Posts Tagged ‘change


Using A Fork to Eat Soup

Snow RemovalLiving in a snowy state, I’m all too familiar with snow removal. This morning at 3:45 a.m. I had the pleasure of witnessing firsthand my city’s snow removal operation. Two road graders removed the bulk of the snow in the road. That’s when the entertainment began, and I got a well-deserved reminder that we don’t always use our tools wisely.

Two backhoes were moving steadily down the street. As they got closer, I realized they were clearing snow piles from driveways created by the road graders. The first backhoe turned into the driveway with its bucket upside down then dragged the snow backwards. This movement was repeated twice, creating a row of snow out in the road, which required an additional forward scoop or two by a backhoe to finish clearing the driveway.

As I watched these two backhoes, it became clear that neither was responsible for a particular action. One backhoe randomly performed one or both actions before moving on to the next driveway. Instead of backhoe #1 doing the initial removal with backhoe #2 doing the final clearing, the process appeared random and inefficient with each driver doing whatever struck his fancy.

Getting Stuck

This behavior highlights our very human tendency to get stuck in a habit, despite the options we have available. Much of our decision-making isn’t necessarily driven by what makes sense but by what we’re used to, even ignoring the potential of the tools we have at our disposal.  The comparison seems ludicrous, but imagine trying to eat soup with a fork in spite of a spoon sitting next to the bowl. That’s what some of our behavior looks like.

It even affects the way we use language. I’ve mentioned it before, but I still find it frustrating when people look at me oddly for using my full vocabulary. I try to take into account my audience and judge what words are best suited for the situation, but there are still times that I get grief for using “big” words. If a better word exists to describe something, doesn’t it make sense to use that word?

You Have to Look Past the Obvious

Despite the existence of an assembly line organization in meat slaughtering, it didn’t automatically replicate in other industries. Henry Ford saw the potential for improved efficiency and implemented the system in his factories, helping lower the overall cost of automobile production. Since then, other industries have implemented assembly lines, giving it little thought. However, it took one person in the beginning to see the potential application in another setting before assembly lines became a common practice. The same things happens with other good ideas or tools.

Thomas J. Watson, IBM’s chairman of the board during the first half of the 20th century, had the confidence to state, “I think there’s a world market for about five computers.” Luckily for Apple, Dell, HP, IBM, et. al., he was wrong (I have five in my possession at the moment). The things we can do now with the computers were only a dream when the first machine was built. Imagine what will be possible in 10 or 20 years. Again, such progress takes someone looking past the status quo and understanding the potential.

Doing More than Talking

We’ve been mired in talk of Web 2.0 for years, with a sprinkling of Web 3.0 beginning to enter conversations, and I’m not sure we’ve learned the lesson of Web 1.0: whatever the iteration, what matters more is what you do with the tools. Like my early morning snow crew, we stick with the tried, whether or not it’s really true. For me, this discussion is less about changing and more about trying. There’s no requirement that one must change if another option is available, but it seems silly to dismiss the option without fully understanding what’s available.

Image courtesy of Urban Eyes on Flickr.


American Democracy or Bust

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m not sure I can vote for either presidential candidate, and I’m afraid tonight’s debate drove that home. For what seems like years and multiple elections, I’ve heard the same talking points and “personal” attacks, regardless of the actual candidates themselves. Frankly, a two-party election bores the hell out of me. We all know what the Democrats are about. We all know what the Republicans are about. Isn’t it time we tried something new?

What about a Green or a Libertarian? Well, Ralph Nadar put a nail in the Green coffin, and even though ex-Congressman Bob Barr is somewhat known (Monicagate, anyone?), he still isn’t enough to power the Libertarian party into serious competition. Let’s think about these two parties. In some ways, they represent extremes of both major parties, appealing to niches versus vast majorities, a hindrance for winning a national election. I write this even with my personal leanings being Libertarian flavored on many issues.

Candidates that have challenged and beat the establishment have done so because they represented a majority of the public’s view on a topic of interest. The Republican Party first rose to prominence in the 1800s over the issue of abolishing slavery. However, it seems like we’ve come to a bit of a stalemate. The differences between the two parties are predictable and not necessarily in a good way.

Democrats and Republicans

For all that Obama positions himself as the candidate of change, does he really represent a different version of the Democratic party or simply a more attractive, charismatic package than Al Gore or John Kerry? While I disagree with many of the Democratic positions, I’ve never believed Democrats as a party to be stupid, just somewhat disorganized with multiple voices clamoring for equal billing. Now they have a presidential candidate who’s perhaps the best orator in a generation and a fundraising machine courtesy of the Internet and millions of contributors. He’s spending some of that money this month on a personal Obama satellite channel. Maybe he is a man of the people, a candidate of change.

For the Republicans, well, if they win this election it will be due to a Hail Mary. Nothing is in their favor. The economy has tanked. We’re still stuck in a country five years later where we were told we’d be greeted as liberators. And for a party that claims to favor a small government, one is left wondering if this is small, what big government would look like. Add in a candidate who claims to be a maverick and picks a maverick as a running mate and citizens can only wonder how many other Middle East countries might be ready to “welcome” us. One also can’t ignore that the sitting Republican president has some some seriously low approval ratings. I don’t think the White House welcome mat is laid out for McCain.

As Good As It Gets

Is this election really as good as it gets? I don’t care if you’re a Republican, a Democrat, Green, Libertarian, Socialist, or even a misanthrope. If these candidates are representative of the best this country has to offer, we’re in trouble. I write this knowing that many people believe Obama to be this country’s only hope for future success. I respect that belief. He may very well prove me wrong and be the best president we’ve every had. But what happens if he’s not? Who’s left in the Democratic party, Hillary aside, to take up the party leadership in a way that bucks the past? The same applies to the Republicans. I didn’t like anyone in that primary anymore than I liked any of the Democrats.

We’ve proven so innovative in so many areas. Why does America’s democracy continue down the same path it’s followed for years? Can’t we make it better? H.L. Mencken captures it perfectly with the thought that, “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.” But, one can counter with the wisdom of Winston Churchill: “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”

American history has shown that political parties can rise and fall. If you truly believe that either of the major parties is a perfect fit for you, more power to you. However, if you look at that status quo and potentially have to hold your nose to vote for the least bad candidate, isn’t it time we thought seriously about a new party or at least a new type of political candidate? Do you believe you deserve better?


Change in Flux

Attending the state fair today reminded me that some things are timeless while others are in an almost constant state of flux. For us who embrace technology as a way of life, this flux has become commonplace. We’d be perplexed if technology didn’t change over time. In other areas of our life, consistency is something we treasure. I like knowing that the car keys are where I last laid them to rest. I take comfort from knowing that my basic route to the grocery store doesn’t change on a daily basis. This takes me back to the state fair where change and consistency hit head on today.

I haven’t been to this particular fair in 11 years, but walking through the gates this morning I was struck by how much everything appeared the same. The same booths, the same smells, the same variety of people. I went to eat the food and wander the exhibition halls, again, the same as 11 years ago, until I came to this one booth that reminded me I’m very much at the mercy of change.

It was a Mary Kay booth of all places and the random call of a staffer to enter a drawing that caught, and then held, my attention. I knew the face, but I couldn’t give it a name. Our faces probably mirrored each other as we tried to place the other. For some reason, looking at one of my companions helped her make the connection. I was still grasping as she chatted with my friend, and I had to glance down at a business card before it made sense. Low and behold, here was the wife of an old friend who didn’t stay a friend after the marriage.

The situation became somewhat humorous when she mistook me for a younger sibling instead of myself. After exchanging random nonsense, we moved on, and I was surprised at how swiftly my thoughts turned to that change in my life, when my friend was no longer my friend. It was a perfect example of how rarely we have any control over the changes that happen in our lives, and why, perhaps, we cling that much harder to the things that change less often.

I’m a creature of habit in some ways, but not averse to change as a general rule. I, however, like my change to come with an explanation. Change rarely complies with my wishes, leaving me to wonder why things happen the way they do.

Today was a reminder that I’m not the same person I was 11 years ago. And while I’m grateful and happy to be who I am today, parts of me still feel some regret for certain changes that have flowed through my life during those years. I think when we ignore this regret we cheat ourselves out of opportunities to learn more about who we are really meant to be.

Our current society and culture embraces change as a sign of sophistication, even wisdom to some. I can only hope that as we pursue the latest iPhone and tweet our newest friend that we don’t allow change to change our inner selves to the point that we’re no longer recognizable.


Using the Right Tools

The last few weeks I’ve had cause to give thanks to Norman Breakey. He invented the paint roller, a tool many of you have an intimate acquaintance with. By tweaking a basic idea (the paintbrush), the roller takes a previously tedious task and speeds up the process. A potential user requires minimal retraining in order to take advantage of the roller’s benefits over a paint brush in large areas. However, while a roller takes care of the big spaces, there’s still a need for the paintbrush. The small areas, areas with detail, require the lighter, more specific touch of a paintbrush.

For example, if I tried to paint the wall right by the ceiling with the roller, I usually got wall paint on the ceiling, requiring touch ups. When I took the time to trim out the edge with a paint brush, touch ups were rarely required. My experience has shown that using the right tool at the right time can make all the difference in the final results. I’ve seen a similar thing happening online.

Does Facebook or Twitter work for every situation? Drilling down even further, does every aspect of your life belong on Facebook or broadcast via Twitter? I’ve wondered about our willingness to embrace every new tool as the answer to both real and make believe problems. Even more curious is our continued search and expectation for new tools.

The initial excitement over tools like Facebook and Twitter diminishes as people become familiar with the quirks. Then the questions and criticisms become louder and more frequent. Calls for the next version, the next tool begin almost immediately, raising the question that Noah Kagen highlighted last week: “When is something good enough Not to change?”

Over time, tweaks to the paint roller have made it easier to move, but the basics stayed the same because the underlying idea had lasting value. Maybe that’s the other question we need to ask about the tools we use, Does the underlying value have staying power that holds up over time?



Staking Out the Past

There’s an interesting, and what could be considered nonpolitical, thing happening on the Republican side of the presidential campaign: the five front runners have all invoked the ghost of Ronald Reagan to promote the legitimacy of their campaigns. Why is this important? For now, ignore the contradiction of them claiming to be candidates of change and consider this: these presidential hopefuls are equating themselves to the past. What would happen if a business positioned itself as the standard bearer for a company long past its prime?

The past is where it’s at for a reason. Ideally, we learn from the past and make plans for the future that apply those lessons. However, I don’t think you’ve actually applied a lesson if you’re claiming to be the modern day incarnation of the past. The issues and problems of 20+ years ago are not the exact ones either a business or a country faces today. Any time I hear someone positioning him or herself in relation to the past, I start to wonder.

For example, what would you think of a company that claims the title of today’s Enron? Ludicrous, right? But that’s exactly what happens in politics. The politicians hope we forget Iran-Contra, the Bay of Pigs, the Gulf of Tonkin, and Watergate when they invoke political leaders from the past. It’s one of the few industries that subscribes to the ignorance theory: if I ignore it, maybe everyone else will, too.

In the business world, consumers and investors have longer memories. We’d never touch a company claiming to be the new Enron. In fact, companies associated with bad events or issues change their names (e.g., Arthur Anderson becomes Accenture, Amway becomes Quixtar, Philip Morris becomes Altria, etc.). We challenge this practice more in the business world (still not as much as I think we should), but we swoon for politicians when they throw out Kennedy, Reagan, et. al., as the leaders who molded their beliefs, as their modern-day heirs.

The next time you hear anyone—in business or in politics—lay claim to the past as some heir apparent, raise both eyebrows. I don’t want an immortal Regan as president nor do I want the next Ken Lay running the company where I own stock. I want individuals who are grounded in today’s world, students of the past, but with an understanding that the future will likely hold new challenges. Those leaders are the individuals of change we desperately need in this world—not the people busy trying to reclaim the past.



Candidates of Change

Massive ChangeI suspect very few of you watched the debate Saturday evening, giving that it was a Saturday night and playing opposite a football game. Regardless of your politics, one big idea stuck out that applies to everyone, and not just politicians. It’s the idea of change.

A good chunk of both debates involved the candidates, particularly the Republicans, arguing with each other about who is best equipped to bring about change. According to Gov. Mitt Romney, during Saturday’s debate:

“…this is a time when America wants change. Washington is broken. That was the message coming out of Iowa. I’ve heard it across the country. Washington is broken. Not just the White House, not just Congress—Washington can’t get the job done on immigration, on lowering taxes, on fixing schools, on getting health care, on overcoming radical jihad. They want change.” (link)

In case your wondering, we want change. I shouldn’t poke too much at Romney, but I think he’s missing an important point. When it comes to change, actions speak louder than words, and his actions are making it easier for people to wonder about his rhetoric on change. Then, as candidate Giuliani points out:

“…change is a concept. Is it change for good or change for bad?”(link)

In the real world, I believe many people abhor change, otherwise, I can’t believe they’d continue to vote for the same people that make a mess of things in Washington, D.C., but perhaps that more of a lesser of two evils issue. Any time I hear a political candidate, or anyone for that matter, tout themselves as standing at the forefront of change, I cringe a bit. For me, change is one of those things that you either do or you don’t, so why waste time talking about it?

True Changers

For example, while I have mixed emotions about Apple as a company, they continue to produce products that change things. The business world seems more comfortable with true change than the political world. I would place very few politicians in the category of being true change leaders. Historically, we know who the great changers in politics were—the Founding Fathers, Lincoln, Roosevelt (both of them)—and it’s highly doubtful we’ll see their like again given how we currently elect officials.

I not sure when or where I heard it, but I do remember being told that it takes three weeks to form a habit, but at least twice that to break one, if you ever do. That’s why I find rhetoric focusing on change so interesting. As change is described, both in politics and everyday life, I have my doubts that society could truly withstand it if all described changes were enacted. I think there would be a large number of mental breakdowns if suddenly everything changed, but that doesn’t keep politicians or CEOs from touting the value of change.

Respect for Change

I’m not opposed to change, but I would prefer that it be spoken about honestly instead of thrown about casually in a stump speech. For all that we talk about it frequently, I think we overlook how important and big change can be, and its impact on our lives. Just consider some of the “minor” changes that happen in our lives.

For good or bad, starting a new job is a huge change that can be mentally draining—meeting new people, learning new systems, creating new routines to name a few. The same thing happens when you move to a new place. It doesn’t matter if it’s better than the old one. You’re still living through a change that requires adjustments. Now, just imagine people’s reactions if they suddenly woke up and had a government that truly changed every time there’s an election. I wonder if the country could continue to run.

My recommendation? Take the talk about change lightly and focus on the people who are actually doing something different. And maybe consider having more respect for the power of true change, because I believe the good kind is an endangered species.


(Image courtesy of 416style. Some rights reserved.)


Contemplating the Beginning

Today, I’m headed to the BlogWorld & New Media Expo. A little over a year ago, I went to my first “new media” conference, the first Futures of Entertainment at MIT. I’m bummed I won’t be able to attend this year’s event, but there was some fantastic live-blogging last year by Rachel Clarke, so hopefully she or someone else will provide equally fabulous coverage. In general, I’m amazed to consider where I am this year versus where I was even one year ago. However, what I consider to be my huge life change started much earlier.

Eighteen months ago, my old boss did me the favor of introducing me to Hugh MacLeod’s work at gapingvoid and The Hugh Train. I have my suspicions that if my boss knew he was planting the seeds for my eventual resignation, he wouldn’t have been so free with his information. gapingvoid was the first “real” blog I read. From there, it was all downhill.

I’d heard of blogs and tried a short-lived experiment at LiveJournal. I didn’t realize that people like Hugh were out there, writing about topics that I has passion for. Then, I found the Futures of Entertainment Conference and that’s where I met Rachel. It became clear very quickly that I hadn’t even scratched the service of what was possible.

By the time SXSW rolled around last March, I was 100% hooked. The day I got back from the conference, I gave notice, and I haven’t looked back. Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting people like David Seah, Robert Scoble, Ewan Spence, and Chris Brogan. The great part? I’ve “met” still more people via their blogs and sites (hi Corrie and Penny) and have loved trading ideas back and forth. The underlying idea for this blog actually comes from many of the conversations I’ve had with these amazing people.

My life has changed in ways I would have never thought possible less than two years ago. So to people like Hugh, Rachel, and Dave, thank you for being bold before I ever thought it possible.


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January 2019
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