Sunday, March 29, 2015

Where Is It?

Panic erupts. Something you need is missing. It may be important, it is definitely urgent, and it's missing. Keys, glasses, cell phones, and other small, useful items mysteriously disappear when you need them most. Let's look first at ideas for avoiding the problem, then at strategies for when things get lost anyway.

Avoiding the Problem

Think about the last thing you lost. Where does it belong? Equipment, supplies and reference material all belong somewhere. That spot, wherever it is, is the easiest place to find whatever you're looking for. Take a moment to put it back where it belongs if you can. If you can't, put it in an inbox.

To avoid locking yourself out of your house or car, make a habit of having keys in your hand when closing the door. Lock the door with the key, or with the remote. Don't lock the door and push it closed unless the key us in your hand.

Here is a Jedi Mind Trick which can help you remember where you put something as you put it down. People learn things through visual, auditory or kinesthetic means, each according to his or her gifts. Which ever you prefer, your memory works best when you create links all three ways. Watch yourself put those kkeys down. Feel them as they leave your hand. Say to yourself "the car kris are on the bathroom counter under the toothbrushes" and be specific as you do it. In the best case, your learning processes have built strong links. In Thevenn worst case, you were paying attention at the time.

Okay, But My Keys Are Lost NOW!

You looked where they belong, where you thought they were, and the floor under where you thought they were. Either they weren't in the geinbox or the inbox idea is looking better -- for later. For now, some serious searching is in order.

Picture the item in your hand. Where were you and what were you doing the last time you saw it? Who else was there? Retrace your route, looking most carefully at the last place you were and where you had them last. Is there someone you can talk to?

If that hasn't helped, it's time to make a list. Where have they shown up when lost the past? Where could they be? Who might have seen them? Could someone have moved them? Are there other ways you can look, other people you can ask?


Develop the habit of limiting the places you put things. Pay attention when putting things down. Visualization can help as you put something down or as you realize it's missing. If you have to search, have a search plan, and always have a backup plan.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

4 Seconds-A Book Review

Peter Bregman tells stories about his life to share ideas on productivity, performance, and life. The ideas are simple to understand though they may be challenging to implement. Each chapter focuses on one key idea. Some you may already do, some you may question. The others may be useful, at least for a while.

Some of the ideas are focused on productivity. For example, he recommends limiting the number of times you check email. The ones I found more valuable address the far more important issues of interacting with other people and managing our own actions and reactions. Better to avoid a fire than have to fight it.

Each story / lesson / chapter is only a few pages long, and each stands alone well enough that it can be read by itself.

Four Seconds is structured like his previous book 18 Minutes. Both are intended to dramatically improve your life by introducing rituals that can be done quickly.

The book is unlikely to make you laugh or cry, but that isn't its goal. It will make you smile, and think, for at least four seconds.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Perils of Automatic Dog Feeding

The world is rarely a series of dominoes lined up to fall in a pattern. It's  not even a Rube Goldberg device going through bizarre motions to a carefully calculated result. More often, it is like the complex automatic dog feeding machine Doc Brown created in *Back To The Future*, a process in motion unaware that it is making a mess because Einstein (the dog) wasn't around to eat the food it served up. There was no feedback loop in the system, nobody to realize the situation had changed, no way to respond by turning the device off.  

Focus and Feedback

Doc Brown's invention had no feedback. For us, the problem is that feedback gets overwhelmed by noise or deflected by focus. We create focus by selectively ignoring everything except the issue at hand. This is useful, until it isn't. When Einstein isn't around to be fed, when unexpected things happen in our lives, we need awareness, feedback, reflection and response. 


We need awareness to realize that something may go wrong at any moment. We all understand this, but focusing on one thing may make us deaf to another. Focus is a critical success tool, but so is shifting focus when we become aware of new information, new problems, or new opportunities. 


In one sense, feedback is free. When we do something, the world responds. If we notice the response, that is feedback, but not very effective feedback because it leaves the decision about significance to others. Unless something is important to them, they minimize reaction and thus minimize feedback. They don't complain when they could because something else is more important. 

"Actively seek and carefully consider negative feedback." ~ Elon Musk

Serial entrepreneur Elon Musk advises us to "actively seek and carefully consider negative feedback." His point is that feedback is critical to solving problems. We must do more than listen for feedback; we must ask for it.

As Mr. Musk points out, we need to carefully consider the feedback we get. The feedback we get from competitors or enemies may be intended to mislead us, but it may have value. Only we can decide what the feedback means for us. 


Once we have listened to the world, there is one more voice to hear., the one inside our head. We need to take a moment of reflection to gauge our own feelings. 90% of the feedback that matters is internal. Feedback is vital, but hear your own heart first.  

90% of the feedback that matters is internal.


The thing about negative feedback is that if you don't respond there are only two possible outcomes: more damage or disaster. These are still possible outcomes if you do respond, but a response creates the possibility of less damage or the desired outcome. We drive cars safely by repeated response to continuous feedback. 


Awareness will make it possible to detect feedback.
Feedback tells us we are off course. 
Reflection gives us time to adjust appropriately. 
Response is the only chance for a better outcome. 
Don't let the feedback from the world overwhelm your internal voice.  

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Power to Change Your Life

In 1973, I took on a job as a computer programmer. The computer was given its own floor in an office building and various people supporting it were spread across other floors or in other buildings. In addition to programmers there were system designers, computer operators, data entry clerks, and production coordinators, not to mention the clients who were paying all the others to turn data into reports, usually on green bar paper. 

The process was complex and error prone. Data had to be collected, keyed in, verified, sorted, collated, edited, corrected and updated. The data itself might be incomplete, inaccurate, inappropriate, fraudulent or lost, which led to the first of two axioms.

Axiom 1: Garbage In, Garbage Out

A large part of  program design was keeping the garbage from getting in. Bad things could happen before good data was seen by the computer, which led to the second axiom:

Axiom 2: Problems are ALWAYS the programmer's fault.

To be fair, many problems were bugs that were the programmer's fault. Right now, though, I'm talking about problems that were not bugs. Even if the cause was outside the program, it was nearly certain that any problem would have to be addressed in a program somewhere. The axiom used the word fault, but it was used proactively to inspire responsibility. 

The goal of thinking this way was to avoid problems, or failing that to find and fix problems as early and as cheaply as possible. But isn't that what everyone wants?

Accepting Responsibility 

There are situations where a person is at fault. Society has many mechanisms for determining fault that work reasonably well. Fault comes with consequences. It is the business of courts and insurance companies and it can take care of itself. 

In his book The Success Principles, Jack Canfield encourages us to accept 100% responsibility for everything in our lives.  By doing anything less, we give up our power to do anything about it. Others may or may not find you at fault, but you need to accept responsibility for your life and your actions whether that happens or not..

The blizzard had nearly shut down the city when  Pete decided to study--at a coffee shop on the far side of town. He cleaned off his old Saturn and headed out. Once on the road, he detoured several miles to check in with a friend. Enroute to the coffee shop, his car was hit and totaled by another driver who lost control of a his car.  The other guy was clearly at fault, but Pete had made multiple choices that put him at a place he would not have been during a blizzard where people were asked to stay off the road. All Pete talked about was the idiot who hit him and should not have been on the road. 

Proactively Avoiding Errors 

Serial entrepreneur Elon Musk advises "Actively seek and carefully consider negative feedback." He understands that flaws in a product become incrementally then exponentially more expensive to fix as it works its way through the assembly process and into the world at large. The best way to save the most is to avoid errors as much as possible, find them as soon as possible, and fix them as well as possible. All this requires feedback. Criticism is your friend. 


Rightly or wrongly, others will find fault with what we do. When we accept responsibility anyway, we give ourselves the power to take action. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Evil of Indifference

oday is March 4th and thanks to a couple oddities in the English language we can hear someone say that and interpret it as "march forth" a call to action. Here is a far more eloquent call to action.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
— Edmund Burke

But how much action is enough? Our world is almost always competitive, occasionally combative. It's the result of billions of people responding to situations, to each other, and to their own desires and needs. Once we decide what we want, deciding what we are wiling to pay or do follows. 

In economic terms, when the desired outcome isn't a must, we seek a solution at minimum cost. EBay handles millions of transactions this way, peacefully resolving competition for things people want but can do without. 

If we are dealing with evil, or with vital goals, incremental bidding or incremental effort risks failure. Evil can triumph if good men do just a little less than is necessary. When the stakes are high, incremental action can be a huge risk. 

Tony Robbins recommends massive action, imagining and doing everything you can. Don't choose between skipping a donut or going for a walk, do both--and more--to achieve your weight goal 

Burke's famous quote isn't telling us to buy an item cheaply, it challenges us to recognize the real stakes, to exchange apathy for action. The best day for that is always today, even if it isn't March 4th. 

What's important to you? Find your cause. Take action. Fight evil, even if it is the evil of your own indifference. March forth!