February 23, 2016

Thoughts on Measuring Time

I have just read Bill and Melinda Gates 2016 Annual Letter.  They talk about how time and energy are two of the more important topics which need to be tackled to help save lives and make the world a more equitable place.  I recommend you read it.

After reading the letter I had a thought which has come to me multiple times over the years.  The relationship between advancements in technology and the time these advancements give us via the efficiencies they bring.  To sum up Bill and Melinda's letter very crudely I can say it is about making reliable, low cost energy available to more people so that they can take advantage of technological advances which minimize certain tasks and which permit a lengthening of the productive day and thus giving their users time.

Of course this is completely true.  Energy allows pumps to work which allow water to flow closer to homes therefore reducing or eliminating the need to walk to water sources and carry it back.  The ability to cook with energy other than wood, for example, allows for less time spent collecting wood. Machines to clean and dry clothes facilitate and shorten the time spent on laundry.  A light bulb allows individuals more hours to study or work.  Technological advancements require energy and they tend to make us more efficient at getting things done - theoretically giving us more time.

They don't give us more time though.  And that is the key to my thought.

Time is all we human beings really have.  If all goes well, in Canada, we get about 80 years worth of it when we are born.  Then we die.  This makes time the most valuable commodity we come across in our lives - because it truly is finite and our lives depend on it and little else.  Time is our life.  Commodity is the wrong descriptive however as it implies that we can somehow trade time - buy it and sell it.  Of course we really can't.  It is the illusion that we can which makes this economic world go round.

The 80 years we receive at birth are ours and ours alone.  I can't buy an extra 5 years and why would I want to sell any of it?  We can increase our chances of living the full 80 years via healthy and meaningful living of course.  Okay...we might be able to stretch the 80 years to 90.  Key word is might.  There are a whole bunch of reasons why the 80 years can be cut to 70 or less as well.

Giving time an economical value has simplified the decision making we undertake when faced with a decision on where to spend our time.  We face this decision multiple times a day.  Equating time to currency simplifies matters a whole lot by allowing us to easily determine what is the most cost effective way or the way that will generate the most currency.  The result is that we have ended up creating a society that values currency and we, therefore, end up spending much of our time working so that we can then buy technologies that give us more time which, in turn, we tend to spend working so that we can earn more money to spend on more technologies.  We are making the right decisions it would seem.  Time is money, so let's make money!  We spend our time earning money and gaining efficiencies.  It seems to always boil down to economics.  Of course this is a system that has worked well for as long as man has been on Earth.  We have divided tasks up, specialized and priced everything.  It has been particularly effective in the last two centuries of course, though one could argue that it has come at a great cost as well.

So let's switch gears now.

When we look at a carrot, or any other foodstuff, we look at it as a commodity which will feed us.  It costs us money and delivers nutrition.  We rarely if ever think about where it came from, who grew it or the nutrients it provides us.  It is "just" food and we don't give it a second thought.

Do we ever stop to think about what time really is.  Do we give it a second thought?  What is its source?  What is it?

It is our life.  It is all we have.  Our thoughts, our breath, our sadness, our happiness....they are all time.  They are time because they take time.  Every second you spend thinking and living, feeling and breathing is time.  However we measure it only when spent earning or spending money.  What about all those other hours.  Are they a waste of time?  Does society measure those hours?

Time should be used wisely.  Our thoughts consume it.  Our actions devour it.  We use it up without much thought.  Is time something we should be using and putting to work?  Should we spend more time just thinking about what we have and being content?  Most of the technological advancements give us time back but we don't seem to ever bank it to think and create.  We take it to do more of the same.  The economic value of time is fairly easy to measure and goes into costing pretty much all the goods and services we consume.

Time is however a much more complex thing to measure - using currency as its sole measure demeans it.  When you equate time to life itself it becomes harder to quantify in economic terms. Decision making on where and how to spend it become more complicated.  There is a spiritual aspect to it that can't be so easily quantified into an economic currency.  Can time be measured in happiness?  Could it be measured in units of contentment?  If we permitted ourselves to, and found ways to, measure it using these other units in addition to the traditional currency would we spend our time differently?

Global happiness indices are still not taken very seriously.  The financial markets want currency and we tend to value most everything in the financial markets.  As the prevalent measure today is a currency those that measure their time using other units are often considered crackpots, weirdos, wing nuts or new age freaks.

Maybe they're not.

So now when I think back to Bill and Melinda's letter I can't help but hope that, for all the advancements in technology and the efficiencies energy and time bring, the one thing that the recipients of time and energy need to try and avoid is to become slaves to the machines and systems which provides the energy and time.  We had better learn to measure or, rather, not forget how to measure, our time in units other than currency.  If not, the advancements may not bring us the happiness, contentment and spirituality we seem to crave.

When you are eighty and you've spent all those years running out of time to gain currency you might regret that you did not spend more time thinking like a freak!

Let me know what you think about what you have just read. Please and thanks!

February 20, 2016

iPhone Too Good? A Lesson.

I have just finished reading an article on Forbes.com which makes a link between declining sales and the quality of the iPhone.  Apple is taking a hit not only on Wall Street but also in the press.  Reports of Apple company valuation, of lack of new products, lack of innovation and maturing are the latest rage.  The company has also been blamed over the years for purposely obsoleting its products and forcing people to upgrade.

All of these arguments I think highlight the fundamental problem with our economy.  It is so overwhelmingly controlled by investors and the business news who consistently value profit growth over quality.  Listening to Wall Street the best thing for Apple would be for all of its customers to upgrade their phones every year.  This would drive revenue, profits and would be music to the ears of those analysts.  Ka-ching!

Building a quality product that consumers want to keep and - crazy talk! - repair rather than throw out is the last thing that a single-minded analyst would want Apple to develop.  The problem is that Apple's products are of great quality.  I am still using my iPhone 4S.  It look like new, it works great and I can continue to use (some of) the new features that the latest versions of iOS offer.  It turns out that a large part of Apple's customers are hanging on to their old phones.  Will they upgrade en masse to the rumoured March 5SE iPhone?  Many will.  But there are also many who will likely continue to use their old devices.  Is that really a problem?

Building products that last needs to become a priority again.  Appliances should not have 10 year life spans....they could have 20-30 year lifespans.  Should we replace our cars every three years when leases expire?  Do we build our homes to last multiple generations or are we happy for them to last only a few decades?

Sure economies need to grow so that all benefit from this growth - that is the theory.  The easy way to make money is to sell more and create new products that people need, or are made to believe they need.  It is also much easier for consumers to part with their cash when products are inexpensive (and therefore lack the quality they could have).  We settle.

We settle for easy, we settle for cheap.

When raising children it is not easy to remind them of manners, of respect, of playing nice, of thinking of others and sharing.  Left to our devices we are animals who want to survive - it is our instinct to look after our selves first and the community second.  Saying "no" to our children is not easy....turning a blind eye is easier for parents.  But what are the long-term consequences?  Egotistical brats.

As a society we need to say No more often.  No to the new phone, to that marketing trash we are sold, to Wall Street begging for growth.  We need to say Yes to quality, to long-term thinking and to the impact of our actions on our world.  Apple...please continue to build quality into your products.  You may not sell as many (you sell enough anyway!) but is there anything really wrong with that?

Anyhow....these are the ideeahs that Forbes.com sparked in me today.

Let me know what you think about what you have just read. Please and thanks!

January 23, 2016

How to Deliver Influence

Over the last week I have been wondering about what we learn and how we make use of this knowledge in our lives.  Much of my thoughts have centred on whether our approach to education is in fact giving us the knowledge we need in our daily lives.  Are we really gaining knowledge?  Are we simply being told how to accomplish a given task?  Are we being educated on the possible conclusions or just the one conclusion of the lesson - the educator's conclusion?  In other words are we learning to come to our own conclusions?  Are we able to, with what we are being taught, to really make the material our own, to synthesize it and to assimilate it into a true understanding?  To take all of this data and understand.  To come up with our own way and our own conclusion.  Are we always being asked to conform?  Do we need conformity?

I have had many such conversations at work over the last days and, coincidentally, I came across some TED Talks by Sir Ken Robinson two days ago.  Those conversations and videos have solidified in my mind the importance of changing how we educate people so that we can make education as individualistic as possible.   So that the students not only learn a process, steps or method but truly understand why to follow the process, steps, method and how to make those things as real to them based on their own strengths and weaknesses.

Let me be specific.  I work in an organization that is evolving from being one that has delivered basic, simple and generic remote services to its customers to one that now delivers more complex product and sales help.  We are in the midst of moving from being measured on what we deliver and the quantity of delivery to being measured on the business result - not the steps along the way.  The process, steps, method matter less.

The issue is that in life, whether in primary and secondary schools or in corporate education, we are generally taught what the steps are and not what the objective is.  We are given presentations and scripts and dates to memorize and follow.  Rarely are alternative methods shared.  Are we ever told to solve a problem using whatever methods or tools we can come up with?  This only happens in special workshops when outside help is brought in to show us an alternative approach.  No, in school we are told there is one way to do it.  The supposed best, most efficient, tried and tested way developed over the years.  As a result many assume there is no better way and follow the given steps.

If, rather, we educated on the desired result and, in addition to learning the tried and tested way we were shown how different people have synthesized and assimilated the information and made it their own, we would find a way that is more authentic to our own abilities.  If the learning involved trying one's own methods first and allowed failure and iteration would we come out with a better understanding of the problem at hand?  It would promote problem solving using methods which come naturally to the individual.  The point is that you could follow whatever path you are comfortable with and therefore more likely to comprehend and later explain.  Rather we are told to get in line and follow.

Of course, as we age, we eventually do start developing our own different steps and methods.  Our confidence grows.  But businesses can't wait for careers and life to teach employees.  They need to adapt quickly.  So we create process and steps.

There are some tasks where clearly conformity is required.  When you build a product every single one of those needs to be identical, of the same quality.  They are built to specifications and purchased based on those specifications.  However when the job is delivering a service which is meant to influence human behaviour conformity loses importance.  Each interaction is unique because we are dealing with human beings who each have their unique specifications.  The listener and person you are influencing are complex.  They have changing moods from one conversation to the next and one day to the next.  They have different ways of interpreting information.  Their daily context varies.  We each have different ways of approaching problem solving and getting stuff done.

The most effective human to human interactions can't be taught and there is no right way to go about them.  The best communication is when both parties connect, adapt to each other - nevertheless remaining authentic - accept their differences and create a way that is unique to that specific conversation on that specific day.  It means constant adapting - like the tightrope walker making constant modifications as the wind shifts.  If that happens then real influence occurs and the service has a much greater chance of success.

In conclusion, the more varied the set of shared steps and processes are, the more open we are to various ways of achieving the objective, the less structured the processes are, the more we will be able to create our own, authentic and comfortable approach to reaching our objective and, in the case of business, the impacts we are looking for.

So let's complement training with coaching, mentoring, shadowing and flexibility in approach and give people the opportunity to create their own approach that will, in the longer-term, possibly positively impact the so called tried and tested approach!

Let me know what you think about what you have just read. Please and thanks!

January 12, 2016

Look A Stranger in the Eye (Pupil)

This post is about attitude and how it makes all the difference in the world.  Specifically this is about the attitude we bring to our daily routines and is based on three different men I have come across during my daily commute and one whom I have never met.  Each one made or makes the day just a tad bit better than it was - and they do it so simply.

One is a Montreal cop who I used to see regularly in the Griffintown area of the city.  The second is a parking attendant at the Bell Centre.  The third is a train conductor who used to work the line I ride to and from the city every day.  The last is a singer in a band.  They are all examples of how easy it is to build a short human connection with a stranger and make the world that much more united.

In every case they manage to, during a few seconds of interaction with fellow citizens, make a connection and put a smile on someone's face - well mine at least.

The cop's job, during the extremely busy construction season this past summer, was to direct traffic at intersections.  He brought life to his job and a smile.  As he let bus after bus through the intersection he'd make eye contact with the drivers, point at them, give then the thumbs up and a smile.  The drivers would return with a friendly wave or short honk of the horn.  He did not just sleeplessly guide vehicles around, he led drivers and pedestrians safely across the busy intersection and made a connection for a brief few seconds.

The parking attendant I am referring to directs cars in and out of the St-Antoine Street Bell Centre lot.  With a long "woooooo, wooooooo" scream he gets our attention and directs cars to stop to let others in or out, stops traffic to let pedestrians cross the entrance and greets most of us with a "Bonsoir monsieur/madame.  Merci!" lifting his Montreal Canadiens' ball cap off his head.  Again a connection.  Pedestrians, drivers all greet him as they walk and drive by.

The conductor also managed to make a positive connection in a few seconds by reminding us all to keep smiling when he called out the last station or greeted us at the first.  He'd constantly walk the length of the train, saying hi and making eye contact with riders - smiling.  Most of us said "Hi" and smiled back.  Another easy connection made.

On the Live 2012 Coldplay concert video, Chris Martin makes a great point.  He talks about how the band has matured, grown confident and how they are no longer apologetic for their sound or music.  He states that they have outgrown the English upbringing they had which somehow reinforced this behaviour of apology and fear.  He states that on the 2012 tour they had finally gained the confidence so that, while on stage, he now looks into the eyes of hundreds of people every night - directly in their eyes during the show - and states that for that moment, for that second, a connection is made between him and that specific spectator.  Something magical happens.  Indeed....  And it is felt by both.

It seems does seem to take a certain amount of self-confidence to say "hi" to a total stranger.  We should all do it more often.  Look at someone in the eye, directly into the black of their pupils, and say "Hi!".

Let me know what you think about what you have just read. Please and thanks!

January 11, 2016

Bowie - Planet Earth is Blue.....

This is a quick memory about my childhood spurred on by the news of David Bowie's death.

I spent a good part of my elementary school years in my cousin's basement bedroom playing chess and listening to his records.  He was (still is!) nine years older than I and those formative years opened my eyes.  He had hundreds of albums.  The Beatles, Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin, Gentle Giant, Genesis, The Rolling Stones and so many other great artists and bands.  One of them was Bowie.

Of the first ten album I ever bought two of them were Bowie's.  The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars was one I bought new at either Sam the Record Man on Ste-Catherine or Phantasmagoria on Parc near Sherbrooke.  Cellophane wrapped with a 3.99 of 4.99 written in black marker across the cover.  The second was Diamond Dogs - I bought that one used at Cheap Thrills (can't remember if that store was on Mountain, Stanley, or Drummond....one of those three anyway).  That one likely cost a buck or so and seemed to be in good enough shape.

I clearly remember listening to them both lying on my bed face up staring at textured popcorn ceiling.  There was no need of meditation in those days.  It was music that carried me away and made me conscious of the moment - oblivious to past or future.

Future Legend opens up Diamond Dogs....

His music, his look, his eyes, his makeup, his sound, his weirdness.  I did not realize it when I was young but it was his uniqueness that made him special.  Provoking, passionate, insanely human and not afraid to show it.

Thanks.

Let me know what you think about what you have just read. Please and thanks!

January 9, 2016

That Dreaded Time of the Year - Evaluations!

We are in the midst of one of the most dreaded periods of the year in corporate life - end of year evaluations.  I have been reading more reports lately of companies dropping these reviews altogether and opting for continuous conversations and evaluations.  The last article I read was from The Economist World in 2016.  It states that Deloitte had calculated it wasted 2 million hours a year evaluating its 65000 employees.  At a relatively cheap $100 an hour that is $200 million of wasted time and money.  Wow.  This huge number of hours may not take into account the stress, uncertainty, escalations, debates and resulting sick leave and reduced productivity that might arise from the process - one that definitely does not generate any real benefits to either managers or employees.

I am thinking that this rigmarole that is followed by millions really has seen its day.  It may have been needed in the old days where managers never spoke to employees because a boss was a distant, suit wearing, chain-smoking, whiskey-drinking white man who ruled by fear and awe in an office with a door that was regularly shut.  He did not want to speak to employees and employees sure did not want to speak to him!  It required a Human Resource imposed structure that forced them to speak to once or twice a year.

Now that we live in a world where communication rules maybe it is no longer needed.  We now measure how someone does their job with as much weighting as what they are doing.  Emotional quotients (EQ), employee brand and employee engagement are spoken about regularly.  Conversations between employees and supervisors happen regularly, if not daily for some.  There is no need to catch-up once a year.  The stereotypical old bossman picture has been blown to bits by the world of the 21st century.

Let's have the courage and confidence to provide regular two-way feedback all year.

Let me know what you think about what you have just read. Please and thanks!

January 4, 2016

Is Our #Passion the Solution?

I just finished watching the first of a series of videos on a TED playlist entitled "Talks to watch when you don't know what to do with your life".  I have embedded the video below if you are interested in watching.

Larry Smith makes a pretty straightforward and simple point.  One that is painfully obvious but one that seems so impossible to achieve, live by or even simply attempt to pursue given the constraints and constructs which we all inject into our lives as individuals and as a group.  We fear being embarrassed by pursuing it, we fear losing everything we have, we think of "buts" and "if onlys".  We therefore so rarely pursue it.  It....is our PASSION.

In Avoiding the Blues I talk about the project being the monster.  The context is that when you are assigned to a project at work it can easily take over your every minute of every day for its duration unless you learn to manage your time and your effort.  It is so easy to lose ourselves in the job and forget about the bigger picture.  Similarly Larry talks about the "bloodsucking, soul destroying types of jobs".  We lose sense of who we are as we become engrossed by a project, employer or job that is convenient and "good enough".  If we don't nourish our brains on a regular basis.

The best many of us seem able to accomplish is to schedule time for our passions.  Is that good enough?  Or maybe is it that our passions are misguided?  Maybe we misconstrue our passions?  That'll be for another entry.....


https://www.ted.com/talks/larry_smith_why_you_will_fail_to_have_a_great_career

Let me know what you think about what you have just read. Please and thanks!