Posts tagged “Ideas

Hiding in plain sight

So now we know that all this time the world’s most notorious terrorist was living in a suburb of Islamabad.  And not only that, the town was also the home of the Pakistani military academy.  Not exactly a cave in the hinterlands.   It would be like this guy to have hung out for years in duplex outside of Quantico Marine base.

Hiding in plain sight.  This, my friends, is the story of life.

We miss stuff all the time, and it is hiding in plain sight.  Like the housing crisis.  Or the oil crisis.  Or the next retirement crisis.

This stuff is / was there.  Like, right there!  Right in front of us.  Clear as an unmuddied lake.  But we don’t see it.  Sometimes it is because the object of our affection or interest has craftily gone to the once place we’d NEVER think about looking.

Sometimes we fail to see or acknowledge what is in plain view because we’re either focusing on something else.   A version of the latter is called inattentional blindness.  It was the subject of a recent popular book which I highly recommend titled “The Invisible Gorilla”.  According to Daniel Simons:  “Inattentional blindness is the failure to notice a fully-visible but unexpected object when you are focusing attention on something else.”

Finally, there are those times when things can hide in plain sight because we find them too uncomfortable to face.

So which was it for the Pakistani Army?  Was it simply that the terrorist had outsmarted them by going to the ONE PLACE that no one would have ever guessed (including, by the way, the Bush and Obama administrations)?  Or did they not see it because they were too busy with other things?  Or did we not see it because they didn’t want to see it?

Most of the challenges we face are hidden in plain sight.  We know they are a problem.  But we don’t see them because we’re either (a) caught up paying attention to other less pressing but often more pleasurable things; or (b) find them too painful to confront so we pretend they’re not there.

Most of the solutions to our problems are hidden in plain sight.  We just don’t pursue them because it is inconvenient or uncomfortable.  This is certainly true for people.  Overweight?  Exercise and eat more fruits and vegetables.  Financial concerns?  Save more than you spend.  Unfulfilled?  Do only those things you are passionate about.

This is true for every organization and every brand.

We know we’re to focus on core competencies, invest in people, constantly improve the customer experience.  The principles that the big consultancies come up with aren’t rocket science.  They are pretty basic stuff.  They are things that most people in the organization ALREADY KNOW!  But they hide in plain sight because we are either distracted or inconvenienced.

Like our now deceased terrorist … most of our problems and their solutions are … right there hiding in plain sight.  And like the folks in the Islamabad suburb, most of the time we find ways to ignore what we know to be true.

When Progress Isn’t

Progress can set you back.

As readers of the JuiceBar know, I travel a lot. Most of that travel is in and out of Dulles Airport in Northern Virginia.

Anyone who has flown in or out of Dulles likely has an opinion about the airport’s famous “people movers” … specially made buses that were originally designed to take passengers from the terminal directly to the plane but for the past ten years simply shuttled people to the next concourse.

People movers were the things that everyone loved to hate.

Everyone wanted a subway or train.  Just like the other airports.  So the folks at Dulles built one.  A beautiful, shiny, open cavernous, glassy one.  Wide open spaces.  Smooth terrazzo floors.

Just one thing.  To get to TSA you have to go down.  Quite a ways down actually.  The lines there are long.  Then you need to walk.  You need to walk a lot.  If there were those guys in little carts, you’d want to hitch a ride with them.  You need to walk a long way and then go down again.  Way, way down.  To the shiny, glassy, train station with the smooth, polished terrazzo floors.  Now you need to wait.  When the train comes, jump on quickly or you’ll miss it.  While you’re on the train waiting to arrive at Concourse C, you should rest up.  You can’t drink any water because they made you throw that away at the TSA line, so just conserve your energy.  Because once you’ve gotten to the Concourse you’re going to be walking.  And walking.  And walking.  And that is just to get to the elevator that takes you back to the surface.  So you can walk some more to get to your actual gate.

This is the progress that isn’t.  It now takes me longer to get to the gate than before.  Much longer.  My only solace is that people now have to walk more so we get more exercise.  Maybe that will help solve our obesity problem.  Make every fly from Dulles.

The fact is that you now walk as much going in and out of the ‘new’ transit system than you would if you just stepped through the main terminal and walked straight across the tarmac to the next Concourse.

Now THAT would be progress.

I’m seeing a lot of progress that isn’t these days.

Scrambling for an electric outlet to enter something into an electrical device when writing it down with a pen and paper would do.  Twenty-five clicks to get a calendar entry to synch with all 11 of my appointment books when just having an old DayTimer would do the same in a fraction of the time.

Sometimes things get better for the worse.

Sometimes progress isn’t.

Glittering Generalities

Watching the news this morning from one of my favorite ‘hidden gem’ hotels – The CharlesMark in Boston (Back Bay).  I stumbled across an interview with Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).  I liked her.  Seemed like a genuinely smart person and skilled operator.  And she’s been working hard making the rounds this days as educations reform and charter schools take the spotlight with the new documentary “Waiting for Superman.”

But I was unimpressed with her work this morning.  The exchange went something like this:

Reporter:  “But isn’t there a real problem with teachers who don’t have the skills or drive or ability to teach our children yet they continue in the classroom year after year?

AFT president:  “No one wants bad teachers in the classroom.  We don’t want that.  We’re not for that.  We’re against that.  But that’s not the real problem.  The real problem is getting everyone together.  We all have to address this educational challenge we face together.  We need to bring everyone to the table.  All parties have to work together to address this collectively … to do it together …”.

Blah, blah, blah.

She punted on recognizing the reality of the problem – bad teachers in the classroom.  And if you can’t step up and admit that a problem exists, how can you formulate a way of solving it?  She might as well have said, “If we can all just hold hands and sing the Coca Cola song …”

Then I read about the GOP’s “Pledge to America”.

We’re for families.  We honor the constitution.  We hate deficits (as well as the government we long to take control over).  We support our troops.  We believe in a strong America.  We hate terrorists.  And we are not fans of illegal immigrants.  We love America.  We love America a lot.

So what exactly to we do?  Not so much.

My fifth grade teacher used to term all this “glittering generalities.”  Kumbya on the left … Kumbya on the right.

I don’t know about you but the kumbya talk doesn’t work much in my world.

My mortgage company wants the check.  My clients want me to show them how much stuff I helped them sell.  The folks in the class I teach expect to learn something.  My wife expects me to fix the garbage disposal.  The people in my world want specifics.  They want tangibles.  They expect problems to be confronted and addressed.  You don’t even have to solve them all the time.  But if you show that you acknowledge it and doing everything you can to fix it, people will often give you the benefit of the doubt.

Does straight talk make a company or brand stronger?  I think so.  We can all cite popular brands that don’t.  But my experience is that if you dabble in glittering generalities long enough, the real problems catch up with you.

Not only that …

You become boring as hell.

Help! My brain is sabatoging me

I’m mad at my brain.

I read an article in LifeHacker titled “Top 10 Ways Your Brain is Sabotaging You (and how to beat it)“.

And while my current brain isn’t using all ten sabotaging techniques, there were enough on the list that I’m thinking my brain is up to something.

According to author Kevin Purdy, the #1 sabotage technique is for the brain to emit ‘negative emotions’ that cause you to put off doing things.  It is the project that you never complete because you never start it.  And you never start it because just thinking about it causes you to feel nauseous.

My brain does this to me all the time.  I mean ALL the time.

Another sneaky trick the brain has figured out.  It will refuse to shut itself off.  That is #7 on the top ten sabotage list.  It is when your brain “won’t stop spinning … even when you’re asleep.”  My brain is guilty as charged.

#6 on the list sounded familiar too.  It simply read:  “You Give Priority to Experiences that Prove You’re Right.”


And then finally there was this line:  ‘Ever set out to “Really, seriously clean out this room,” then find yourself, 20 minutes later, slowly sorting through photos and memorabilia, unable to toss a single thing?’  I can’t tell you how many times this has happened to me.  But if I can’t tell you I’m sure that my wife can.  And all you have to do is go to our basement to prove it.

So now I know.  My brain is the culprit.

We’re going to have to have a talk.

I’m Good … I’m a Leader … Really!

I recently read an excellent article on resume writing.  It was so excellent that I now can’t find it which is usually the way things work.

The really good stuff I forget to tag or file away.  All the mediocre stuff ends up stacked up on the desk, clogging up the inbox, filling up the hard drive and overwhelming the Delicious file.

But I digress.

The point of the article on resume writing was that people waste valuable resume space — and more importantly valuable resume reader time — telling people about personal characteristics that are either (a) presumed; or (b) best judged by someone other than the writer.

How many of you have read — or have! — resumes that include phrases like …  “hard worker” “detail oriented”“team player”“self starter”.

You read those things and you think to yourself “gosh, this person thinks pretty highly of him or herself.”

And you wonder when you are going to read a resume where someone writes:

“sometimes I’m lazy” … or …

“I’m tough to get along with” … or …

“I am capable of doing exceptional work but every now and then I need a good kick in the ass or else I’ll blow it off.”

Fact is we  often promote character traits that most people should expect of someone.  Like being honest, punctual, dedicated.

More importantly, we are rarely honest with ourselves about anything that concerns ourselves.  And while we may think that we are all these things, could it be that we are somewhat biased?

Shouldn’t others be the judge?

I often work with corporate clients on positioning and messaging their corporate brand.  Inevitably they will want to include the term “leader” in the messaging mix.

Funny, I’ve never have a client who wants to be a “follower” … they all want to be a “leader”.

But shouldn’t that be the judgment of others, not the brand?

Better to talk about your accomplishments, philosophy, and what you stand for.

Then letter others make their own judgment about who you are.

The JuiceBar Jobs Program

This morning I read the Washington Post and found out where all our money is.

It is with all those companies that aren’t hiring.

Apparently they are sitting on $1.8 trillion in cash.  In fact, they have 25% more cash on hand today than they had prior to the economic meltdown!

By contrast, I’m sitting on … well … not nearly that much.  In fact, like a lot of people I’m trying to cut back because experts tell me that I should have more cash on hand.  My new found frugality is upsetting a lot of people.  Guess who is most upset?  The same companies that are sitting on $1.8 trillion in cash!

Companies are saying they are not hiring people (despite having $1.8 trillion cash on hand) because there is ‘uncertainty’ in the market.  There is uncertainty because people are nervous.  People are nervous because they are afraid the companies with $1.8 trillion aren’t hiring and in some cases still laying people off.

We need a way out.

So here’s the JuiceBar’s deal with corporate America.

We’ll buy your stuff if you hire our neighbor.

We can even set up a formula.

If we buy an extra 100 cases of Crest, P+G hires back one mid-level manager.  15 gas grills from Home Depot equals an extra cashier.  Five flat screens and LG has to hire back one technician.

And I’ll only refinance at these incredibly low rates if the bank agrees to hire two recent college graduates with English degrees.

The history and English majors need our help.

And with $1.8 trillion you could buy a lot of them.

Einstein. Socks. Cab fares.

Yesterday coming home I was thinking about Einstein, socks, and cab fares.

Let me explain.

There are many things that baffle me.  Mens socks are one.  You never lose a pair of socks.  You always lose one sock.  Every six months I go to the closet and find a handful of socks none of which match.  Where did their pairs go?  So I go to the store and buy a dozen pair.  Slowly the phenomenon repeats itself.  Months later another drawerful of single socks each forlornly in search of its  match.  Back to the store.

Hold that.

einsteinSo yesterday I was on a day trip to New York.  I took the 8 am shuttle from DCA to LGA.  Caught the 7 pm back home.  Fare to the city:  $38.   Fare back from the city to the LaGuardia:  $30.

Then it struck me.  Why are cabs from the airport TO the city are ALWAYS more expensive than cabs FROM the city to the airport?  It was a phenomenon that has been bothering me for some time.  Just like socks.  I travel a lot.  Boston.  St. Louis.  Atlanta.  San Francisco.  Every time it is the same thing.  Cab fares from the airport to the city are X … cabs from downtown to the airport … less than X.

I’ve tried to identify all variables.  Time of day.  Tolls.  Traffic.  None seem to fully account for the difference.  After I net everything out it is always cheaper to go from the city to the airport than the other way around.

The only factor I can think of is that coming home always seems quicker to me than going away.  This is a phenomenon that is widely recognized.  There are all sorts of theories but as best I can tell they all boil down to how we perceive time.

Things seem longer when you are under stress (going away) and things seem shorter when you are in delight (coming home).

As Einstein once said:

“Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. THAT’S relativity.”

So I get how the cab ride can seem shorter or faster or easier going one way or the other.

I just can’t figure out the fare part of it all.

And the socks.

Our certain future

I am constantly amazed.  Not only that.  I seem to be constantly amazed at things that happen … well …  constantly.  You’d think that seeing something over and over and over would eventually wear you down and erode wonder, awe and amazement.  Not for simple minded people like me.  I sit back and watch people do the same silly thing over and over.  And I say to myself, “wow!” … “that is amazing!”

What the heck am I talking about?

It is the audacious certainty with which people predict the future.

toy2r-emilio-garcia-jumping-brain-toyAnd I’m not talking the simple stuff.  Things like, “if you don’t brush your teeth will rot.”  Or, “if you constantly lie eventually people won’t trust you.”  Or, “if you’re disciplined and sacrifice today you can reap the benefits tomorrow.”  That is the simple stuff … the natural and predictable consequences to simple actions.

No, I’m talking about situations that are hopelessly complex, that have multivariate and fast changing events, that computers the size of Big Blue could never figure out.

But here we are with our little 3 lb brains and not only have we figured it all out (and well into the next decade no less!) … but we do so with  absolute, unapologetic and unqualified certainty.

This is more than just the “half full vs. half empty” syndrome.    It is not a question of style, character, or even slant.  It is the ability of people to see the same data, the same information, the same images, the same facts and draw opposite conclusions with the certainty of the sun coming up tomorrow.

Welcome to the health care debate.

  • It will decrease the deficit.   And it will raise the deficit.
  • It will increase abortions.  It will decrease abortions.
  • It will help business.  It will hurt business.

The Wall Street Journal says that health care reform is leading to the “wholesale destruction of wealth and capital.”  The White House says it simply is closing a loophole.  According to one Congressman the health care reform will lead to more aborted babies.  According to Bart Stupak nothing changes.  According to columnist and commentator Fred Hiatt health care reform is a ‘fiscal catastrophe.’  According to a former official of the Congressional  Budget Office, Mr. DeWater, it will reduce the deficit.

No wonder the media reports that the average American is confused.  The so-called ‘experts’ are not only disagreeing.  They are violently disagreeing with even more violent confidence and conviction.

I suspect that the average American isn’t as much confused as he or she is simply recognizing the simple fact that all the “experts” ignore.  We just don’t know exactly what is going to happen.  There’s some good.  There’s some bad.  There’s some risk.  There’s some opportunity.

But we just don’t know.  None of us do.

In many ways the health care reform package is a lot like life.  It is hard to know what the future holds.

So what do you do?  You go back to those simple, historically proven, reliable things you can depend on.

Like brushing (and flossing!) so your teeth don’t rot.  And telling the truth so you can earn someone’s trust and confidence.  And working hard and sacrificing today so you and your family can benefit some day down the road.

As for the other stuff, it would be refreshing if someone said what everyone else has already figured out:

“Who knows?”

A social media lament … Jaron Lanier’s “You Are Not a Gadget”

I’d like to introduce you to an important book.  It is Jaron Lanier’s “You Are Not a Gadget:  A Manifesto.”

But first, a few questions.

How are you?  Everything good?

How about your life on social media?  How is that going?

jaron_lanierHave you updated your blog? Gotten any comments lately?  Any trackbacks?  And your Facebook page?  What is your friend count?  Who’s writing on your wall?  How about your Twitter feed?  Have you checked in with your Google account?  Gone through your Google alerts?  Charted your progress with Google Analytics?   Have you checked in with Foursquare?  Did you get a new badge?  How are your Twitter client numbers?  Is your following getting bigger?  Are your “retweets” growing?

Is this you?  Is this what social media is doing to your life?

For those who are regular visitors to the JuiceBar you’ll know that I’ve a love/hate relationship with social media.  I think a lot of us do.  And the irony of me taking on social media through social media is certainly not lost on me.

Enter Jaron Lanier, the father of virtual reality.  He is an admitted computer genius and geek but also a musician and artists.  And as he looks around at what social media has done, he’s none too happy.  His recent book “You Are Not a Gadget:  A Manifesto” is a great read.  Yesterday’s Washington Post review had a good summary paragraph up front.

A self-confessed “humanistic softie,” Lanier is fighting to wrest control of technology from the “ascendant tribe” of technologists who believe that wisdom emerges from vast crowds, rather than from distinct, individual human beings. According to Lanier, the Internet designs made by that “winning subculture” degrade the very definition of humanness. The saddest example comes from young people who brag of their thousands of friends on Facebook. To them, Lanier replies that this “can only be true if the idea of friendship is reduced.”

If you think that’s good, try this.  Here are a couple of excerpts from an interview on Amazon’s site.

Here Lanier talks about how Web 2.0 actually works against the average Joe …

The problem is not inherent in the Internet or the Web. Deterioration only began around the turn of the century with the rise of so-called “Web 2.0” designs. These designs valued the information content of the web over individuals. It became fashionable to aggregate the expressions of people into dehumanized data. There are so many things wrong with this that it takes a whole book to summarize them. Here’s just one problem: It screws the middle class. Only the aggregator (like Google, for instance) gets rich, while the actual producers of content get poor.

And the big problem according to Lanier is this crazy idea of the “liberation” of information — as if what we’re doing on the social media front is akin to the storming of the Bastille.  Lanier writes:

The original turn of phrase was “Information wants to be free.” And the problem with that is that it anthropomorphizes information. Information doesn’t deserve to be free. It is an abstract tool; a useful fantasy, a nothing. It is nonexistent until and unless a person experiences it in a useful way. What we have done in the last decade is give information more rights than are given to people.

Think about that.

With the whole huffing and puffing of social media claiming that “Content is King” … are we in turn making ourselves slaves?

My permanent record

Concept one:  Permanent record.

When you read that what do you think of?

PermanentRecordWell, since I don’t hear you saying anything I’ll tell you what I think of.

Prison time.  Felony conviction.  Registered sex offender.  Tatoos.

Anything — like a shadow on a sunny day — that follows you around no matter where you go and no matter how you shake it.

Now for concept two:  privacy.

You may find this a bit odd, but I’m actually a pretty private person.  I’m not a privacy freak.  I’m not overly worried about identity theft.  I’m not concerned about personally identifiable information floating around.   I sign all those release forms when I go to the doctor.

No.  It is just that I’m just very content being by myself.  Never been a crowd or party guy.  And in my corporate profile I note my motto as being “discretion is the price of freedom.”  Translated that means that when talking about yourself, less is more.

Then I realize that I have a blog, I have a twitter feed, I have a Facebook page, a Plaxo page, a LinkedIn page.

And I realize that I’m not a private person at all!

Now comes Gordon Belt’s book Total Recall.  In his review of the book in the Wall Street Journal, Felt writes :

In a new book, principal Microsoft researcher Gordon Bell evangelizes for “Total Recall,” a practice that he describes with this motto: “Capture everything, discard nothing.” The idea is to use newly available technologies to record every moment of our lives, public and private. Each of us will build a vast digital database of our every experience. Mr. Bell claims that soon “you will be able to summon up everything you have ever seen, heard, or done.”

Whoa.  He goes on to write that with all this new technology and social media stuff, we’ll never have to remember anything.  We won’t have to use our brain or our memories.  We’ll just do a Google search.

It may be because I’m prone to lapses of memory but truth be told, sometime I like to forget.  It is comforting.  I don’t know if I want to be able to summon up everything I’ve ever seen, heard, or done.

I certainly don’t want others to.

OK, now I’m a bit nervous.