Sunday, November 24, 2013

Manly Tools...

No, no, not that one!

I'm talking about manly housework tools...

For example, it's the season of leaf blowers for those of us that live in a world with trees.  For me, they are one of the more seasonally irritating aspects of urban dwelling.

Leaf blowers create an environment where your day is spent listening to a constant whine or roar that goes on for hours as some guy blows leaves from one bit of the pavement to...why, yes, to the next bit of the pavement and so on, ad infinitum.

Mostly, leaf blowers are used where a broom or rake would work fine, and rarely involve actually collecting the leaves & placing them into a receptacle to be removed.

Mostly, they just get blown into the neighbor's yard, the sidewalk, the street.  Where, naturally, they can just get blown back to wherever. Progress!

In fairness, there are places where a broom or rake won't workplantings, or fragile growth areas that might need to be de-leafed in the fall.  But for that, there are leaf suckersyes, they do existthat vacuum the leaves into a bag, so they are active a small fraction of the time leaf blowers are on (because they actually remove the leaves).

So I'm thinking: Why?

And the realization strikes that no self-respecting guy would want to take a broom to the sidewalk.  Women's work!  But when it comes to marching about with a giant dongle waving about in front of you (nearly reaching the ground!  How cool is that?) and making a lot of noise, it's acceptable.  Even desirable & fun.

Think about the creativity that has gone into lawn mowing equipmentthe advent of the riding mower transformed cutting the lawn into a macho experience.  What male wouldn't like to sit on a big, vibrating, noisy machine that gets driven around the Indy 500 track of your front yard?  Beautiful.

So for those women who wish men might contribute a bit more to household chores, the solution is simple: guy-ify the appliances.

Imagine if the dishwasher had a starter switch like a outboard motor pull?  Ideally it would be a bit fussy, perhaps requiring a certain weight within the dishwasher (like, there have to be some dishes in there & soap).  A couple of strong yanks, a loud whirr, and they're off!  There would not be a dirty dish in the house.

And how about a washing machine set close to the ceiling, where clothes have to 'make' the basket?  The floor around could be weight sensitive and a robo voice (like the self-help supermarket monitors) would make rude remarks about their skill, forcing them to pick up misses.  Now detergent comes in little tossable balls too, so that could work as well.  Another outboard pull or perhaps some drumming patterns that activates the starter.  I think it's viable.

So instead of trying to reverse Henry Higgins famous line: Why can't a man be more like a woman? we need to re-engineer our attitude and create the ultimate housekeeping video game...

Vive la différence!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Sympathy Cards

Sympathy letters are not easy to write, but after being on the recieving end, I think I know the secretor at least a secret.  I hope it may help inspire you to add a little more than the store-bought "With Deepest Sympathy" to your card.

If you knew the deceased, please know that your words are a gift of memory.  They will offer the recipient a small unknown perspective of your way of seeing that person, which is unique.  Share a story, a moment, a memory, a realizationit doesn't matter what.  It just is something you know, thought, experienced about that person.

In sharing it, you make that person come alive.  You continue to expand and grow the recipient's knowledge of that personsomething they may have felt had ended with their loss.  You give the gift of the knowledge that you too are a repository of memories that live on.  That a life was valued, had impact, was appreciated.

It does not need to be lengthyor even positive!

It just needs to about you, about them and be shared.

With Deepest Sympathy....

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Greatest Asset=Greatest Liability

Well, I have a theory that everyone's greatest asset is also, conversely, their greatest liability.  Think about itit's just the flip side of the same coin.  The dark side.  Too much of a good thing.

It's one of the reasons we can't get rid of our weaknessbecause they are part of what is best about us.

You are thinking, no, actually, that's not true.  But that's just because you haven't really thought about it.  So pause for a minute and work with me here.

What do you think is one of your best qualities?  Something that you are simply better at than most people around.  It isn't necessarily anything specific (your great tennis backhand, for example) but something more broad.  An ability, a power.  I think that like a Pokémon character, we all have both specific abilities and also hidden abilities.  And that as we mature, we go through many steps to accomplish cycles and become (hopefully) better defended, more powerful, with greater capacity to succeed.

So in terms of your abilities, or hidden abilities, (for example) perhaps you are remarkably bright and have an analytical and mathematical mind and are gifted with the ability to assess numerous data points and crunch remarkable amounts of information?

Maybe you have an intense desire to find the best answer, to be greatnot just good, to succeed at the highest level, never settle?

Or you are a "doer," action-oriented, goal-focused, get it done and plow through all obstacles?

Possibly your strength is in the ability to intuit others' perspectives and you can access ways to interpret and inspire others, creating paths of communication and understanding between different personalities, businesses, perspectives, cultures.

But for each of those remarkable gift, there is a challenge, a weakness, a dark side.

For the analytically gifted who offer a deep understanding of issues in all their complexity, sifting all the information in the universe can be very time consuming.  It is sometimes hard to stop analyzing, make a determination and move forward.  There is always more to assess.  There are always downsides and risks to be considered. Finding why you can't do something can sometimes overwhelm the goal of figuring out how you can.

The aspirational vision of the perfectionist demands a higher level of performance, often inspiring step-out accomplishments, demonstrating we can successfully stretch beyond our assumed limits.  But it too can be time consuming, demanding, never satisfied, and that can burn people out and create a sense of ongoing failure in always reaching for the next step, crushing excitement and delight.

A "doer" (often 180 degrees from an analyzer) creates powerful energy with their goal focus and 'can-do' attitude.  But doers can forget to listen, can overwhelm sometimes valid concerns and objections, and can lose the support and buy-in of the team, becoming a dictator rather than a leader.

Intuition can cause those with the gift of that special knowledge to intermediate themselves overmuch between conflicted parties, and be overwhelmed in working to find a common ground.  In trying to please all, they may please noneand be resented for their efforts.

So your greatest asset can also be your greatest liability.

But remember, too, that your greatest weakness also can also be a powerful strength!

Oblivious and inconsiderate?  You may cheerfully march to your own drum and break new ground for those limited by their fear of what others will think.

Outspoken and obnoxious?  You could be a lighting rod, articulating issues others are afraid to voiceand you will have the strength to brush off the criticism and the challenging headwinds you may face.

Quiet and withdrawn?  You may see more than others, gain insights, see patterns, and find better pathways to a solution than the loud speakers.

Finding the balancewhich is constantly shifting in response to the contextit the challenge and the key.

I don't know how to surf, but that is my visual and my metaphor.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Golden Rule

You know, the one that says: "Treat others as you would be treated."  And apparently there's a Silver Rule (who knew?) that is the 'negative' form of the Golden Rule, that is: "do not treat people in ways that you would not care to be treated."

It's interesting to consider the fact that the saying: "an eye for an eye" also captures a kind of negative Golden Rulethat is: "as you have been done to, so too should you do."

However (despite its sweetness), revenge is not an ideal way to live one's life.  It tends to start an endless cycle of retaliationbecause your entirely appropriate and justified "revenge" is often seen by the revengee (?) as an act that needs to beyou guessed itavenged!  And so it goes, back & forth, escalating and unstoppable until there is no one or nothing left.  Not so very sweet after all.

But there is a reverse angle view of the Rule:  that if you do something, you are giving cosmic permission to have it done to you.  Because by your action, you have declared it is an OK thing to do. So of course it is OK for others to do as well.

So if you, for example, cut in front of people in line, you really have no right to complain when others cut in front of you.  You have set your seal of approval on the action.  If you're dishing it out, you've got to take itthat's only fair.

It's something to think about when caught in a retaliatory action.  Perhaps someone says something sexist and negative about women.  It's almost automatic (if you're a woman) to say something sexist and negative back about men.  Justified, as really, they are just being given a taste of their own medicine. Surely that will offer insight and learning!

But actually by that reaction, there is an implied declaration that being sexist is an OK thing to be. The two people simply disagree as to what justifies being sexist, or racist, or whatever.  But being sexist or racist or whatever is clearly OK, because both parties are actively participating in being sexist (or racist, or whatever).

Another example is if people make negative statements about "rich people." They are, by definition, endorsing any parallel behavior that makes negative statements about "poor people."  Because they clearly indicate it's entirely justifiable to make negative statements about "people" based on their financial status. Of course they happen to think it's only justified when people have more Vs less money, but really the concept is fine.

I loved Susan Elizabeth Phillips' Ain't She Sweet, but I always wanted Sugar to say that every one's retaliatory meanness comforted her, because her enemies had sunk to the same level, behaving in just as appalling a manner as she had.  The issue was not that the behavior was bad and should not have happenedby their actions, that kind of behavior was fine.  They just disagreed on what justified it.

It is not easy to quell the desire to retaliate.  But if the behavior is wrong, it is wrong.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What do you call it when...?

What do you call it when someone adds a comment to your post that purports to be genuine, but is really just a self serving gesture to get their own URL in there?

They'll say something vaguely complimentary, then something vaguely critical (to add a tone of verisimilitude) but generic, so they can add onto every post they think, for whatever reason, their own message or URL might have traction.

At first I thought an organism that lives on or in an organism of another species, known as the host, from the body of which it obtains nutriment.

But then I thought maybe it was just marking--you know, the way a male dog lifts his leg on various things to add his scent, to proclaim his territory.

Maybe a little of both...

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Make-An-Effort Diet

I only used the word "diet" to lure you in.

MAE is not a diet.

Diets are depressing.  The very word makes me feel sad, deprived of things desireable, filled with a rebellious fervor to go out and eat somethinganything. Everything.

MAE is an attitude adjustment, challenging and changing one's perspective both outwardly and inwardly.

Diets demonize and bless things we eat.  They work within a familiarand for many a comfortableframework of sin and redemption.  The promised land is reached (or at least visited)  through privation, guilt and self-flaggelation.  And these actions offer us a sense of moral superiority.  We look at not eating/eating as demonstrating moral fibre (or moral turpitude).

The dieting activity involves self-recrimination as well as self-congratualation, and frequently involves purchasing materialbooks, magazines, programs, special meals, "diet" foods, etc.  Becausecue in Steve Martin's paradigm altering realization in The Jerk"It's a profit deal!"

No purchase is necessary for Make An Effort.  The only requirement is guessed it! To make an effort.

And that effort is real.  You have to actually PAY ATTENTION.  You have to think about:
  1. Whether you are actually hungry
  2. What does the food you are eating taste like?
  3. When you are no longer hungry
You have to make an effort to eat with intention and enjoyment and only what you really need to fill yourself, so eat slowly and allow your stomach to catch up with your mouth.

So for example, you do not need to eat the entire bag of potato chips.  The first one or two are delicious, the rest are a repetitive and compulsive waste.  Don't even go there.

The MAE could be seen as portion control--you will be making an effort to eat less, to enjoy what you are eating more, to avoid very fattening foods.

But you should never deprive yourself.  If you want a cookie, or ice-cream or whatever, you need to challenge yourself:  Are you being frivolous? Is it anxious eating? Boredom?  Already full and just want more? If yes, then make an effort and avoid.

But if it is special, if you are really feeling a bit hollow, or just have a craving, of course help yourself.  Just enough, but not more.  No penalties, no recrimination, just really savor it, think about it and enjoy it to the fullest.

Go ahead.  Make an effort....

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Family owned

You see it on organic foods and on the advertising that is trying to attract an environmentally sympathetic, locally grown, "healthy" type audience.

And for sure it's a code word for not being big business or a large conglomerate.

But has anyone actually thought this through?

Can you imagine working efficiently and successfully with your family members?  Isn't it hard enough to get together for special events—a shared meal during holidays, a birthday or anniversary, wedding or funeral?  Can you imagine actually having not only to put up with everyone day after day, but know your livelihood is in their handsand firing them may not be an option?

Instead of going to HR or your supervisor about a performance concern as a professional and colleague, you end up feeling nine years old and tattling to Daddy about a sibling.  "Johnny just picked his nose! Make him stop!" "Did not!" "Did so!"

Well, you get the drift.

And what about the opportunity for personal retaliation on the home front for a real or imagined issue at the workplace.  "I'm sorry, but you're not getting invited to Thanksgiving because you didn't get those reports in on time.  Now do your homework or you can't go out and play…"

Work relationships are challenging.  Family relationships are complex.  Imagine combining them! The mind boggles.  OK, yes, I'm sure family owned businesses can work--indeed do work.  But it certainly doesn't seem easy!  And to present it proudly, as if it were an asset, simply boggles my mind.  All I can think of is 'imagine if Thanksgiving dinner were a Board Meeting!  OMFG!'

What is the deal?

It seems like the words "family owned" reads that it's small and everyone has some kind of emotional commitment to the business beyond profit.  And those things in turn are supposed to mean that it's a superior product compared to a business focused on efficiencies and profit  And that, in turn, means it's likely worth a premium price (for questionable value add).

But I have to say I am very fond of profit.  The profit motive is clean, clear and lacks hypocrisy.  Its consistent, sustainable and perhaps most importantly, focused on the customer.  For-profit companies have to create something that people actually want to spend money on to get.   Profit is a demanding proof-of-concept!

Family migrates you away from a focus on profit and efficiency, and adds an emotional component that may certainly have some upsides, but certainly also has some significant downsides.

Why is nepotism not a good thing, but a family business is something to celebrate?  Doesn't that strike anyone as…odd?

It's all about relationships. And how they relate.

Sign me:

Love my family--but wouldn't want to work for 'em....

Isabel Swift

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Placebo: it's all in your mind....

I was surprised when I examined the literature that came with my first prescription migraine drugs.  There, in minuscule print on tissue thin paper folded about 20 times, was the FDA approved statement of drug effectiveness (along with a host of other information) and a visual--a graph charting the drugs efficacy Vs a placebo, two lines heading up, one ever so slightly above the other.

In order to be endorsed as a valid medication, a drug must deliver some tiny percent greater effectiveness than a sugar pill.  This didn't seem like a very high bar to clear!  But one look at the chart showed the unexpected, but irrefutable fact that the placebo had significantly positive impact.  The bar was in fact quite high indeed! 

Did this feed into the physician's dismissive "its all in your head" "hysteria" "maladie imaginaire" ?  For me, it was incontrovertible evidence of what we all know, but can have difficulty acknowledging: the incredible power of our own mind.

In many--though not all--cases, we can will things to happen.  And while the power of belief is accepted in many areas, it can be scoffed at or dismissed in others. Though mankind, whose ever-present default position of being the center of the universe (!), all knowing and all controlling, can take this too far.

It's why snake-oil salesman are able to succeed, along with faith healers, talismans, the power of positive thinking, and mind-over-matter. Change may not have a physical reason for happening, but sometimes, if there is a spiritual/emotional reason, that in itself may create an opportunity, a pathway, to open your mind and allow your body to follow.

Believing is seeing, and if we can allow ourselves to accept new things/beliefs, we will likely see new things, even as we look at the familiar.

Believing is also tasting--I remember being at a high-end conference and heading for the dessert table, where there was a large bowl of unlabelled pale yellow pudding.  I thoughts...lemon something?  Took a sample.  No, just light and blandly sweet tasting.  Our table speculated as it what it was.  Vanilla Pudding?  Seemed too plebeian for our exalted venue.  Then it clicked: white chocolate mousse.  Everyone dashed off to have some.  It's blandness had been transformed to an elegant delicacy.

This insight has lead me to strive to ignore all warnings about the relative merit--or negatives--about all digestibles.  My understanding of what is "good" or "bad" for me has become crystal clear and easy:
  1. Whatever I like is good for me
  2. Whatever I don't like is bad for me.
And you know, I can tell the instant I put something in my mouth whether it is good or bad for me.

This insight, of course, is coupled with the overarching truth of moderation in everything.  To which I also add the key ingredient of appreciation...


Sunday, February 24, 2013

Listen Up!

I'm not a techno maven, so please forgive my self-congratulation and delight at having figured out how to download digital audio titles (and eBooks) to my iPhone...from the Public Library.

Is that great, or what?

I don't have a tablet at the moment (lost my Kindle & am obsessing about alternatives.  Thinking Galaxy Notebook? Mostly an Apple family, so wanted to try something else). So I am mostly focused on audio right now. Love the idea of downloading from the library for several reasons:

1.     Very inexpensive (free).  You do have to get a library card, though. (also free)

2.     You aren't stuck with a physical product that sits around, cluttering things up--as if you're going to listen to it again, which is unlikely.  And if you want to, why just take it out of the library again!

3.    OK, yes, I worked for publishers, who often had an uneasy relationship with libraries due to their free-ness when you're trying to make a living selling books. But libraries have always been magical and wonderful places for me.  They are an amazing repository for information, help, knowledge and access.  Via their remarkable "free sampling" program, they introduce people to new things--like digital content--that often create new consumers and enrich our lives. So I believe in & support libraries--by using them as well as giving.

4.     OMG when you download digital content, it is never late! It just disappears when your time is up.  No need to keep track or be nearby to hand it in.  Poof.

5.    With a WiFi connection, you can download a book from anywhere, anytime.  Finish something in the middle of the night on a business trip or vacation?  Just browse the shelves and download something new at 1:00am.

Audio is an interesting format, with incredible advantages and some challenges.  It is a genuinely different vehicle for "consuming" content, and it can take a bit of personal exploration and experimentation to find your sweet spot. What are this issues? you may well ask...

A.  Sound.  It's pretty basic.  You have to have earphones (comfy earphones) if you're in company (unless it's a shared experience), and the environment has to be quiet enough so you can hear.  For example, New York is a really loud city.  It's hard to hear as you walk on the street, ride the subway or sit in a cab.  Not impossible, but I find myself turning the volume up & down a lot.

B.  Someone is reading to you--often a delightful asset, but sometimes a liability.  If good, the voice can significantly enhance the experience.  I've been listening to several P.G. Wodehouse Bertie & Jeeves titles & they're a delight.  All the upper crust characters, ridiculous expressions, outrageous situations come alive with the accents & tones of voice.  

James Joyce's reader is a Joyce expert, delivering wonderful Irish accents, even singing when the story required. And it's a comfort to feel the stream of consciousness is flowing by with an approved cadence and pace.  

Life of Pi's Indian accented reader turns out not to even be Indian, but really enhanced and enriched the story for me.  

But if the reader is bad, it can make the listening experience unbearable.

C.  Also, with audio, they read every word.  I skim when I get bored reading, or if there are long lists, or it feel repetitive. You don't really have that option with audio.  

You can skip forward, but it's not the same as glancing down a page to confirm they're still yammering about battle details or lush descriptions.  

This can be a good thing if the writing is good--forcing you to slow down and savor the words and images. But if you're listening to some little known Victorian novel, you may discover why it is not well known when you find yourself subjected to what seems like hours of exquisitely described detail of an emotional or physical landscape.

D.  Some people just lose traction listening & feel they have to keep going back to remember who said what to whom & when & thus find audio frustrating, as it doesn't offer the visual cues of flipping back a page, or looking in the middle of that long paragraph.  

In this case, they need to listen to stuff they don't care about so much (avoid 'How To' or non-fiction or complex fiction). Consider plays, or poetry, where listing & responding is perhaps more important than keeping track of everything.

E.   Why bother? Well, I love storytelling, and audio can slip in through the cracks and deliver a great reading experience when actual reading is impossible.  I can listen and look out the window of the train or plane or bus.  I can listen and knit or sew or mend. I can sit with the gang as they watch TV and listen to my story.  Grocery shop.  Walk the dog.  If I'm alone, I can be read to sleep, with a built in timer that will shut off after 15, 30, 60 minutes. Though if being read to makes you fall asleep, perhaps listen to the radio when you're driving!

Downloading audio books from your public library:

Load the app onto your iPhone, Android, Blackberry, etc.  

Locate your library (hopefully) on their very long Add A Library list.  

Put in your library card number & password.  Search.  Browse.  Create a Wish List & fill it with titles you're interested in.  Ask for a eHold on a title that isn't available right now--you'll get an email when it becomes available & you can download it.  If you finish before your book is due, return and delete it.

Select and download titles--you'll get a sense for how long they are by the number of packages of data.

Plug yourself in...and listen up!

Friday, February 01, 2013

A New Language

I was thinking I should learn a new language.

You know what they say, keep the mind active, learning, getting exercised. Maybe Spanish? My year of Spanish in 8th grade was a hazy memory, and learning Spanish through the advertisements on the New York Subway had not been a successful foray in effective communication....

Cucarachas? Mandelos a un Motel!

Not the best way to win friends and influence people (unless, of course, they are Spanish speaking cockroaches).

But then as I struggled with vocabulary words, grammar and syntax, I realized I was already in the middle of learning a new language: Tech.

When people (of a certain age) say they find technology confusing, daunting, that they're not good at it, I don't think they've taken on board that Tech is a new language. Would you expect to be able to speak a new language fluently after an hour's class?

I didn't think so.

If anyone complained that even after many hours of learning French they were unable to read a novel, watch TV, or that they were unable to speak quickly and fluently, articulating their every nuanced point, most people would think: Huh? It takes more than a few hours to become fluent in a new language!

This point is not to discourage non techfluent types, but just a request that everyone realign their self expectations to a more reasonable level. To stop beating up on themselves because they are harboring absurdly high expectations of fluency, and appreciate learning tech, like learning a new language, is a process.

And the language metaphor doesn't stop there. As countless childhood development research statistics have indicated, when we are young, our ability to acquire new languages is remarkable. Thus everyone that has grown up learning the language of Tech has internalized it fairly effortlessly.

I can recall my horror and distress when I came across my first French child, a six year old, and I could not fathom how it could have learned French so well at the age of six, when I was still struggling at the age of 21 after years of classes.

Thus many of those that have grown up speaking Tech and are now explaining it to you may find your struggles incomprehensible. It's easy. It's natural. It's intuitive. It's obvious. Sure different dialects (games, new programs, operating systems, upgrades) can present a challenge, but for many, the challenge is fun to overcome. Just like people enjoy learning new languages, or new vocabularies, or new accents and idioms. But it's often not so easy for a non-native speaker.

And as it's a new language, it is constantly changing, adding new words, sprouting new dialects right and left, even the basics changing and morphing to fit this brave new world. It is going to take all my efforts to build my vocabulary and figure out how to effectively communicate and make myself understood.

Parlez-vous tech?

Oui! Un petit peu....