07 October 2006

This blog's new new home.

Pretty good digs, I think:

Common Sense

11 March 2006

Movin' out.

Dear readers: To give you a better reading experience, I have moved my blog:

TW's NEW Outboard Brain

Please update bookmarks and RSS feeds accordingly.

10 March 2006

The K.I.S.S. Principle of personal organization.

While I'm on a roll from the previous post, let me talk about the simplifed approach to personal organization. This is one that doesn't work for the distracted consumer who's looking for the easy way out; this one works for gung-ho change-o-philiacs like me. Ready?

Step 1: Decide what's most important.
Step 2: Do that first.

This, I hear you saying, hardly seems groundbreaking. But consider: How often do you find yourself "meaning to" do something, but allowing everything else in the world intervene? At times this is the conscious process of procrastination, complete with nagging feelings of guilt. But at other times, it is simply the well-known phenomenon of putting out fires. We all do it, whether in business or housekeeping or family relations.

Let me ask you another question: How often do you find yourself "meaning to" save or invest money, but finding that your nickel-and-dime expenses somehow prevent you? Many financial advisors will tell you that the prime solution for this is to set aside your savings first, and to put them in some repository where they can't be quite so easily tapped as your checking account.

Well, the past is the ultimate repository: once time has slipped by us and into the past, it's locked away forever. By definition. The question is, do you want the past to contain all the "savings" you've accumulated toward your big, life-changing--or even civilizational--BHAGs? Or the nickel-and-diming of errands, tidbits, this-'n'-that?

Pause there for a second: I'm not talking about what you do do, but what you want to do. I'd rather do something major. Yes?

You know the old joke "Life is uncertain--eat dessert first." But how often do we treat ourselves to the accomplishments we really want--and do it first, before we let anything else crowd in on us? Life is uncertain. You might not make it to thirty. You might not make it to forty. Or fifty. You might get just one shot at immortality. So why not take it first?

What applies on the grand scale applies in the daily schedule. Yes, sometimes you must clear the decks, but often our deck-clearing serves as no more than psychological throat-clearing. We're warming up for an aria that may never begin.

So yes, prepare. Take care of your day-to-day obligations. But figure out the big stuff and do it before you get bogged down in the little stuff, or else the little stuff, kudzu-like, will always grow to overwhelm your mental landscape.

Next time I'll talk more about how to decide what's "most important" on your list. For now, I'll leave you with a serendipitous thought: While I was writing this post, my buddy Jim called me up to talk. He said nice things about a couple of the posts here, but repeated a caution he's given me before--namely, not to give attention to this blog that might go into a book manuscript instead. He has a point, not because I don't derive satisfaction from writing the blog, but because I do derive satisfaction from it. It's all too tempting to write more and more here, especially as my audience continues to grow,* and neglect to work on the books that I've always assumed will make my reputation.

So, I'm going to compromise by spending more time here talking about the books I intend to write. One major topic, upon which I'll be posting much more: Decisions--how we make them and what we can do to take charge of them. You can expect me to start posting on that topic first.


* This might be an opportune moment to ask yourself whether you're really giving it that extra effort to make this blog the one most widely read by savvy people like yourself. I'd certainly appreciate it, and don't you think it would make you feel better, too? ;)

The K.I.S.S. Principle and environmental change.

I'm sure Seth Godin isn't writing the great posts on his blog strictly to give me fodder to talk about environmental issues and how they're discussed. But his latest entry, "Bite sized", serves the purpose just as well as his earlier posts about "climate cancer".

Actually, our behavior as people is pretty easy to predict. We like things that are simple, not complex. Issues where we can take action without changing very much. [...] The best problems, as far as a consumer is concerned, are those that can be solved quickly and easily, with few side effects.
Me: It would be great if everyone had the same wish that I do to embrace complexity, seek out change, and grow by leaps and bounds from day to day. But does that describe the world you see around you? It doesn't even describe my actual experience, only my wishes, and I'm the most gung-ho wisher for huge, positive change you can imagine.

I'd love it if the most powerful environmentalists got their heads together and agreed that, while maintaining their many varied good programs, they were going to collaborate on the one message, a simple message, that would best best serve the earth's environment. I don't know if it would target hydrocarbons, or habits of consumption, or what, but I do know it would help if every person in the industrialized world internalized some message like "Let's keep it safe for our grandkids: Stop polluting now." Put up billboards with a picture of a cute infant/toddler holding the earth in his or her hands and smiling. Run simple, warm television ads featuring respected, politics-neutral notables saying what they're personally doing to reduce their output of pollution. Hit every branch of the media in every country. Say it over and over.

Above all, give people something simple they can do right now with minimal pain to address the high-leverage problem. I'm busy and I'm weak-willed--make it easy for me, much less the folks who drive Excursions.

Commonplace: Napoleon

"Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than to be able to decide."
—Napoleon Bonaparte

Environmentalism and the poor.

This article is part of a series from Grist on poverty and the environment. Well worth reading, both for its historical perspective and its view of what should be done today.

Caste from the Past
The environmental movement has achieved great things. Without John Muir or David Brower, there would be fewer national parks and wilderness areas. [...] These and other activists deserve the hero label -- but we also need to expand our notion of what constitutes nature and who speaks on its behalf. Unless environmentalists take a full reckoning of their past to find other voices to remember and celebrate, the movement may grow ever more narrow and irrelevant. Maybe, just maybe, it's time to find some new heroes.
In my view, it is essential that environmentalists demonstrate to everyone that environmentalism isn't a fringe avocation, but a way of thinking about the world that benefits everyone. It's going to require better work than we've done so far.

Disposing of Styrofoam.

Thanks to our friends from the bacterial world, there is hope for recycling the squillions of tons of used polystyrene foam (a.k.a. Styrofoam, which is a trademark) that we use.

Solving the Styrofoam Situation

This article is from Seed, which I've been reading more of lately and quite enjoying.

Clutter = procrastination = lies.

The formula above might not be true for everybody. That's fine. I've come to believe it's true for me.

I'm hardly the first to make the connection between clutter and procrastination. "The Feng Shui of Procrastination" makes the point nicely: "Clutter is delayed decisions. It's procrastination. It's stress." All so very true, even though I'm not a big believer in Feng Shui. For me the most important sentence in the article is this: "Procrastination puts you out of integrity with yourself."

"Integral" means that all the parts agree with one another. Clutter keeps you from being that. It means you're lying to yourself about who you are and what you want to be. It means that you have one idea about where you're going or what your life ideally means . . . but they you do something very different. You surround yourself in cruft to give yourself an excuse for not living the bold life you dreamed for yourself.

That's all projection, of course; for "you," read "I" and you'll understand where I'm coming from. I have made so many agreements with myself about how I wanted things to be, but then allowed myself to get caught in the tidal flow of stuff, cruft, junk, and flotsam that life inevitably brings our way. The flow may be inevitable, but (a) we don't have to encourage it by following procrastination-friendly habits, and (b) we don't have to accept that clutter and procrastination themselves are inevitable. They're not.

Mind you, procrastination has complex psychological bases. For more on that, check out this useful article from Psychology Today: "Procrastination: Ten Things To Know". Read the whole thing, but for the moment focus on this:
Procrastinators tell lies to themselves. Such as, "I'll feel more like doing this tomorrow." Or "I work best under pressure." But in fact they do not get the urge the next day or work best under pressure. In addition, they protect their sense of self by saying "this isn't important." Another big lie procrastinators indulge is that time pressure makes them more creative. Unfortunately they do not turn out to be more creative; they only feel that way. They squander their resources.
This is where my simplified formula comes from. Clutter is the physical manifestation of procrastination. Clutter is outright proof of our indulgence in the fantasy that there will be time to work on Thing X later, and that there isn't even time now to put Thing X in the rightful place for things waiting to be worked on. Clutter is an abdication of responsibility.

If you want to have a meaningful life, you have come to an agreement with yourself about what's important and what isn't. If you're treating your own hopes and dreams with integrity, you do the things that are important and leave off the things that aren't--not just for the moment, but forever. You don't form clutter because you don't tell yourself the string of lies that would allow you to.

Let's all agree to stop lying to ourselves, shall we? Address the clutter/procrastination/lies nexus in your own life, honestly dealing with both the old junk you've accumulated and the new nonsense that washes in with each day's tide.

As I was writing this, I stumbled across a quotation from the late psychiatrist M. Scott Peck. I don't know what book or article it's from, or when I wrote it down, but I think it's useful in this context:
There are many people I know who possess a vision of (personal) evolution yet seem to lack the will for it. They want, and believe it possible, to skip over the discipline, to find an easy shortcut to sainthood. Often they attempt to attain it by simply imitating the superficialities of saints, retiring to the desert or taking up carpentry. Some even believe by such imitation they have really become saints and prophets, and are unable to acknowledge that they are still children and face the painful fact that they must start at the beginning and go through the middle.
Not for a moment do I propose that being honest with yourself is easy. But it's the only way to live.

[Thanks to Lifehacker for pointing out the Feng Shui article. Their accompanying photo is priceless.]

09 March 2006

To-do lists.

I admire Tom Peters for his drive, his enthusiasm, and his resolute devotion to excellence. I think I identify with him as strongly as I do because I have a strong desire to give advice and help anywhere I think it might be helpful. Partly this feeds my own ego, but I do get enough repeat business to make me think that at least some of my words hit home. In any event, I read Peters's blog daily and can recommend it.

A while back I bookmarked this entry in the blog, and I keep coming back to it at intervals:

The Single Most Important Thing

It's about that old stand-by, the To-Do lists. Peters argues that a short and sweet daily To-Do list is of paramount importance for achieving one's goals. He thinks it's so important that he shouts his description of it: "THE ONE TOOL WHICH WILL MAKE OR BREAK YOUR CAREER."

On days when I give myself a very simple set of marching orders without much room for negotiation, I get a lot done. I also have too many days when I don't give myself that simple set of marching orders . . . with predictable results.

"Secrets of Greatness: How I Work"

No, not me, but a dozen of the most accomplished people you'd hope to find, from Wynton Marsalis to Hank Paulson. This FORTUNE magazine spread presents the first-person thoughts of notables from various fields, who describe how they do their daily work. Some spend all day on the phone (Paulson often leaves 200 voicemails in a day, but has never used e-mail), others on the computer (Judge Richard Posner spends little time on the phone, but uses e-mail constantly, plus he blogs). The details differ from one person to another, but all have found ways to achieve great success in their work.

Secrets of Greatness: How I Work

Some highlights follow . . .

Bill Gross, the king of the bond industry: "You have to cut the information flow to a minimum level."

Wynton Marsalis: "To find a groove means practice, practice, and more practice."

Carlos Ghosn, who runs both Nissan and Renault: "I do not bring my work home. I play with my four children and spend time with my family on weekends."

A. G. Lafley of Procter & Gamble: "A key to staying calm is minimizing the information onslaught."

All of it is well worth reading.

"Atmosphere cancer," redux.

Last week I cited Seth Godin on the poor job that's been done to inform the world of the dangers of global warming. Among other smart observations, Godin made the point that the general public would look at the issue differently if we called the phenomenon "atmosphere cancer" rather than "global warming."

This interesting item from the "Framing Science" blog uses graphs of Gallup polling data to show just how low global warming rates in the public mind. The blog itself addresses exactly what Godin was talking about, namely the way that scientific issues are portrayed in the media. It's author, Dr. Matthew Nisbet, teaches communications at Ohio State.

The failure to adequately alarm or motivate the public about global warming raises a timeless organizational issue: who's responsible? We've all had the experience, when working in groups, of deadlines that slipped or tasks that fell by the wayside simply because it wasn't clear exactly who was responsible for which part of the project. The old saying has as much currency now as ever: "If everyone is responsible, then no one is responsible."

For macro issues like "atmosphere cancer," effective responsibility tends to fall to two types of entities: (1) private citizens or groups who take the issue on as a "holy" cause, or (2) governments. In the case of global warming, the former class includes major and minor environmental organizations, professional scientific groups, experts like Prof. Nisbet, and the few concerned citizens who will make this their #1 issue for activism. To start at the head of the list for governments, the Bush administration has been, shall we say, less than zealous in helping the American people to understand the real and pressing threats posed by global warming.

05 March 2006


Yesterday my son played his first T-ball game. He wore his spikes all day yesterday, and all day again today.

The game was mostly a hoot. You've got the kids who need reminding to run after they hit the ball. You've got the kids who take three swings to connect at all with the ball on the tee. You've got the three infielders and two outfielders all racing toward the same ball, then forming a scrum to decide which one of them gets to pick it up and throw it. The whole game was like that. I got to see it up close because I was one of several dads helping the coaches run the game.

The non-hoot parts were the crying kids--crying because they have to bat last, crying because their teammate won't give them a drink from their water bottle, crying because they have to play left field and they know the ball will never be hit to them. And so on. In this league, five-year-olds are never put out on the basepaths. Partly this is to build their confidence, but I suspect it's also because the coaches and league officials are parents, and they know that there will be way too much crying otherwise.

Even though the players are only five years old, you can already spot the players. Some of the clueless kids will clue in eventually, some will have their coordination come to them all in a rush. (It took me forever: I was finishing high school before I could hit a properly timed jump shot.) But some of them have it already--speed, alertness, hustle. These weren't the kids who were crying because they got stuck playing catcher in a T-ball game.

Thinking about some things I've read recently, I wonder how much of those boys' future success in the game will be attributable to that drive? I want to help every kid on the team enjoy baseball, because I love it and I want them to love it, too. But can anybody teach the sort of drive that the little dynamo kids are already showing? I certainly don't know how. If you push too hard, you extinguish desire rather than fanning it; if you don't push at all, the boys don't get better, and, worse, they may not make the connection between trying and getting better. No good comes out of either extreme.

That's all in the future. Somewhere, on my son's ball field or some other, a future Hall of Famer is starting his career in baseball. That kid may be in San Juan or Nashville or Oakland or Pusan or Yokohama. Of course I hope it's my son, if he can somehow avoid my bad eyesight and slow reflexes. So far, he loves being on his team, especially since it's named for his daddy's favorite team--the Red Sox. Partway through the game, he hiked up his pants legs to his knees so everyone could see his long, bright-red socks. He looked great running the bases. How could he not, with that big, fat smile on his face?

Commonplace: Eno

"Honour thy error as a hidden intention."
--Brian Eno

(What hidden intentions do we shun because they present themselves to us as deviations from the set program?)

04 March 2006

Kathy Sierra kicks ass.

Yesterday I caught up on some blog reading, so I was going to link to Kathy's excellent posts on the theme "Dignity is Deadly."

But I didn't get to it yesterday, and by the time I got there today I see this compelling new post on "How to be an expert."

Given that I've linked to her stuff before--repeatedly--and that a couple of my friends and I have had long talks about what she's written, I figured it was time to add her to the sidebar here and give her a particular plug.

Do yourself a favor and make a habit of reading Creating Passionate Users.

Go hug somebody.

A little while ago my son came to talk to me while I was working on my laptop at the kitchen table. I had the good sense to give him my full attention while he showed me how he can count all the way to 100. He's never done that trick before, at least for me. After he was finished, he jumped up on my lap for a big hug.

Maybe you don't have kids, and I'm not trying to be saccharine about my own. But you have somebody, somewhere, who is important to you. Go hug them, or call them, or e-mail them. Tell them you love them. Tell them you're glad you know them.

Do it before it's too late. You don't know how much time you have left; assume that time is short.