Absolute Trust?

The first trustworthy article on promises and dependability generated a lot of off-line conversation. Here’s one of the most interesting threads from a few brilliant friends:

I’m thinking trustworthiness is never absolute, highly contextual, and probably rarely enduring. – JT

I think you are correct. There are reliable people who are not trustworthy. In fact, I can imagine situations where one could set a watch by how reliably predictable ‘untrustworthy’ people are. I wonder if the converse is true – Can someone be trustworthy without being reliable or is it a prerequisite?

It just seems as if someone is trustworthy if you are willing to put your trust in them in any multitude of ways (and it could be just one way, like, I have a very trustworthy mechanic and I put my trust in his ability to consistently, fairly, and competently fix my car and charge me a fair amount, etc.), but that same person has the power to, at any point in time, break that trust. Similarly, one may be trustworthy to some, but not to others. So it seems odd to attempt to place the label on a person as a characteristic rather than on a relationship at a point in time, or on a trend in regards to a specific kind of action over time (e.g. the mechanic). – JT

I don’t think trustworthiness is an absolute, so if you lie once in your entire life then you’re untrustworthy, that kind of interpretation is an impossible standard. So going forward we tend to think of things in absolutes, and it just does not work with how people really are. Also, you are looking at something that is the definition of subjective. Take the example of a secret, if the person keeps a secret of mine are they trustworthy? Too me, yes. Now that secret applies to you, but this person will not tell you. So in one example you have a person who is simultaneously building trust with me and eroding it with you. -CV

I love that example. By extrapolation, trust is subjective but can be calculated implicitly by matching values against values. I wonder if it’s possible to trust someone who holds values anti-ethical to my own? If not, does a lack of trustworthiness merely indicate a difference of values?

Yes I can trust someone with ethics counter to my own, but here’s the rub, when I think about it I’m not sure how I come to that conclusion. Is it the person I’m trusting or is it that I trust what the person will do or say based on their own ethical stance. If it’s the latter then given enough knowledge of a persons ethos then I can trust anyone.

Also, we tend to compartmentalize our trust in people. Take a hacker for example, you’re not going to trust him with your PC but they are going to be the first people to look for when putting together a tiger team to test a networks security. We actually break our trust down into the segments of a person we find appealing. – CV

What are your thoughts on Absolute Trust? Share in the comments below.

Time is Going to Pass Anyway

Time is going to pass anyway. Why not be happy?

People talk about what they’d like to do, what they like to be. You see that glint of excitement in their eyes as they imagine this future, improved, accomplished self. But sadly that reverie is often short-lived. Fears and doubts come into mind. Their speech turns from that of hopeful actions to hedges, equivocations, and excuses.

When queried, you hear a lot of phrases that amount to ‘the real world got in the way.’
Admit it. You’ve done it. I know I’ve done this more times than I’d care to admit!

There is nothing more real than the passage of time. It’s going to occur whether you like it or not. Why indulge that future state you see? Why not make a plan to conquer all of your obstacles and pursue that dream? You only get this one chance at life; why not make it a happy one?

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Art of Happiness

As part of my on-going Scout law project and in the spirit of reviewing the Scout Law of Cheerful, I’ve been examining the roots of happiness. One quote comes foremost to my mind on this topic:
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“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” – United States Declaration of Independence as adopted by the Second Continental Congress.

In the United States, all we are guaranteed is the ability to pursue it. It’s up to us to make it happen.

So how do we do that?

“I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’” – Kurt Vonnegut

This is beautiful advice. Make a habit of noticing the good things and it is amazing how much sweeter life tastes. I’ve made a ritual of this each morning with my Grateful Project and it has made all of the difference in the world.

Can We Engineer Happiness?

Possibly. I’ve noticed that setting goals, working towards them, and achieving them makes me happy. I’m naturally resistant to other people’s goals, so mine, as long as they make sense to me , are a great way for me to stay happy.

Life doesn’t have ‘easy play’ settings like video games. No. It’s hardball 24-7 out there. And sometimes those hardballs hit you with such force that it’s impossible to remember ever being happy. Or that you’ll be happy again. The best you can do is to keep plugging along reciting ‘This too shall pass.’

For the times when you can’t create your own fun, or you are stuck in a rut, I like to remember this quote from author Timothy Ferriss from his book the The 4-Hour Workweek (highly recommended to anyone looking to quit their job or get better at the one they already hold.)

“The opposite of love is indifference, and the opposite of happiness is boredom.” ― Timothy Ferriss, The 4-Hour Workweek

Keeping that in mind, I find action and production to be a great way at keeping myself happy. Your mileage may vary. Remember, you must be an active participant in your own survival.What sure-fire ways do you have to keep happy?

Gratitude and Cheerfulness

Somewhere along the line I realized that I use social media to vent too often. Thus, my public record reads as one of discontent. I’m much more cheerful than that! As part of my on-going Scout law project and in the spirit of reviewing the Scout Law of Cheerful, I’ve decided it’s time to change that.

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How does Gratitude affect Cheerfulness?

Everyone has their own personal list of emotional triggers. What makes me happy may not elicit the same response from you. But is there a universal experience that we all share? Is there something that can make you universally cheerful?

I’m not sure, but gratitude seems to be a good candidate for an indicator of cheerfulness. When you recognize a situation with heartfelt gratitude, you are stating that you are glad for the outcome. And you’d be hard pressed to find a cheerful person who isn’t filled with gratitude.

Try this exercise: make a list of things you are grateful for and see if that simple recognition doens’t make you immediately feel happier! If you’d like to try this in a public forum, join me in the #GratefulProject and make 1 post about something you are grateful for everyday for a year. You can see mine on my twitter feed. Alternately you can see everyone tagging their posts with #GratefulProject here.

Opportunities, Strategies, Tactics

Years ago I was working with a high-level technology executive to align my program’s direction with his over-all goals for the division. Since I worked for him, I needed his buy-in. His blessing could go a long way in providing legitimacy for our efforts and making it easier to get good work done. But I also wanted his advice. After all, he had accomplished a lot in his career and the chief benefit of my position was to learn from high-achievers like him.

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The core concept of the meeting was that there was that there was an near inifinite amount of work that could be done. What we were searching for was, given limited resources, what work should be done.

I had prepared for the meeting and had made a list of actions I thought we should take substantiated by all sorts of documentation and metrics. I had brought with me an insane amount of ancillary items so I could facilitate a discussion no matter which way it turned. I thought I was ready to rock! The only problem was that I had geared up for the wrong conversation.

How to Make Decisions Like a CEO

At the executive level I find the focus is on what is worth doing. After all, people in these positions have hundreds or thousands of people at their disposal, thus a lot of capacity to do things. But what is worth spending those precious, finite resources on? It is the ability to consistently and accurately make those judgement calls that they get paid the big bucks for. After a few years in this arena, I believe I’ve spotted a pattern to how they do it, and how everyone can apply it successfully in our day-to-day lives.

Opportunities

Each successful executive I have met takes the time to examine their field of operations and suss out a philosophy of action. That’s why you see devices like ‘Mission statements’ or ‘Flywheels’ or all other abstract-level communication devices come out of these offices.

The first step is to identify an ideal end state; be it a self-sustaining model, an exit strategy, or other ultimate goal. The next step is to devise a philosophy of action is by identifying the gaps between the current state and the ideal. This includes both the areas of highest return and the immediate danger areas and shoals an organization can wreck itself on. It is this delta that generates the opportunities.

Strategies

Once you have an understanding of the opportunities, you can move on to addressing them and closing that delta. A phrase I hear a lot from executives is “There are many roads that lead to Rome.” For each Opportunity you can have multiple strategies. Strategies are the possible ways you can address the delta.

It is unlikely you’ll choose to implement all of strategies that are presented on the table. In fact, some may preclude others. Also worth noting is that some strategies implemented on one opportunity may address others very well. Or some strategies for one Opportunity may complement other strategies on another. Identifying these synergies requires a reasoned approach and a lot of experience.

Tactics

This is where the ‘rubber meets the road.’ Tactics are the individual courses of action that you will take to implement your strategies and reach your goal. These items are not abstract. They are clear, concise deliverables that have measurable begin and end states.

How to Apply This

In that meeting I was prepared to showcase the individual tactics I had devised. Implicitly I had reviewed the opportunities as I had seen them, assigned strategies, and jumped right into tactics. My mindset was to line up tasks and then complete them. After all, that was what had brought me success in the past.

The executive I was working with saw this and identified it as a hall mark of someone new to the concepts of thinking across a larger scale. Fortunately for me he had the patience to bring my vision up to a larger scale. I wish I could report that I grasped the concepts of what he was trying to do and was immediately able to apply them, but I was not able to. It was not until my flight home when I consolidated my notes that I began to discern the pattern.

Examples

I can’t show you how I’ve applied this on the job, so let’s try a few other examples.

Football

Opportunity: Watching tape a coach notices that his offensive play makers have a comparative speed advantage over the defense.

Strategy: The coach decides to exploit that advantage by spreading his offense over the entire field.

Tactics: Implement the read-option where the quarterback or running back force defenses to commit to a space and then quickly move the ball to an open spot where the defense isn’t.

Small Business (My web design company)

Opportunity: Lots of small business owners (my target audience) use Craigslist for advertising because they have no time / aptitude for web campaigns.

Strategy: To be a go-to resource for small business owners using Craigslist.

Tactics: Wrote numerous tutorials for people advertising on Craigslist. Show them how a website complements their actions and can lead to more customers.

Unfortunately the executive in this example moved on to another field before I was able to demonstrate that I learned my lesson. Luckily I’ve been able to apply it multiple times over to great success. Hopefully you will, too!

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Honesty and Truthfulness

Tell the truth and keep your promises. Be honest and dependable. Seems terribly simple, doesn’t it? These are characteristics we all can cite as important. No one would have an issue with this ideal being taught to children. And I am sure everyone reading this would say they are trustworthy themselves. But once you dig a little deeper and apply an adult perspective things change…. or do they? For this next part of my Scout Law project, let’s examine Honesty & Truthfulness in terms of the value Trustworthy.

 

Honesty and truthfulness

Do you always tell the truth?

I’ll save you the suspense – no, you probably do not. I know I do not always tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. And I doubt you do either. If we didn’t, society might look like this:

The Invention of Lying

The Invention of Lying

Does that make us liars? Yes, it probably does. Does that make us less than trustworthy? Good question. Perhaps it’s a matter of serving the greater good.

The shades of truth approach is usually reserved protect someone’s feelings but sometimes it can be for convenience. I believe it’s that shift that is the slippery moral slope.

In this context, it’s not difficult to see why we would want our sons and daughters to be honest. But would we want them to be in all cases? There’s no surprise why trustworthiness is a universal moray – it’s a necessary stitch in the fabric of community. But how about Honesty? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

 

 

Promises and Dependability

The first Scout Law is for a Scout to be Trustworthy. I’ve been thinking on the meaning of this word as part of my Scout Law project. It’s a complex issue that I am finding requires the examination of multiple perspectives. For this post, I’d like to investigate how promises (fulfilled or otherwise) and dependability factor into the value we label Trustworthy.

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One Way to Measure Trust

A year ago I was in a meeting about surveying our clients’ perspective on my organization’s performance. The idea of the survey was a followup on the idea of Net Promoter Score (NPS), made popular by Frederick F. Reichheld in a 2003 Harvard Business Review article titled ‘The One Number You Need to Grow.‘ The reason we were employing NPS was to calibrate our service model to our client’s needs.

The NPS tactics included create a comprehensive survey with open ended questions and a rating mechanism. If respondents scored our services low enough, we labeled them as ‘detractors.’ If they scored us within a certain band, they were  quantified as neutral. If they rated our service high enough, they were seen as promoters. To find your score you subtract the detractors from the promoters and divide that sum by the total opportunities. The goal then is to improve that score over time based on the feedback to the open ended questions in the survey. Other options include closing the loop and working with the survey respondents to improve your processes.

While we were designing  the survey I found it amazing how close the questions clients are surveyed with are to promises kept and dependability. We debated several questions, the phrasing of the questions, and what exactly it was that we were after.

Note: If you 1) are in business, 2) in management, 3) have clients or aspire to any of those 3 AND you’re not familiar with Net Promoter score, it’s worth learning. Here’s the wikipedia description, here’s a summary from Harvard Business Review (where the idea was originally published in 2003), and here’s a link to buy the entire pdf from Amazon The One Number You Need to Grow.

In the end what I suggested that what we really wanted to discover was our client’s level of trust. After all, that’s what everyone gets hired for in the end; management’s trust in you to employ your skills and exhibit good judgement. The group agreed with me and we proceeded to ask very tough questions to ascertain out client’s level of trust in our organization.

How does the ability to deliver on promises impact trustworthiness to you? How does dependability impact trustworthiness in your eyes? What criteria do people have to display to earn your trust? How do they lose it?

Do you think you could adapt the corporate concept of Net Promoter Score to your personal life? Have you? What were the results?

Tell us in the comments.

On Character and Characters

Last post I described my Scout Law Project and promised to shed some light on why I was doing it. The overwhelming justification is for me to examine base principles and to practice writing about them. Two items I am particularly interested in exploring are Character and Framework. Today’s article is on Character. Hope you like it!

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On the Character of Characters

Think of every piece of fiction that you have ever loved. No matter the genre or subject, I’ll be they all have one thing in common; great, wonderful and believable characters. Characters that are distinct, illustrative, and alive. Characters that leap off the page and into your heart. Characters that once you are finished with that book you are sad to leave but will remember forever.

Reread that last sentence. “Characters that … you are sad to leave but will remember forever.” Now, think of your closest friends. The line between characters in fiction and your greatest friends is a fine one, isn’t it. Chances are you like, love, and respect your friends that reflect the virtues you yourself hold most dear. It’s very much the same with the characters we enjoy in our reading, isn’t it?

What if we turn that lense upon ourselves? Realizing what is true for us may be true for our friends, take the thought from the other perspective. What do your friends value in you? Why are they friends with you? What does that tell you about them? What does that tell you about you?

Character makes Great Characters

Whether our friends are found in paperback or in the flesh-and-blood, it’s their character that draws us in. I discovered this both with my failed attempt at writing a long-thought-of novel and over a lifetime of friendships. The people I love and respect most in my life, or my readings have very defined senses of self. So well defined that their stances on, well, anything are inimitable and could only be theirs and theirs alone. For example, if I asked any of them to free-associate on any number of things, I would receive personalized statements that reflect their own personal character.

For example, how many times have you ever called a friend just to find his or her particular take on an issue because you knew it would be insightful or hilarious, or poignant or whatever – just so absolutely them? How many times have your friends contacted you for just the same thing?

As a quick example, take any set of criteria (political hot button issues, questions of faith, the US Bill of Rights, the Ten Commandments, etc) and any set of interesting, memorable people and you will come up with very distinct and interesting answers. Even if you didn’t agree with their views, I’d bet you’d understand their responses as a natural conclusion of who they are.

If qualities summed up in character can define great friendships so can they too define great characters on a page. Look again at the example in the previous paragraph but this time consider the characters in your favorite books. See if you can map them against some philosophical framework.

For laughs, let me use the example of the characters from Lord of the Rings. I’d bet that Samwise, Legolas, Gandalf and Gimli would interpret different portions of the Scout Law very differently. I bet their answers would change depending where they were in the narrative. I’d also bet their would be common threads between them. Those common threads, the reader could rationalize, would form the foundations of their relationship. As an aspiring author I can tell you that it is those individualistic answers that form a litmus test for believable, interesting characters and that common thread the story arch.

I believe the same is true in our own personal lives and relationships. Well-defined positions reasoned well past the point of ‘I don’t know’ and ‘just because’ to their fundamental, irreducable elements create interesting people. The juxtaposition of values – be them shared, at cross purposes with, or antiethical to – create the story arcs of our lives. There is no history, but the interactions of people.

Over the next few weeks as I explore the characteristics Trustworthy, Loyal, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Brave, clean, and Reverent I’ll ask you to do the same. What is the nature of these terms? Think about what these concepts mean to you. What do you think it means to others in your lives or to the characters you read about? What do you think they believe these characteristics mean to you? What do the differences and the similarities indicate? Next week I’ll share some thoughts on framework. Thanks for reading!

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On Procrastination

What Happened? Well, I started strong writing for NaNoWriMo, but ultimately failed. I could not get my head around how awfully I wrote. Sure, the contest guidelines tell you this will be a problem. “Just write!” they say. “Worry about editing this later!” “Perfection is the enemy!” “Getting started is the hardest part.”

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Not so, I say. Starting is easy. It’s achieving consistency that kills.

The exercise behind National November Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is to gain momentum through action. By committing to writing an incredible volume, you’ll be able to get yourself over the hump of inertia. Well, I failed. 50,000 words was just too much for me. Oh, I started out OK. 50k / ~30 days equaled just about 1,500 words a day. And I did just that… for a while at least. Actually, a few days in the first week my word count was well over 2000 per day. And then it just stopped. I skipped one day telling myself that it would average out. Then I wrote little the next day. Then little more the next week. Before you know it, I was out. Not only was I out of NaNoWriMo, I was out of writing. Entirely. No new blog articles (thanks, Matt, for pointing that out.)

This was an odd experience for me. While I may not always finish pretty, I do make a point to finish. NaNoWriMo sticks out as one of my great unfinished endeavors. It wasn’t until months later that I was able to begin to discern why. This essay are those reasons.

What Happened?

While I was writing, I kept on judging how easy this was for me as a child, as a teen, and as a college student. Years ago, I would never have to try. I would simply make an outline of what I wanted to write then go about filling in the outline. What could be easier? The words would pour out well-formed (or relatively well-formed albeit still with atrocious grammar) on the page.

Well, the words didn’t this time. It was a struggle. It sucked. And so I started to procrastinate. I began doing all sorts of other things. I built a full other website – while it did make me a decent amount of spending money, brought me no closer to my writing goal. My house was cleaner than it has ever been. Writing goals are apparently excellent for cleaning your house. My kung fu practice was spot-on. I prepared and cooked many excellent dishes and even attained a semblance of a diet. As I was also growing a mustache for Movemeber (much to my wife’s dismay), I spent a good deal of time enjoying the bizarre look of it in the mirror.

What didn’t happen was writing. Not here on this website. Not on my web design site. As my brother mentioned in a comment, it was amusing that my last post here at Cubicle Warrior was that I was entering NaNoWriMo… and that nothing had been posted for so long afterward. In fact, I would do anything but write. Ironic that entering a writing contest killed my writing.

Or did it?

Why Nothing Happened

I’ve thought long and hard about this. After much thought, several cigars, and lots of psuedo-work, reading the interwebs (the more respectable alias of procrastination) I discovered my root cause of failure; I didn’t have a plan. Or, rather, let me correct that; I didn’t have a sound plan that my whole mind embraced.

My original plan for NaWriMo was to sit down an crank out 1500 number of lines per day. This worked swimmingly for the first ~15,000 words but entirely fell apart. It was if the initial words I wrote were ends to some long rope and the more that came, the more tangled I became in them until, at last, I had lashed together a full-length pair of Chinese Finger cuffs
fitted for my psyche. The more I wrote, the more stuck I became. This went on until I became so damn constricted that I would rather do anything than fight it anymore. However I allocated my time, repeated pithy motivational sayings, or otherwise compelled myself to the task at hand I ended up procrastinating my way out of it.

Why Do We Procrastinate?

There are probably as many theories as there are procrastinators, but I like the summation provided in Cal Newport’s article ‘The Procrastinating Caveman’ summation the best.

In short, Cal’s reasoning is thus:

  1. Humans won the evolutionary battle largely due to our ability for complex planning. (ie. Throwing a spear at large, dangerous game is much better than charging it.)
  2. This evolution was a pre-verbal adaptation and thus would register itself as something instinctual.
  3. Perhaps procrastination is our pre-verbal brain expressing it’s reservations against our actions that do not follow a promising game plan.

So, according to Cal, thanks to eons of evolution*, I need a plan that my whole mind will sign off on in order to beat procrastination. I’ll buy that. In fact, I believe that is exactly what happened with my NaNoWriMo experiment.

You see, the instructions of NaNoWriMo are to sit down and just write. Ignore everything else and just write. You are technically able to bring an outline in with you, but I never did that. Sure, I would procrastinate by creating outlines when I was supposed to be writing but that’s just not the same. Traversing Cal’s list bullet-ed out above, I was never afraid of writing, nor of it ever being perfect. While I was certain that my NaNoWriMo writings were of low-quality, I still do believe (perhaps erroneously), that I do have high-quality stuff hidden somewhere inside of me. And I think it was lack of a plan that stopped me from finding & expressing it.

*As an addendum to readers who may not necessarily believe in evolution, perhaps it is possible that the deity who you believe gave you a brain and a subconscious built a little sub-routine into it that behaves in a similar way to how Cal describes.

Why I Think Cal is Right

The best evidence is that you are reading this post right here. This post only came out of a series of imagining, planning, and refining my goals and process of achieving them. Once I hit upon a plan that made ‘instinctual’ sense to me – an answer if you will to ‘Why the hell are you keeping that Cubicle Warrior website up and going?’ – I was able to start writing again. And without effort.

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Here’s how I think it went down

  1. I start NaNoWrimo tacitly accepting the contest rules as a good plan.
  2. I set to work and my frontal lobe’s pre-verbal adaptation registered it’s disagreement via procrastination.
  3. Effort flames out.
  4. I learn to utilize keys from my subconscious and happen upon a good plan.
  5. Productive work comes much easier.

The biggest change is that I am excited to produce again. I am not so worried about if it makes much sense to anyone else because it makes sense to me – and it really makes sense to that pre-verbal adaptation evolution has left me. This is good – I’m tired of fighting it.

Call it a placebo effect. I don’t care. What matters to me is that I feel that I am making progress – in opposed to doing pseudo work. I like my plan and I like it’s effects. Hopefully you will, too.

Next time I’ll cover some elements I see in a good plan before going on to layout the first steps I am taking. In the meantime, why not share your thoughts on procrastination. Do you procrastinate? If so, why? If not, did you ever and how did you beat it? I know there are terribly interesting people reading this essay. If you don’t comment (anonymously or not), I’ll start outing your terrific accomplishments and calling you out!

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Quotes of My Friend’s Fathers

Last week I spent some time recounting my favorite quotes from my Dad. I also wrote up a few quotes from the fathers of my favorite writers on the Internet. Today I’m taking a look at some of my favorite words of wisdom from the fathers of my friends.

I spent this Father’s Day weekend at a wedding for my wife’s cousin. This was the union of two incredibly connected, well-adjusted and close families each with several children that spanned ages. Many of the people in my generation (+/- 10 years in either direction have children so there was certainly no shortage of great examples of the importance of family on a person’s growth.

Achieving

  • Never sacrifice what you want most for what you want now.
  • Make a plan and work it.
  • If it’s really important to you, you’ll remember it (when I would forget to do something, and claim “I just forgot!”)
  • If you really want it, you’ll get it.  Don’t worry if you don’t think you can do it now, you’ll figure it out.
  • Listen.

Coping

  • They can make it tougher, but they can’t make it longer.
  • Learn to agree to disagree.
  • This, too, shall pass.

Money

  • There is no prize for being the richest man in the cemetery.
  • You can’t burn the candle on both ends.
  • Never be ashamed of working.. any kind of work.

What do you think about this set of wisdom? Is there anything you can apply to your life today? What would you share?

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