December 17, 2013

See a thing as it is

A challenge can invoke fear and uncertainty, and you can meet it with stillness. It can be difficult and complex, and be reduced to simple steps. It can take over your life, and you can choose to give it the attention it deserves. It can color your experiences, and you can give it perspective.

It's not the characteristic of the challenge that makes it hard or unclear or burdensome, it's how you approach it. The difference between reaction and action is a subtle shift in how you take in the moment. The subtlety does not go unnoticed though, because the success of getting through the challenge at hand relies on it. Resolution is not a matter of time, but of viewpoint. 

December 16, 2013

Why the best bosses are sometimes bossy

The word "boss" literally means "a person who exercises control or authority", but how do we often interpret it? Does the word itself give them control or authority? For example, in the case of a colleague getting promoted to be the boss. Does she or he now have control or authority over your work? Perhaps, if you view her as capable. If you don't, there's angst. 

What mental model do we apply to a boss? Some people like being told what to do. Others prefer a facilitator. And others only require rare oversight. The control or authority we attribute to a boss is the control that she or he has over us. 

What if you are the one that gets promoted to being the boss? Knowing how others perceive you matters. You can set the tone, but not everyone is listening to it from the same frame of mind.

As a leader, you have to know when to put on the right hat. A boss must exercise control or authority over oneself, one's emotions, one's reactions, one's judgments. It's not just a position of responsibility but also one of accountability, because all of sudden you get to make decisions others don't. Respect that others give you that respect.

December 10, 2013

Why change is good

I and others just keep on living with the momentum of high school, college and graduate school behind us, accepting the decently-paid jobs that come our way to solve problems we're trained for, but don't necessarily question.

It's when we start questioning the problems themselves that the reasoning starts to falter. Why do we practice law and sell real estate and go to a 9-5 the way we do? Why are we such avid consumers and upholders of individual freedom? So much of it is cultural conditioning that we become self-aware of when we travel to another country, sometimes another state. It becomes clear that norms can be very different and we're surprised by the strange nature of other cultures. What a self-aggrandizing idea! I bet people visiting from other cultures have exactly the same reaction. So there's another layer to combat, the inherent ethnocentrism that emerges when we encounter not just different looking people, but a whole another set of rules we're not prepared for. It's like going through the 5 stages of grief, first there's denial and then anger and eventually we evolve to acceptance. We get the travel bug, spurred by not just wanderlust or a desire to escape, but to be renewed by our surroundings.

What if we could be renewed within our own cultural context? Major change usually occurs when we change our environment or our thinking. Travel ushers the former, but what creates the possibility for the latter? Self-awareness doesn't happen in a vacuum. We often think of meditation as an escape within ourselves, when it is in fact exactly the opposite, it is complete awareness of our present moment. That means we hear, see, smell and accept everything around us as it is. It's almost a hyper-sensitivity to our natural and unnatural surroundings.

The awareness of nature in itself is fascinating, because it can be very limited in an urban environment, but all of a sudden you see a beautiful tree swaying in front of your apartment building that you completely missed! Or you'll be walking in a hurry to a meeting and be stopped by pigeons doing some kind of mating dance in front of you. It's surprising that you could have missed it lost in your thoughts about what you're going to say, do, and think in your next face-to-face.

Nature is constant movement. Trees are never as static as they may seem. Life is happening around us, just asking us to witness it. It makes sense that our awareness sees that movement when we work simply to build up our senses.

What's even more fascinating is how aware we become of our unnatural surroundings, or rather the cultural mores that condition our minds daily to guide our thinking one way or another. If we're truly paying attention in the moment, we can immediately see the effect an advertisement has on us, its repetitive nature seeping into us hoping we'll think of the brand when we go to the store. We start noticing people's ticks and responses and our ticks and responses to other people. We hear the news differently, the intonations that exaggerate and polarize. We notice art in a way we never saw it before, seeing the incontrovertible evidence of the artist's life experience and emotion and reaction to the world embedded within a simple painting. We start seeing through things, not needing the environmental shift to notice how we live and why we live. The acknowledgement of our unnatural surroundings also becomes a constant as we shift to an instantaneous mental acuity of where we are and why we are.

How will we change otherwise?

December 9, 2013

How to be your best self

I thought about bringing my mental energy to a situation this morning and realized, why wouldn't I also bring my body and spirit to it as well? It's confusing sometimes to lead with a part of yourself. It's strange to think the rest of it will just tag along.

When you're working out, how much are you using your mind? When you're hard at work, is your body involved? And where is your spirit in all this? Everything is at play all the time, we've only falsely compartmentalized it because I suppose compartmentalization makes it easier for our body/mind/spirit to focus on one part of that trio. Which is kind of strange if you think about it more granularly. If you can never be without your body/mind/spirit and you choose one to concentrate on, then what's being toned down? Your whole being, right?

You're deciding to exclude one or multiple parts of yourself (or perhaps you don't consciously realize that's what you're doing) with yourself. It's not an oxymoron because by taking a part of yourself out of commission, you've diminished your being entirely. Can you actually direct your chi?

I'm not sure how Bruce Lee would have answered that. He comes to mind(/body/spirit) as the most famous example of someone who could truly control the energy inside of him. At 5'7", 140lb, he could bench press 400 lbs and propel people 10 ft back with a small gut punch. But was he directing his chi? Or was he suffusing his entire being with it?

I believe this is why so many spiritual teachers (at least those that don't aspire to some greatness from their followers) refer to the being as body-mind, or simply as an entity or self. There is much inherent confusion about who is in the room, who showed up, what they're looking for, what incentive drives them to do what.

The questions people ask are self-concerned, not necessarily selfish. They don't necessarily want something to the detriment of another or just because they seek instant gratification, but they are trapped in their self. A conglomerate of emotions and experiences they constantly mull over.

When they say, how can I get rid of these distracting thoughts? How can I be at peace? The first thing that must be defined is this "I". Unfortunately, in the settings that this question emerges in, primarily Eastern ashrams, or Western spiritual centers, this comes off as woo-woo and is easily dismissed. The question though is much more literal, much more analytical than that.

Who is it that wants to be at peace? Who is having these distracting thoughts? Is it the mind? Is it the spirit? Is it the pain the body feels or the frustration the mind interprets or the weight that burdens the spirit? Where's the connect and disconnect? What part of you must you get rid of, change, re-imagine, to be yourself?

How much of yourself must you trim to be a better version of yourself? This is a fair question when you're thinking of it from the perspective of a fragmented self - creating a difference between body, mind and spirit. There are character traits that we dislike in ourselves and wonder if were to eliminate them, would we be better people? Laziness, procrastination, selfishness, etc. We imagine who we would be if we didn't have these traits. How much better we'd function in the world, and how much people would appreciate us more. Whether it's self-help, a psychiatrist or a spiritual guru, we go and seek a solution to eliminate these traits we perceive to be negative.

The question always comes back to the origin, the source of the problem. The root cause. Why do you have this trait to begin with? Who has it? Where did it come from? Does it exist in a vacuum? Is it a part of your culture? Are you lazy without others being more relatively active? Perhaps what you're trying to accomplish is very difficult? Not beyond your reach necessarily, but complex in its own right?

No man is an island. It's not a saying just to preserve a sense of community, it's a fact. We exist relative to our environments. Even if we hermit ourselves away, we're still not free from the place we inhabit. Our being, our self, our body/mind/spirit is always involved, all the time. There's no separating these parts of yourself. Your whole being is trying to separate itself then, and to what end? Eliminating a character trait you dislike is something you have to deal with in its entirety. Don't approach a problem halfway with a part of yourself. It just creates more fog. Go to the root always.

November 12, 2013

How do I bring about change?

No one knows how. But many will try to persuade you they do. Ideology will emerge to spur you to action and you will interpret it as change. Something new is always exciting and as you become a part of it, it will soon grow old and you'll start looking for another new thing.

The cycle of looking for ways to bring about change are endless. There is no formula. If one system wins, another loses. And the winner will eventually be replaced by another system, one born from the past friction and opposition.

Changing the world, your life, your relationships is a deeply rooted internal inquiry, isn't it? Why do you want to change? What is it that bothers you? How are you a part of it? What assumptions do you bring to the problem? How will your thinking evolve?

It's not analysis, it's internal journalism. Bringing stale beliefs to a fundamental problem won't solve it. It never has. A new ideology is only new to you right now. You as a citizen human being must question yourself to the core so you don't mimic or repeat any beliefs you don't support. But who am I to tell you what to do? Who is anybody? You must do the work.

Krishnamurti puts it more eloquently:
"If I were foolish enough to give you a system and if you were foolish enough to follow it, you would merely be copying, imitating, conforming, accepting, and when you do that you have set up in yourself the authority of another and hence there is conflict between you and that authority. You feel you must do such and such a thing because you have been told to do it and yet you are incapable of doing it. You have your own particular inclinations, tendencies and pressures which conflict with the system you think you ought to follow and therefore there is a contradiction. So you will lead a double life between the ideology of the system and the actuality of your daily existence. In trying to conform to the ideology, you suppress yourself - whereas what is actually true is not the ideology but what you are. If you try to study yourself according to another you will always remain a secondhand human being."

November 11, 2013

An Experience of Flow

“Something happens at around 92 miles an hour. Thunder headers drown out all sound. Engine vibration travels at a heart's rate. Field of vision funnels into the immediate.

And suddenly you are not on the road - you're in it, a part of it.

Traffic, scenery, cops - just cardboard cutouts blown over as you pass. Sometimes I forget the rush of that, that's why I love these long runs. All your problems, all the noise, gone. Nothing else to worry about, except what's right in front of you.

Maybe that's the lesson for me today, to hold onto these simple moments - appreciate them a little more, there's not many of them left. I don't ever want that for you, finding things that make you happy shouldn't be so hard. I know you'll face pain, suffering, hard choices but you can't let the weight of it choke the joy out of your life.

No matter what, you have to find the things that love you. Run to them. There's an old saying - that which doesn't kill you makes you stronger, I don't believe that. I think the things that try to kill you make you angry and sad. Strength comes from the good things, your family, your friends, the satisfaction of hard work. Those are the things that will keep you whole, those are the things to hold onto when you're broken.”
- A journal entry by Jackson 'Jax' Teller, a character from the show Sons of Anarchy

November 7, 2013

Leading with permission

Leadership coaches are beginning to purposefully use mindfulness training in their workshops. In a way, their practice of working with leaders to provide more personal insight is mindful in and of itself. Applying a more direct approach can only enhance that practice.

Below is a wonderful quote by Doug Riddle on what benefits that affords:
How do we contribute to the possibility of change? How do we serve as catalysts for turning experience and reflection into more effective, meaningful lives? Mindfulness offers a powerful alternative to the coercive and linear assumptions that have dominated our thinking. It might be that individual change is not so much driven as permitted. 

November 6, 2013

Allow yourself to be your best guide

At times, after sitting and meditating, a feeling emerges as if you left your keys behind somewhere, or left something undone. As if there is something that needs attending to. It becomes a nagging itch and sticks until we address it. 

Perhaps it is something we left undone months ago that's creeped up, simply an item on our to do list. Or perhaps we feel like getting in touch with our parents, relatives, or siblings. Or feel the need to travel and explore a hidden part of ourselves. Perhaps it's that we need to listen more, or alternatively speak up when we get the chance. 

Whatever it is, that feeling is there now. It exists in your consciousness. Without applying any positive or negative attribution to it, we simply acknowledge it. Give it some time so we can better understand its origin and need for reemerging once again.

Sometimes, we apply labels to it: change, desire, longing, fear, etc. Doing so can turn us off from accounting for it. And even that is telling. What is it that we're applying this emotion to and why? What's behind our agitation or discomfort or hope? Pay attention to that because it's directly related to why the feeling came up in the first place.

Stay with that feeling without judging it. Allow yourself to go down a path you created, in a state of mind when you were most attuned to your inner workings. Recognize it and roll with it. You don't know where it will take you but some part of you wants to get there.

October 31, 2013

How to control time

Having a meeting at noon structures the rest of your day. Usually in a grid-like calendar format where you schedule travel time, lunch, and your work activities before or after. Paper or electronic systems all support this format of booking your day.

What if that grid didn't exist? What if that noon meeting was just a point in your day without any other type of anchoring? No gridlines to put 1/2 hour or 1 hour long calls, meetings, and tasks. Just a blank before and after. How would your day change?

October 30, 2013

How your environment can enable or disable you

Camping in the woods, away from urban convenience, requires effort that comes very naturally. You're on the sun's clock while hiking and you have to set camp before nightfall. Putting up the tent, starting a fire, cooking food, even going to the bathroom are all laborious tasks. They seem ingrained though. They don't seem like work when they're necessary.

I struggled with the concept of being mindful in nature while on a 3-day hike through the Grand Canyon. Nature requires mindfulness at all times. You don't force attention to the moment or feel you are judging the moment when the environment is set up for you to be attentive every step of the way. 

Just being is easier. 

It's not about the lack of distractions either. It's all the needs you have regularly being fulfilled simply by where you are that moment. The views are spectacular and entertaining, you're exploring the unknown feeling a sense of adventure, the exploration itself is a workout and communication with others is focused though light and fun. The labor that goes into living is just that, no less no more. 

Oddly, the feeling that the environment can enable you reminds me of a video about a blind Ugandan lawyer who talks about one's environment disabling them. It's fascinating. 

October 24, 2013

How resilient are you?

Amishi Jha expertly explains how we assign value judgments to daily events can impact our ability to respond to stress. Building our meta-awareness through mindfulness can help us become more resilient to what life throws our way. Short, sweet and to the point, she brings to the forefront our automatic reactions to stress and how we can manage them. 

The details of this program and the full presentation can be found here

October 23, 2013

How to be (and stay) in the moment

The moment I think I am in the moment I am instantly out of it. Because I am thinking now, not experiencing. I am forced back into my mind because I have cut the chord to the natural experience simply happening without my thinking mind. Instead of being in the experience, I am back to thinking about the experience.

It's very frustrating. It's why you cannot describe the benefit of meditation or mindfulness easily. It's an experience not the description of an experience. When the description, the knowledge, the recognition of the experience comes to mind, it's gone. Because now your mind is centered on thinking about it, not doing it.

To go back into the experience once you have recognized it is also difficult. Because now you have created an expectation. You think you know what it feels like. The main problem is "you think," when you can "just know." The last quoted phrase is the trigger: "just know" or "just be." It shifts thinking into the present experience.

Thinking is noise when you are experiencing. When you are thinking, thinking alone is the experience. Your body will continue breathing as long as there is air. You will continue talking as long as there is a listener. You will work as long as there is a project at hand. One does not exist without the other. Action arises from need and you just do it. Thinking about it only gets in the way.

October 22, 2013

Just breathing

We think we breathe when without oxygen breathing would not be possible. We take it for granted that our bodies are in control of our breath. But what if we were on another planet or in space?

Both our bodies and our environment are necessary for breathing to exist. This is no breather without the right air and there is no breath without the person taking in the air. There is only breathing, which requires both the body and the air.

This occurs to me especially when I am focusing on my breathing during meditation. Just watching, listening, paying attention to my body taking one breath at a time. I assume I am in control. The equation is very direct at first: my body breathes the air around it.

Then slowly I become removed from the equation because the breathing does not stop. How can it? My body will simply breathe because of the air around it. You can't have one without the other. I am not truly in control of my breath, it's involuntary and only possible because there is oxygen in the air.

There is just breathing.

October 18, 2013

How to be more patient

It's difficult to be patient. When you're trying to get somewhere, the last thing you want to do is wait.

When are you not trying to get somewhere though? We are always on the move, so where does impatience come in?

You can't beat time. How you get there determines who you are when you get there.

Impatience can be very selfish because we assume control over the end result. In our rush and foot-tapping, we think we can control time. The funny thing is if we get there and the other person is running late, it all feels for not. And now it's hard to wait once again.

You can't try being more patient if you're prone to impatience though. It makes no logical sense to wait when waiting is what's bugging you. Set your clock ahead, keep a good book with you, check traffic well in advance. Each trick will help but in the end it is just a trick that doesn't tackle the root problem.

What happens when you become impatient? Why are you so annoyed? What is it you are rushing towards? Do you feel like your circumstances got the better of you? Will the person waiting for you not understand? What is really making you angry?

Next time you feel impatient, ask yourself why. The answers are personal to how you deal with things out of your control. No one can understand what triggers you react to but yourself.

October 17, 2013

Spend time to make time

When you spend time meditating, you get back even more quality time. It's similar to the adage that you have to spend money to make money. When you're busy, booked and overwhelmed, making time to meditate is the last thing on your mind. But what if it adds more focused time in your day?

Meditation may seem like a strange investment at first. Sitting on the floor, in a chair, on a couch closing your eyes and focusing on your breath can sound like a waste of time when you think about it. Don't think about it. Do it. Only then it will become clear why it gives back more time than it takes.

Just start one day. Any time. Anywhere. Focus on your breath. Focus on a word. Focus on an image. Choose one thing and only one thing and concentrate on it. Let everything else go. Watch your thoughts float on by. Stay with what you chose. 

What's the point? The focus itself. Distractions are always tempting. Social media, email, instant messenger, podcasts, unread articles, are all waiting all the time. When distraction becomes a habit, loss of focus is the first to give. They're opposites on a balance beam with you in the middle.  

Finding time to focus means regaining focused time. There is no way to know until you try meditation. There is plenty of evidence to support that meditation improves focus, but you would only be reading again, not practicing the thing that can help you. Find out by doing it yourself.

October 16, 2013

How to be present when you don't like the present

Why would you want to be in the moment if it's not to your liking? What's the benefit of being fully engaged?

It's telling though, isn't it, when you don't like your present moment? You question why you're in it to begin with. You wonder how you can get out of it. How you can change it.

What can you do to want to be more in the moment? By simply informing you of your present, whether good or bad, mindfulness is letting you know something is up.

With this self-awareness, you're given a choice. You can change your circumstances or accept them. Either way, you're more present, more there, in the moment than you were before.

Ray Bradbury once said, "Love what you do and do what you love." It's kind of a Zen koan when you think about it. 

October 6, 2013

Good writing

Patriotism's failings belie the unity felt during war, echoed in raw tones within this LIFE magazine article published on September 20th, 1943.
"Here lie three Americans. What shall we say of them? Shall we say that this is a fine thing, that they should give their lives for their country? Why print this picture anyway of three American boys, dead on an alien shore? The reason is that words are never enough. The eye sees. The mind knows. The heart feels. But the words do not exist to make us see, or know, or feel what it is like, what actually happens. 
And so here it is. This is the reality that lies behind the names that come to rest at last on monuments in the leafy squares of busy American towns. The camera doesn’t show America and yet here on the beach is America, three parts of a hundred and thirty million parts, three fragments of that life we call American life: three units of freedom. So that it is not just these boys who have fallen here, it is freedom that has fallen. It is our task to cause it to rise again."
The above quote is narrated here, creating the expected somber aura though with an inescapable hopefulness.

August 15, 2013

Why you need to see Fruitvale Station

I can't get Fruitvale Station out of my head and I'm writing about it two weeks after seeing it to see if I can explain why. I went to see it at Angelika in Soho and almost bought a ticket  for "Before Midnight" instead.

I had little foreknowledge of the Oscar Grant case and it didn't make a difference either way. The first scene of the film removed any foreshadowing whatsoever and it was more about the character's story than anything else.

Hard to talk about a brilliantly directed and acted film because really you just have to see it.

I'm still bewildered by the senselessness of what happened, shocked at the injustice of the aftermath, enraged by the helplessness I feel about avoiding it in the future.

This obviously isn't a light recommendation and I don't know what you will feel when you watch it. I simply recommend that you do. It's rare these days for a movie to move you so strongly. 

August 14, 2013

How to be happy and rich

There's plenty of research showing that money doesn't make you happier. If it did, then linearly, the rich would be happier than the poor. But turns out that's not true.

Assume someone takes this to heart and prioritizes something other than money. Family, food, music, dance, travel, time, healing, volunteering, etc. A competitive person who prioritizes money may now be better off because they have one less person to beat. More money for them.

But if enough people agreed not to prioritize money, who would the money-hungry person be richer than? The next money-hungry person right? It's completely relative isn't it? Those that don't care about money won't be at a loss. The value of money is only figurative so if it isn't the benchmark of success, it loses value.

Without everyone competing for resources on the basis of money, there will be less resources you can buy with money. There will be less of a high-price market for the rich. Less relative difference in production costs because "the poor" would become a smaller market (or larger depending on how you look at it).

What would we compete for then? Very little. The things we prioritize would determine the circles we participate in.

You can see this in reality when you hang out with a group of people that distinctly prioritizes something other than money, like food. They may work at a farm, or start a garden, or become part of a community-supported agriculture group, or go wwoof for a while. They may cook more or save money to go to nice places that use mainly organic, locally-grown produce. They may not spend their money on clothes or a car or an apartment as much as others who prioritize those items.

Money would go back to being merely a form of exchange for those basic things we all need, food, water, shelter. Competing with someone else to have a bigger house, or nicer car, or prettier furniture wouldn't make much sense unless it was just friendly competition. It wouldn't be about what lots of money can buy, it would be about what you want to buy.

It goes back to happiness, doesn't it? If money doesn't make us happier the richer we get, then why go after it? Why not just go after the things that make you happy? 

August 12, 2013

What is the purpose of education?

"The function of education is not to make you fit into the social pattern; on the contrary, it is to help you to understand completely, deeply, fully, and thereby break away from the social pattern, so that you are an individual without that arrogance of self; but you have confidence because you are really innocent."
That's Krishnamurti talking about self-confidence as "the capacity to succeed within the social structure," versus confidence without a sense of self-importance, which is "the confidence of a child who is so completely innocent he will try anything." 

I went back to look up this quote after listening to Sir Ken Robinson's witty and comedic intro on The Commonwealth Fund. I highly recommend it. 

He talks about America as a society acknowledging that a standardized educational system creates standardized automatons. It's doing what it's built to do, so why should we be surprised by the outcome?

We rarely expose kids to the options they have. Budget cuts eliminate art and music programs, technology class and creative writing, foreign language and sports. The focus remains on the hard sciences and english, missing out on opportunities to introduce children to a variety of professions.

Not being able to try other career options without taking enormous risks continues through adulthood. Whether because of debt constraints, family responsibility, or simply a risk-averse personality, too many people live "actively disengaged" lives because they don't get exposed to what they may like and excel at. 

There are two approaches towards change: 1) re-engineer the current educational system to be less standardized and more diverse in its teaching curriculum, and 2) create risk-free opportunities through internships, externships, sabbaticals, temporary leaves, 20% time, and paid volunteer hours for people to explore other options. 

The first approach is a political issue and is slowly being disrupted by the entrepreneurial community through maker movements, online education, and new learning profile models of teaching. 

The second approach is considered unrealistic since employers are highly unlikely to release their clutch on workers they've trained (but not necessarily cultivated). I consider training a sunk cost when the employee has no personal interest or curiosity in their work. What kind of production value comes from someone who inherently doesn't care about what they are doing and are simply waiting for the weekend to come around? 

The payoff in allowing your employees to explore their options is other individuals will explore your company as an option. Highly motivated, engaged and curious individuals willing to treat work at your company as rewarding in and of itself will apply and get involved. 9-5'ers won't come in at 9:01 and leave at 4:59. They'll be thinking about "work" outside of a set time schedule because to them it's a part of who they are. 

If the positive side isn't a good sell, consider saving all the money spent on workforce development programs and morale-boosting in-services and wellness programs geared towards mental health. Treating symptoms is costlier than striking at the root. 

I'm curious whether there are companies thinking innovatively about HR, from recruitment to retention. What startups are working to build the new HR? Which entrepreneur is building a conduit for people to explore other options? 

August 9, 2013

The next step on the ladder

Just because being the boss is the next step on the ladder doesn't mean you should want it or have it. Look among your colleagues and make a judgment call on who'd be a good leader. Who among you can facilitate a project efficiently, is humble but direct, is reliable yet lenient, brings up morale simply by being there, and is respected for handling tough situations well?

Regardless of the salary bump, of the title, or our current equal footing, I'd personally want a person with these character traits leading the charge because they will make me better as well.

Too often, we get caught up in beating out the next person because that's what we're supposed to do. It may not even be up to us, because we've institutionalized the construct that the best worker will make the best leader.

High merit in one skill set doesn't equate to high merit in another. We inherently know this, but choose to forget it just in case we're the one that might be selected, whether or not we want to even be the boss. Better judgment calls require less ego. 

July 24, 2013

An integrated life

"Real life is doing something which you love to do with your whole being so that there is no inner contradiction, no war between what you are doing and what you think you should do. Life is then a completely integrated process in which there is tremendous joy."

I think of Krishnamurti as the Yogi Berra of eastern philosophy. There is such a raw simplicity to his words. His statements feel obvious. And familiar. Like the voice in the back of your head that tells you to slow down on the highway or give up your seat to the old woman. His writing turns that empathic sentiment on yourself.

Looking out for your self doesn't mean having your way. Rather, it's the internal struggle for integrity. Trying to deeply understand who you are in relation to those around you. Observing, understanding, paying attention to what feels right, who you respond to, what turns you off and how you decisions affect the world.

The mirrors you avoid are the mirrors that matter.

"You cannot have integration without relationship - your relationship with society, your relationship with the poor man, the villager, the beggar, with the millionaire and the governor. To understand relationship you must struggle with it, you must question and not merely accept the values established by tradition, by your parents, by the priest, by the religion and the economic system of the society about you. That is why it is essential for you to be in revolt, otherwise you will never have integration."

The quotes are from Think On These Things.

July 18, 2013

The Tower of Babel Problem

We will miscommunicate. It's a given. It's hard to say what we really mean because language is a bad medium for sharing our thoughts. Words mean different things to different people. Tone of voice can change the meaning entirely.

In the Bible, The Tower of Babel was to be built based on unity of purpose because we all spoke the same language and wanted to pay tribute to God. Genesis 11:6 says, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them." By taking away a shared language, God challenged us to unify again without a common medium.

This story is fascinating. Though we lose the ability to do the impossible, we know how to regain it. Communicate better. Our language can't help us, it is meant to confuse. We must learn to relate to each other despite its failures.

Knowing this, acknowledge it and make sure you understand what the other person means, where they're coming from, how they arrived at their conclusions. Repeat back to them what you heard. "What I heard you say is...", "Do you mean...", "Let me see if I have this right..."

Don't assume, simply relate your understanding. It's contagious.

October 31, 2012

Grok It

"Grok", to me, means being OK with letting yourself grow. Without judgment, without limitation, without time, in an infinite and ever-expanding way.

When I feel I'm becoming more open-minded, "open-mindedness" becomes a label and the societal implication is that others are close-minded, when I don't believe that to be the case. I'm just at a growth point along my personal path. Feeling open-minded can sometimes close you off from others and create a separation where none existed before.

By saying I grok something, an industry like healthcare for example, I'm indicating a deep understanding through experience and study. I'm not saying I know everything about it. There's always more to learn. I have come to a point where I can speak to most people about healthcare in a very simple way. The simplicity itself connotes deep understanding, because I don't have to use industry acronyms or make reference to healthcare leaders to leverage my knowledge.

I couldn't say the same about industries such as the environment or education, but even industry is a closed reference to a particular professional group. Very often, I interact with a lot of different professionals in a variety of industries, including environment and education. I grok the interchange between professionals in business regardless of industry. I'm very familiar and comfortable with the straightforward, casual style of men and women in business.

Again, I couldn't say the same of artists, military personnel or teachers, though I have friends from each of these areas. I grok my relationship with them and learn from their different viewpoints. My rapport in these friendships is easy-going and touches on their respective professions, which unlike business define who they are as much as what they do. I understand that, I grow from it, I grok it.

The word, "grok", can mean so much but it's so silly in its structure and sound, so made-up, that if I ever want to use a label for describing my recent growth, it's easily available. I rarely use it, except with others who have either read "Stranger in a Strange Land" or are familiar with the lingo and grok it without knowing the word "grok".

Still, "grokking" is often my aim when relating to most people. I want to understand more deeply their lives, experiences, thoughts, and actions. It goes beyond industry, profession, and calling. Within the label of a "30-something straight Indian man", I'm made aware of the distinction in my interactions with women, children, the elderly, married couples, people identifying as LGBT, parents, and people from other ethnicities. Though I am removed from the daily experience of someone from each of these categories, I often think of what life looks like through their eyes. I try to empathize with how the world reacts to them and how they respond to that reaction. I try to grok it.

Grokking - or limitlessly growing in my understanding of others - creates an enormous amount of love for people. In my hopes of experiencing others' experience, I see how much closer we are as opposed to what makes us different. The connection is human first. All the labels drop away, and I'm simply left with being myself. I know the societal labels will always be there, but my approach is more friendly, my eyes are softer, my body language is more open and in general I'm more relaxed.

Ironically, grokking others creates an enormous level of comfort with myself and who I am. As I learn to relate more openly, I become more relatable. My relationships follow less the path from stranger to acquaintance to friend to close friend. They have an energy of their own.

I'm just beginning to experiment applying this thought process. Empathy, grokking, love, openness are concepts we're all familiar with. There's no guide book for putting them into action. We're taught operational skills in grade school and largely left to our own devices for our emotional growth. Our parents can prepare us for only so much and some of us don't have the societal luxury of a nuclear family either. The media is of little help and can be a "mis"-guide in teaching us how to relate with others.

The responsibility is solely ours. Framing empathy, love and growth within the world as grokking just seems more fun, so that's what I do. There's a lot of dire seriousness in philosophy, a nostalgic longing in self-help, and a flawed sense of self in therapy. Each has its place and all are encompassed within a basic human approach to relationships. We're trying to shed our labels, and sometimes that's through creating more simplistic labels that energize us, move us, help us grow and make us laugh.

Grok it, or call it something else, but discover the human side of you and see what happens. I'll be somewhere on that growth curve, so don't hesitate to reach out.

October 24, 2012

My New Year's Resolutions

This is the best time to set New Year's resolutions, for a couple reasons. It takes time to start and there's a hump around 2 months to get through.

1. It takes time to set up logistics. 

For example, if you want to start a regular workout routine, you have to figure out what workout makes sense for you - kickboxing, weight-lifting, spinning, pilates, yoga, etc. You have to either find a gym or a workout DVD or a workout partner. You may have to get the right clothes, buy some weights, get a yoga mat, or whatever equipment you need for your specific workout.

All these logistics take a lot of energy and time to set up and can sometimes derail you from your resolution before you even get started. Get them out of the way now so you're ready to hit the ground running when the new year starts.

2. There's a hump to get over at 2 months.

A resolution is either a habit itself (like a workout routine) or it's a process of setting new habits to complete a specific goal (like writing a book). So how long does it take to form a habit? About 66 days, or between 2-3 months depending on if you count weekends. The first few weeks are fun since you're starting something new, but there are plenty of drop-off points and it can seem like an uphill battle, especially around day 40.

If you start your resolution on November 1st, with all the holidays counted in, day 40 will be very close to the start of the year. This is a time when everyone else is excited about starting and you can play off that excitement to get through this hump. By the end of January, your habit will be set and you'll be that much closer to meeting your resolution only a month after the year starts.

That being said, my new year's resolutions for 2013 are:
  1. Volunteer once a month
  2. Take an online spanish course
  3. Begin an at-home t'ai chi practice
Another thing to note about resolutions is specificity. I didn't say, "I want to volunteer, and learn spanish and t'ai chi." Knowing my schedule, I can handle volunteering once a month so I'll start there and add more days as it becomes part of my routine. Though the best way to learn a language is through an in-person immersion experience, it takes a lot of time and energy. I want to practice online first and perhaps take a trip to a Spanish-speaking area to refine what I've learned. Same goes with t'ai chi. I could take a class, but I know from personal experience that form-based exercise comes easier for me on my own first. I can correct my form once I have the fundamentals down.

I already have an account with New York Cares and my first volunteer project is on Halloween. I'm excited about it and the holidays are a great time to start volunteering. 

My research in t'ai chi got me curious about the Yang Long form. I wanted a very basic introduction that focused on increased flexibility so I chose BodyWisdom Media's: Tai Chi for Beginners. It goes through the 24 forms in eight separate lessons ranging from 10-30 minutes. A good start to my day. 

Lastly, I'm currently seeking affordable spanish courses that focus more on conversation than structure and grammar. I want to be able to speak colloquially by the summer and NYC offers plenty of opportunity to do so. If you have any suggestions on online courses, please comment or email me. 

Now it's your turn. How do you want to start the new year? What resolutions do you have in mind?

September 28, 2012

My Netfllx Top 10

I've reviewed many Netflix top 10 suggestions and they're usually clones of each other, with The Wire, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Friday Night Lights, and Arrested Development somewhere in the mix. If you haven't watched these shows, you should, but if you have and are hungry for more, this is your list.

House of Cards - Ian Richardson is diabolically haunting. If you like Machiavellian political dramedies like the West Wing, this show is right for you.

Luther - Idris Elba is the reason to watch this show. If you liked him as Stringer Bell in The Wire, you'll like him as Luther. Be warned, it's Law & Order SVU + Criminal Minds on steroids.

Peep Show - The first person perspective is really original and works well with the two lead characters in the show. It's a hilarious but awkward show like Curb Your Enthusiasm or Arrested Development.

Jekyll - James Nesbitt is such an amazing actor. The expected persona switch he makes between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is striking. Like most British shows, it's short and sweet.

Sherlock - How would Sherlock Holmes solve cases with modern day technology? This show answers that question. Who knew another Homes series could be so well done.

Intelligence - Trade craft and meta-politics behind police work revealed. The only other show I can think that weaves plot lines like this is The Wire.

Twin Peaks - Slow, methodical, and creepy. A cult classic that Kyle MacLachlan makes so funny at times. If you watch it, there's a point where you'll feel like you should stop. Heed that instinct.

Elite Squad: The Enemy Within - Switching to movies, this is a political action drama not to miss. The Fraga character is enthralling to watch and the corruption so infuriating.

Mesrine - You won't recognize Vincent Cassel in this. He's so hard-edged and powerful to watch. Throughout the movie, I felt like I was watching it on the big screen instead of my laptop.

Winter's Bone - Is that Katniss? No. It's an amazing actress with barely a movie to her name who shows up and gives it everything she's got. This movie will leave you hollow and surprised. 

September 27, 2012

How do you know if you're really working?

"Doing focused work for 5-6 hours a day is really hard. We forget this because much of what keeps businesspeople “busy” during the day is plowing through email or sitting in random meetings or socializing. We waste hours to this daily ho hum. Yet through it all we trick ourselves into thinking we’re being productive since we’re 'at work.'"
This quote came from Ben Casnocha's Behind The Book, a worthy, wiki-like long read about what went on behind-the-scenes of writing "The Start-Up of You".

It is certainly not the most important quote in what is an extremely comprehensive and personal diary of events in an author's life. It isn't even that original.

But, in length, form and delivery, it's the best explanation of how "work" works. Let's dissect it.
"Doing focused work for 5-6 hours a day is really hard." 
Many would scoff at this, touting they pull all-nighters and work 12 hours a day, but until you actually track the time you spend on projects, as Ben did using Toggl, you never know the difference between "work" and work. There were only a handful of times - crunch time - when Ben actually pulled 12 hour days.

This is not to say that time spent thinking about a project doesn't count. I have young memories of sitting in my dad's office watching him work, and the majority of the time he would sit there silently mulling over something in his mind. Occasionally he would write something down or whiteboard a few diagrams, but it took him a while to get down to writing a proposal or brief or press release (which now I know is what he was doing). Ideating is extremely important, and perhaps even trackable, but consistently drumming out 5-6 hours of focused work each day is in fact really hard.
"much of what keeps businesspeople "busy" during the day is plowing through email or sitting in random meetings or socializing." 
This is the filler time before Miller time (I had to). It's what pads those 12 hour days. Rarely can I imagine knowledge work being done for such a long period of time. This is not only speaking from personal experience but also observing many colleagues, consultants and entrepreneurs at work. Some of them are brilliant at what they do, but burnout doesn't come from working the whole time, it comes from coping with the distractions. The CIO in my last job used to come in at 7am and stay till 7pm because he found the first few and last few hours to be the most energizing and productive.
"We waste hours to this daily ho hum."
Most people like to work, create, review, ideate, and produce. Whether it's knowledge work or not, there's a personal worthiness attached to these activities. The distraction comes from meetings, workplace politics, water cooler talk, office social media and general social media. Again, this is not to undermine these activities, it is to downplay them in the context of the term, "productivity." I often get right to the point in a conversation or engage deeply in a person's challenges, hearing them out, mulling over solutions, assessing the situation. This is too abrupt for some people and that's understandable. More ice breaking is involved in some contexts over others. But it still doesn't fall under productive time. 
"we trick ourselves into thinking we’re being productive since we’re 'at work.'"
Going into the office everyday has it's bonuses; free coffee (sometimes), business broadband, colleague proximity, consistency, printer/scanner/fax, etc. Yet, for those that have the option of working remotely or have freelanced before, there is a lot of productivity in freedom of location too. Sometimes, "because the possibility of communicating is so easy, it is often taken for granted"(thanks Lifehacker), and becomes diluted in its necessity. 

Bottom line, you don't have to be in a specific place for work to happen. Occasionally, I miss having a place to dump my stuff, but if it's coffee and wifi and a printer/scanner/fax I need, I turn to a free coworking space or a library. At the least, I can go into a Starbucks or B&N or use the scanner app on my phone to replicate what expensive office technology offers. 

There's always a way and that's what work, in essence, boils down to. If you need to get stuff done, you'll do it one way or another. You'll put the 5-6 hours of focused work in and come out of it sighing with relief that you just got that creative good out of you and out into the world. It may not be ready for show time, but it's there for you to look at it again. And you'll do it again tomorrow when you're recharged to take it on again. 

Consider this an ode to a well crafted paragraph or a redundant, perhaps thorough dissection of what makes "work", in fact, work. I see it as another way to tell if you're really working. 25-30 hours a week. That's it. Good luck finding what gives you focus. 

September 26, 2012

The single most important message of the Social Good Summit

I spent the past couple days and the weekend at the Social Good Summit, watching, networking and tweeting. The format was executed really well. Literally, every 15-20 minutes there was one panel of speakers after another, from the eloquent Arturo Sarukhan, the Mexican Ambassador to the U.S. whose prodigious use of Twitter made the public he serves loyal fans to the brilliant Hans Rosling, who has an amazing knack of creating a visual narrative for public health data to the electric Todd Park, the CTO for the White House who is down right fun to watch as he makes government seem like a fun place to work. I'm geeking out of course, but celebrities like Forest Whitaker, Deepak Chopra, and Mira Sorvino also made an appearance to speak about their personal missions around social good.

If I were to sum up the Summit in one sentence though, it would be:

"Everyone has a voice."

This was mentioned so many times that it became exhausting, but the point of the message was to use that voice since technology now allows you to do so. Mobile-savvy entrepreneurs, conglomerate tech company CEOs and a few ambitious teenagers from disparate countries spoke about the power of the mobile phone to change the world. It was a consistently motivational message peppered with real-world examples.

Couple of interesting things happened at the conference that are worth mentioning. The first day, lunch was served on plastic plates and cups. Being a social good conference, this was tacky and not very thoughtful. Since "everyone has a voice", people openly discussed and tweeted this fact and the next day the plastic changed to recyclable paper. It was pretty remarkable and sparked another thought stream of BYOC or BYOP; bring-your-own-cup / bring-your-own-plate. Sounds extreme, I know, but it was voiced and that was the point.

The other point to note was that while everyone had a voice, they were using it within their closed online social media networks more than they were with each other in person. I met more people there through twitter than I did through traditional face-to-face networking. Now this has some pros, like avoiding the first few minutes of small talk awkwardness before you figure out what you click about, if anything. But on the other hand, people were glued to their mobile devices so much that their attention span in live conversation was sporadic and limited. The phone was more their voice than their larynx.

It was amazing to see the buzz generated around and through the Summit unfold. The main goal was to legitimize social good and that's a smart move in a single bottom line world skeptical of the risk/reward proposition. Some people had made millions working in social good (though that wasn't the point) and some affected billions of lives (which also wasn't necessarily the point). By the end, it was obvious that social good wasn't simply a concept, it was a movement that worked through familiar financial and business models to impact scaleable change on the people and planet level.

It wasn't SXSW, but it certainly wasn't HIMSS. It was a conversation that would traditionally be one way if it weren't for social media. Next time, I would take it one step further and let the audience ask questions of the speakers and have the moderator curate in real-time. Make it more interactive for the audience instead of simply mobilizing them as a PR force.

This blog is my voice so I'm using it. I continue to stay excited about the developments in social good and would gladly attend the Social Good Summit again next year. It'd be far more interesting as a speaker. Though, which conference isn't? 

September 24, 2012

Work on stuff that matters

Here are three video links I've emailed out more times than I can remember about doing work that matters. Ideas include the role of citizenship, creating for the sake of creating, and appealing to the purpose behind your work. Enjoy.

1. The Gardens of Democracy

2. The Clothesline Paradox & the Sharing Economy

3. How Great Leaders Inspire Action

September 19, 2012

Achieving Oneness

As I was biking through the park today, the uphill climb became effortless all of a sudden. My legs, body, and hands seemed irreversibly connected to the bike itself. I was flowing fluidly uphill with this two-wheel metal contraption underneath me, but it wasn't separate from me. I was a part of it.

We were one, but even that's not quite right. Rather, there wasn't any question in my mind that we could have been two. My body swayed perfectly and in tune with the bike's motion, my breathing timed to the rotation of the pedals, the weight of my arms evenly distributed for functional balance. Everything felt easy.

I've experienced this before when driving and walking too. In the case of walking, the pavement and I were separate to begin with and then we weren't. As I remember it, my body and the pavement just worked together and I felt more relaxed and connected to my surroundings.

If you can connect with inanimate objects such as the bike, the car, and the pavement, it's not a stretch to extrapolate this feeling to animals. People who ride horses, elephants, or camels regularly express being one with the animal's motion. They know when to slow down or speed up, read signs of danger and even emotionally understand the animal's needs. The word "whisperer" is often used to describe those that seem to naturally have this ability.

From inanimate objects to animals, I'd venture you can feel this way with people as well. Sometimes it's just really simple to talk to someone and you can't tell why. Every conversation starts off where you left it, a day, a week or even a year ago. I feel this way with some of my friends and occasionally with people I just met. You "click".

To summarize this feeling more generally, you and something other than you start as separate and then something changes to make you and that other than you the same. That's oneness. 1 + 1 = 1, perhaps. The idea of flow in psychology comes very close to describing it:
"In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand.The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task  although flow is also described as a deep focus on nothing but the activity – not even oneself or one's emotions."
Alignment, disappearance of oneself, spontaneous joy, channeling. These are emotions that can only hint at the reality of the feeling. But how do you activate it? How do you flow or be one with something or someone on cue? What do you do to connect with someone who you feel separate from?

In my experience, the process is very educational. A sharing of knowledge and understanding between two entities. With inanimate objects, it can only come with experiential education. You bike enough that you start learning about its idiosyncrasies - the stiffness of the brakes, the rotation of the pedals, the balance of the frame - and start shifting your body to match them.

From my little experience with animals, I'd guess the learning process is very similar. Attention and mindfulness are key. If you're just riding the animal to get from point A to point B, that's one thing. You jump on and go and get what you need from the animal's strength. But if you recognize that the animal is taking the journey with you and listen to its needs, achieving oneness is that much easier.

How does it work with two people or even a group? The simple answer is empathy, but initiative really decides how quickly you'll feel a stronger connection. For example, when you meet someone new, how often do you extend your hand first? What does it say about the interaction? It's an amazing feeling when two people extend their hands at the same time for a handshake. That immediate connection and the timing is very telling.

Same goes with greater levels of connection. How often do you initiate a hug? A kiss on the cheek? What have you accepted culturally and what do you feel comfortable with? The start of an interaction doesn't define its entirety, but it can set a powerful tone for developing a connection. Context matters in that your initiation may put someone at ease, or make them uncomfortable. No reason to over think it, but be conscious that how you initiate can have an impact on feeling one with another person.

After the interaction has been initiated, a certain level of rapport must be established before flow sets in. This is usually small talk about the weather or current events. Too often, people get stuck here and don't get to the point of flow. I see this as another lack of initiative, on both sides. In order to be one with someone who you currently feel separate from, you have to ask questions, put yourself in their shoes, see the world through their lens, just as they are attempting to do the same for you. You have to grok them before oneness can take place:
"To understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed—to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience."
Think of a great party you've been to. Recall how the music, food, and people made you feel. Think about the ambience, and even the way people moved through the crowd. What made it so great? I'd wager it was a strong feeling of belonging. A feeling of oneness with everyone and everything there that made all the social awkwardness and disjointedness disappear. You grokked the vibe and were part of what made others grok it too.

Being curious and willing to learn about other people while sharing your story can be really fulfilling. It's educational for both sides and combines initiative equally. It moves you down the path of initiation, rapport, and empathy all the way to oneness. I'll give you a few examples from business, which suffers terribly from separation between the customer and the supplier. It doesn't have to be this way.

Think about brands and businesses you have an attachment to. They understand what you need and you go back to them again and again because of how they make you feel. It could be cheerful customer service before the 2nd ring, discovering slips of paper in your egg carton with the names of the chickens who laid your eggs, or a simple salutation customized for you that stands apart from all the auto-generated messages you receive in your email every day.

Achieving oneness is really about the way we approach the world. Whether inanimate objects, animals, or people, we bring something to the interaction that changes it, either bringing others closer or moving them further apart.

On that note, I'd like to hear from others about their experiences of oneness. This post will go to twitter and G+ so please share your thoughts.

September 12, 2012

How to measure growth from a triple bottom line perspective

From a single bottom line perspective, growth is financial and limitless. The only way to grow is up, and as quickly as possible. Revenue maximization, market share, and industry leadership is the guiding mindset.

Growth eventually reaches a threshold though where the next unit of growth provides less value than the previous unit did. In economics, it’s called the law of diminishing marginal utility. The growth curve basically plateaus out. If you’re bigger than everyone else, being just a little bigger makes little difference.

If growth isn’t just about going upwards, then what is it? From a triple bottom line (TBL) perspective, growth is about going outwards, spreading horizontally rather than vertically. For example, instead of asking, “how much did the company grow financially last year?”, you might ask, “how satisfied were my employees, customers, and vendors?” Instead of increasing an already high profit margin, you may look at increasing training or volunteer hours, or recovering costs from energy savings.

More specifically, if you’re an electronics manufacturer with huge surpluses, look at your supply chain and check your recyclability, quotas and waste production. If you’re a grocery chain with Whole Foods-like potential, double-check your food sourcing and look for sustainable products you can put on your shelf.

In the pursuit for greater financial growth, economic impact on employees, community and environment often takes the back seat. The essence of TBL is to provide checks and balances, not put things on hold, but to pay forward the benefits we’ve worked so hard to accrue. It’s a mentality that guides us down a path where people and planet are given some, if not equal, consideration along with profit.

September 7, 2012

Single vs. Triple Bottom Line

There's a house in my neighborhood that has a great front yard with beautiful flowers. You pass by and you can't help but admire them. As you do though, you might just get sprayed by the water sprinklers that reach over the short fence. Or you might step through the puddle forming on the sidewalk and even the muddy grass next to it, because the sprinklers have been on since early morning.

After getting myself or my shoes wet, my appreciation of these flowers changes. Knowing the sprinklers are on most of the day makes me admire them that much less. Are they still beautiful considering the disregard of the sidewalk and the water wastage? It's a matter of opinion, but even someone who appreciates their beauty can't ignore the negative affects. They're real, annoying and resource-intensive.

I've been using this example a lot over the last month to explain the mentality behind single versus triple bottom line. Profit matters just the way the beauty of those flowers matters. The question is are we accounting for all the factors that make that profit possible? We know the positives of wealth production. What are the negatives? Who are the people affected? How is our environment changed?

After answering those questions, is the profit as meaningful as it was before accounting for these people and planet factors? That's the key question each one of us has to answer for ourselves. The answer is neither right or wrong, it simply reveals the guiding force behind our local and global decisions.

It's hard to account for factors that aren't readily visible, especially when profit is involved. But just like in the case of the flowers, the impact on people and planet is real, whether we notice it or not. Triple bottom line is simply a way to consider those factors. If our decisions change because of it, then we know how we feel about those flowers.

September 1, 2012

How do you know you know better?

When I was fresh out of college, I had a job to get, an apartment to find, and new friends to make. Those were my objectives and I hung on until I got all three done. I didn't know any better. I didn't think about what kind of job I wanted, just that I needed one and preferably one that paid well. I didn't care where the apartment was as long as it was close enough to my job and a scene I wanted to be a part of. I wasn't selective about my friends, filtering only through mutual interests and hobbies.

Over the years, I learned that who you work with is more important than what you're doing. I moved to enough neighborhoods in NYC to understand their cultural differences and choose based on what best fits my lifestyle. And friends came and went, so I began selecting for longevity, not just common interests. I didn't know any better before and now I think I do.

But how do I know I know better? What if the filters I'm working with are all wrong? I don't believe this question is from a place of insecurity, but rather curiosity. I wonder what I'll know in 5 years that will make me rethink what I know now. And I wonder how I can cut those 5 years into 3, or even 2.

Though it takes time to gain experience to better understand yourself, how do you know you know better? What benchmarks do you use that let you know you've grown? Or devolved? Or stayed the same?  

August 30, 2012

What is reverse nostalgia?

A mental illness perhaps where the patient longs for the future to come sooner. Many suffer from it unwittingly, or at least hold their tongue for fear of standing out. Many become sci-fi, fantasy or fiction writers, revealing possibilities we never knew existed and never expect will come true.

Some fear the future, because the present is lucrative, certain, within their control. It's hard to let go of what you have and risk the unknown, even if it's better for most. None are immune from thinking this way, but we may be negligent culprits in our own right.

The future is already here. You can't stop it, you can't prolong the present, nothing is ever certain. This isn't doomsday thinking, it's what we choose not to see because we're passing through it, like the air around us.

Very few are building that future our forefathers have given us the stepping stones for. All the philosophy, culture, medicine, technology, engineering, behavior is just enough so we can exist with each other and take the next step forward.

Whether electric cars, biofuels, stem cells, or artificial intelligence doesn't matter. Once the idea, and more importantly the execution to make the idea possible, exist, there's no stopping the eventuality that we will see it sooner or later. As Vinod Khosla says, "Everything that's possible eventually happens." Accepting, rather than fearing what's to come, moves the dial along that much quicker.

Reverse nostalgia is in us all. The only way to get rid of it is to build that tomorrow we long for.

August 29, 2012

Can you value empathy?

How would you measure the value of empathy?

It's emotional, much like happiness, which we measure using surveys. We sometimes use scales from 1-5, with 1 being the unhappiest and 5 being the happiest, and ask people to rate themselves. Or we qualify the happiness so it's not just numbers, such as are you "very happy", "somewhat happy", or "not happy at all"? It makes more sense to collect this data over a long period of time so you're not catching a person just after they lost their job or got a promotion.

Knowing we can rate happiness, can we rate empathy - in ourselves, in other people, in corporations, in our government?

I'm still working out the "algorithm", if there is one, so I'm going to echo Bob Sutton's post, which inspired this thought process, Felt Accountability: Some Emerging Thoughts. He puts out a 4-part framework for accountability:

1. Authorship
2. Mutual Obligation
3. Indifference
4. Mutual Contempt

The first two represent the positive side of empathy. Authorship is wanting to do a good job because you believe you're the best person for it and spurring others on to do the same. You're an example simply because you showed up and did the right thing. Empathy is contagious by definition and by paying it forward through your skill, you motivate others to do the same.

I have a personal example for mutual obligation. I came into healthcare wanting to build a system I'd want to be a patient in. I wanted to be a part of that change, knowing it would not only give back to me but also so many others. Proverbially, it's what got me up in the morning and as Bob said in his post, got me to "do the right thing even when no one was looking."

Indifference happens when bad incentives make us lose our empathy towards others. If you feel that the people around you don't care, why should you? When the group mentality favors indifference, it's hard to be the author or feel that everyone is mutually obligated to help each other. It's like soda going flat. It just tastes wrong and you can't drink it, so you either find another soda or force yourself not to care about it.

Mutual contempt has got to be the worst. It's the opposite of empathy. You care so little about the person next to you that you begin to despise them and resent them for putting you in this emotional state. It's a self-fulfilling death spiral and the only way I can think of avoiding it is by leaving or at best planning a managerial coup.

I like that Bob Sutton brings awareness to the injustices some people suffer at work so we can begin to recognize them and deal with them head on. In my opinion, finding the value of empathy is a step towards that, because it's in the search for it that I believe we'll find it.

August 28, 2012

1BL, 2BL, 3BL, 4

1BL - single bottom line measures the financial health of a business. Few examples:
Return on investment (ROI)
Return on assets (ROA)
Profit margin
Price-earnings (P/E) ratio
Customer lifetime value (LTV)
Cost of customer acquisition (CAC)
...and the list goes on. They're quantitative vital signs.

2BL - double bottom line simply tacks on a social layer.
# of training hours per employee
# of staff volunteer hours
% of payroll invested in training
# of reports of discrimination
# of health & safety violations
$ amount of charitable donations
Tip of the iceberg. They're accountability metrics for internal/external social benefit.

3BL - triple bottom line adds an environmental layer.
% decrease in CO2 emissions
% of energy savings
% of water returned to natural cycle
Total amount of recyclable waste collected
Compliance rate with environmental regulations
4 - it's called triple bottom line, so having a fourth, or even fifth or sixth metric to account for could be over the top. The idea though is to go beyond the single bottom line and think ethically about negative outcomes of your business.

What's missing? What kinds of things does your business measure that go beyond contributing to the margin? Continue the conversation on twitter @akshaykapur or #triplebottomline. 

August 27, 2012

Thinking like a librarian

Librarians are curators. You ask them a question and they find you the best possible resources to reach an answer, often redefining the original question itself. They're not consultants, analysts, managers, decision-makers, engineers, logisticians, or artists. Their drive is to accumulate large volumes of information and categorize it effectively so it may be referenced at any time. Prior to Google or Wikipedia, they were the search engines.

And they are far from obsolete. In fact, librarian thinking is an incredibly necessary skill set when, everyday, we query search engines for answers to both mundane and extremely complex questions. How we search may have changed, but what we search for is still mostly the same.

"How do I...?"
"What is...?"
"Directions to..."
"Places to visit in..."

We want quality answers quickly, but the #1 result may not be it. How do we know? What judgment skills do we use to evaluate whether the "best restaurant in Santa Fe is ___" or if "easiest way to hard boil eggs is ___" The answer doesn't matter, but the way you evaluate the answer does.

The essence of librarian thinking is curation. How would a librarian conduct a Google search? They would start by looking for something, get some answers, review those answers, ask the question in a different way, narrow down the answers, rate the answers, research each answer to qualify it, review the original question and see if the final answer is accurate. This process only skims the surface of what a librarian might do.

There are technical features that make the search process much more specific. The use of operators is one example. Using +, -, and, or, quotes, ~, and *, adds a level of specificity to your search. Using allin operators lets you manipulate your searches further by restricting where exactly Google will search for the word or phrase you entered.

These are tools, though, that are readily available for anyone to use. The key to librarian thinking is in the prefix, "re-": re-defining, re-searching, re-organizing, re-versing, re-evaluating, etc. It's not one step, but many. Much like the metaphor of peeling back the layers of an onion, librarians have a multi-layered approach to their searches.

The importance of a librarian's knowledge, experience and thinking can only grow as the volume of information available to us grows. We must all learn the basics of these skills to decipher, judge and better evaluate the answers we receive. We make medical, legal, business, and general life decisions based on these answers. Librarian thinking is a skill that will be invaluable in developing our foundational reasoning in the generations to come. 

August 22, 2012

Ethical Conscience

At its most basic, triple bottom line (TBL) is about ethics. Whether we call it sustainability, corporate social responsibility, or responsible business, the essence of TBL provides financial, social and environmental factors to promote an ethical conscience within business and society.

When I look at the transport trucks that pass by on the highway and local roads and read their signs, I have a general idea of what they do, but I'm clueless about who they are. There is little neighborliness in branding. Its objective is to convey a single message of value to its potential customers. The stakeholders that invest in the company benefit financially from the value customers receive from the company's products and services. In this sense, maximizing stakeholder value is in fact equivalent to maximizing customer value.

This starts to fall apart when you consider the negative outcomes or externalities of production. It's easy to pick at oil mining and cigarette companies, but consider the organizations you're involved with on a daily basis like laundromats, coffee shops, electronics manufacturers, book publishers, furniture producers, real estate developers, waste management companies, fashion designers, and utility suppliers, to name a few.

The world around us works through large, complex supply chains that, at their most efficient, deliver products right to our door. This kind of convenience is simply amazing, but it comes at a price to the workers who are required to meet large quotas and the increased use of transportation to deliver goods on time. Customer convenience rarely equals responsible supplier behavior. Just look around you and think about the potential social and environmental waste that is produced.

If, with our convenience, we added a few other requirements, such as smaller quotas, more humane working hours, and a limit on CO2 emissions, we may not get what we want when we want it, but it's difficult to say whether we'd be less happy or satisfied. Knowing others are being treated fairly has ethical value, a soft metric that may be impossible to measure but as a belief in the minds of consumers.

The belief in ethics, though, can also change how we measure stakeholder value. The opportunity cost of delivering less to less people is made up by ethical responsibility a company develops for workers and the environment. As a whole, it is a net positive for society; satisfied customers (profit), happier employees (people), and a cleaner environment (planet).

The case against TBL often comes from the perspective of defining value by our current, single bottom line framework. A better question is, "what would happen if we defined value differently?" Would customers be less satisfied if their perspective on value shifted from single bottom line to triple bottom line? Would companies truly produce less stakeholder value if stakeholders had a similar shift in ethical belief systems?

TBL is a conceptual framework with ethics as its backbone. We make decisions based on price and judgments based on quality every day. Applying the same analytical mindset to companies we buy from and asking about their social and environmental policies will be the true enabler of change. 

August 21, 2012

Self removed

I've felt myself removed from the world in general. A part of this removal is my environment, where I am responsible for myself most of the day, without obligatory responsibility. I create my own work in my own time, but even if this were to change, I'm not sure the sense of personal ownership would go away.

Another part of my removal is ideological. I question sometimes whether it is holier-than-thou, but having experienced that negligent, ego-inflating sensation before, I don't believe it plays a part. The removal is more from a place of exhaustion, a mental and emotional sigh. And just as a sigh leaves the body, I leave the world for a bit. I step out of my body, which is very much in the world, and choose to be an observer. 

The choice isn't real-time, not something I decided then and there, it's a choice I made a long time ago and am only cashing in on now, in that moment. Since my mind knows what I want, my body, through it's mental processes, takes me there. It's a little like Mike discorporating in "Stranger in a strange land", like the God Emperor going into a memory trance that takes him so far back in time it's hardly imaginable, but only a few seconds go by.

The time lapse is important to note. Personally, I feel the removal lasting much longer than the actual time that passes. I'm "gone" for but a few seconds, five at most, but I feel like I've taken a trip - vacation or drug - your choice. I'm in a past decision-induced mental coma. 

It's not from a place of apathy or escape and again I feel confident in saying so because I've experienced each of those emotions very strongly throughout my life. This is far more peaceful, a letting go, knowing the now matters more than anything. 

There is so much I don't understand and perhaps we all read and learn to expand our understanding of the unknown. This experience is not one of reading or learning or practicing though. It is one of being. Knowing who you are and being so comfortable with yourself that you're willing to let yourself be without butting into the flow of you. Emerging through to the Self by letting go of the self.

EDIT: What I've described above is an outcome of experiencing reality subjectively. Watching yourself as an outside observer. It's not the same as being on auto-pilot, which can be very passive. You're very much engaged, there, completely in the present, and flowing through time.

Steve Pavlina describes subjective reality really well here. And the quintessential read on the subject is I Am That.  

August 17, 2012

Peopling Corporations

Often, talk of triple bottom line boils down to what policies a company has to promote not only financial, but also social or environmental benefit. Charitable donations, health and safety considerations, maternity/paternity leave, carbon footprint reduction, sustainable development and many more emerging ideas are all proactive measures of a sound triple bottom line infrastructure.

There is a reactive side to the picture as well and I came across one such example today through Seth Godin's impassioned blog post, Corporations are not people. To summarize, Seth describes an ongoing situation with Progressive insurance using their retinue of lawyers to fight an otherwise open-and-shut case where one of their insured members was killed in a tragic car accident by another driver who ran a red light. Progressive is on the line for paying the family $75,000 and they are doing their best to pay nothing to 1/3 of that amount.

The paragraph that struck me most in Seth's post was this:
"Like many people, I'm disgusted by their strategy, but my point here is this: if someone in your neighborhood used this approach, treating others this way, if a human with a face and a house and a reputation did it, they'd have to move away in shame. If a local businessperson did this, no one in town would ever do business there again. 
Corporations (even though it's possible that individuals working there might mean well) play a different game all too often. They bet on short memories and the healing power of marketing dollars, commercials and discounts. Employees are pushed to focus on bureaucratic policies and quarterly numbers, not a realization that individuals, not corporations, are responsible for what they do."
Even beyond the direct social benefit that could be offered to the deceased's family and the overall benefit of earning long term goodwill with their customers, Progressive, as an insurance company is acting outside the boundaries of fiduciary responsibility to its members.

Any short term gain: $75,000 - legal fees (which could be a net negative), is lost on customer acquisition and retention. Simply on a financial level, it is a poor decision.

To "bet on short memories and the healing power of marketing dollars," is outdated and unfortunate. The power of blogs counters this influence and spreads the message that Seth sparked and Matt Fisher - the deceased's brother - continues to update us on.

The long since-emerged, internet-based, trust economy keeps corporations honest. Corporations are not people, but their growth - financial, social and environmental - depends on those peopling corporations. Commercials, discounts and marketing eventually lead back to word-of-mouth, still the strongest form of loyalty marketing. These hard-to-shake stories will proliferate and slowly dilute the message corporations want you to believe until the people who run it do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

August 9, 2012

Links to begin understanding the triple bottom line

Here are three links that I've sent out at least 50 times over the last few months. Might as well throw them out there for anyone who's interested.

1. The Empathic Civilization (youtube video) - Jeremy Rifkin explains how we all have mirror neurons that light up when we see someone going through an experience, like eating chocolate or seeing a spider on their arm, in the same way as if we were going through that experience ourselves. Another example, when one baby cries in a nursery, all the other babies start crying as well. We're soft-wired for empathy: homo-empathicus.

2. Resilient Communities - This is the torch that John Robb lit, but really, it's a common sense reaction to when we think, "Why aren't we already living this way?". Who knows, but the idea of resiliency is simplifying self-reliance on a community level. Right now, it's attracting people on the extreme, but the message will trickle down in a packaged way soon enough.

3. Capitalism 3.0 - Otto Scharmer presented this paper in 2009 and since then he's started a company and perhaps a movement around replacing ego-systems with eco-systems that look at financial, political, social and environmental benefits as equal. He goes beyond the theoretical and works with organizations to make these ideas a reality.

June 6, 2012

Are you one of the lucky few?

Love this speech by Michael Lewis at Princeton's graduation. Luck as an explanatory factor for success is hard to reconcile within yourself. To paraphrase Lewis, you feel you deserve success because of x, y or z. "But you'll be happier, and the world will be better off, if you at least pretend that you don't."
"People really don’t like to hear success explained away as luck — especially successful people. As they age, and succeed, people feel their success was somehow inevitable. They don't want to acknowledge the role played by accident in their lives. There is a reason for this: the world does not want to acknowledge it either."...
"If you use better data, you can find better values; there are always market inefficiencies to exploit, and so on. But it has a broader and less practical message: don't be deceived by life's outcomes. Life's outcomes, while not entirely random, have a huge amount of luck baked into them. Above all, recognize that if you have had success, you have also had luck — and with luck comes obligation. You owe a debt, and not just to your Gods. You owe a debt to the unlucky. 
I make this point because — along with this speech — it is something that will be easy for you to forget."...
"But you must sense its arbitrary aspect: you are the lucky few. Lucky in your parents, lucky in your country, lucky that a place like Princeton exists that can take in lucky people, introduce them to other lucky people, and increase their chances of becoming even luckier. Lucky that you live in the richest society the world has ever seen, in a time when no one actually expects you to sacrifice your interests to anything."

June 5, 2012

Arbitrary rules

You think through the solution a little, enjoying it for its own sake and you realize that even if you were to solve this problem, the solution wouldn't be accepted because of power or money reasons. If enough people gain money or power from the wrong - ethically wrong - method, their livelihood stops them from reversing course. Can you really blame them? They made the decision or rather they didn't even know they were making a decision to be on the wrong side a long time ago. They went with the societal flow - it was right then - not thinking twice whether slavery or the tax system or criminal's rights were unfair. It is what it is they said and moved on. Play within the rules they said. Why fix something that it isn't broken they said.

And they continued simple-mindedly, with singular focus towards being better at a game they didn't create just to earn more, have more power, get ahead. Now, 5, 10, 20 years later, they've made it a habit to think in this one way and their income, their family depends on them thinking this way. They simply can't change it now, because why would you want to when you've almost won the game you didn't create? Why bother to understand where the rules came from now? Why create another game that makes you lose, even if it's just a little?

What if you said it would be more fair? They wouldn't agree because it wouldn't be fair to them. Why didn't someone do this when they were starting out? That would've been more fair. Why should they lose something now when the rules could have arbitrarily been changed when they were young and fighting and deserved fairness like everyone else. How is it fair that they lose now?

And that's why your solution doesn't make it through right away. The people who said it is what it is and are shown a different way have a hard time realizing that what is arbitrarily changing on them now could have arbitrarily changed by their direction much earlier if they hadn't accepted what is. It's social. It's man-made. It's arbitrary.

Things do change. But they change ever so slowly, with momentum and sacrifices and incredibly hard work. The easy life is very attractive though. It's more convenient than ever before to know change is necessary and still avoid it. If you're smart enough to come up with the solution, you're smart enough to live without putting it into effect. Does that make you any different though from those that don't accept the arbitrariness of life? What are you left with if you do and still don't change it?

These aren't satirical, rhetorical questions, but ones every person who shirks society's arbitrary rules struggles with eventually. Being a martyr or change agent seem more like barriers to entry than requirements for changing the world. Being an example, choosing a less traveled, more reasoned path because you see things another way may be enough. "Think different" may be the catch phrase of the decade, but it does slowly become the norm. From civil rights and women's rights to freelancing for a career and being green-friendly, ideas that were once anathema are now commonplace.

If you have a solution in mind, share it. Discernment and personal judgment remain the strongest driving forces we have in our tool belt. Even with all the doubts about society's willingness to accept your solution, there are quiet mouths with listening ears waiting for someone to say what they can't.