Be Creative! Just Be Sure You Do It OUR Way

As I mentioned previously, I have become a fan of iTunes U and have begun to make use of my drive time to and from work to listen to some of the lectures and podcasts available from a variety of colleges and universities. This morning I honestly laughed out loud listening to a lecture from Robert I. Sutton, a professor at Stanford University.

Why, pray tell, would I find a lecture entitled “Stimulating Innovation and Creativity in the Workplace” just so darn amusing? Perhaps you need to work in a big corporate environment to appreciate it, but I will give it a whirl.
The above link will take you to the iTunes store where you can download the lecture for free. The amusing part starts at 9:36 and concludes around 10:20.  Anyone who has worked in a large corporation can appreciate the little nugget driven home in the lecture: that it’s not exactly ideal to be urged to be creative… but hey, hey, hey! Only be creative according to our rules… you know, ’cause otherwise, you just being seditious. And we don’t need that.
It’s really not surprising that if you work really hard at developing a corporate culture of sustainable, repeatable work to ensure absolutely quality… hey… you can get just that. As Professor Sutton points out in this lecture, that’s not a bad thing. No one wants a lot of crazy variability in how their appliances operate or how planes fly.
It just gets tricky when you need to shut that standard methodical thinking off to be creative. Once the beast is awoken, it doesn’t nap easily.
Speaking of naps, that’s all I’ve got for now. Time to wind down the brain and rest up for tomorrow. Be good, people.

Explain, But Don’t Excuse

I was hanging out with a very good friend of mine not too long ago and we were chatting about a mutual friend who has recently been through some rough patches. The problem is that while they are going through these patches, their behavior towards others (certainly me) has not exactly been ideal.

As my friend and I chatted, I gave my personal view on the why’s and whatnot’s of that other friend’s situation. But the more I did that, the more the friend I was hanging out with seemed to get agitated with me and eventually said, “You really shouldn’t make excuses for what they’re doing.”

My response was something I’ve said to myself many times, but I’m not sure I’ve often said it to anyone else… “I may explain, but I don’t excuse.”

I tend to be a rather empathetic sort of soul. I can see and feel what others are going through somewhat well and I try to be mindful of that when viewing someone else’s actions… but to be clear, if you’re just being a jackass, there’s really nothing acceptable about that. I will try to show some extra patience or give you space or seek to listen to your woes, but the point at which your ire inexplicably turns on me is when my explaining stops flat out. Otherwise, you’re just a doormat.

So remember to try and see through the eyes of another, especially during their troubled times. They will return the favor for you if they are a real friend. And if they don’t? Well, at least your Christmas card list got a little shorter.

Just don’t make excuses for them because while we all faces life’s myriad of challenges, we always, always, ALWAYS control how we respond to them.

I just happen to respond to them with overwhelming amounts of personal awesome, so don’t be hatin’.

Easy Morning Brain Expansion – No Stretching Required

About 3 months back I wrote a post entitled “The Quiet Drive” which detailed how I was looking to make different or better use of my daily morning commute to work. The reason behind this time of reflection was that it was proving to be a dedicated part of my every day life where I allowed myself to do nothing but think… umm… and drive. I guess if I just lapsed into navel-gazing reflection while doing 65 MPH on I-84, I think this habit would end itself (and me) rather quickly. I mean, I’ve got mongoose-like quickness, but even I would not be able to leap out of a car at full speed on a highway. I do appreciate the faith all of you have in me that I have this capability – it’s quite touching.

This morning I changed it up a little bit and decided to use a chunk of that drive for a little bit of brain expansion. See, with my switch to the Evil Empire of Apple for my computing needs, I started using iTunes again. I know it seems impossible that anyone with an iPod would use something else, but seriously… I hate it. Slow and controlling and bleah. It’s a little better when you are using a Mac, but I still have that part of me that rebels against the way Steve Jobs likes to keep everything closed and under his thumb in the world of Mac.

Back to the brain expansion. If there is something that iTunes seems to have done well in the time I have been gone from using it, that may be the inclusion of iTunes U. iTunes U is a free resource for downloading a rich array of course content from a variety of schools and educational institutions. The list is impressive: Harvard Business Review, Stanford, Cal-Berkeley, Texas A&M, Yale, etc. There are interviews, lectures and even video based pieces for your perusal on a really wide range of topics. Thus far, I have not seen any you would even pay for, which is nice.

So give your brain a little morning shake up to go with your coffee or morning Diet Dr. Pepper (my choice for the AM pick-me-up). Hell, you might learn something. I did today… freaky.

Interwebz Find of the Day: gapingvoid

In an effort to broaden the horizon’s of anyone stumbling across this blog, I thought I would begin sharing a few of my finds in an effort to share those things I find weird, kooky, interesting and all-out mentally stimulating. Why? Because I love it when people share those same things with me. I am always engaged by those things that truly pique the curiosity of others and it inevitably stirs up my own yearnings for exploration, creativity and just “new stuff”.

Today’s find came via the always excellent Pam Slim (owner of Escape from Cubicle Nation, both the blog and the book) and it’s the blog gapingvoid. gapingvoid is the blog and Web site of cartoonist Hugh MacLeod, someone I knew absolutely zero about before today… and… uhh… well, I cannot say I know a ton more about this gentlemen now. But I do know one thing… he has a knack for capturing through his cartoons ideas that are sometimes smartass, but always smart/thought-provoking. In fact, a chunk of his work is cartoons designed for the back of a business card. Cool huh?

While he has several cartoons I rather enjoyed, I thought this one was particularly striking:

While his drawings (such as this one) do tend to range more to the abstract, somehow they blend beautifully with the message… and one that tends to be (sadly) true.

How often is it that instead of finding hope in those who have found their heart’s calling, we seek to tear it down or scoff at them as having “just gotten lucky”? We all do it in some form or another and I like how this just puts that thought in front of us to consider… just with a short phrase and a sketch. That’s it.

Damn it… I hate him for his brevity… or maybe I’m just jealous. HA! But in truth, I am enjoying his work and I highly recommend you scoot on over to his page to see what he’s got going on. He does sell his own original pieces, so the notion of picking one up is mighty tempting.

So browse and enjoy and please do let me know what you think about some of these finds. For now I share… and hope for a day when I might warrant being shared as well. Thanks to people like Hugh for giving me something to shoot for.

The New Toy

So here she be in all her glory. My new toy – a 15″ Apple MacBook Pro I ain’t gonna lie… I love this sucker. The more I use it, the more I like it and the more I come to appreciate some of the smalls ways this computer handles certain tasks so well.

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The previous post was the first one to use the new computer and to follow up on my promise to myself to keep this blog moving in the right direction once I got my new gadget.

Here’s to hoping for good things to follow! And anyone who has any tips or cool software I should get for a Mac (especially for blogging), please let me know.

Wait… Things Went RIGHT?

As often seems to be the case, the good people over at Lifehacker have provided inspirational fodder for this humble blog of mine, this time in the form of a referral to a blog post over at Psychology Today. It’s not a long post, but hey… who said they had to be long to be good? No seriously, who said that? Because Lord knows my posts tend to ramble on endlessly! HA!

*ahem* Anyway, onwards and upwards. The blog post looks into something that is simple, but interesting: While most people (myself most definitely included) seem to take an inordinate amount of angst-filled time hashing out why something went wrong, very few people will do the same about why something went right. If you have to give a PowerPoint presentation to the VP of your department and you just flop about like a fish on the dock, 999 people out of 1,000 will wail, gnash their teeth and spend endless hours rethinking why they blew it, why they should have done better, where they should be looking for their next job, etc. It’s an ugly little cycle, my friends, as I am sure anyone reading these words well knows. We’ve all been there. Less than good times.

But what about when it goes well? In thinking of myself, it seems pretty plain as to why I don’t think much about why it went well… I’m just too stoked to give it much thought. Let’s take lifting as an example. Suppose I just absolutely crushed a set of military presses for a personal record. Just absolutely smoked them. What would be my reaction shortly thereafter? Probably a battle cry followed by a little victory dance. No seriously… that’s what I do. I kid you not. There is also then a decent chance of following it up with a slightly larger-than-average meal to celebrate.

What’s missing from all of that? Not even a moment’s reflection as to what got me to that good spot. Don’t mistake me – the spontaneous moment of jubilation I engage in after the accomplishment is a great thing. Hell, I do this lifting thing because I love it, not out of some horrible sense of obligation. Ugh – how awful that would be. However, I am also missing out on that little sliver of analysis that might make those moments come along more regularly going forward. So what should I consider shortly after I bust out my funky dance moves?

Did I get good sleep the night before? What did I eat today? Was I stressed? Relaxed? How did I prep for the lift? Was I focused? Did I take enough time to warm-up? What has my lifting program been looking like up to that point? Had I incorporated any different exercises or rep schemes that might have borne fruit for me?

All those things should be considered in some way, shape or form. And guess what’s most remarkable about that list of questions above? Go ahead… give it a moment… I don’t mind… ready? It’s easy.

Not a damn thing is remarkable. Nothing. El zippo.

It’s all a matter of mindfulness to pause and consider all these good things. Also, it’s not as if the analysis would be unpleasant because you are focusing on why a good thing happened. I might not be a fancified PhD in psychology and such, but I am pretty confident that thinking over a good thing is a nice experience… but I’m kooky like that.


So celebrate and drink deep the cup of victory. You earned it and there are few moments as sweet as those. But even just a brief glimpse inward may be just the thing to keep those good times returning again and again and again… and wouldn’t that be a nice little treat?

My Insanity is the Sanest Thing I’ve Got

If there’s one area that I tend to cause puzzlement in my friends, family and co-workers, it’s the way I approach my training, exercise and diet regime.  It’s not that they are necessarily amazed at my being into health and fitness (since lots of people are), it’s really the specifics of my philosophy and approach that give them pause or cause them to cock their heads, look at my askew and remark (after an extended sigh) “Seriously… why???”

It can actually be a little odd to explain to someone outside of the worldwide family of lifters and physical culture devotees who make this kind of strenuous exertion the best part of their days.

I have talked to or exchanged ideas with on forms a lot of people who are as into training (I almost never call it “working out”, FYI) or even more so into training than I am.  There seems to be a fairly common thread that ties all of us together into one big, borderline irrational family:

The power of transformation.

With training, you will truly get back from it what you give to it.  If you learn a bit and then work hard at what you learned, the results will come.  They just will as sure as day follows night.  They will come faster for some and slower for others, but they do come when you give yourself over to the training.

Can you see the appeal?  Think of how many areas in life where despite your best efforts and all your smarts and all your talents and all the sweat of your brow… you get diddly-squat back in return.  Zip.  Zilch.  Nada.  It’s ridiculously frustrating.

A few years back I went to a doctor for my lower back.  He was a pretty good physician, but very, very old school.  He took a look at my x-rays, showed me how one disc was a bit narrower than the others and simply said, “You need to stop all exercising that loads your vertical spine.”  I gave him a look of “Umm… you gotta be kidding me, dude.”  He went on to say, “I don’t know what it is with you weightlifters and why you can’t seem to stop.  There are so many other wonderful kind of exercise out there.”  You can tell I really didn’t listen to him and I am trying my best to be a lot smarter about how I train… but I ain’t quitting.

I think this is why when I had someone very special and very close to me going through leukemia for several agonizing years, the weight training I did was utter salvation to me.  I could not fix her horrid illness which ravaged away at her for those 5 long years.  It was excruciating to feel so powerless to do much except to be an unyielding form of support the whole way.

My EliteFTS power rack (i.e. my baby)

But during that time while I was training?  I could effect change.  It was at least something I could control and for at least a little while, use to chisel away some of the hurt in the process.  It was also something that taught me a lot about myself and how to push through the challenging parts of life… and then I would use all of that to better support her day after day after day.  The two things began to feed each other and without that constant of my training, I’m not sure what all of those 5 years would have been like.

So the fact I hit a new personal record on my deadlifts (427.5 lbs for 5 reps, in case you were wondering… and I just know you were) tonight just makes me feel like a little bit more is right with the world… that things can make a little more sense… and that when it comes to my training, I will get back what I give.

All of which raises one question for me: If you don’t feel the same about your own exercise program… why not?

You might view me as nuts for what I do… I see it as a lone sane act in a sometimes completely insane world.

Let’s Make a Deal… With Yourself

Since I started this blog, my real goal was to hit one post per day and try to keep that up over time.  Clearly that has not happened and of late, it’s lucky when I get one a week.  So what to do… what to do.

Well this here guy decided he would fix this problem the old-fashioned way: self bribery.

img_8941In case the photo above is not glaringly obvious enough, I am getting a new computer and it’s going to be a Mac.  ‘Twas no easy decision for me as the son of 30 year IBM employee.  I was there during the heady early days of home PCs when the mighty IBM PC was battling it out with the Apple IIe.  It was a pitched and vicious battle, for sure.

But those days are long gone and I’ve been in need of a new computer as my trusty Dell desktop begins to sputter and fade a little more every day.  So a brand spanking new 15” MacBook Pro is en route to me right now.  FedEx still shows the damn thing in China with a Thursday delivery date… but damn it, I WANT IT NOW! *ahem*

hipsters_coffeeThe deal I made is that this would be the tool through which I build this blog and my overall on-line presence… umm, which is basically this blog and my Twitter account.  I have told myself with a powerful laptop, I will be able to blog and do all this groovy social networking anywhere the moment I am struck by the muse’s song.  I think this will be true for the most part… but I also know a decent chunk of me just likes having a new toy to play with.  So I am expecting more posts on a regular basis to coming flowing from my gray matter down through my fast-typing fingers (seriously – I am uber-quick) and onto the Interwebz for your reading enjoyment.

Now excuse me while I Google the best coffee bar to take my MacBook and fully immerse myself in my new hipster persona.  I’m writing the great American novel and pontificating on all things cool… obviously, you bourgeois swine.

Foundations First and Pretty Stuff After

When I was growing up, there was a decent chunk of time where I really wanted to be an architect.  Building things held a real fascination for me and the genesis of this was likely my complete and utter Lego obsession (something I’m really happy to see has been taken up by my nephews).

My Saturday mornings often fit a very neat pattern in those simpler days.  I would get up, go downstairs and pull out of the family room closet a good-sized draw string denim bag that was chock full of those magical plastic bricks.  I would open the bag up and gently spread the pieces in front of me on the floor so I could build while engaging in my other favorite Saturday activity: watching cartoons (especially the Super Friends).

wallpaper_10rittpourLegos taught me an important early lesson, although I did not truly appreciate that teaching until many years later: anything of substance you wish to build first requires a strong, consistent foundation.  Without that foundation on which to rely, you’re just setting yourself up for some kind of collapse and with it all the pretty things you built upon that weak foundation.

What I love about the analogy is how well it works in several contexts.  It applies for buildings (as in this photo for a 33 story tower as it was being built in Philadelphia) or sports teams or relationships or just that little corner of the world you call your own life.  If you don’t have some goals or guiding principles or common understanding or shared values, you will find little success or what success you do achieve is only eked out through pure strenuous effort and bullheadedness.  Not exactly the best use of time or energy, methinks.

I started thinking about foundations the other day because I’ve been in a bit of a funk of late.  Nothing incredibly extreme, mind you, but not a ton of fun any way you slice that bad boy.  Part of the reason you can tell I’ve been in a funk is the utter dearth of blog postings popping up here.  I’ve not been feeling (or probably acting) all that fierce or mighty.  So, the other night I tried to settle in for a bit of thinking time without distraction… and uhh… that’s actually a bit hard.  Anyone with a Droid, iPhone or Blackberry will know the feeling – it’s like you are just so damn connected, you’ve forgotten how to disconnect yourself, even for a little while (unless you are asleep and even then you’re probably having dreams of apps and snarky text messages).

Often when life feels funky, I need to find myself something to pour my heart and efforts into.  Maybe some of that is just pure distraction from whatever is truly bothering me, but a lot of it gets back to the foundational values or principles I’ve set up for myself to live by.  If I can find one thing that is a core value for me and I can really focus my efforts on it for a while, slowly but surely the rut begins to fade and just becomes an unpleasant memory that also dissolves like morning mist in the sun’s heat.

While some who know me well may laugh at what I’m about to write, I think this is what I might do: get myself re-dedicated to my exercise and health plans.  I know… I know… I’m the guy with the gym in his basement and who posts videos of himself on YouTube of doing all sort of funky training.  I hear ya people – really I do.  The hard thing is that even that has taken a hit of late where it feels too much like a chore to get myself lifting or doing my stretching as I should or really being good much more often about what I eat or getting a good night’s rest every night.  I think if I give myself an extra push in this area, I will begin to enjoy it again as I should and get some momentum going… and that momentum?  It tends to have a positive carry over into other areas (at least that’s my sincere hope).

Today was a good start to all of this with the first outdoor soccer game of the season, a 5-2 win for Maniacs FC (the team I am the captain of).  I felt focused and in good shape all game long… but most importantly, I just had fun.  Isn’t that the point anyway?

So onward I go and the blogging will be much more consistent (as my next post will illustrate).  Here’s to getting back to the foundations on which we build our lives… because with their strength, we can build beautifully.

You’re So Positive, That It’s A Negative

0762412550 Back in 1952, a Protestant minister from Ohio published a book whose title, over time, has become a catch phrase unto itself.  That man was Norman Vincent Peale and the book is The Power of Positive Thinking.  It’s almost become a cliché unto itself in terms of people talking about how to get through difficult times – “Be positive!  You know – the power of positive thinking!”  It’s also one of those things that someone can say to you when you’re mired in the midst of a complete bog of suckdom that makes you just want to go upside their head.  Oh come on!  Don’t act like I’m alone on that one.

Anyhoo, as someone who does my best to maintain a good frame of mind (with varying degrees of success, admittedly), this piece over at Psychology Today’s blog (brought to my attention by the good folks at Lifehacker) jumped out at me a bit.  While I am certainly a fan of trying to keep things in perspective and seeing the good, even in bad moments, I’m always intrigued by those who cut across the grain.  People who challenge commonly established dogma tend to intrigue the hell out of me.  I’m not always going to agree with them, but I will certainly try to take a few nuggets from whatever they may have to say.  Except for those dudes who are obsessed with the whole Mayan calendar and 2012 nonsense.  Dude… please.  Take it down a few notches.

The point of the blog piece by Srikumar Rao is simple: when we constantly put events or situations we encounter into the black and white buckets of “good” and “bad”, we will end up on the losing end one way or the other.  Why?  He explains:

No matter what happens to us in life we tend to think of it as "good" or "bad". And most of us tend to use the "bad" label three to ten times as often as the "good" label. And when we say something is bad, the odds grow overwhelming that we will experience it as such. And that is when we need positive thinking. We have been given something bad, a real lemon, and we better scramble and make some lemonade out of it and salvage something out of this "bad" situation.

How tiring and tiresome!

So if we say something is bad, we are highly likely to have the experience of that event being bad.  We will then likely feel compelled to make something good of that situation… and now the pressure is on.  It’s certainly an interesting view.

Personally, I’m not sure I would view this as a stressor, but more our natural reaction of “Well, I don’t like bad… so how do I find something of value in this moment?"  Where’s the silver lining?”  I know I do this, but I am the first to admit it’s about 1,000 times easier doing this when viewing a tough event a friend is enduring as opposed to turning the penetrating eye of clarity upon myself.Good to Great

This recalls for me an excellent portion of Jim Collins classic book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t.  One of the points Collins seeks to make about companies who are able to transition from being merely good to being exceptional is that they need to be committed to succeeding, but all the while, they must squarely confront the brutal facts.  In order to illustrate this story, he discusses a meeting he had with Admiral Jim Stockdale, the highest ranking officer kept as a POW in the infamous Hanoi Hilton during the Vietnam War.  Listen to this clip of Collins explaining his meeting with Stockdale:

It’s a powerful and challenging thought: the ones who didn’t make it were the optimists.  Stockdale was able to survive because he was 100% resolute in his belief of prevailing, but he did that in light of the brutal facts of being held prisoner in an absolute hellhole.

Maybe you really can be too positive… but only if you do so in an utterly blind belief about your circumstances or why you are seeking to be positive in the first place.  The “Stockdale Paradox” is a notion I find truly appealing and defining because it’s sort of like optimism with a truly wicked chip on your shoulder.  In an odd way, it’s part of what has inspired me to push through some challenging times the last few years… that life may be giving me a lot to handle… but I’ll be damned if I let myself relent for a moment because I will come through.