Tag Archives: lessons

On People, Process, and Passion and Persistence

My boss back at Bell Atlantic, who became my friend and mentor, Pat Trongo, had the following quote from Peter Senge’s “The Fifth Discipline” on his cube wall in big bold letters.

I found it inspirational back then. But now I am blessed to see evidence of this pattern in life daily – Great teams committed to a purpose accomplish great things.

The committed person brings an energy, passion,
and excitement that cannot be generated if you
are only compliant, even genuinely compliant.

The committed person doesn’t play by the rules
of the game. He is responsible for the game.

If the rules of the game stand in the way of
achieving the vision, he will find ways to change
the rules.

A group of people truly committed to a common
vision is an awesome force.

They can accomplish the seemingly impossible.

I am as blown away by this as I am with the OccupyPhilly protest teamwork I saw today, as I am with my co-workers who are one of the greatest teams I’ve seen in my career.

Great teams are everything. They don’t just ‘happen’ and require investments in trust, empathy, accountability, honesty, and crazy foolishness to grow. And when you see them you can’t help but be in awe.

A Mathematician’s Lament: on education

Paul Lockhart wrote an accessible read on what is wrong with math education and the popular perception of math that is reinforced in culture that has been shared on the Web in quite a few corners. It deserves a wider read: “A Mathematician’s Lament”:

The art of proof has been replaced by a rigid step-by step pattern of uninspired formal deductions. The textbook presents a set of definitions, theorems, and proofs, the teacher copies them onto the blackboard, and the students copy them into their notebooks. They are then asked to mimic them in the exercises. Those that catch on to the pattern quickly are the “good” students.

The result is that the student becomes a passive participant in the creative act. Students are making statements to fit a preexisting proof-pattern, not because they mean them. They are being trained to ape arguments, not to intend them. So not only do they have no idea what their teacher is saying, they have no idea what they themselves are saying.

Even the traditional way in which definitions are presented is a lie. In an effort to create an illusion of “clarity” before embarking on the typical cascade of propositions and theorems, a set of definitions are provided so that statements and their proofs can be made as succinct as possible. On the surface this seems fairly innocuous; why not make some abbreviations so that things can be said more economically? The problem is that definitions matter. They come from aesthetic decisions about what distinctions you as an artist consider important. And they are problem-generated. To make a definition is to highlight and call attention to a feature or structural property. Historically this comes out of working on a problem, not as a prelude to it.

The point is you don’t start with definitions, you start with problems. Nobody ever had an idea of a number being “irrational” until Pythagoras attempted to measure the diagonal of a square and discovered that it could not be represented as a fraction. Definitions make sense when a point is reached in your argument which makes the distinction necessary. To make definitions without motivation is more likely to cause confusion.

Related:

Kevin Devlin: “Lockhart’s Lament – The Sequel”

Slashdot: “A Mathematician’s Lament — an Indictment of US Math Education”

G.H. Hardy:

A mathematician, like a painter or poet, is a maker of patterns. If his patterns are more permanent than theirs, it is because they are made with ideas.

Remembering 9/11

Steve Jobs said, in his well linked commencement speech, “you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards”.

Learning from experience, gaining perspective, carrying it forward, is the roots of wisdom.

So when we say, ‘Never Forget’, about 9/11, what is it we want our children to know? I don’t think we know yet, what we do know can’t be summarized in a single post, let alone by someone with my skills, and the story is still unfolding. The boomer generation, and my generation, is in the mix of creating that legacy right now. What will it be?

I don’t want to write about my personal memories of the day. I am thankful I was home with Richelle.

Thank you to all who put themselves in harms way to protect us.

And thoughts, prayers, and love for those who have lost so much that day, and in the days that followed.

A few thoughts on Steve Jobs stepping down as Apple’s CEO

Apple is far more than the creation of one man. A casual scan of Folklore.org, a site focused on its history, will tell you that.

But so would Steve Jobs.

He’s created a culture at Apple that is going to go on long with out him.

A few reads about Jobs stood out for me today and I’d thought I’d share them here:

WSJ: Steve Jobs’s Best Quotes – as someone said on Twitter, you could avoid reading a few business/programming/design tomes and just absorb these and be better off.

His Stanford University commencement speech: ‘You’ve got to find what you love,’ Jobs says. He ties in his life history as an adopted child of working class parents, into his pursuit of his dream, the failures he encountered, and the lessons that he absorbed that made him stronger. There’s a bit about life, death, perspective and mission. It is worth reading in full. There are reasons it went viral. You can watch it on YouTube as well. But the text is best.

Anil Dash on “What they are ‘protecting’ us from” connecting Jobs liberal, working class background, with his success, and wondering why some are fighting the policies that enabled stories like Job’s to be possible.

You won’t find much Apple fandom here and I’m not going to wax poetic about Apple products, but in a way, for programmers of a certain age like myself, one of the leaders of the personal computing revolution is now walking off his most visible stage and we have much to be thankful for.

So thank you everyone at Apple, Pixar, and NeXT, and thank you Steve Jobs for providing inspiration, and the foundation for so many careers reflecting creativity, communication, and passion.

“Right Now”: On the present, being present, and practice (TEDXPhilly related)

1. Breathe.

2. Remind yourself: Whatever you are doing – right now – you are practicing.

3. Remind yourself: Whatever you practice – you are improving, you are building, you are growing.

4. Ask yourself: Is this what you want to improve, build or grow?

Do this a few times a day and I’m betting it will re-center you.

Things that compete for our attention are everywhere, I get distracted too easily myself, and I am doing this to retrain my focus when it drifts.

“Right Now” was the theme of last year’s TEDXPhilly. For some terrific thoughts on the theme see TEDXPhilly’s organizer (and so much more in the Philly region), Roz Duffy, and her post “here and now”.

This year’s theme is “The City”. It will be fantastic.

For more thoughts on “Right Now”, see Rahul Bijlani’s great essay, “You are not running out of time” and Umair Haque’s “The Builders’ Manifesto”.

“What was the point in trying? Who wants to be laughed at?”

Erika Meyer shares what it was like learning to play guitar, fighting to make it happen, being a woman, and being told a few times along the way she had ‘no talent’: “How I Learned To Play Guitar”:

In 2000 I was a 32-year-old single mother with a four-year-old daughter. Looking for work as a web developer, I moved to Portland, Oregon, only to find that Portland is a town where it seems EVERYONE is in a band. I would watch my (male) friends in bands and sometimes find myself in tears, because deep down, I still wanted to be part of it. I’d been out of all urban ‘scenes’ and living a pretty isolated backwoods life since 1990, so I was largely unaware of the shifts that had happened in underground rock during the previous decade.

Around my 33rd birthday, I decided to ask for my guitars again, as I had every few years or so since 1990. Amazingly, this time, my mother returned them. I don’t know why she really kept them from me, and I don’t know why she finally returned them, but I immediately started to play. Thinking, “I want my daughter to experience music hands-on”, I bought a little practice amp and picked up where I’d left off, but this time with a new attitude. I decided right away that I no longer cared about ‘talent’. I decided that ‘talent’ didn’t even matter, that what matters, in fact, is passion and commitment. I knew that if I kept on the way I’d had been, I’d go to my death with some serious regret. It was time to take this as far as *I* wanted, regardless of what anyone else thought. I had thought I was playing for my daughter, but really, I was doing it for myself.

That change from a focus on talent and skill to a focus on passion and expression was a huge and important mental switch. I was finally giving myself what no one else had quite given me: permission to play guitar on my own terms. And more than that, I gave myself permission to ‘suck’. And with permission to suck comes the ability to rock, and to overcome all the fears and insecurities that had been holding me captive.

I had begun to understand, also, by this point, a lot more about psychology behind art. I remembered when I was a kid, my friends would tell me, “I can’t draw” and I would say, “Anyone can draw!” I knew it was just a matter of practice and learning to see and to trust your instincts. So I thought, “What if it’s true of music, too? What if anyone can make music?” I also knew by then that artistically frustrated people often try to put down or discourage other artists, so I decided I wouldn’t internalize other people’s negative projections about my abilities or my right to put time and energy into music. I’d focus on what I knew in my heart to be true: that I have just as much right to rock as Mick Jagger does. Maybe even more.

Joy bigger than the universe, and sorrow for a lifetime

Absolute must read – Jennifer Lawler: “For Jessica”.

The latest: “A vigil for Jessica”:

Now, between the crisis and the catastrophe, you know you should lift a glass of champagne, but you have failed to lay in supplies yet again. Maybe next time you will remember.

Tonight there is just a long time till morning, and your lost saints can give no comfort. So you pick up your pen instead and you pin the terror to the page, and you hope it does not get loose. And a circle of women who have sat this vigil themselves seem to surround you, echoing back so many generations you cannot begin to count, and you know you are not alone, and you never have been, even in that hardest part before dawn.

(via Susie Madrak)

Some Father’s Day thoughts

I really don’t think of Father’s Day as most do. Knowing me you’d understand why. I think of it as a day for thanks giving. For those with child and without, who try and leave in a better state what they’ve came to. For those who take responsibility as a blessing and not as a weight. For those willing to mentor and friend those who need it. Guys like that exist. I didn’t think so as a kid. But in adulthood I found out otherwise and have great examples in my life and my daughter’s. And it is truly fantastic.

I am so thankful to be part of the family I am part of. Love you all and have a great day everyone.

(Note, this was originally posted to Facebook and to my friends and family there, apologies for the double post. On my blog I own my words. I should have posted from here first.)

What is “Fast Fashion”, how it relates to big data, Facebook and us

Speed. Data. Lack of security. Encouraged anxiety. What makes a self-identity? And… fashion, clothing retailers and social media. n+1 has an interesting read in: The Accidental Bricoleurs:

…As the fast in fast fashion implies, the companies’ comparative advantage lies in speed, not brand recognition, garment durability, or reputable design. They have changed fashion from a garment making to an information business, optimizing their supply chains to implement design tweaks on the fly. Zara “can design, produce, and deliver a new garment and put it on display in its stores worldwide in a mere 15 days,”2 and this flow of information is by far the most significant thing the company produces, far more important than any piped pinafore, velveteen blazer or any of its other 40,000 yearly items. The company’s system of constant information monitoring allows it to quickly spot and sate trends and at the same time largely avoid overproduction boondoggles and the need for heavy discounting.

Unlike earlier generations of mass-market retailers, like the Gap’s family of brands (which includes, in ascending order of class cachet, Old Navy, Gap, and Banana Republic), companies like Zara and Forever 21 make no effort to stratify their offerings into class-signifying labels. They also don’t adopt branding strategies to affiliate with particular luxe or ironic lifestyles, à la Urban Outfitters or Abercrombie & Fitch. Instead they flatter consumers in a different way, immersing them in potential trends on a near weekly basis and trusting them to assemble styles in their own images. Clothes reach stores with practically unspoiled semiotic potential, and consumers are invited to be expressive rather than imitative with the goods, to participate more directly in fashion. We become the meaning makers, enchanting ordinary cardigans and anoraks with a symbolic significance that has only a tenuous relationship to the material item. We work in lieu of advertisers to reconfigure trends and remix signifiers, generating new and valuable meanings for goods. The more new clothes come in, the more creative we can be.

Fast-fashion retailers reap the fruits of that creativity by capturing our preferences in successive generations of products and nearly synchronizing to our whims. Thanks to the rich data we generate as we select, reject, and recombine the items fast fashion offers, the companies need not develop their own brands so much as seize upon customers’ ingenuity, distilling their choices into easily replicable trends and rushing the resulting products to market. If fashion functions like a language, then the fast-fashion firms are mainly interested controlling the underlying system and leave the meaning of the “words” to interchangeable designers and individual consumers. As long as customers are willing to speak fast fashion’s language, the companies aren’t particular about the specifics of the vocabulary. They are concerned only with the rate and volume of change.

…Like fast fashion, social media have brought with them a profusion of means and ways to reshape and display our identity. Constantly given new tools to share with, always prompted to say something new about ourselves (“What’s on your mind?” Facebook asks thoughtfully), we are pressured to continually devise ingenious solutions to our identity, which suddenly appears to be a particular kind of recurring problem: one that can be solved by replenishing social media’s various channels with fresh content. Just as fast fashion seeks to pressure shoppers with the urgency of now or never, social media hope to convince us that we always have something new and important to say—as long as we say it right away. And they are designed to make us feel anxious and left out if we don’t say it, as their interfaces favor the users who update frequently and tend to make less engaged users disappear. One can easily fall out of fashion with the algorithms Facebook uses to select which content users see out of the plethora of material friends in their network contribute.

…In social media, where everyone can employ design ideology, the persistent messages of advertising—that magical self-transformation through purchases is possible, that one’s inner truth can be expressed through the manipulation of well-worked surfaces—become practical rather than insulting. Not only do the methods and associative logic of advertising become more concretely useful, but its governing ideology no longer seems conformist but radically individualistic. Social media encourage us to appropriate whatever we want and claim it as our own without feeling derivative or slavishly imitative. On Facebook, if I link to, say, a YouTube video of Bob Dylan singing “I Threw It All Away” on the Johnny Cash Show in 1969, I am saying something particular about myself, not merely consuming the performance. I am declaring that video clip to be essentially equivalent to an update I may have written about a trip to Philadelphia or to pictures of me at a party that someone might have tagged. It is all bricolage for personal identity building.

It is a long, but thought provoking read. Go read it.

Related Metafilter thread: “The Total-Corporate State May Have Arrived”.

Be a Builder, not a Leader

Read Umair Haque’s Builders’ Manifesto and get inspired. Screw that actually. Put it into action. Be it. Because the organizations we are part of need it to navigate the fast pace of change. Because our communities need us to act and make a difference. Because the world needs more than words to move the needle in a positive way. For more thoughts on this piece, Joe Campbell. Now for some quotes, including how you can be a builder:

I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership lately. Specifically: why, today, when a wave of crises is sweeping the globe, does leadership seem to be almost totally absent?

The answer I’ve come to is, ironically enough, leadership itself.

…Here’s the problem in a nutshell. What leaders “lead” are yesterday’s organizations. But yesterday’s organizations — from carmakers, to investment banks, to the healthcare system, to the energy industry, to the Senate itself — are broken. Today’s biggest human challenge isn’t leading broken organizations slightly better. It’s building better organizations in the first place. It isn’t about leadership: it’s about “buildership”, or what I often refer to as Constructivism.

Leadership is the art of becoming, well, a leader. Constructivism, in contrast, is the art of becoming a builder — of new institutions. Like artistic Constructivism rejected “art for art’s sake,” so economic Constructivism rejects leadership for the organization’s sake — instead of for society’s.

Builders forge better building blocks to construct economies, polities, and societies. They’re the true prime movers, the fundamental causes of prosperity. They build the institutions that create new kinds of leaders — as well as managers, workers, and customers.

…How can you become one? Here are the ten principles of Constructivism (contrasted with these principles of leadership).

The boss drives group members; the leader coaches them. The Builder learns from them.

The boss depends upon authority; the leader on good will. The Builder depends on good.

The boss inspires fear; the leader inspires enthusiasm. The Builder is inspired — by changing the world.

The boss says “I”; the leader says “we”. The Builder says “all” — people, communities, and society.

The boss assigns the task, the leader sets the pace. The Builder sees the outcome.

The boss says, “Get there on time;” the leader gets there ahead of time. The Builder makes sure “getting there” matters.

The boss fixes the blame for the breakdown; the leader fixes the breakdown. The Builder prevents the breakdown.

The boss knows how; the leader shows how. The Builder shows why.

The boss makes work a drudgery; the leader makes work a game. The Builder organizes love, not work.

The boss says, “Go;” the leader says, “Let’s go.” The Builder says: “come.”

I’m adding this to my “Words to Live By” page. It has been ages since I’ve added anything to it.