3 Reasons for Optimism

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3 Reasons for Optimism

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Despite the adage that “if you aren’t outraged, you aren’t paying attention” that is true in so many areas of our world today and in the face of ever-increasingly devastation that are afflicting our communities, our national and international relationships, and our families, there are three rational reasons to be optimistic.

1. Character: optimism changes you

The natural world teaches us that living things need hardship to achieve their full potential. Flavorful and sweet grapes are produced only after vine pruning. Tomatoes and peppers need periods of drought to produce fruit. In my experience, we are the same. It is not the periods of prosperity and comfort that define us and shape us as individuals, but our character is refined in the fire of hardship. The idea that what “doesn’t kill us makes us stronger,” can be true if we commit to self-reflection. If you are paying the tuition, think about the education you are getting.

2. Community: optimism fosters helping

Fred Rogers, of Mr. Rogers’ fame, recounted his mother advising him to look for the “helpers” whenever he heard of tragedy or saw scenes on the news. First responders rushing in when others are rushing out. Neighbors helping neighbors. Human kindness on display without regard to the things that can artificially divide us like location, race, creed, or language. This is a reason for optimism. That all of us facing challenges and changes big and small, can assist each other. When we think about humankind, tragedy allows us to be both human and kind.

3. Creativity: optimism unleashes new ideas

A “the sky is falling”, or worst a “the world is out to get me” mentality, shuts down the creative problem solving process. Your creativity engine is closed for business if you blame others or get overwhelmed by circumstances. We are capable of amazing innovation and can create solutions that are simply unimaginable to those who weren’t open to possibility. Sitting amidst the rubble might be the next new building approach that would survive the next storm, unearthed with a fresh perspective and an open mind. 

Often in the throes of life’s challenges, it is extremely difficult to remember these benefits of optimism. This is one of the many ways that we can help each other. Not with vague platitudes, but by walking alongside each other in the storm and helping to develop character, community, and creativity.

Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse. The photo was taken at the Spruill Gallery in Dunwoody, GA.

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Five Questions

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It was fun to be interviewed for the Honeywell Home and Building Technologies internal blog (sorry, no external access).  I got asked about the company, my vision for the group, and about myself.  Got a chance to brag on my family and share about some things we are doing to get to know our new city: Atlanta, Georgia. 

 

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On Fear

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On Fear

“Stay afraid, but do it anyway.  What’s important is the action.  You don’t have to wait to be confident.  Just do it and eventually the confidence with follow.”  -Carrie Fisher

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Making Mistakes?

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Making Mistakes?

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I started a new job this past month, so I am back to being an amateur. No matter how many years of experience one might have, starting anything new is by definition…new. The view of the beginner is refreshing and can often lead to new insights. It’s a good perspective to cultivate and one that we must nurture in today’s dynamic and technology-fueled markets. But any time of learning can be error prone. And for any experienced person who finds themselves an amateur, fear of making mistakes can be a weight and a worry.

So, how do we free ourselves from a fear of making mistakes, so that risk taking, leadership, fresh insights, and a sense of urgency can flourish?

The fastest way is to change our frame. What if mistakes are not real? What if they represent not failure, but a lack of imagination. Thomas Edison, one of the most prolific inventors of all times, is credited with responding to a critic by saying “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” What if that is the attitude that we should foster? Instead of being paralyzed by the fear of failure, how do we make failure part of our forward progress? Why aren’t mistakes seen as a result unto themselves, not just eliminating alternatives on your journey to success, but rather a solution unto themselves?

There are some amazing new discoveries that were accidental or based on a mistakes. The microwave oven, super glue, saccharin artificial sweetner, Teflon, and even the Slinky were all accidental inventions. What began as a failed adhesive for one project became the perfect for another. What began as a spring that was dropped on the floor during a Naval experiment, became one of the most memorable and creative toys in history.  Rather than “making a mistake,” they actually “made a solution.”

Next time you “make a mistake” (after you apologize and do any necessary clean-up), ask yourself the following question: based on the outcome that I have observed, what problem WOULD this solve? How did you inadvertently “make a solution” on which you can take action or take away some learning?

In the recent art film, The Last Word, a cantankerous, but insightful character played by Shirley McClaine said “You don’t make mistakes. Mistakes make you. Mistakes make you smarter. They make your stronger, and they make you more self-reliant.” Perhaps when you make your next mistake, the thing you are developing the most is you.

Originally posted on LinkedIn PulseAll opinions my own.

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Time

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Time

“What you do with your billable time (work time) will determine your income for the year.  What you do with your nonbillable time (free time) will determine your future.” – Art Gensler

I was at an event recently and as an ice breaker each table was asked to answer the question “would you rather have more time or more money?”  A great discussion ensued about upcoming college bills or the need for more of the finite hours in the day. 

Do we have enough hours in the day?  Do we have the hours we need to accomplish what is necessary?  I know I never feel like I do, but I am also aware that I waste time on a fairly regular basis.  I am sure you can say that same. 

Do I need more hours, or do I need to use them more productively? 

How much downtime do I actually require to be refreshed enough to do what needs to be done?  Am I getting enough sleep?  Am I prioritizing things like exercise, study, and family time the way that I should?  What use of my team leads to the most happiness?

These are incredibly personal questions and ones worth asking.

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Pushing the Button Makes Me Feel Better

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Pushing the Button Makes Me Feel Better

Humans are easy to fake out.  If we are cold, we can adjust a thermostat (even one not attached to anything) and it will make us feel warmer.  If we are waiting to cross the street, we have been proven to be more patient if we can push a cross-walk button.  Even if it doesn’t affect wait time.

So, when all of these systems are controlled by computers, how will they manipulate our sense of control?  Will we mind?

Today, you can get a smart thermostat and you can make suggestions to it, expressing your opinions about your comfort level, but ultimately the device will decide.  What if other things in our life were like that?

What if our autonomous cars brought us to the doctor when it sensed a fever or to the police station to pay an outstanding parking ticket?  What if our wearable device took us on a longer walking route when we had the time in order to get extra steps and burned calories to achieve a calculated ideal weight as dictated by our insurance company?  What if an angrily-toned email was put into a mandatory “cool down” period hold before you could send it as outlined by our corporate cultural standards?  What if some future birth control, performance enhancing drugs, or the like was administered for the common good or to help you achieve some goals that you established?  What if some of these things happened when we believed we had more choice and control?  Where will be tomorrow’s fake button?

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Self-Service Business Strategy Consulting

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Self-Service Business Strategy Consulting

I recently saw a professional form Intuit’s innovation practice sit down with two start-up companies to offer mentoring and strategy counseling.  Instead of focusing on the answers and the discussions, I noted the questions he was asking and thought they might be an interesting playbook for others to run.  Ask yourself these questions, honestly and at a level that anyone from any industry could understand, and you will go a long way to clarify and refine your strategy for success.

  • What is the most important issue facing your business today?
  • For the audience you are targeting, what is their pain?
  • When you talk to customers what was unexpected?
  • Have you found anyone who has the pain you are looking to solve?
  • How big is the problem and how are customers solving it today?
  • Can you solve the problem once, get paid, and validate that it is a need?
  • Have you heard any red (or possibly yellow) flags from customers about their need for the product, their willingness to pay, etc?
  • Who can be a lighthouse account for you?
  • If the business didn’t work, what would be the reasons why?

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Looking for Pain

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Looking for Pain

In the States there is a class of attorneys known as “ambulance chasers.”  They follow accident victims to the hospital and offer their services to get justice or payment for their injuries.  I am not diminishing the role of personal injury cases and the legitimate rights of those victims, but those attorneys are looking for pain and suffering.  In fact, it fuels their business.

All of us in business have a similar need to look for the pain.  The most successful companies, and the products and services that they offer, address an unmet pain and solve it in a unique way.

As innovators and business strategists we should always be in the hunt for the pain. 

  • What costs too much?
  • What takes too long?
  • What ends too soon?
  • What can we not get enough of?
  • What do we have too much of?

These kind of questions, can lead to the insights that create new customers, new business models, new products, and fuel the enterprise into the future. 

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Twenty Seconds of Insane Courage

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Twenty Seconds of Insane Courage

"You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it." - Benjamin Mee, "We Bought a Zoo"

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The Importance of Plot

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The Importance of Plot

“Technology without a good experience is like movie special effects without a good story,” said Josh Goldblum from Blue Cadet at a recent conference.  Without a plot, the best special effects cannot save the film.  The best stories would be great no matter the medium. 

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Can You Afford Your Affordance?

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Can You Afford Your Affordance?

Thaniya Keereepart, who runs the business of TED on apps, recently spoke about the use of design principles to change the way we interact with each other. 

She explained the idea of affordance.  It’s a user design idea that the look of something tells you how to use it.  A door knob or dial tells you to turn.  A button was designed to be pushed.  A handle to be grasped. 

The same could be true of people.  She says that the language we use in an email, the posture we assume in a meeting, and the space we take up in the room can all impact how people interact with us. 

Just like design begins with objectives, if each of us asked ourselves “what do we want?” and “how do I want to come across?” before meetings or presentations, we would likely get better results.

There are dozens of books about executive presence and TED talks about goal setting, language, and power, if you need some inspiration.

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Rights vs. Needs

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Rights vs. Needs

I am hearing a lot of talk of what constitutes basic human rights.  I have heard things like freedom of travel, access to state-of-the-art health care, access to clean water, a safe and comfortable home, basic education, higher education, and voting for political officials all listed as rights.  And it has led me to have some questions?

Is every human need a right?  If human needs for food and water are rights, what about other needs?

I have been told that humans need to laugh.  Is this a right? The freedom to find things funny.  Or do they have the right to have someone else make them laugh.  To pay for other human services, I am taxed.  What if it was demanded that I tell jokes to make my fellow citizens feel better?  Ridiculous, you say.  But this illustrates the perils of making a long list of things and calling them “rights.”

What about the need for safety?  Is that a right?  What is the role of the individual in this, if they engage in risky behaviors?  Safety is both a reality and a perception that spans a great deal of arenas from seat belts to street lamps.

What about sex?  Is it a need?  Is that need a right?  When does one person’s right to satisfy a need impact another’s rights?  How does one person’s right to sex conflict with others’ right to safety?

What about privacy?  Is it a right?  Clearly we don’t believe this in practice, because I think there are laws against not giving your children social security numbers or keeping them out of school (of some type) which requires them to have certain personal details disclosed.  So, in this case the right to welfare services and public education are in conflict with our right to privacy?  We give up privacy all the time (some saying effectively killing the whole idea of privacy), in exchange for convenience, services, or even safety. 

What about property ownership?  Our economy is based in no small part on the sanctity of property ownership, but what can be owned?  This has been debated for centuries and we rightly settled that you can’t own people (which was accepted for an unacceptable number of millennia and still is in some places and is more common in developed countries than we want to admit).  But we can own plants, farms, livestock, and pets.  We can own real property and equipment.  We can own (even fractional) legal entities that aren’t really alive, like corporations.  We can own contractual rights to thing that we don’t own (like stock options, etc.).  Are all these rights?  So, does that mean these things are needs?  Do we have a need to own things?  And whose job is it to satisfy that need?  Do you need to be given things or do you have the right to earn them?

For a whole host of reasons, humans need to be treated well by our parents.  We need to be fed, spoke to, and taught how to function in the world.  It’s a need.  Is it a right?  We act like it is with child protective services, the foster care system, and child protection laws (all good things).  So, if it is a right for kids, does it become an obligation for parents?  In order to drive, you have to prove that you have the ability to not be a harm to others and that you have the means (insurance at least) to drive.  Because people have the right to be safe as pedestrians and other drivers.  But the same isn’t true of parenting.  A parent’s right to making choices can be in direct conflict to their kids’ right to safety and a host of human rights.

We all have the right (mostly) to manage our own reproduction and so much has been written about this recently in the news.  But that right has consequences.  Where does right end and privilege begin if people are horrible parents and infringe upon the rights of their off-spring?

Regarding the right to your own body, what about exercise?  Our bodies certainly need it.  But is it the freedom to exercise that is our right or should we mandate exercise the way we do other things (i.e., like school attendance or lunch breaks for hourly workers). 

You see what I mean.  This “rights” versus “needs” is tricky.  And it is further complicated by the fact that we live in an interdependent community. 

Just like we need to be careful calling “wants” “needs” and confusing the ideas, I feel like we need to take the same caution with “rights” and “needs.”  Maybe, all we have the right to in the end is the freedom to satisfy our own needs in a way that doesn’t diminish others’ rights to satisfy their needs.  This all sounds good enough, but it is very difficult in practice.  Especially, in a world where shocking headlines of “rights violations” can keep citizens from thinking critically about the implications of a society of having so many rights and where they conflict in practice.

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On Experience

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On Experience

“Information is pre-digested experience.  Experience is messy, wasteful, and takes time.” - Chris Dede, Harvard

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