Old Docks, New Horizons

You don’t have to be Galileo, Christopher Columbus or Marco Polo to be an explorer…

Hillsdale_Dock
Old docks capture my imagination. There’s a quiet intensity about them. A history we can feel more than see. They offer a lasting invitation to explore. To cast-off, set sail, and see what’s over the horizon.

Will you accept that invitation? How far will your explorations take you? Which way will you go? What if you can’t see the other side? Should you cast-off anyway?

We answer (or avoid) these questions every day.

Is it best to merely stand on the dock and look out at the horizon, wondering what’s just out of sight? Or, better yet, wait for someone to return and describe what’s out there? No way!

Every explorer (and innovator) in history chose to leave the safety of the dock. They couldn’t see the other side. In fact, they chose to leave the dock precisely because they needed to see over the next horizon, and the one after that.

They knew what we each know, whether we choose to admit it or not.

The answers to life’s biggest questions come to those who seek.

You don’t have to be Galileo, Christopher Columbus or Marco Polo to be an explorer. We are each explorers. All we have to do is accept the invitation.

 

 

Ideas from TEDx ChapmanU–June, 2014

TED started in 1984 as a conference to bring together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, and Design. TED talks are limited to no more than eighteen minutes in length, and cover a wide array of topics, all focused on “ideas worth spreading.” More than 1,400 talks are available for viewing on-line.

Last year’s event was great, and this year’s was even better. Here’s a quick synopsis of what we learned this week from the sixteen speakers (fourteen “live,” and two on video):

Lee Cheng, Chief Legal Officer at NewEgg, Incorporated, told us a little bit about his work fighting patent trolls. He referred to himself as Chief Patent Troll Hunter, taking on those who would stifle innovation and business growth by claiming obscure patent ownership of such common functions as drop-down boxes, search boxes, and shopping cart functions on websites. This wasn’t the main focus of his talk. He focused on Fred Cheng, the founder and CEO of NewEgg (a $2.6 billion, privately held ecommerce site, and number two in the ecommerce space behind Amazon). Fred Cheng works in near anonymity, shunning personal attention, adulation, or PR. Fred focuses on NewEgg’s success, which he believes is the result of the team, and not his own personal work. It reminded me of a seminal quote, “There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.”

Stephanie Decker is the quintessential survivor. In March, 2012, a tornado ripped through her home in Henryville, Indiana. She shielded her two young children with her body. The house collapsed and disintegrated around them, crushing Stephanie’s legs. Her kids survived without a scratch. She told us that mental toughness is the key differentiator in life. Each of us will face storms or struggles in our lives. We choose how we handle the storms. Staying positive is a choice. Although she lost her legs in the storm, she found her purpose. Her purpose wasn’t just learning how to walk again. That was just a first step (no pun intended). She and her husband formed the Stephanie Decker Foundation to help children with prosthetics get the best technology available to live the fullest lives possible.

Brian Kessler, founder and president of Maui Toys, talked about curiosity and the spirit of innovation. His father, Milton Kessler, invented the hula hoop. Brian has designed and developed more than 2,600 toys, sporting goods, and consumer products. He defined innovation as a process that has three main parts: creation, application, and execution. Creation is seeing what someone needs or wants, application is defining who will actually want this innovation, and execution is setting about to make it happen. Easy? Hardly. He described the series of small steps and adjustments he made to toy ideas before having the product that people would actually want to buy. He also showed some examples of “new” toys that are merely extensions of other toys. Innovation can be evolutionary, as well as revolutionary.

Laura Glynn, associate professor of Psychology at Chapman University, talked about the maternal brain. Professor Glynn said that 90% of all women worldwide will give birth to at least one child in their lifetime (amazing statistic). She told us about the fundamental physiological changes a woman’s brain goes through during pregnancy. Mother’s brains grow and change during pregnancy, and the effects are cumulative as they have additional children. Mother’s brains have an enhanced ability to identify threats and deal with stressful situations (ideal for new parents!). The old saying about not coming between a mother bear and her cubs seems to be the result of physiological changes in the maternal brain. Scientific research in this area is relatively new. People like Professor Glynn are uncovering new and amazing insights into the miracle of life, and how mom’s brains uniquely adapt to take on the challenges of parenting.                      

Trent Schlom, a twenty-one year old sports reporter and broadcaster for ESPN talked about how he turned his love of sports into a career. He always dreamed of talking about sports, and starting at fifteen, he took steps to make that dream a reality. His secrets? He creates his own opportunities, is always prepared, and keeps showing up. He focuses on learning and views himself as the eternal student. His concluding advice: Don’t just dream. Take the next step to actually get closer to your dream, and keep taking those steps. Trent’s energy and positive attitude are infectious, and may be the biggest secret of all.

Sarah Kaye’s 2011 TED presentation (if I should have a daughter…) streamed into the auditorium. Sarah is a spoken word poet, who started presenting her work when she was fourteen. She describes spoken word poetry as poetry that doesn’t want to sit on paper. It must be performed. She said there are three steps to writing poetry (or just about anything else in life):

  • I can…do this
  • I will…continue to do this
  • I will infuse this with myself and my “backpack full of everywhere else I’ve been in life.”

As a way to get started, she asks her students to write lists:

  • Ten Things I Know to Be True
  • Ten Things I Should Have Learned by Now.

She writes poetry to work things out, and in the process, challenges each of us to do the same thing as we listen.

Iryna Krechkovsky, a prize-winning violinist, played a selection written by Bach on her Stradivarius. In her introduction to the song, she talked about how technology has given us so many ways to communicate with each other, and yet, we are emotionally removed from each other. Classical music is relevant in today’s society, because music is human. It expresses human emotion in ways we can’t explain, and in ways our technology can’t replicate.

Michael Laskin, a professional actor for over 35 years, described his view of the acting profession. While I didn’t learn much about acting, I did take a couple of key points from his talk:

Your talent is a given. Your resume and skills are what get you to the audition (or interview, meeting, or speech). What happens next is all about YOU. Your authenticity will trump your skill set and have more to do with your success than anything else.

Jillian Lauren, a New York Times bestselling author, talked about the experience she and her husband are living after adopting their son from Ethiopia. She, too, was adopted. What lessons does she take from her own adoption, and her son’s? Love is a decision, and a gift. When her son first arrived, he was suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. He had uncontrollable temper tantrums, night terrors, and a number of other symptoms that took years to work through. Jillian told her son stories as they walked around the city when he first arrived. As he grew, he came to embrace his journey here as a great adventure. He is subconsciously creating an identity for himself that is part Ethiopian, part Jewish, part Scottish, part American. We all form ourselves, based on our imagination, and the stories we tell about ourselves, regardless of where we came from.

Frank Smith, COO of Anschutz Film Group and Walden Media, discussed change. Change is continuous, no matter what industry (his happens to be film production). He related the history of the studio system in Hollywood, and how the near-monopoly of the five large studios began to break apart after World War II with the advent of television, and other changes. Companies that reacted quickly to the new reality thrived, while those who refused to embrace the changes went in the opposite direction. Change is hard, and sometimes difficult to see at first. Change should be seen as a constant, and can’t be ignored. The ash heap of history is littered with organizations that failed to respond to disruptions and changes in their industry (ironically, some of these got their start by disrupting someone else’s business): Border’s Books, Blockbuster Video, Tower Records, Circuit City, A&P, Washington Mutual Bank, MySpace, and Sears (well, not quite).

Stacey Schuerman, a yoga instructor, took the entire audience through a five-minute exercise to slow down, and focus on our breathing. She called it a chance to reset, renew, and rejuvenate our energy levels. An opportunity to feel the peace and calmness of the present. She recommended that we take at least five minutes every day to recharge. I plan to replay her presentation video at least once a day for my own on-demand recharge session.

Adam Spencer, mathematician and Australian radio host, discussed his passion for finding massive prime numbers. Numbers and math are the musical notes of the universe. His excitement for the pursuit of these elusive numbers is overwhelming. He marvels at how lucky we are to live in an age when mind and machines can work together to expand the frontiers of our knowledge. How amazing is it that a scientist can theorize about something as fundamental and “unprovable” as the Higgs boson in 1964, and then have a machine demonstrate its existence only fifty years later?

Robin Follman is an internationally acclaimed opera singer. She is also the head of strategic planning at her family’s manufacturing company. Even though she didn’t get the lead in her high school play, she did get the lead in a professional opera company while she was still in high school. She credits her success to preparation, perseverance, resiliency, and some luck. Also, rejecting her choir teacher’s advice to “blend.” She wanted her voice to be heard, and she was always ready when a new opportunity presented itself.

Eyal Aronoff is a co-founder of Quest Software, which was sold to Dell for $2.4 billion in 2012. Eyal’s passion now is breaking our addiction to oil as an energy source. He says that while wind and solar are nice, they aren’t a workable large-scale alternative to liquid gasoline for the cars we drive. Public transportation is only viable in certain urban centers. He showed that taxation and other financial incentives or punishments aren’t effective in changing our energy habits. He wants to show how alcohol-based liquid fuels are the best replacement fuel for liquid gasoline. Alcohol-based fuels can be derived from corn, sugar, biomass, and natural gas, to name just a few. Will it work? Are we capable of making this type of switch? Only time will tell. Clearly this idea of breaking our addiction to oil is one worth spreading.

Alison Noel is a New York Times bestselling author of 21 novels, with over seven-million copies in print. She talked about labels…those that others place on us and those we place on ourselves. We all have a yearning to be seen, heard, and understood. The question is how will we be seen, how will we be heard, and will we be understood for what we really are? Our labels often get in the way of understanding. She told us how her childhood was impacted by labels, some accurate, but most inaccurate. Labels don’t always fit, but they usually stick…if we allow them.

Dileep Rao is an actor who asked the question, “Do Movies Matter Anymore?” Some could easily argue that in a world of multitasking, and fragmented attention spans, movies are becoming a relic of the past. Rao argues the exact opposite. He sees the movie theater as the metaphoric dark cave where images and shadows from the campfire mesmerize us. Movie theaters are an almost sacred place where we are immersed in a story (if we allow it), with a bunch of strangers. For that short period of time, we are single-tasking, singularly-focused, and in the present (sounds a little bit like yoga).

Why spend five hours at a TEDx event? It’s all about ideas, and stories. Ideas worth spreading, and the way these ideas impact the stories we tell ourselves.

Start Anywhere!

Nike’s Just Do It™ slogan was born in an advertising agency meeting in 1988…

According to Wikipedia, Nike’s Just Do It™ slogan was born in an advertising agency meeting in 1988.

For Nike, these words helped propel the company from $877 million in revenue in 1988 to $9.2 billion by 1998.  In 2013, Nike’s revenue was $25.3 billion.

Three simple words.

Of course, it isn’t the words alone.  It’s the call to action implied in these words:

  • Want to run a marathon?  Just do it!
  • Want to run a triathlon?  Just do it!
  • Want to play tennis?  Just do it!
  • Want to learn to oil paint?  Just do it!
  • Want to write?  Just do it!
  • Want to race motorcycles?  Just do it!
  • Want to develop an iPhone app?  Just do it!
  • Want to explore the world?  How about China (where I am this week)?  Just do it!
  • Want to hike the Appalachian Trail?  Just do it!
  • Want to own your own business?  Just do it!
  • Want to try living in New York City (in the winter!)?  Just do it!
  • Want to start a charity to help wounded veterans?  Just do it!
  • Want to build your own house?  How about a tree house?  Just do it!

Three simple words.

Not to be outdone, and to inspire not only Apple employees, but customers they didn’t yet have, Apple came up with a two-word slogan in 1997:  Think Different™.

Two words, grammar error notwithstanding.  Again, it isn’t the words, but the call to action.  If you want to create a new and interesting future, Think Different today.

Think Different.  Just Do It.

To these, I’d add two more words:

Start Anywhere!

Think Different.  Just Do It.  Start Anywhere!

How about two more:  Start today!

Will This Be On The Test?!?!

I’m told that this is one of the top questions students (and parents) ask of teachers.

SanFelipeSunrise

I’m told that this is one of the top questions students (and parents) ask of teachers.

Test questions in school come in many standard forms:  true or false, multiple choice, essay…just to name a few.  Oh yeah, and word problems!  Decipher the riddle, find all the numbers that fit into formulas, and arrive at an answer (hopefully, the correct one).  And, of course, remember to show your work.

We’re taught in school that there is only one correct answer to most questions.  Columbus discovered the New World in 1492, not 1493.  It takes two hydrogens and one oxygen to make water, not two oxygens and one hydrogen.  The student’s job is to learn (memorize?) the correct answers and then “ace” their test by answering all of the questions correctly.

It’s no wonder students ask what will be on their tests.  After all, their grade is in play.  Who wouldn’t want to know what they should study, and what they can ignore?  So much is riding on the outcome.

Tests outside of school aren’t as easy.  The questions don’t come from our teachers.  Variables are often missing, and formulas rarely provide one definitive answer.  They aren’t always fair.  They don’t come with a study guide.  There’s no advice about what should be studied, or ignored.  Real life tests come from our family, friends, customers, co-workers, managers, elected officials, our children’s teachers, strangers, and ourselves…on a daily basis.  A lot more than a grade is in play with most of these tests.

Attention to detail, listening to what is said and unsaid, curiosity, creativity, openness to risk, connecting with others we trust, and a clear sense of right and wrong are the guides we have in answering the real life test questions we face.

What’ll be on your next test?  Everything you’ve experienced in life up to this point, and probably a few things you haven’t seen before.  Here’s hoping you studied well.

 

Test Question:  What’s the connection between this post and the sunrise photo?

Just Another PICNIC

I learned a new acronym recently: PICNIC

I learned a new acronym recently:

                PICNIC–Problem in chair, not in computer.

“Way” back in the early 90’s when one of my jobs was desktop support, I referred to the same phenomena as a “nut on the keyboard” problem.  At least 80% of the “computer problems” were actually human problems.

It’s the same thing with Cesar Millan, The Dog Whisperer.  Most “dog” problems are human problems waiting to be solved.  Cesar spends most of his time “whispering” to dog owners.  Cesar can’t call his show The Human Whisperer, even if that’s an accurate description of the service he provides.  To do so would alienate the audience that he’s trying to help.

The challenge with humans is that most of us would rather not admit that we are the problem.  It’s so much easier to blame the computer, the dog, the airline, the car, traffic, evil Republicans, evil Democrats, government, the economy, our manager, our parents, our kids, society, the system.  The list of excuses is infinite.

The good news is that the solution to most of these “problems” is in the chair.

We Are All Mountain Climbers

Until you face a climb yourself, you can never fully understand what it takes.

AlanAroras--Mt Everest 2013

There it is…Mount Everest from the air.  Each year, about 150-200  climbers attempt to reach its summit, 29,029 feet above sea level.  There are thousands of other mountain peaks in the world, but Everest is the highest, and most challenging.  Of course, from this angle it looks pretty tame.

That’s the thing about mountains.  Perspective is everything.  Until you face a climb yourself, you can never fully understand what it takes.  Watching others make the climb, or hearing their stories about what it was like, are no substitute for taking on the climb for yourself.

Look around you.  If you look closely, you’ll see that each of us are climbing a mountain.  Some mountains are short and easy, while others are as high or higher than our friend, Mr. Everest.

This is the point where I could wax on poetically about striving for the highest peaks in life, chasing ever higher summits, new vistas, and new challenges.  Yes, do all of that.  Don’t let anyone stop you…especially yourself.

No, I’m not going to talk about the standard, inspirational mountain stuff.  Instead, I’m going to talk about weight.

When embarking on a climb, is it better to carry twenty pounds, fifty pounds, or one-hundred pounds of gear on your back?  Obviously, all things being equal, less weight is better.  Gravity is not your friend.

How much weight are you carrying on your climb?  Only the essentials?  Anything extra?  Are you carrying baggage that won’t be used?  Why?  Carrying all that extra baggage isn’t helping you reach your summit.

What about your fellow climbers, especially those closest to you?  How much extra baggage are they carrying?  How much of it is yours?

The best strategy for extra baggage (and its unnecessary weight) is to avoid packing it in the first place.

 

 

Photo Credit:  Alan Arora, who owes me some details on how he was able to be in the cockpit jump seat of an Airbus A319 at the perfect time to capture such a beautiful shot of Mount Everest.

What the Flock is Going on Here!?!?

Which are you, predator or prey?

Lots of animals live and move in groups.  Cows, sheep, wildebeest, mackerel, geese, humans…just to name some examples.  We’ve come up with lots of names for these groupings:  herd, flock, school, gaggle, gang, company, industry trade group, union, political party.

Each of these groupings have one primary purpose:  defense.  There is safety in numbers, or so the saying goes.  Groups moving in unison appear larger to predators.  Their coordinated movements confuse and intimidate those who would otherwise do harm to the individuals in the group.

When predators attack, they pick the weakest and most vulnerable in the group to attack first.  That’s okay with the group, since protection of the group as a whole is paramount.  Any particular individual is less important than the survival of the entire group.

Predators often travel alone.  Eagles, bears, cheetahs, sharks, jaguars, Tesla…all loners.  Sure, some predators travel in groups.  Lions have their pride.  Wolves have their pack.  Orcas and dolphins have their pods.  The primary goal of a predator, whether alone or in a group, is offense.  They work in a coordinated effort to maximize return on their energy investment…capturing the most prey with the least amount of energy output.

Nothing is safe in the animal kingdom.  The food chain takes no prisoners.  The hunter often becomes the hunted.  The same is true in human enterprises.  In the (hopefully) never ending capitalist cycle of invention, construction, destruction, re-invention, and reconstruction, the roles of predator and prey can switch on a moment’s notice.

An instinctive drive for safety leads to new alliances.  Predators who would never think of joining a defensive flock are drawn in by the promise of safety from some new, common enemy.  Defense against the enemy becomes the rule of the day.  Thoughts of maximizing return on investment, or re-inventing the future, are replaced by a focus on defending the status quo of the flock.

In a uniquely human twist, the defensive flock may even take on a new mission.  The defensive flock goes on offense.  This flock actively seeks out the lone predators, the re-inventors.  They marshal all of their creative energy toward destroying predators before their new ideas wreak havoc on the flock.  Protection of the group is all that matters.  The individual is less important.

Which are you?  Predator or prey?  Loner, or flock member?  Are you a former predator, now seeking the safety of a new flock?  Are you defending the status quo, or throwing in with the crazies who are re-inventing the future?  Are you on offense, or defense?

Are you making this choice for yourself, or are you allowing the flock to make the decision for you?

Wanna Learn Something? Think Like a Teacher!

You try to listen and stay focused. Your mind wanders a bit. You force it back in line. After all, there may be something useful here that you can apply to your work…

You’re sitting in a training class.  The instructor is describing some new set of management concepts or the latest system enhancements.  You try to listen and stay focused.  Your mind wanders a bit.  You force it back in line.  After all, there may be something useful here that you can apply to your work.

Later, someone asks you how the class went.  You shrug your shoulders, reporting that you learned a couple of new things.  You then have trouble describing what you’ve learned.  Not an inspiring endorsement.

Imagine the same training class.  But, now you’re there to learn the material well enough to present the same class to another group next week.

You don’t get to pick and choose what applies to your work.  You need to learn the subject in its entirety.  Preparing to teach a subject requires active learning.  You’ll watch how the material is presented, the visual aids and examples the presenter uses, and the way the presenter moves around the room.  Nothing less than full mastery of the information will suffice.  Anything less could lead to failure when it’s your turn to teach.

Do yourself a favor.  Prepare like a teacher, learn like a teacher, and think like a teacher.  The truth is, you will be teaching this class next week…to yourself, as you try to remember and apply what you learned in the class.

Curiosity and Zombies

Curiosity is better than shotguns…

Are you genuinely interested in how something works, why things happen, what people think?

Do you look at articles describing how some industry you’re not a part of is facing a new market or regulatory challenge?

Are you entertained to learn that Starbucks Frappuccinos and iced coffees may be changing ice cube usage customs in Europe?

Do you click on links to articles about Africapitalism and venture philanthropy?

Have you ever imagined what it would be like to “fly” off a cliff wearing a Wingsuit?

Do you wonder how the education systems of the US can be improved by the proliferation of MOOC’s and alternative learning services like Udacity, Khan Academy, and others?

Do you marvel at how a rocket engine made mostly of solid rubber can power a spaceship launch?

Do you look at things as they are, and imagine how they could be changed by process improvements, new inventions, or new technology?

Are you an “early adopter” of new ideas?

The ultimate question is:  Are you curious?

The happiest and most successful people I know are curious.  They choose to be explorers in a modern world.  Pursuing answers to what, where, who, how, and (of course) why is what makes them tick.  Their curiosity is the key to an engaged existence.

They may not find, nor like, all of the answers.  That doesn’t stop their insatiable curiosity to learn more.

Show me someone lacking curiosity for life, and I’ll show you the closest thing to a living, breathing member of the walking dead.  Who knew curiosity would be better than shotguns against zombies?

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