This might Change your Life

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.)

3 + 1 Magic Ingredients

For people to bring out their best it takes 3 ingredients (i.e. prerequisites to be provided):

  • Infrastructure
  • Knowledge
  • Responsibility

What about time, you might ask. As defined per Doctor Who, time is “wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff”. I see it partly represented in infrastructure (task organisation and distribution) and also in responsibility (everybody needs to figure out the “when” and “how long” for themselves), so time, being a natural constraint, must be allocated responsibly.

And there is one more thing without the other three are useless, one the individual must provide:

  • Initiative

When these four are brought together, individuals can develop, move forward, create, be the best they can be. And when organisations provide the three and get people on the bus with the one, they will do the same as a matter of course.

It’s a game, but different

We all know them, the often motivationally intended comparisons of organisations, working teams, to sports teams. Or armies. But let’s stick with the sports.

The shortcoming with these comparisons: They do not reflect reality. And even if you knew that already (which I assume), I wonder if you’ve ever asked yourself why that is. And the answer that hit me the other day is that you are not only Team Red, you’re also Team Blue, and there are at least two balls in the game.

Just like every person is the biggest obstacle on the way to [success, happiness, self-actualisation …], so is an organisation. Because the dynamics work both ways: Not only do you have to move “the” ball from your side towards the other goal, but at the same time prevent “the” ball from hitting yours. The ball(s) you’re moving forward are your assignments, and the balls coming towards you are (or will become) problems. Not only linked to assignments, some are random, “outside-world factors”, nevertheless you have to deal with them.

It’s not enough to focus on the development of your “offensive game”, you must also -at the same time- prevent or solve problems quickly and effectively or your score will be diminished by the problems that hit you in the back. After all, what’s hitting a goal worth when you get hit twice at the same time?

So the next time you’re going for the team circle, you may want to keep this in mind. You’re both teams, and there’s many balls in the game. All need to be taken care of, otherwise you better not bet on yourself.

The bachelor box

Last weekend I’ve been reviewing a senior thesis, the lecture of which brought me to the simple question: What’s the use?

Most of this kind of effort is devoted to paraphrasing knowledge from books, professional journals, and the web. Add a little survey with some rudimentary statistics, top it off with a case study, there you go. The problem I see is all this is too much academic work with limited practical or scientific use, little original thought, but that’s what we (organisations, entire economies, or people in general) need.

We need to move forward, and the only way this will be accomplished is by original thought. New ideas, “what happens if…”, that’s where we need to direct our attention.

Video quicktip roundup

  • If you need to install Final Cut Studio 2 (FCP6) on a Mac running OS X Lion (10.7) or Mountain Lion (10.8), you should either have a Snow Leopard Installer Disc at hand to install Rosetta first (from the “Optional Installs” folder) or you can use Terminal to do it without the Graphic installer (which is the reason why it doesn’t install without Rosetta, it’s still PPC code (not the FCS apps themselves, to be clear), whereas Final Cut Studio 3’s installer is Intel only).
    The magic Terminal command is (one line)
    sudo install -package /Volumes/Final\ Cut \ Studio/Installer/FinalCutStudio.mpkg -target /
    Use your respective source directory if you copied the installer to disk beforehand. Hat tip to Jeremy Johnstone for solving this.
  • External disks which are supposed to be accessible for read/write on both Mac and PC should be formatted to exFAT (available since Mac OS X 10.6.5 and Win XP, for which you need to install an update filed under KB955704). This circumvents the 4GB file barrier of FAT32.
  • GoPro Hero HD footage (no matter what model) is best to be converted with MPEG Streamclip, especially if you need to go to SD formats. It’s way faster than Compressor and can merge all your files into one (open source files sorted by date), plus it takes everything to a “standard” codec (which GoPro’s CineForm Studio doesn’t, they have their own, which is not bad either, but…). Note that on the Mac you have the benefit of merging several clips into one, which doesn’t work that well on a Windows machine because the single clips are not always in the right order. You may circumvent this by (copying and) renaming the Gopro files to the correct sequential order.

Two essential questions

A few days ago, a colleague of mine launched her portfolio website. Of course I couldn’t help picking the holes, which brought me back to two questions that apply to any marketing effort someone is about to make:

  • What are you trying to accomplish?
  • What is the next step you want a prospect to take?

These two questions will trigger a process during which more detailed questions will occur, and all of them better be answered. Write it down. Measure. Learn. Try alternatives. And so forth.

But only do it if you really want it to have an actual effect. If you’re only trying to build an excuse it might be counterproductive.

One last tip (if it’s a website): Make it work and look good on a mobile device.

 

Taking on a complex task

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

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.

Working time

Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t but wonder why people still obsess about working times. All the rules and laws to safeguard workers have been set up in times when the majority of people actually were workers, mining coal and steel. But times have changed. It’s just silly to expect people to perform in a timeframe of 8 hours between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. What organisations need is people’s best performance. What people need is a feeling of performing well and getting their praise for it.

The problem is there are still silly folks out there thinking you can squeeze out a brain like you used to squeeze out a muscle, pay a wage and that’s that (and this includes politicians). These very people are exactly the same opponents worker’s councils have been struggling with since the industrial age. And their fighting becomes more and more useless and obsolete, because the people they’re fighting about start feeling unfit themselves. Not because they don’t like their jobs, but because the box outside their box is not in alignment with their needs.

I wonder why no one’s asking “People, what do you want?”.

Room for failure

To make my point, I will distinguish two kinds of failure here: the one that happens in defined processes, and the one that happens in the course of exploration.

It’s obvious that in defined processes there should be no room for failure. If it still occurs, there’s either something wrong with the process design, or people have not been correctly instructed. Of course people make mistakes, but it’s again obligatory to design a process in a way that mistakes are being discovered and fixed underway.

On the other hand, when you’re setting out to do something you haven’t done before, there should be a lot of room for “failure”, beause in this case failure is to be defined different. It’s silly to expect that you will have figured out the new thing straight away and do everything right. Even if so, you’re then being confronted with the problem of figuring out possible mistakes and their remedying when you develop the process. No, in exploration there is only failure when you don’t learn from your mistakes.

Yet this is exactly the problem, because for many organisations failure is just that, not having met the goal, often not even knowing what the actual goal is. And these organisations are stuck, because nobody’s exploring anymore.