Archive for June, 2011

Persistence

June 30, 2011

Today, we watched more than a hundred senior athletes compete at a high level and raise the bar numerous times. When the award ceremony was over, there were dozens of reasons to have shed a tear, and not just because a relative had finished a race.

One particularly amazing feat was the 95 year old gentleman who set a Senior Games record in the 100 yard freestyle, posting a time that most of us would struggle to beat at half, or a third of his age. I found out from a swimmer staying at our hotel that a coach from her club, an 80 year old man, is still coaching, as well as swimming.

I spoke to him after the race and asked what I could do to start getting ready for Cleveland in 2013. His reply was what would expect from a coach.

1. Swim 50 yards without stopping.
2. Take a 15 second break and swim another 50 yards.
3. Repeat until you can do this for a half an hour without more than a 15 second break.
4. Do this routine three times a week.
5. When you are doing 50 yards without stopping, for two months, add 25 yards to your routine, still taking 15 seconds between sessions. Continue until you are doing a half an hour practice without having to stop for more than 15 seconds.
6. Work up to 4 lengths (100 yards) at a time, then 8 lengths.

His point was that one doesn’t get better until one is training beyond the point of being tired. But once you get comfortable with getting tired, it is just hard work.

I hope to see him again in Cleveland in 2013, even if my Mother does not compete. I hope to be in the pool as well. I expect I can learn how to practice persistence. It is the sort of habit that will make everything else I need to do that much easier, because I will have learned to keep going when I am tired.

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Ideas Building On Ideas

June 29, 2011

Yesterday down by the pool, I was trying to watch a TED talk by Charles Leadbeater. It was recorded back in 2005 and posted in 2007. I can’t figure out how to add a link from my iPhone so you’ll have to work it out yourself until I get back home and update this.

Anyway, here I am typing on my wonderful little keyboard watching text show up on my iPhone screen right there in the WordPress application. I bet it is even saving my updates every minute or so because the regular online version works that way. And why would an iOS version work any different.

(Excuse the aside, but someone out in the lobby of the atrium just started yodeling, making me want to get up and join them. But I suspect it will wake Mother. Guess I better stick to my task for the evening.)

Anyway, about three minutes into this talk by Charles Leadbeater, he starts talking about how “pro-am” efforts are changing product development. Very serious amateurs are coming up with ideas and just making them work. His description of collaboration hit me a different way, and made me remember some ideas I had when I was still working for a big company. No one there could understand them then and I suspect that even with Facebook and Twitter as examples I could quote now, they still wouldn’t get it. It’s something so innovative it boggles even my mind, and that is saying something.

Anyway, the idea builds on the current set of tools I want to build for individuals, and is only possible because of what will happen when a few dozen people have mastered the discipline required. That is when the magic happens, in several different ways. See how many of these ideas you think are impossible, and then stop for a moment and realize I am only sharing the ones I am not worried anyone could steal. Part of my confidence is that no one would ever believe I could find twenty people who would want to work as hard as I think we could work. Another part is that the initial premise is so far beyond the experience anyone has seen even on an extreme reality program. And that starting point is what we show people who are still outside of our reality distortion field.

Does the concept of this interest you?

I have no idea, so let’s try a little test. If the premise I have suggested above is something you want to hear more about, just add a comment to this blog posting. If more than three people want to hear more, I will say more about this. If not, then it isn’t time, and I will have learned something.

But trust me, if we ever make a movie of this, it won’t be anything like “The Social Network”. It will be a lot more fun and it will happen a lot faster. And doing it with friends or interested bystanders would be something I think we could test, if only to validate the basic principles.

Anyone want to find out more? Or am I talking to myself?

Testing a post with a picture

June 27, 2011

20110627-091854.jpg

Well, that was pretty easy. Why didn’t I try this blogging stuff earlier? A blabbermouth like me is in his element here. And now I can share our trip with the world if I want to.

Tiny Devices With Big Keyboards

June 27, 2011

Well, there was a certain amount of drama today getting to Houston. My sister called as I was driving to the airport, telling me she would not be able to come on the trip. Her gall bladder is acting up and she may have surgery tomorrow. But Mother and I kept up the campaign and met up in Charlotte.

Of course, it wasn’t actually that easy. My plane got delayed and Mother was coming in on the far side of the airport from our gate for Houston. I was a 10 minute walk away. They got a cart to take Mother to the gate and I arrived just as they were boarding her. I thought I was going to be able to sit with her in First Class, but when my sister cancelled her reservation they released her seat. So I ended up back in coach, where I would have been anyway.

Not having slept all that well last night, I was out like a light once the plane left the ground. An hour out of Houston, a flight attendant woke me up and Mother is there asking if I want to sit in First Class seat. There is too much breeze, and it is blowing on her. Of course I took her up on the offer. In my seat, there was less breeze for the athlete, who needs to preserve her strength for the events on Wednesday and Thursday.

We eventually got through baggage claim in Houston and got our rental car, a nice Ford Taurus. Found a Wendy’s to have dinner and got lost a couple of times trying to find the hotel. But it’s an adventure after all so we’re taking it in stride. We checked in, and after two tries got a room with two beds. All is well and relatively quiet, but Mother will probably wake up early and we’ll be at it all over again. She’s 89 and I can’t keep up with her.

However, doing this post seems to confirm my capability for blog posting with just my iPhone. The wireless keyboard is very nice. I think I’ll have to get one to keep, as I borrowed this one from a friend who went to Finland for five weeks. She may be in St Petersburg Russia by now. Everyone is traveling.

But back to the title of this post. I didn’t think it would work to use my iPhone for WordPress because the keyboard is so small. But a wireless keyboard is as good as my laptop. And it doesn’t weigh six pounds or make my legs hot when the battery is charging. I think I will be able to keep up this new habit quite nicely while I am away. Might even figure out how to add a picture to the blog, though I won’t try that today.

Sometimes technology just works. Not to sound like a broken record, but Apple products just work, and just work together. I can’t imagine using an Android and having this easy a time.

And so I end for the evening. I’ll post come comment about our registration process tomorrow, and maybe add some pictures of the hotel, downtown Houston, and the swimming venue. It’s much different from Palo Alto two years ago. That was idyllic (I didn’t know idyllic had two i’s at the end!) Houston is hot and may be hotter later in the week. It might be cooler when we get to California. But that is not until Saturday.

Running out of steam now. Only 10pm and I am falling asleep already. Got a big day ahead of us tomorrow so i may as well go to bed.

Night all. Sweet dreams.

Traveling Light

June 26, 2011

Tomorrow morning I drive to the airport for a two week vacation with my mother and sister. Under normal circumstances, I would take my MacBook Pro 17, my iPad, my iPhone, my iPod Nano, half a suitcase full of books to read and notebooks to write in. But I need to test out my new tool in a way that others may be using it in the future. So I’m going to be using the tool a little but testing the method in handwritten notebook. I figure that if I can’t do it on paper myself, what chance to I have convincing anyone else to do it that way. When I leave get in the car tomorrow, I will only have three books, my iPad and iPhone, and an analog version of my FileMaker Pro application. And I’ll have several of my favorite pens.

Why leave the laptop at home? Because if I take it with me, I might be tempted to change things while I am away. I already know that the current version of my tool is painfully slow to use on the iPad, but maybe that perception comes from having a full keyboard and a second monitor for my laptop. Will I be happy with the iPad and a wireless keyboard, typing on the tray of my seat in coach? If I’m not, I’ll get out the notebook and my favorite blue Pilot Precise V7 and scribble some notes.

But sometime tomorrow, I hope to draft a blog post in my application and be able to drop that into WordPress tomorrow evening. I might even write a couple of posts so I don’t have to think about what to say Tuesday or Wednesday. It will be busy those days, and Thursday as well, because my 88 year old mother will be swimming in the Senior Games. She won Gold and Silver medals in 2009 at the Palo Alto games, but may have less luck this time. A bunch of girls from the 80-84 age group “aged up” into her bracket, the 85-89 group. One of them does the 50 yard freestyle in less than a minute.

Mother is going to have a great time however, as we had shirts made for the three of us saying “Reigning Gold Medalist” so everyone is clear on her results in the past. I suspect we’ll wear the shirts all the time even after the event is over, so she has a chance to talk about it when people see us.

Life is funny sometimes. Here it is, twelve hours before I need to be at the airport and I haven’t started packing. Everything else is ready to go, but I haven’t even picked out which suitcase I need to use. I want to take as little as possible, but the second week we’ll be in Pasadena, California visiting cousins. Our brother is coming down with his family from Seattle, making it a mini-reunion. How does one pack for Texas and California when it will be 60 degrees here tonight, and raining? I hate hot weather, and have no idea what I will want to wear when I get there.

I suppose I could try the strategy that a recent TED speaker used. She only takes underwear when she visits a new place, then buys all her clothes at thrift shops as soon as she arrives. Of course, she has a fashion sense that call pull that off. What is an overweight 62 year old guy going to do at a thrift shop, other than ask about how well the clothes were washed before they were offered for sale?

Am I over my head taking a trip with so little in my suitcase? I suppose I need to find out and just get on with it.

If I’m not back tomorrow, it will probably be due to slow or minimal wireless access at our hotel. I can’t imagine writing a post on my iPad and forwarding it to my iPhone so I can post it that way, but if push comes to shove, that is what I will try.

And with that, I’m finished. Good night to you all. Sweet dreams.

Looking for (Meta) Data

June 25, 2011

This morning, Seth Godin inspired me again. His post got me to thinking about all the data I’m collecting and what I’ll be able to do with it at some point in the future. Maybe something will come to me while I’m on vacation, but I’ve already gotten at least one improvement from trying to go back to sleep. Here is what happened.

I got up for my morning biology break and came back to bed. Laid down, pulled the covers over me (it’s 65 and damp here today) and pulled my sleeping hat over my head. Made sure my digital voice recorder was nearby and let my mind wander. Sometimes this results in another half hour of sleep. Today there were two or three very good insights. Less than a minute each, but very insightful.

An hour later, I’m wide awake and there is no reason to avoid the inevitable. I get up, get dressed and come into the office to do my morning routine. Only I discover I didn’t finish things last night. I go through closing out all that stuff and start planning today. Added 116 things to my agenda. Five more are habits that carried over from yesterday. After building the desired agenda, I realize I am missing something HUGE that I haven’t seen in the past five weeks of using this new tool.

I don’t look back at the end of the day and evaluate how it went in general. I have several tasks to summarize some data, but there is no habit for just looking at what happened. Maybe this one finally emerged from the ooze because one of the ideas Seth inspired was a new field I think I want to add. This one is the Deming-ness of each Habit. Is it Planning, Doing, Checking or Acting? The opportunity to understand the data is there because the Habits are there, but I never thought of habits as having a Deming-ness to them. I added a Pareto-ness a few weeks ago, and an Ugliness a few days ago, and a Six Hat Thinking-ness in the beginning. But it never occurred to me to quantify the Deming-ness of what I was trying to habituate.

How much do you look at the data you collect about your day? Do you collect any data? None at all? Your calendar doesn’t have things you planned to do? Or do you have checkmarks next to the things you completed? That’s data, though it isn’t very useful. But it is a start.

Try this idea for a week.

  1. When you plan your day, count how many things there are
  2. When you get to the end of the day, count how many things you got done
  3. If you carry things over to the next day, count those as well
  4. If a thing gets carried over a second or third time, keep that count with the thing you aren’t getting around to doing
  5. At the end of the week, look at your data

Covey and Allen have great ideas about this stuff. I’ve read parts of both their books and my daily reflections come from Covey. But none of those make any difference if I don’t look at the data at the end of the day, at the end of the week, at the end of the month, and so forth. My behavior isn’t going to change if I don’t look at my own data and understand how that reflects the way I do things now. If I want the future to be different, I need to use MY data to help me change MY behaviors so that something changes. I track lots of things. How many of them are actually changing over time.

Okay, I only have five weeks of data thus far. But in that time, I’ve added an average of 90 agenda items to my “calendar” each day. Today was the biggest number yet, but I’m discounting that because I give up using my tool tomorrow night. But I’ll be carrying on the discipline I’ve accumulated in an analog version of my tool. The behaviors are what I’m trying to change. The data is what will help me fix that.

So why would someone who has innovative characteristics (high KAI, innovative MBTI) be so obsessed with data? Don’t low KAI and adaptive MBTI people usually get dragged into the ditch by data? I think the difference is that I want to use my data to understand where I am so that I can change the destination I reach. I don’t want to get to 90 and realize there were so many things I could have done if I had just (fill in the blank). If I don’t know where I am, how will I get to the place I want to go.

In one of Watts Humphreys books, he has a couple of sayings, with a Zen flavor to them:

  • If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will do
    Chinese Proverb
  • If you don’t know where you are, a map won’t help
    Watts S. Humphrey

How many of us pay any attention to where we are? What good is a significant dream if we don’t have a map for getting there?

That is what is so wonderful about retirement. I’ve been at it nearly four years and it gets better every day, because now I’m looking at my data about the previous day, week, and shortly month. I can see where I am and change where I’m going to be going.

Is there a plan? You bet there is. The tool I’ve built for myself is something other people might want to use if they have a significant dream of their own. But it won’t come cheap. I see no point in giving people something that only does 10% of the solution they need, especially when they only know 1% of the problem. That’s why I’m making myself the first lab rat. If this idea doesn’t work for me, why would I think anyone else could use it.

Whoops, I’ve gone over 1000 words. Better stop or the blog police will come after me.

Go look for your own data. See what it tells you. Figure out where you are, so you can build your own map to your significant dream.

Why Aspire To More?

June 24, 2011

A couple of days ago, Peter Bregman wrote a nice article on his Harvard Business Review blog and it clicked with me. I seem to have had it pretty easy these past six decades, and actually get a little nervous about success. But articles like this make me step back and look at the absurdity of those fears.

Peter mentions a book by a friend who ended up as president of the world bank, who got into fencing with no experience at all. This friend had enough spunk to just try something that was over his head and make things up as he went. He found he liked fencing and ended up going to the Olympics, and did quite well in the end.

How many of us take opportunities to just jump into something completely out of our range of experiences and try it? I don’t mean skydiving without a parachute; I mean trying a restaurant we don’t think we would like, or tasting a dish we don’t like the look of. I’m horrible that way, and it probably reflects something about my character I don’t realize. But when it comes to ideas or techniques or intellectual concepts, I’m like a magnet. You can’t keep me away from shiny objects.

This morning, there was another timely post from Seth Godin. (It’s also about fencing.) How many of us depend on an outside stimulus to get us moving? Look around you and see if your boss is watching. There isn’t a boss, not like there was ten or even five years ago. Anyone you report to is probably more worried about what their boss is thinking.

These two ideas make me wonder why someone who has seen so much would want even more. That’s an easy question. I’ve had periods in my life when I was in a zone, and I want to be there again. Since I started working on my planning and tracking tool, I’ve had flashbacks to those times. I want the rest of my life to be as good as the best of those times, or better.

But I won’t get there is I’m not striving for more, not a couple of times a week or even once a day, but all day long. I need to take lessons I learned from Deming and Pareto and Humphreys and Smith and Mandelbrot and put them to work for me. There are so many people who have figured out pieces of the puzzle. I’ve seen lots of those pieces and have figured out a way to get them to work together. Why would I stop short?

Unlike the character Peter writes about, I didn’t have a tough childhood. My parents weren’t rich but we got lots of experiences other kids missed. I learned to swim before I graduated from the first grade. We travelled across the country numerous times, driving as a family, taking an entire month off for vacations. When I graduated from high school, I wasn’t particularly motivated about college other than the deferment it would give me for the draft. I’m a big guy, so I would be a larger target when the shooting started. After two years at a tech school, I worked for a year before going into the Air Force. Didn’t get what I wanted but did get a lot of experiences I might not have gotten otherwise. Learned to ride motorcycles, and play volleyball. Did an overseas tour in Nebraska, and worked for the guy the movie BAT 21 was about.

And when I was established in the corporate world, I still pushed the limits much of the time. It didn’t do anything for my career, but I saw a lot of interesting ideas and was years or decades ahead of my colleagues when it cam to doing better work. Only I didn’t enjoy it very much. There were times when I was focused and directed, but years when I was just getting by.

I don’t want to live like that anymore. I don’t need to be good at stuff that lots of people can do. I need to get great at stuff that no one else is doing, or only a few people are doing. Our world will need the kinds of stuff I think I can deliver.

I can get on that train and go to that fencing match and lose every game. Failing is learning, assuming you get up and try again.

Why aspire to more? Because I’ve tasted how things could work better and I want to do it again.

Anyone want to join me?

Momentum Versus Inertia

June 23, 2011

Momentum is force or speed of movement. Inertia is a state of inertness, which could be sitting still or being in motion, without changing direction.

We had a thunderstorm last night at 430am, and since I was already awake, I thought I would get an early start on the day. Though I’ve gotten a lot of things done, and generated several good ideas, I’m starting to feel a little stupid. Maybe I shouldn’t be writing my blog post right now but it’s too late. I’ve started and I want to see where this goes.

I’m noticing a number of coincidences this morning. I have a 1994 edition of a little book that is “Daily Reflections For Highly Effective People.” The reflection for today is about synergy, and how combining two things makes both of them stronger. That’s what I’m starting to notice about my tool. It isn’t just a daily planner, its also a journal and a reminder and idea collector. And being an ENTP with a high KAI, ideas are floating up to the surface all the time. So it has a way to capture those ideas and find them again.

Then there was the blog post from Seth Godin, which I get as an email every day, and sometimes multiple times a day. He was asking “how do you know when it’s done?” I’m going on vacation in a few days, so I have a deadline. I don’t want to take my laptop, so I would love to make my new application fully functional on my iPad. But I am going to run out of time. So as a backup, I’m going to take along one of those composition notebooks that kids use in school, the kind with not so great paper that bleeds through the page if you use the wrong ink. I’ll use that to keep working on my habituation and routineuation (my new word for the month) so I don’t lose the momentum I’ve already established. Yes, it would be wonderful to have a new MacBook Air to take along with me, because then I could keep doing development on my tool on the laptop. But I need to test my discipline while I am on vacation. I’m going away for two weeks to be with my sister and mother, and in the second week, my brother and his family, and some cousins. I need to find out how my underlying method works for people who might only have a book that explains my ideas and expects people to work with nothing more than a cheap composition book and a pen.

Don’t get me wrong: I love technology, especially stuff with an Apple logo. But I know that most people aren’t going to want to spend over a thousand dollars on a MacBook Air, and half that amount on software they would need to get the most out of it. I wouldn’t be doing them any favors if they just didn’t have the reserves of inspiration to pursue their passion. They have to overcome inertia to get moving in any direction at all, much less muster the energy to change something about their future.

But if I understand what it takes to do my process on paper, following a guide that gets them to step back and look at where they are going, I will probably have a better chance of selling them on the really big ideas I want to pursue. I just can’t dump it all on their desk and say, “Here, do this stuff and I’ll be back in a month to see how you are doing.” They wouldn’t even do that if I paid them, much less do it if they had to pay me.

I’m pretty confident my analog version of my tool will work on paper with a pen. But I’m taking my iPad with all my data along with me, so I have a place to record the improvement ideas I come up with while I’m away. I might get a few fixes implemented so that I can get more done while I’m laptop free, but that isn’t the point.

I’m going on vacation to determine my vector and rate of change. Do I have five weeks of momentum built up or 60+ years of inertia to overcome?

When I figure it out, you’ll be able to read about it here.

Being Wrong

June 22, 2011

Kathryn Schulz gave a superb talk at TED back in March, 2011. I just watched the video and will be buying her book later today. If you go watch the video now, what I’m going to say next will make more sense.

Okay, I’m going to assume you just had your perspective adjusted by her talk. Consider this idea I had a few months back.

  • I am a failurist. I learn new things about myself and the world around me by welcoming the opportunity to fail. I am no longer striving to be perfect, but I am striving to change.
  • I think other people would be much happier and maybe more productive if they embraced the possibility of failure as a cost for success. Doing the same old things and getting the same old results isn’t going to help you in the future. You need to try and perhaps fail using ideas that others have tried and gotten to work. They didn’t get them to work right away; they failed a few times. Get on with it.
  • To help all of us get better at being failurists, I’m going to start a new category on this blog, calling it the Failurist Manifesto. This post will be the anchor that attracts people into that domain, where I intend to (and perhaps fail at) sharing my experiences as a failurist.

That’s all I have to say today. I need to go out and help my wife organize our compost pile. I suggest you do something similar, and go play with the rich organic material that was once your leftovers or lawn.

Checklists As Integrated Habits

June 21, 2011

Yesterday evening when my wife got home, we got to talking about my latest tool improvements and she asked about something she wants in the version I build for her to use. She has an app on her iPod Touch that she likes a lot, because it moves things to the next day when she checks them off. There is only one button and one description. It couldn’t be simpler.

I tried to explain where I was coming from with my tool idea, but the more I talked the more I felt like I was wrong in my thinking. There was a third category of things I should be doing every day, and it wasn’t a habit or a routine. It was just a checklist item and nothing more. It didn’t need all the other trappings I had developed. It was just a tickler that would remind me to do something each day.

In other words, it was something that had once been a habit that was now part of what I did every day. I just did it, like breathing or sleeping or buying a Twinkie whenever I went for a drive in the car. It was what all the other things I was trying to change aspired to becoming – part of what I am and how I carry out each day. And as I write this, I realize these things might only exist on one day – the current day. They would act like those items in the app my wife uses. Once you do them, they move themselves to the next day. They don’t collect data or offer a place to hang insights. They just move on to the next day, where they will remind you again that you need to do them.

But maybe they aren’t this third category of things after all. Maybe they are habits and routines that have achieved a different kind of status. Maybe they are the pinnacle of being a habit or routine. Maybe they are something that moves itself into the future each time you do it, whether it is a day or a week or a year.

What I love about writing things down and reading them later is that the transcription process often makes the ideas better. This post is an example of just such an improvement. When I started writing, I thought I was going to describe a third category of agenda items, but that evolved as I was explaining what it was all about. Now, there will be a new state for agenda items that will check them off and move them to the next day or week or month. That simplifies my daily practice a lot, because 20% of what I do is little things that require no attention at all. I just do them and they move out of today into some future date.

Will all of them be integrated habits or routines? In the beginning, I think so. But as I go through the rest of my day and start to notice how little information I am putting on other habits or routines, I am sure another 20% will evolve into this new category. Once I get this implemented, the result will be an agenda that is made up of reminders that leave today when they are completed, and real work that requires more attention.

I don’t think I would have seen this improvement if my wife and I hadn’t talked last night on the porch. And it helped that I wrote up some notes about how to implement the idea I had then before I went to sleep. That meant I could read those notes and come up with this blog post this morning, where summarizing things would make me realize there was an even better idea waiting for me to discover it.

Sometimes you just need to talk about an idea with yourself to test it; writing it down isn’t necessary. But writing it down and hearing to what you are saying as you read it seems to be a good idea. Doing that every day, several times a day, might help you nudge your future in a different direction.

Isn’t that what we all want to do?