Archive for the ‘personal’ Category

Who cares about your thoughts?

April 2nd, 2017

This post originally started a whole lot different. I was writing about the how and why writing has been so hard for me over the last four years (long story short, I was too busy with other stuff), but after a few lines I was asking myself: Who cares about your thoughts? I mean, really? Who is taking the time to follow someone else along their trail of thoughts? In the post-industrial western society, we’re so busy to find answers to all our questions, as we believe these questions to be the relevant ones, because there’s always a problem (or a chain thereof) to be solved, right? Time feels always short and getting even shorter. Which requires the person being asked to stay focused, on topic, to not get carried away, which is likely to happen if the question has or implies a higher level of complexity than “tea or coffee?” (and that’s already risky depending on your opposite). And please spare the questioner from telling them stuff they already think they know.

Now…what? Not sure yet. It was just a thought.

To KBO or not to KBO

May 24th, 2015

(KBO as in “keep buggering on”, like Churchill used to say)

 

Do you sometimes find yourself wishing you wouldn’t have read something? Today, I did, here.

And I really stopped dead in my tracks in every other sentence because of the utter preposterousness, (maybe due to the) lack of depth, and the crying urge to give all those people a high five. In the face. With a chair.

All in all, it’s a typical snapshot of the world situation. All the people we used to turn to in need of an answer now have no one to turn to themselves. BECAUSE they’ve been brought up by the system (and have largely benefitted from it) they’re now putting on trial. Only this time it’s colleges. Of course, they’re already through with kindergarten, elementary and high school, now they’ve nailed it, it’s colleges! And as much as I’d like to be totally ironic now, I’m so-not-gonna-be it. Because there is a serious problem at hand here, which is fear. Fear of change. Not mentioned in the article though. Not as such.

And there’s something else: The permeation speed of knowledge (=processed information) inside most companies is (at least) by an order of magnitude smaller than the (both inside and outside) emergence and transformation of new information — because there are insufficient connections (for a number of reasons, which I think are not necessary to explain, just look at what’s going on at your workplace). Also not mentioned in the article.

Sometime they’ll give a change and nobody will come — then change will come to you anyway. Those who do not actively seek change, who do not scrutinize their organisations and the processes therein in order to enable an evolution or revolution, will face the hardship of all too-rigid corporations. It’s puzzling a CEO can utter “It’s not the big devouring the small, it’s the quick devouring the slow!” without getting it himself. I mean, really getting it and acting accordingly.

Hence, what needs to be done? Employers must re-think their organisations and processes. Employees must be connected. The advantage of having knowledge your competition doesn’t yet have is useless when is hasn’t permeated the company. A team of specialists is superior to an equally-numbered team of generalists. Then the imperative is to create ways allowing specialists (preferrably the best in their field) to find their place in the team (Hint: Throwing them in cold water is a bad idea, you and they are here for a marathon, not a weekend ride). If you as an employer know the job requires a skill that is not being taught at school, this makes you responsible in the first place to teach it. Arguing this particular skill were an everyday skill which one could expect applicants to have nowadays, puts you on very thin ice, because your applicants may have other skills they consider as everyday, but you don’t have a clue.
Oh, and fire the lazy ones. No really. Even if it costs you a fortune. In the long run it saves you, and saves you money. Hint: You will identify them by the frog noises they make, it’s either “yeah-but” or “I-can’t”, or both, and have the IT 1st level support make a list with the five most frequent “my-printer-has-a-problem” and “the-internet’s-slow” callers. Sack them too (No, I’m still not being ironic here. I mean it).

Both students (i.e. future employees) and employees must understand that life-long self-motivated active learning is mandatory, not an option, but also not an entitlement for a promotion in whatever way. It’s a basis for future negotiation if and how your contract will be extended.

This applies for educators too, because after all, education is a business like any other. As an educator, you only must treat your clients (i.e. students) as if they were employees—connect them, enable high permeation speed of knowledge and skills. Hint: Nobody has ever aquired a skill just by watching an online video, every skill is a result of practice.

And media must really get a life. (Still not being ironic here.)


So here’s the irony: Once, the feudal superiors were happy when the peasants were as uneducated as possible. Then came industrialization, and a public education system was invented to turn peasant children into a workforce. Science only to advance the industry. This was further enhanced by two world wars who brought down the monarchs (as sovereigns), and consolidated the position of the industry. And then the industry got so industrious they forgot to model the education system for their future needs, because the industry as such got too diverse, allies turning into enemies, they could no more agree on what their ideal future peasant would be… I know of a possible answer, and it scares the hell out of me.

Envy, selfish and benign

November 18th, 2014

Selfish people envy those who have more than they do.
Benign people envy those who need less than they do.

Scope

August 16th, 2014

Every decision we are about to make depends on our scope relevant to it. Which is why you get a variety of answers/solutions to exactly the same question/problem depending on whom you ask. Some answers/solutions encompass others, some are completely different, but none of them are wrong in their own scope.
This is overlooked very often, because it’s easier to assume a mutual implicit understanding and worldview, but that’s rarely the case.
Hence we must define the scope on which a certain decision will be judged, because if there is a divergence in the scopes of decision and evaluation, the oddities of judging any decision as wrong or bad go way up, which leads to wrong conclusions about the competence or even personality of the decision-maker.

The generation myth

September 9th, 2013

Originally I intended to call this post “The Generation Y myth”, based on the article in the German Wikipedia and the links it refers to. But as it happens, I stopped for a second and looked it up in the English Wikipedia, and this article creates a different image. Which is quite amazing, isn’t it? One would think “we call tomatoes tomatoes because they’re tomatoes”, right? But that’s obviously not the case. But why is that?

All this generation think is pretty much made up. Yes, there are sociological and socio-economical trends or shifts, but it’s unlikely to find them represented in groups specified by their age only. (The characteristics are to a much greater extent influenced by factors as social status, educational background, location, peer influence, etc.) It is rather the desperate attempt to coin a catchy term for something that is hard to explain otherwise. Had Robert Capa in his photographic works and Douglas Coupland in his novel not created and established the term “Generation X”, we probably wouldn’t be talking about it.

My problem with this is not that the term itself exists, but that it’s being exploited to spread rubbish ideas, and because it’s a catchy term, the idea is highly sneezable, hence the spread goes through the roof. And as in many cases I’ve encountered, the rubbishness stems from the desire to create (counter-)icons, (anti-)heroes and poster children. The big mistake people easily fall for is that not one single generation has been exactly the way its icons, heroes, poster children or opposites thereof were. There are always ideas, schools of thinking, and, as a consequence, altered behaviour changing over time, and yes, these are more easily adopted or rather quicker surfacing in the younger generation. But it doesn’t turn them into stereotypes.

What I have experienced though is that, not surprisingly, media coverage tends to present the facts in a way the majority of their audience prefers. A magazine with mainly upper middle class subscribers will present “the facts” in a fashion the audience will be pleased with, as if to say “well done” or “you need to keep up with the Joneses” (which is even likelier, because it’s helping to boost the economy when you send your kids to private schools, pay for their piano lessons, have them join the Scouts and so forth).

It’s the satisfaction of the needs of one group of society. What worries me is those who get left behind because they don’t fit in there, and that judgement is made quite likely by decision makers who just happen to be in that very group highly influenced by these specific media or people knowing that this group is receptive to a certain kind of “facts”.

(And ironically, this is the hour when media catering to a different audience are ready to cry foul, because that’s also a need from waiting to be satisfied.)

So, what is there to do? Well, the only solution which is equally fair to everyone is to treat everyone as the individual they are in the first place, with strengths and weaknesses, and to judge and develop them accordingly because of their individual performance and merit, not by a fad that has been attributed to them by someone who never knew them in the first place.

Achievement

July 12th, 2013

What we achieve is the compelling result of what we begin and persist with.

Opposing Forces

March 11th, 2013

Have you ever felt the pain of unfulfilled potential? I’m referring to the (at first) external one, a circumstance that causes you a regular dissatisfaction with the status quo. This can range from a design you believe needing to be done better or changed, to issues of society and politics. And what did you do, assuming you’re not in charge of this particular thing? In those cases when you have some relationship (preferably a good one) with the person in charge, you might tell them what you’re thinking. And their answer might be “Well thanks for the input (, we’ll consider it / , but that’s just your opinion).” And if this becomes a routine, chances are the external pain becomes an internal one. You come to believe this is wrong and really needs to be changed. You believe changing this is your mission. But there’s a problem.

You’re afraid. The severity may vary, but what’s stopping you from dedicating yourself to this mission is your need for safety (i.e., fear of failure). Once you stick out your head, someone might whack it. You might be shunned by your tribe at the workplace for making trouble. Or, if you’re considering taking it one step further and doing this as full-time business on your own, you’re not going to have enough clients. So now that you’re between a rock and a hard place, what do you do?

There is really just one question you really need to answer (and if you can’t, you’re not going anywhere). This crucial question is: What’s your vision? Unless you can abstract this one issue that caused your dissatisfation (“this is broken”) to a positive vision (“this is ideal”) that you absolutely believe in, that you need to pursue no matter what, what’s in your mind is not a vision, it’s just a single self-assigned task. And that is not a foundation for a business, simply because you can’t sell it (more often than this one time). The only thing you can sell then is your time, and that’s freelance work. That way you’re not Turning Pro in this particular area, you’re still an amateur that does this kind of stuff for a living. Or as a hobby. Because you’re not defining the standard. Either does your client, or you’re avoiding the risk of really putting yourself out there.

Take this blog for instance. Four years ago, I was dissatisfied with a lot of things I had experienced during my career in the media business, and not only did I want to get it off my chest, but propose alternatives. I saw no use in putting blame on anyone, but also I had little leverage to change the things bothering me. Worse, I did not spend the time developing a clear vision of what I wanted, hence I did not fully commit to this cause. I was so petrified by the thought of being kicked out for making preposterous suggestions, I didn’t even try. The result is obvious. But I’m not unhappy (though I was for a while). Now this is a place where I can say things I think to be worth saying, still giving everyone the opportunity to benefit from my (smart ass) thoughts.

And at this early point in my life, I regard this question as either-or:
If you’re unhappy with the status quo and have a complete vision of how your knowledge, abilities and personality can make the world better, and you profoundly believe in it, get started. Don’t rush. It’s better (and harder) to work continuously at a constant pace. Without the unshakable belief in your vision you will most likely fail within less than a year. Not because of “them”, but because your fear wins by constantly sabotaging you in every way possible. My favourite example of someone having accomplished this is (no surprise here) Steve Jobs.
The alternative is letting go off the pain and focusing on issues you have a realistic chance of changing for the better. But it’s not unlikely that your mind will in magnetic fashion be drawn to the notorious “What would my life be if….?”. You have an answer for that now.

This might Change your Life

February 18th, 2013

Life Philosophies

“Modern” thinking says people ought to create a balance between “work” and “life”. I disagree, because it just so happened (under a combination of circumstances that has been unique in my life) that I realised how my philosophy of life in its entirety is different from other people’s. What’s more, I believe that both don’t play well with each other, which—whatever yours is—might cause you “not getting her/him”.

To the left there is the “classical” philosophy that your time is comprised of work and, or rather versus life. Yet as pointed out by Clay Shirky and Seth Godin, this is not as natural as we think, but a by-product of the industrial revolution, the invention of the factory—a place built for people with the lowest possible skill (so the factory owner doesn’t have to pay much) to perform labour as dispensable and exchangeable machine parts. And with work organised in shifts, people suddenly had free time, and with money on their hands, they could buy stuff their and other factories had churned out. (It’s worth noting the euphemistic term “recreation” implies that something must have been destroyed before.)

And I wonder, how would you balance that? I mean, really?
There are so many counteracting “forces” at work the balancing act itself can wear you out. I’m not going into detail here too much (please refer to the aforementioned books for that, I really recommend them), but just consider the fact that 8 hours of work a day allow for 16 hours of recreation yet many people feel it’s insufficient. How come? How about all the media, the advertising, all stacked up to persuade you that your happiness is just that one thing you don’t have yet away.
It’s a carrot on a stick.

Now I would ask you to forget this whole concept of life for a moment and ask yourself: What is it that you actually do all day?
And I should add that if you are working in an actual factory, moving boxes around, adding or removing parts to and from a conveyor belt, and feeling comfortable with it because it provides a certain level of safety, this might not be for you. But these jobs are fading, though not completely. It’s only important to me to clarify even though your “workplace” may be organised like a factory (and quite intentionally so), it’s different from an actual one. Stay with me for a couple of seconds.

For all non-factory-labour jobs—and this includes farming, just so you know—I propose they are not much different from the rest of your day. You create, you educate (learn and teach), you connect, and yes, you consume. Sometimes you do two or three of these at the same time (not all, because I believe creating and consuming are mutually exclusive). And in everything, there is a certain opportunity.

gulf of opportunityThere is little opportunity in consuming, I believe, because it’s self-centric and the best you can get out of it is either the pleasure of a good product or the satisfaction of a good bargain. But the gulf widens as the activity becomes harder, because educating, connecting and creating are a lot more challenging than consuming. Yet for connecting and educating there are some boundaries of opportunity (most of them physically). And yes, the opportunities of creating something (and that includes shipping) are limitless.

And for me, for the past few years, this has permeated each day of my life without me being aware of it. No separation between “work” and “life”. This is what I do all day. “Work” is only defined that there is a certain group of people in certain spots that are involved in these activities, repeatedly, and I receive money in exchange for that. The only restriction is that the choice of what you’re doing is not always up to you.
But in my unpaid activity time, I get to choose to do whatever I’m comfortable with, and quite unsurprisingly the things I busy myself with during that time are not much different.

This can create a rewarding cycle, an emotionally positive feedback loop for you. And isn’t happiness just that? (Yes, it requires work, in terms of daily effort. Self-complacent idleness will not make you happy for long.)

(And yes, I’ve shamelessly mimicked Hugh MacLeod‘s style for my graphics. Because I admire his art.)

Taking on a complex task

November 13th, 2012

In this context, a complex task is defined as one with multiple steps over a long time period, and one where the one(s) in charge don’t necessarily know everything about what’s coming over time. A classical development project, if you will.

The most important action before even starting on the task is admitting that it is a complex one. Also, it is good to admit that you cannot foresee all of the challenges that will come up over time, but that you are 100% determined to pull it off.

Also, you must review the objective of the task to know when it’s completed. For instance, when are you finished “learning to play guitar”? This “goal” is so abstract you’ll never reach it. So you may want to “learn to play guitar as good as Steve Vai”. That’s a bit better, but unless Steve Vai is dead he’ll progress too. So you may end up wanting to “learn to play guitar so good I can play all Steve Vai songs”. See? Now you know when you’ve reached the goal.

Next, you need to find personal support. This means not only do you need a trainer or teacher, but also a sparring partner. The former should be an expert in the field of your project, the latter not necessarily. His or her job is to reel you in each time you’re about to abandon the whole thing. And believe me, sooner or later you will find yourself in a situation where you want to throw the thing out of the window. There is very little certainty you’ve done your best underway, though you may very well have. So it is mandatory to have personal support because self-motivation doesn’t always work. Never underestimate your inner saboteur. He’s very patient, just waiting for the right moment to strike. Cover your back.

Then, start breaking down the whole thing. What parts does it consist of? What are the milestones? And, something that is overlooked quite often, what small parts can you incorporate in your daily routine? In every complex task, there are exercises or other routines which, when complete, will have become your second nature. But they only will when you include them as early in the the whole process as you can.

Also, allocate specific times when you fully commit to work on this particular task. No distractions. Creating this kind of external pressure often has more long-term impact than devoting a large chunk of time every now and then. This is why it’s important to have your sparring partner, who’s to make sure you stick to your regular appointments with the task.

Regular review is also very important. Every time you reach a milestone, take a look back and check on how it’s been going so far. Keep track of all your moves, where you were wrong and how you came back on course again. Don’t forget to put little rewards at every milestone, because you can’t be certain there will be rewards from others. Quite the contrary. Sometimes, the better you do, the more external resistance you will find.

Brace yourself. Persist. Good luck.

The comfort of knowing you’ve done your best

November 12th, 2012

It’s fear of failure in disguise, and it’s strong within organisations (and their people) who don’t give much room for failure yet do not reward people for not commiting it. As I pointed out earlier, the underlying mistake is a fuzzy definition of failure (and conclusively, an even fuzzier or lacking definition of success). And because we’re so afraid of failure, we avoid going even near it.

As a result, people bury themselves in their daily business, making the chunks as small as they can so they won’t choke, because that’s where a certain kind of safety is. There are defined processes they’ve been knowing for years, and they know they’re up for the task, because if push comes to shove, they just have to work a little harder. In the end, even if there’s no external reward for their effort, they know they’ve done their best and saved their day.

To them, the alternative is horrendous. They feel by taking (official working) time to stray from the beaten path, they put themselves in a spotlight where everybody will watch their performance. So their inner fear is beefed up by external pressure. But guess what, in most cases, there is no pressure, because people don’t care. They’re so caught up in their own business they just can’t bother.

Of course, the biggest challenge (as in most cases) is calling your own bluff, not the other’s.