Category Archives: Decision Making

The Power of Chaos

Chaos is easy to create.  Eliminate judgment, eliminate priorities, and you’ve set the stage for a good dose of chaos.

Chaos is seductive.  It gives the appearance of action while preventing forward progress.

All the planning, all the preparation, all the foresight…none of it will prevent chaos when we give it control.

Chaos provides excellent camouflage for mediocre results.

After all, how can I be held accountable when all around me is chaos?  If I’m able to deliver any results amidst all the chaos, I’m a hero.  It doesn’t matter if my results are of the highest quality or even the desired quantity.

Look around you.  Is your work environment chaotic?  What about your personal time?  Chaotic?

Is all this chaos creating a positive environment for the changes you want, or is it sapping energy and stopping progress?

The secret to chaos is that you own the choice.  You decide how chaotic your life is.  You have the power over chaos, even when it appears that chaos is in control.

When you choose your priorities, choose what gets your attention, choose what to ignore, and choose what to eliminate, you take back control from chaos.

Be careful…

As you consciously take steps to eliminate chaos, you will be held accountable for the results you should be producing, instead of the results you sneak past all the chaos.

In the end, living in chaos is easier than being truly effective…probably why so many people choose it.

 

Photo by Erik Eastman on Unsplash

 

 

Microwaves and Slow Cookers

I recently heard someone make reference to their art not being microwaved.  Their art is the kind that comes from a slow-cooker.

An interesting concept.

The food (or drink) that we place in a microwave is already mostly prepared.  We aren’t interested in the process.  We just want it to be hot, and we’ve relied on someone else to handle the actual work of preparation.

With the slow cooker, it’s up to us.  We choose the ingredients.  We do the preparation.  Separately, the ingredients just sit there…waiting to be part of something.  But, blended properly, with the right amount of time and heat (energy), those separate ingredients (hopefully) combine to create something unique and tasty.

The microwave measures its cooking time in 30-second increments.  Hot dogs wrapped in a damp napkin take about a minute.  Popcorn takes three to four minutes.  Organic brown rice from Trader Joe’s takes four minutes.

Slow-cooking time is measured in hours.  Six hours is usually too short.  Eight to ten hours gets it right.

And, what about the accompaniments?  With a microwave cooking cycle, there’s only time to get your plate ready, find a clean fork, and maybe pour a glass of your favorite beverage.  Linear and task-focused.

Slow-cooking provides time for the cook to consider what goes best with the main dish.  What shall we have for dessert?  Would a loaf of fresh French bread go well with this stew?  The fullness of the dining experience is in play.

Neither method is perfect.

Ever burn popcorn in the microwave?  If so, you know how quickly it can happen.  Something so simple becomes a lump of smoking charcoal.

Slow-cooking disasters are equally possible.  Your reward for that ten-hour wait may be something that’s not even edible (at least for anyone who has taste buds).

Both methods have their place.  Both carry risk.

The question is how are you deciding which parts of your life to microwave, and which parts to slow-cook?

A tougher question might be:  Are you making the choice, or allowing someone else to make the choice for you?

What’s it Gonna Take?

Questions that (should) open our thinking to new possibilities:

  • Why?
  • Why not?
  • How might we?
  • Why don’t we?

Questions that point us toward solutions:

  • Which strategy fits best?
  • What if we…?
  • How do we get started?
  • How can we make this work?

The real question to be answered before anything actually happens:

What’s it gonna take?

What’s it gonna take to:

  • Start?
  • Find the girl (or boy) of my dreams?
  • Buy this house?
  • Get the job I want?
  • Forgive?
  • Get this project moving?
  • Get this person hired?
  • Run a marathon?
  • Find the real meaning in life?
  • See the Eiffel Tower?  Iceland?  The Northern Lights?
  • Stop pretending we have it all figured out?

Each decision, each action, and each direction you choose carries a cost.

That cost will be in dollars, time, energy, commitment, pride, comfort, or a combination of these.  There’s also the opportunity cost associated with choosing one direction over another.

The biggest cost often isn’t in dollars.  It’s in our pride and comfort.

How much time will you give to an idea?  What if you’re wrong?  Are you willing to risk embarrassment?  Is it worth thousands of dollars to see the Eiffel Tower?  Are you willing to step outside your comfort zone to try something new?

There’s no such thing as a free decision.  And, the decision not to decide carries its own costs.

The challenge is understanding what it’s gonna take, and having the willingness to pay.

The Bargains We Make

I came across this classic poem recently:

My Wage

I bargained with Life for a penny,

And Life would pay no more,

However I begged at evening

When I counted my scanty store.

For Life is a just employer,

He gives you what you ask.

But once you have set the wages,

Why, you must bear the task.

I worked for a menial’s hire,

Only to learn dismayed,

That any wage I had asked of Life,

Life would have willingly paid.

–by Jessie Belle Rittenhouse (1869-1948)

My Question for You

What is your bargain with Life?

Are you working for a penny, or something more?

How about your end of the deal?

Are you even keeping score?

If we get out of Life,

Only what we ask,

I say go for the Moon,

And reach for the stars.

But, are you willing to bear the task?

Will This Be On The Test?!?!

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?

I don’t have time to think!

I heard this phrase the other day.  To be fair, the manager saying it was joking.  However, about fifteen minutes into our discussion, her phone buzzed and she (almost compulsively) checked it.  She looked up and apologized that she needed to respond.  It would only take a minute.

After finishing her response, she was back and totally focused on our discussion.  Where were we, anyway?  I wasn’t exactly sure, but I did write the following in my meeting notes:

I don’t have time to think, I’m too busy responding.

Have you fallen into this trap?  Are you so busy responding that you don’t have time to think?  Thinking takes time, energy, and discipline.  Responding requires only two of these resources.  Guess which one’s missing when all we do is respond.  Discipline.

Discipline is a choice.  Discipline helps us consciously think about the world as it comes at us.  Discipline provides the space to consider alternatives, and imagine new possibilities.  Discipline helps determine if a response is needed at all.

I Got in a Fight Today (almost)

As a crazy trail runner, I look forward to days like today.  My truck’s outside temperature reading showed 93 degrees as I embarked on my run.  I planned to take the slightly less strenuous route, which meant I’d save the biggest hill climbs for the middle part of the run, rather than the beginning.  As usual, I stopped at each bench for a round of push-ups…ten at each bench, rather than the usual fifteen.  Giving myself a break in the heat seemed like a good plan.

My run up Big Red, the highest peak in the park, had gone well, meaning  I was able to make it to the top without stopping.  The good news is there’s a bench at the top, so I was obliged to stop and do push-ups, and catch my breath.  I looked forward to descending the back side of Big Red, and reaching the turnaround point where I’d be heading into the wind.  Running into the wind, and catching a bit of shade from the trees next to the trail would help me cool off and recover from the first couple miles of the run.

I had just started enjoying the shady portion of the run when all of a sudden a guy on a mountain bike whizzed by me on the left.  In fact, he was so close that he actually clipped my left elbow on his way by.  I yelled,”IT’S ON THE LEFT, JACKASS!  TRY HAVING SOME TRAIL MANNERS!”  I didn’t think he heard anything and I continued down the trail.

As I came up to the only bench with a roof (we refer to it as The Bus Stop), there was Mr. Mountain Biker.  He was off his bike, and seemed to be waiting for me.  I thought about just running by, acting oblivious.  But, it was a bench, and I’m required to do at least ten push-ups at each bench.

I approached the bench and just as I started my push-ups, Mr. Mountain Biker asked, “What’s the deal with you?  You veered across the trail just as I was about to pass!  What were you yelling?”

I finished my ten push-ups, and took a nice swig of water from my water bottle.  Maybe I should have skipped this bench was the first thought that came in to my mind.  I generally like my runs to be solitary affairs.  There’s nothing like pushing against my physical limits to clear my mind.  “Have you seen the signs around the park?  Bikers yield to runners, and runners and bikers yield to horseback riders.”  I caught my breath and continued, “I didn’t hear you coming since you didn’t say ‘ON YOUR LEFT’ like most bike riders do.”  Then came the fighting words before I could stop them.  “Do you know anything about trail etiquette?”

That last question didn’t sit well with Mr. Mountain Biker.  He tossed his bike aside. “I asked you what you were yelling at me, butthead!”  He stepped toward me, and I thought he was about to shove me in the chest like seventh graders do at the beginning of fights.

I stepped back to avoid the shove that I knew was coming.  He stopped short and stood there, waiting for me to escalate.  I couldn’t help noticing that I was about six inches taller and at least 50 pounds heavier than Mr. Mountain Biker.  I think my subconscious mind noticed as well and that’s when the words started flowing.  “Buddy, you picked the wrong guy to mess with.  Sure, I’m a trail runner, but this is just for conditioning.  My real hobby is Jiu Jitsu, and I’m a personal injury attorney, always looking for new plaintiffs.”

He stepped back a couple steps.  I’m not sure if it was the Jiu Jitsu part, or the attorney part, that scared him the most.

“My trainer is going to love this!  I actually get to use some of the submission moves he’s been teaching me, outside the gym!

He stepped back another couple of steps, and moved to pick up his bike. “Dude, relax!”

“I am relaxed!  I just wanted you to know what you’re up against.  Besides, I’m the one who got hit, so I’m trying to figure out what your deal is.”

Mr. Mountain Biker was looking for the quickest way to exit the scene.  “Sorry about your arm.  I’ll be more careful next time.”  He hopped on his bike and headed down the trail…luckily in the opposite direction from where I wanted to go.

Thankfully, the rest of my run was uneventful.

As I listed my hobbies for Mr. Mountain Biker, I failed to list my favorite.  Fiction writer.  Fiction writing is basically writing lies for fun (and profit, if anyone buys your stories).

I am a trail runner.  I occasionally watch a UFC fight, but the blood makes me queasy.  My friends never let me live down the time I actually fainted while watching a UFC fight.  I work with corporate lawyers on a regular basis, but I’ve never even met a personal injury attorney.

Oh yeah, about Mr. Mountain Biker.  He doesn’t exist either.  Isn’t fiction great!

Patented Buggy Whips

smiling-horse

“Press Release,” circa, 1899: 

 Consolidated Buggy Whip Announces New Patented Manufacturing Process

It’s a big day at Consolidated Buggy Whip.  With our new, patented manufacturing process, the company will have a competitive advantage over all other buggy whip manufacturers.  Anthony Johnson, President of Consolidated Buggy Whip, stated, “Our patented manufacturing process cuts our production costs by more than half.  This is exactly the advantage we need in order to capture new market share, and effectively corner the market for buggy whips.”

We are also pleased to announce that our two leading competitors have proposed a merger with Consolidated.  This is a sure sign that Consolidated’s patented manufacturing process will ensure its position as the undisputed leader in the buggy whip market for years to come.

* * *

If you are even a casual student of history, you know what was happening around the turn of the century.  Automobiles were being invented and would soon replace the horse and buggy.  Our fictitious company, Consolidated Buggy Whip, was about to face its biggest threat.  They were facing down a disruptive innovation and either didn’t realize it, or chose to ignore it.

Recent history is riddled with companies, and even entire industries, that have been displaced by the introduction of disruptive innovations.  Tower Records, Borders Books, Kodak, Nokia, Circuit City, and Newsweek are just a few that come to mind.  Ironically, some of these companies were originally disruptors.  Unfortunately, they allowed themselves to be displaced by newer disruptors.

Vigilance, curiosity, and creativity are required for an organization to avoid, or even create, disruptive innovations.  Complacency and ignorance are sure ways to invite new disruption.

The competitive landscape you think you understand isn’t the only one that matters when it comes to disruptive innovation.

TEDx ChapmanU

TED Photo

I heard about TED talks from a friend many years ago.  TED was 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 18 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.  We heard today that TED talks have over one billion combined views.

Janet and I were excited to see a TED event in person today at Chapman University.  Our youngest daughter, Jennifer, is home from school for a couple weeks, so an added bonus was having her attend with us.

Here’s a quick taste of what we learned today from the fourteen speakers (twelve “live,” and two on video), in no particular order:

Shawn Achor told us that 90% of our happiness is internal, 10% from our surroundings.  He also said that people who view stress as a challenge and not a threat are much happier.  He was incredibly funny, and one of the fastest talkers I’ve ever seen.

Phil Hansen told us to embrace the shake.  He is an artist with a condition that makes his hand shake.  He left his art for about three years because of it.  When he went to a doctor to see what could be done, the doctor informed him that nothing could be done, and that he recommended that Phil embrace the shake.  Phil found that by embracing our limits, we find ways to go beyond them.  Let go of outcomes, failures and imperfections.  Don’t be encumbered by results.  Show up for the process and allow the limitations to harness your creativity.  His artwork is awesome.

Allyn Rose talked about her decision to have a double mastectomy to prevent getting breast cancer.  She had lost three family members, including her mother, to breast cancer.  As she said, the odds were very high that she would be afflicted by the disease at some point.

Lisa Sparks talked about improving healthcare-related communications.  80% of all medical errors are a result of communication problems.  She talked about ways for the healthcare provider, the patients, and the patient’s family to arrive at shared meanings on the wide array of topics that surround a person’s health and their healthcare decisions.

Ali Nayeri discussed String Cosmology Theory as a basis for understanding the universe.  He showed how the theory can be used to describe the behavior of galaxies in multiple dimensions, not just flat like the current theories would dictate.  It was at this point that he lost at least half of the audience, including me.  I felt like I recovered when he showed a diagram of two universes flowing from one side to another through a symbolic sideways hourglass.  The idea is that there are really two universes with one contracting and the other expanding.  The point where they cross looks to the observer like an origin, or singularity (the Big Bang).  He showed how String Theory supports the existence of these two universes and that there wasn’t really ever a Big Bang.

Jennifer Sullivan talked about Frictionology.  Between 1860 and 1890, 500,000 patents were issued.  This was 10x more than the previous 70 years combined.  During that time, she said that there was limited competition, and no friction.  With competition, people get choices, and there is friction.  Understanding friction is important, since friction is where the money is made.  Good friction equals access to, and curation of, the good stuff, and dumping of the bad stuff.  People have discovered that content is the best way to sell other stuff.  She ended her talk by saying that a big trend now is not Do It Yourself, but Make it Yourself.  Consumers want the tools and they will make the rest.

Michael Goldsby talked about the future of medicine.  With the ubiquity of smart phones and other easy-to-use data capture devices, it’s  possible to capture a tremendous amount of data about a person in real time.  All of this real time data can be analyzed to create actionable insights for the patient.  He talked about how smart phones and their apps can become a digital sixth sense from a medical perspective, and can be a foundational part of the coming Internet of Everything.

Kathy Thomson talked about her company, the LA Times, and the things they are doing to remain relevant and valuable in the age of digital delivery.  She said that the challenge for them isn’t so much the content, but ensuring that they can put it where, when, and how the reader wants it.  She discussed the maverick/mainstream paradox.  How do they innovate in sometimes radical directions, while continuing to preserve their mainstream values that make their content so valuable.

Prince Gomolvilas, the only Thai-American playwright (according to himself), talked about maintaining your integrity and your ideals, even when faced with overwhelming financial threats.  He told a riveting story about a play he wrote for a “very fancy private school” in the Bay Area for their 8th grade class.  The theme of the play ran counter to what the school’s largest donors thought was acceptable.  He had a choice of either modifying his play and its theme, or keeping it as originally written.  The potential consequence was alienating the large donors and causing huge financial harm to the school.  You will have to watch the video on the TED website to learn what he decided.

The Orange County Youth Symphony Orchestra had two of their percussion representatives perform an extremely complicated drum duet, based on a native American rhythm.  They didn’t say anything and let their instruments do all the talking.

Kristen Howerton told us about being in Haiti with her six-month-old daughter, visiting her soon-to-be-adopted son on the day of the horrific earthquake.  To cope with the devastation, and her inability to do anything except care for her daughter and soon-to-be son, she focused attention on packing and re-packing her suitcase so she’d be ready to leave whenever a plane became available.  It became a diversion and coping mechanism for her.  The “punch line” to the story:  when a plane was available at the US Embassy, there was no room for any luggage, and she had to give up her coping diversion in order to get home.  She related this to other diversions in our lives, like the internet.  She called the internet the diversion to end all diversions, and said that we need to be willing to leave it behind enough to take the time to experience the feelings of real life.  As a psychologist, she said, “The only way to work through crappy feelings is to walk through crappy feelings.”  Diversions often prevent this process.

Mark Pampanin talked about why being an icon isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  Specifically, he discussed the tokenizing of gay men.  Look at most television shows…he described the “token” gay man in every show.  As a gay man, he said that he’d rather we all just treat each other as people, and not the “token anything.”

Liz Fiacco discussed transferrable skills, specifically the skills we hone using computer games, and their application to our real lives.  The power of games comes from their rapid teach and test cycles.  She proposed greater use of computer games as teaching tools.  She described how a computer game was used to figure out how to fold proteins within a few weeks, after being something that stumped scientists for years.

Reggie Gilyard talked about leadership in the New Normal World of Rapid Change.  He talked about Circuit City, Egypt, and Lehman Brothers.  All are organizations that were unable to respond to the rapid changes happening around them.  CEO’s set direction, organize, select people, motivate, and establish systems and processes for their companies to operate.  Running through all of these tasks is the need to establish signals that allow them to see and manage risks, manage time, and understand their customers’ behaviors.  Think fast, and move faster.

Gwynne Shotwel talked about the need for increased investment and focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education in the US.  Engineers are never satisfied, they always want to improve on what they’ve built.  The best solutions are the simplest ones…less complexity wins.  If only one person can do something, that means that someone else can too.  She related this to how her company, SpaceX, decided to build heat shielding tiles in-house since there was only one supplier out there, and they didn’t want to get “screwed” by that sole-source provider.  She peppered her talk with video highlights of SpaceX’s rockets.  Rockets are cool.

I highly recommend attending a TED event.

Whack-a-Mole

Whack-a-mole

If you’ve spent any time in an arcade, bowling alley, or Dave and Buster’s, you’ve probably seen a Whack-a-Mole game.

The player uses a mallet to whack “moles” in the head as they pop up randomly from under the “ground” in front of them.  The moles appear and disappear randomly, sometimes popping-up all at once, one-at-a-time, two-at-a-time, etc.  The winner is the player who whacks the most moles in sixty seconds.

It’s a simple game, and can be lots of fun.  When multiple moles pop-up simultaneously, players have to decide which ones to whack before they all disappear.  There isn’t much time to formulate strategy, or anticipate where the next mole will appear.  It’s all about reaction time, and a bit of hand-eye coordination.

Whack-a-Mole is fun in an arcade.  Unfortunately, many people live their lives like a huge Whack-a-Mole game.  They’re always busy, whacking moles, and constantly on guard for the next one that pops-up.

There’s no time to think.  No time to strategize or find creative solutions.  No time to ask for help.  No time to address root causes…only time to react.  It’s not important that the same issues pop-up over and over.  It’s all about reaction time.

If you’ve allowed your days to become a large Whack-a-Mole game, do yourself a favor.  Put down the mallet.  Look up from the game.  Take time to think.  Take time to prioritize.

Chances are you’ll start to see beyond the urgent and put your focus where it matters most…on the important.