus or COVID-19 Pandemic hit the US in February 2020. This quickly escalated into “social distancing “, empty grocery shelves, quarantines and a mass movement for remote work. The global pandemic upended life around the world in 2020, disrupting how people work, attend school, socialize with friends and family, among many other things. But the pandemic wasn’t the only event that shaped the year. Police brutality, deep racial, social and economic division spurred by the effects of social media and , a nonfunctional government led by self interest have pushed the United States into the divided states. Indeed this time feels like the darkest time our nation has had to face for as long as I can remember.

Now as 2020 comes to a close and I read this research on 20 striking findings from 2020 I have the following observations and thoughts. First I’ve enjoyed being able to slow down and be with my lovely wife. It’s been nice to have lunch together and to be close even though we still have our chores that we both need to attend to. I’ve also noticed that time seems to be moving differently, or my perception has changed. Time seems to be moving more quickly than when I worked at the office. Hours and days are flying by. Having studied this in Daniel Pink’s book When The scientific secrets of perfect timing I know that when we don’t have temporal landmarks our internal clocks operate differently. https://www.dakcs.com/what-to-consider-at-the-2018-midpoint/ Because of this, I’m trying to break and get outdoors to help reset my rhythms and relieve some of the stress of being home bound. I’ve also noticed the amount of money that was being spent on transportation and food. So an upside is we’ve able to save some money. But I miss the physical contact of friends and family, and I miss the freedoms of just being able to do whatever. Now even a trip to the store has to be thought about differently.

When this all started I had the feeling things would get worse before they get better. That we were headed for more controlled confinement. Shelter in place orders are traditionally used by local officials during or immediately after an emergency, like a mass shooting, chemical spill, or natural disaster. In recent weeks, state and local officials have retooled the measure to help limit the spread of COVID-19 by mandating residents stay in their homes and limit travel to essential trips, like picking up groceries, going to the bank, or receiving medical care. Some shelter in place orders have provisions permitting residents to walk or exercise outside in public spaces, so long as they stay 6 feet away from others.

We’ve seen the closing of nonessential businesses where over three-fourths of Americans have been covered by a shelter in place order.

Forward motion required vision of the future we want to create, But it doesn’t mean we should ignore or try to rewrite our past.

In 1918, an eerily familiar pandemic clenched a deadly grip on humankind. Erroneously referred to as the Spanish-Flu State governments enforced business closures and issued Stay at home orders to slow its spread. For essential outdoor travel, doctors prescribed the use of face masks. By the time the virus finally fizzled out in early 1919, an estimated 50 to 100 million lives had been lost worldwide. In America alone, the death toll reached an estimated 675,000 — more than every war in the 20th century combined. And yet, for the best part of the last century, this deadly killer went all but forgotten.

The reasons for our collective memory lapse are as nuanced as they are numerous. But, it seems to be human nature to focus on what’s in front of us, and right now that seems to be a mobile device streaming crowd sourced information based upon algorithms. Facts, have been twisted in the name of preference. As the Cambridge Analytica scandal exposed Facebook and Google have enormous amounts of data about all of us. This information is used to manipulate and motivate us in a myriad of ways including some of the most basic drivers in human nature our belief systems. Our attention is being captured, and curated to the point I sometimes wonder if we realize the power we’re giving up. The power to think, and to create.

With so many parallels between that outbreak and the circumstances surrounding Covid19 and the 1918 Pandemic I wonder if a silver lining to the dark cloud of disease is that America may soon be positioned for another renaissance. What lessons we can we learn from the past about life after the coronavirus. ‪The 1918 flu was “the preamble” to the Roaring Twenties. “The decade from 1918 to 1928 was one of radical change in almost every area of life you can imagine. In some respects, we could argue we’re starting to see similar things happen now. Coronavirus has brought us together, figuratively speaking, in shared moments of appreciation for health care workers and via virtual happy hours and other online gatherings. These connections make the world feel smaller — so much so that one might question if “social distancing” is the correct term, or whether “physical distancing” ‬‪might be more appropriate.‬

The experts are saying we’re at about the halfway point of this dark time. As vaccines are beginning to be rolled out and as we learn more about the virus and how to deal with it, I’m hopeful that we will find our way and that like the last pandemic we’ll come out of this positioned for a brighter tomorrow. But I hope we will take these moments in our physical distanced, and isolated state to slow down, and think about the future WE want to create so that we can use our circle of influence to make the world a better place.

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Legacy

Finding myself at a crossroads, I picked up a book about making a change in your career called What Color is Your Parachute. As I dive in, I really like the methodology this book is getting at because it’s taking an inside out approach to who you are, and what you like and don’t like, and who you want to become as opposed to how to find a job. I’m currently at petal 4 of a 7 petal flower exercise that will guide you toward your new path. The book is stepping the reader through a lot of introspection, list building, and prioritizing. I’m moving along at a good pace until step 4, finding your purpose. I hit a wall, as I consider the options and what I’ve learned so far about who I am at my core. As I think about it. It makes sense that I’m finding this step more difficult. Why? Because since I was 20, and I became a husband and father, my purpose and mission in life were to provide for my family. To nurture teach, guide, set an example. To work hard to provide a safe, warm, loving environment where the kids could grow up, and we could enjoy each other. Stepping onto that treadmill of work-life/career I needed a way that I could make enough money to provide a comfortable environment and stay with it for 30-40 years. After trying out a few jobs, I knew that I needed an occupation that would be mentally challenging in order to fulfill this mission. So, my wife and I set out on this journey, playing very traditional roles. I was the breadwinner, and she was the homemaker or Domestic Goddess a title we feel has a better ring to it. We worked as a team. My primary role was to find a ladder to climb and begin climbing it, accepting more responsibility, taking few risks, and holding true to my internal promises of staying close to home to be there for all my kid’s events. We’ve stayed in the house we built, the only house we’ve ever owned. Saving enough for education , 3 weddings, and someday retirement. So here’s the deal, it all worked out pretty well. We’ve raised good people who are self-sufficient and all have families of their own. According to this CEO Tenure study I’m in some very good company making it well past the average lifecycle of most business leaders and I’ve built a strong legacy. This chapter of my life, that of provider and “bread winner” is about to close. My responsibilities have changed. My work, which I’ve devoted over 3 decades to has changed, and my role and responsibilities there have changed too. This brings me back to the assignment in this book and trying to look at my life’s purpose. This journey has taught me to be careful in what look for in a mission, or a purpose. Few people have a single purpose in life, instead we have roles, and what we bring to those roles is our unique perspectives, personality, attitudes, knowledge, beliefs, and habits.

I’ve never really associated myself with my career. Mostly because I feel like although you devote a huge amount of your time to your work it’s only a small part of who you really are. I mean, sure it’s what you do for a living and you bring your best self to it every day, but a job title is not what I would lead with to describe me. The are more important roles in my life than what I do to make money. Although I’ve worked hard to be the best leader I could be, I realized long ago that leadership is earned, not given. Some days you’re going to be great, other days you’ll make mistakes. it’s a journey, not a destination. Titles, like the money associated with them can be deceiving, Because they are based on a belief. What separates a CEO from every role in a company other than the level of responsibility they bear? Perspective, self awareness, humility all have a place here. As does being careful not to get caught up in a preconceived notion of what a title should look like to the outside world. As an example a president should drive this type of car, or live in this type of house, or dress this way, etc. Roles, titles, jobs can and will all change and they’ve been a means to my end of providing for my family, creating teaching opportunities, and memories, and sharing my passions with my tribe. Along the way trying to leave a legacy of openness, integrity, reliability, generosity, and kindness.

So here I am looking at a page with 9 categories, and 26 elements, words like Beauty, Beliefs, Choice, Death, Happiness, Love, Values, Spirituality, etc…  These questions running through my mind:

This role I’ve played my whole life, is it different now?   If so, how?

Are the constraints surrounding risk different?

If I choose something new now, does that change who I am to the people who count on me?

Those people I believe are counting on me, what do they count on me for?

Is what I’ve saved, built and accumulated enough? For the life I want to lead in “retirement” and so I’m not a burden to anyone as I age.

Job = Insurance coverage. I have to have insurance so that means working for 5 more years until Medicare kicks in. Is this true?

If I stripped all of this away, what would I choose to do with the time I have left? What vision do I have for this next chapter? What will I leave behind and be remembered for, what’s my legacy?

What type of kindness, care, joy, and patience must I harness in order to bring purpose and passion to my relationship with myself and those around me?

What level of openness and curiosity must I own in order to bring meaning to jobs and tasks in my life (even, or especially, the roles that don’t spark an immediate sense of excitement within me)?

The answers to these questions and taking the time to explore the options will, I’m sure bring more clarity to the path I choose as I move toward my next chapter… Patience and perspective…

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Yellow light

How many times have we seen and heard this disclaimer especially as we discuss important compliance topics and challenges? Because, as we know all too well, our industry landscape is heavily regulated and filled with risk and tradeoffs. This slide serves as a caution. A yellow light. Not a red light or that Greenlight that Matthew McConaughey is talking about in his new book, but a flashing yellow light like the one Fred Rogers used in his opening sequence. Proceed with caution. As we all work to pursue greater efficiencies we often look to technology to provide that edge. No doubt, there are developing technological advances that can help us in our quest. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are two of these advances that are being touted as the answer to great efficiencies and lower operating costs. As we dive deeper into our understanding of how these technologies work and the solutions they can provide I’m reminded of a quote by Epictetus the Greek Stoic philosopher who wisely said. 

“Every event has two handles, one by which it can be carried, and one by which it can’t.”

Choosing the handle that can lift or change the event is often the difference between making progress or being stuck. This concept is very important when it comes to solving difficult problems with technology. It’s been my experience that it is important to thoughtfully consider the potential and the consequences both positive and negative in these situations. Especially when we move into new and complex (black box) concepts like AI. Because these promising advances can and do offer exciting potential, however, they drive toward whatever objectives they’ve been given.  They are machines after all.

A recent article by Will Douglas Heaven published in the MIT Technology Review titled The way we train AI is fundamentally flawed highlights problems in testing environments with what can be encountered in a real-world application.  

 “These small, often random, differences are typically overlooked if they don’t affect how a model does on the test. But it turns out they can lead to huge variations in performance in the real world”. ~Will Douglas Heaven 11/18/2020

We’re seeing these technologies push forward and impact our lives. A lot of this push is coming in areas with little or no regulation where there are fewer boundaries to innovation. But even the people pioneering these advances are mindful of the other handle that comes along for the ride. Elon Musk the Billionaire tech entrepreneur cautioned   

“The biggest issue I see with so-called AI experts is that they think they know more than they do, and they think they are smarter than they actually are,” 

A definite yellow! The landscape will change yet again with the CFPB ruling Regulation F and the rules of engagement will be tested, and our systems must adapt, objectives must be carefully assessed. Actions must be tested not only in terms of the methods we employ and the systems we use to improve efficiencies but also in the real world and in the courts.  

A number of years ago a friend and fellow ARM space vendor said he’d heard an old quote that said “May you live in interesting times”. We are living in these times surrounded by interesting developments and opportunities. It’s a time to come together, connect, learn, understand. It’s a time to evolve, innovate, move forward. and continue to improve in the flashing glow of a yellow light.

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Intellectual Capital

Business is built on problem solving. It’s built on providing value for all of the stakeholders. It’s a balance, a dance if you will with give and take, and plant and harvest, and ebb and flow. It’s about understanding the strengths that you can build on. In most service businesses this must include intellectual capital. Intellectual capital is an intangible value component of a business. It is the specific knowledge that has accrued within a business. It is the refined problem solving process that emerges after decades of trial and error. It is deep working relationships fostered through years of working together. It’s the culture that drives your organization to serve customers better.

The better businesses can access intellectual capital the greater advantage they have. They key to accessing it is communication. The growth of any business relies on its ability to communicate effectively. After over 8 months of remote work I’ve noticed the challenges with this very important ingredient. Communication via tools like Slack don’t adequately foster intellectual capital. Onboarding takes on new challenges. Tools like Zoom or GotoMeeting can help as they help convey the visual communication, and emotional connections that are woven into the stories we tell to teach and learn, but the ability to effectively communicate and connect is at the core of success. Here are a few observations to help keep that edge:

  1. Identify guides – Inside every organization are people who hold Intellectual capital. Recognize these key people and empower them to share their knowledge, and become thought leaders inside the organization as well as providing opportunities from them to build your brand to the industry networks you serve.
  2. Tap into the why – This is the key ingredient needed to build loyalty and longevity. As Simon Senik teaches, it’s not what you do, it’s why you do it that motivates people, because unless it’s a commodity where price is the only factor, people need to connect to act. Make sure this is reinforced and not only displayed in your messaging, but that you also walk the talk.
  3. Recognize people learn in different ways — There is no such thing as over over-communicating. Check ins are fine, but sharing stories about successes and failures are a key competent of building intellectual capital. Remember that we learn more through our failures than our success, so create a safe environment to share and discuss the failures too.

We have awhile before we will once again have the opportunity to safely come together in groups. But, by increasing our awareness of the communication in our organizations we will improve our capacity to be more effective.

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Business, Philosophy

The happiest place on earth

When you think about outstanding customer service Disney may come to mind. You may have read about their workshops and philosophy. But nothing compares to experiencing it first hand. On vacation with my daughter and her family we visited Disneyland. We rode the small world ride utilizing the fast pass option. You exit through the gift shop and a stuffed animal spoke to our 4 year old granddaughter. The woman working there could see our angst as we attempted to tell her that our day was just beginning and there was plenty of time for souvenirs. The guest services representative sprung into action and told our granddaughter the character she had select was too little to go on rides and suggested that we take a photo of her with the animal and she would keep it safe for her to pick up later. He quick action saved us the trouble of negotiating with a 4 year old. It also left a lasting impression of customer service done the right way on all of us. This sales person who I could tell was experienced and well trained, wasn’t worried about making a sale. She was worried about our overall experience. Disney does many impressive things surrounding the customer experience, but this one human act will stay with me for a long time. Thank Disney and especially this amazing guest services rep. I guess that’s a big reason they call it the happiest place on earth.

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Mercury

I recently watched a local play. The premise was based upon a letter written in 1970 by a ten year old boy named Michael and addressed to the great scientist and philosopher Buckminster Fuller. Michael’s question was simple he wanted to know if the gifted Fuller was a thinker or a doer.

A key line in the play. “When I’m working on a problem, I never think about beauty. I think only how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.”

Dear Michael,

Thank you very much for your recent letter concerning “thinkers and doers. ”The things to do are: the things that need doing: that you see need to be done, and no one else seems to see need to be done. Then you will conceive your own way of doing that which needs to be done — that no one else has told you to do or how to do it. This will bring out the real you that often gets buried inside a character that has  acquired a superficial array of behaviors induced or imposed by others on the individual. Try making experiments of anything you conceive and are intensely interested in. Don’t be disappointed if something doesn’t work. That is what you want to know — the truth about everything –and then the truth about combinations of things. Some combinations  have  such logic and integrity that they can work coherently  despite non-working elements embraced by their system. Whenever you come to a word with which you are not familiar, find it in the dictionary and write a sentence which uses that new word. Words are tools — and once you have learned how to use a tool  you will never forget it. Just looking for the meaning of the word is not enough. If your vocabulary is comprehensive, you can  comprehend both fine and large patterns of experience. You have what is most important in life — initiative. Because of it, you wrote to me. I am answering to the best of my capability. You will find the world responding to your earnest initiative.

Sincerely yours,

Buckminster Fuller

Finding the real you, and discovering truths about how you have to be both a thinker and a doer if you want to be truly successful seems to be the key take away here.

In his last public statement before Bucky died he said “only integrity is going to count.” Begging the question, If you don’t have integrity in what you do, why would you do it?

I love art that makes you feel and think. Don’t you?

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His_story

Next time you catch yourself emotionally struggling with the ‘reality’ of a particular life experience, ask yourself:
What is the story I’m telling myself about this experience?

Can I be absolutely certain this story is true?

How do I feel and behave when I tell myself this story?

What’s one other possibility that might also make the ending to this story true?

Give yourself the space to think it all through, carefully. Mull it over, mindfully. And keep in mind that it’s not about proving yourself right or wrong.
It’s about taking a deep breath, and giving yourself the space to gain perspective.

Words I hope I can take to heart and learn from…

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Who are we, and where are we headed?

2013 Milestones – Pew Research

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/12/26/17-striking-findings-from-2017/

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/03/16/how-millennials-compare-with-their-grandparents/

It’s interesting to look at how American views are changing.  Based upon the above research we are more tolerant toward same sex marriage and legalizing pot.  Generally we’re disinterested and disappointed with our politicians, our government and our religions.  We’re tired of having to be the world’s police.  In 2018 our government is more threatening than protective. The world has less confidence in the USA than probably at any point in our history. In the past 5 decades women have become more educated, more involved in the workforce, military and government and marriage is declining. The internet has caused a drastic change in how we consume information. Instead of having our information programmed, we now have ability to search and consume whatever we want. The Smart phone has impacted social interaction in ways that are not yet fully realized let alone understood. In a recent blog post on marketing guru Seth Godin’s 58th birthday he wrote:

“The world was a twitch away from total nuclear destruction. White bread was a health food. Diabetes and obesity were relatively rare. The newspaper was the way most people heard about the news. We thought things were moving very fast, frighteningly fast. Women rarely worked outside the home, and the Rev. King was a relatively unknown preacher. No one owned a computer. The number of books published every year was quite small, as was the local bookstore. It was almost impossible to spend more than 45 minutes a day keeping up with current events. It was against the law for blacks and whites to marry in Virginia, and for gay couples to marry just about anywhere. Apartheid was mostly unremarked upon in the US. UPS never came to your house. A long-distance phone call was a big deal.Air conditioning was rare, bottled water hadn’t been invented yet, there were no billionaires, there were three or four channels of TV, movies were only shown in movie theaters, most dangerous diseases would certainly kill you. The air and water were clean, but we were working overtime to make them dirty. Congress wasn’t a version of pro wrestling. Milk came in only one formulation (whole), you probably worked at the same company for a very long time and relatively few people went to college.And 58 years from now, when, actuarially, most of us will still be around, what will things be like then? Slower? Apparently more stable? Based on skills we have today?There is no normal. Simply the relentless cycle of change.”

Change is inevitable. Our decisions shape our future and we can gain wisdom by studying history. Ayn Rand said “If you can identify a society’s primary philosophy you can predict it’s future.” Seems to me that our philosophy has changed quite a lot these past 5 decades. What once was a philosophy of coming together, honor and sacrifice for the greater good, raising a family and caring about the world we handed to them. Now seems like the almighty dollar trumps everything else, no pun intended.

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