Saturday, March 12, 2011

Your Job is (not) Important

There are two ways to look at the world of work. One says that your job is important, and the other says that it's not. By "job" I mean whatever activities you engage in on a regular basis which require you to perform tasks for which you are paid based upon the time you spent—one way or the other. For all but a fortunate few, this is something you would not do for free, because you do not necessarily enjoy it—being "work" and all.

We spend most of our waking hours engaged in these activities which earn us money to pay for the rest of our lives (the happiness parts). The question is whether our jobs are important or not. Either might be true, depending on your specific case. Without any real thought, it is easy for a person to assume his job is important simply because it is an important source of income for him. Or conversely, it is easy to assume that one's job is unimportant, simply because it does not come with a title or other recognition.

But whether your job is important or not depends greatly on its actual impact. You're either changing the world or you're not. You're either growing a future for yourself and your family, or your digging yourself into a rut. Strangely, these two views pretty much come from the same source. The actual importance of your job will be the long-term decider both for the impact you have on the world for good, and the future you will grow for yourself and your family.

Because we tend to see only what is most readily visible, the "gold bars," corner offices, and other symbols of rank can be used in large organizations to create the illusion of importance. A position might appear important, and everyone might believe it is important...however, consider whether the quality of work done in the position changes anything. If either a virtuoso or a buffoon fills to position, does it change the fate of the organization?

It should be noted that in many corporations (and other organizations of similar structure) that the answer to this question is designed to be a resounding "no!" The old school way of doing business is to assume you're a buffoon until proven otherwise. Therefore, most of the power is placed in central positions like the CEO, et al. In these positions, it matters, but only to the fate of the company. If the company isn't making a great deal of change in the world, than neither is the CEO.

Ultimately, it is important to remember that our jobs are only as important as we make them. Whether or not your company is keeping you down or lifting you up, it is up to you to do important work. If the powers that be don't like what you're doing, then perhaps its not the place for you. Don't marry the job, marry the work.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Ob Petere

"Competition" is an interesting word. It's also a charged word. While it doesn't have a lot of definitions, it does have a lot of surface applications that can be confused with different meanings. It can also be used to justify actions or lack of actions, in certain contexts. It can be fun or it can be serious. It can build up an organization or tear it down.

Probably the most common usage of the word is in reference to the "friendly" competition of athletics and the like. The second, then, comes in describing a commercial concept. In both cases, competition implies that some person (or group) is winning and another is losing. To win a competition, one must simply rank better than the opposition during officially measured trials. Therefore, the goal of competition has become the defeat of the opposition.

I am only a novice when it comes to linguistics, but a quick search of the word "competition" reveals that it comes from the Latin, "competere," which means "to strive for"—from "com-" meaning "together" and "petere" meaning "aim at, seek." While the word came to mean "rivalry" in late Latin before entering the English vocabulary, its early meaning did not include the concept of opposition. As you can see, it included a prefix which means "together."

The idea of striving for something together seems rather alien in our contemporary culture. More commonly we think in terms of striving against someone or something. This mentality about competition has shown itself historically to motivate improvement on all sides. There hardly seems like any point to playing sports if it isn't to defeat the other teams. To do so, the players must improve themselves—both as individuals and as a team.

The same advantage applies to the commercial sense of the word. Historically, nations that allow businesses to complete generate more innovation and subsequent prosperity than those that either do not allow free enterprise, or highly regulate it. The reason is the same as it is in athletic competition: for anyone who wishes to run a successful business (win the competition), there is pressure to improve the quality of the goods and services he provides.

Unfortunately, the mentality of striving against (or "obpetere" with "ob-" meaning "against") the competition tends to promote practices which are not conducive to prosperity, even if they technically count as winning. Basically, I mean endeavoring in any pursuit—legal or illegal—which handicaps the competition. This ranges from outright sabotage to lobbying for laws that favor your business other others.

It's cheating. It's destructive, degenerative, and wrong.

Instead of focusing on beating the competition, people who endeavor for success should focus on creating value, ignoring the competition. It may be that looking back at the competition periodically is important for success, but confusing success with simply being better than the next guy will never allow you to reach your full potential. It is far more important to the world that you (or anyone seeking success) develop the mentality of "striving together."

In other words, competition serves the primary function of democratic growth, wherein the participating populace is collectively inspired and motivated to improve the whole. It is not because we are forced or brainwashed into improving the whole, but because we stand to gain both recognition and monetary reward for ourselves from winning an honest competition. The operative word here is "honest."

If the primary focus is on creating value, then rewards are given for reaching this goal, not cheating others out of it.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Emergency Leadership

As with anything, the topic of leadership can be split and subdivided any any number of ways, but if we look at the multitude of environments which catalyze leaders, there are basically two types of leadership. The first, is emergency leadership, and the second is—drum roll please!—non-emergency leadership.

Emergency leadership is whenever a person stands up in the face of disaster and says, "Let's do this." I use the word "disaster" loosely here because the most obvious examples—in news media and fiction, say—are disasters. Whenever there is an earthquake, a flood, a fire, a plane crash, a train crash, a terrorist bomb, etc, certain people stand up and say, "Let's roll!" However, less public examples include late bills, traffic jams, broken copy machines, and marital spats.

Emergency leadership so often takes center stage in media because, for one, leadership of any kind is rare, and two, fixing a disaster looks so heroic. Tales of heroism have long been an important mainstay to the storytelling tradition. Stories of disaster and the brave men and women who led the people out of the darkness are as easy to relate for the teller as they are to envision by the listener. And they pass along portable lessons which are inspirational and valuable in less obvious crises.

The trouble with focusing solely on emergencies, as mainstream media tends to do, is that it teaches to—and therefore re-enforces—a reactionary paradigm. Many, if not most, emergencies are the result of too little proactive leadership—or non-emergency leadership. As Stephen Covey says in "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People," most people focus on tasks that are "urgent"—whether or not they are important.

Proactive leadership is preventative maintenance. Many of the tasks performed are not heroic or glamorous, even though they are important.

In their quest for success, many ambitious people fall short of their potential because they seek the recognition that comes with heroically putting out fires. While putting out fires is certainly important, fires (even figurative ones) cause permanent damage which stunts growth long-term. Fires also take more time and energy to put out than sparks, and so reactionary leaders tend to waste valuable resources needed to prevent fires in the first place.

Despite popular opinion, the problem is not caused solely by "greedy hotrods." Many people simply lack the mental ability to recognize tasks that are important, but not urgent. It's not that they are stupid, just unlearned. Abstract concepts start with concrete examples, which is why stories of emergency leadership is so pervasive. It is important to grab a hold of an example, such as Jack Shepherd, from my favorite TV show, LOST.

Being a doctor, he reacted to the plane crash with the use of his expertise, and gained the position of leader, even though he didn't want it. However, his reactionary style continued long after the crash, when the survivors had settled into a sort of lifestyle—or "normalcy." Jack goes on to orchestrate acts of defiance against the other people on the Island who presented themselves as a threat.

Though he eventually learns to bide his time, he never really learns to be proactive. Interestingly, it is Sawyer, the "bad boy" of the survivors' camp who goes on to learn about being proactive. In a memorable scene, he tells Jack about Winston Churchill, who he says "read a book every night, even during the Blitz." His point is not far from Covey's 7th Habit, "Sharpening the Saw." Or in other words, preparing for the unknown.

Once you understand the principles behind the first type of leadership, it is important to dig deeper in order to get better at preventing the disasters that are within your area of influence. Once the disaster is over, the war brought to peace, and the fires put out, it is imperative to understand what went wrong so we can change our habits before they lead to another disaster. In so doing, we save a lot of time, energy, and even lives.

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Big Comfortable Tree

Personal development media is about pushing your limits and expanding your capacity and abilities. By identifying weak points and blind spots, then learning to work with or around them, we maximize our potential for success in whatever area of life we choose to focus. Inherently, this process requires that you "get out of your comfort zone." In other words, it is impossible to grow if you seek comfort over growth.

However, when dealing with people outside oneself, it is very important to be likeable. Fundamental to likeability is being comfortable to be around. If you're uncomfortable with yourself, it shows. Worse, it has a tendency to make other people uncomfortable, too. When this happens too often, you destroy your ability to be likeable.

So the first question you should ask yourself about success (after "what is success to me?") is "how do I remain comfortable outside my comfort zone?" Fortunately, there is a difference between the internal comfort that makes you easy to like, and the external discomfort you have to endure in order to expand your capacity. The only challenge remains in learning to identify that difference.

Internal comfort comes from understanding yourself, then channelling your strengths. Learning which projects to tackle—and which to ignore—based upon your own personal passions and weaknesses is empowering. When you start to make headway with this process, you will naturally increase your self-confidence. When you increase your self-confidence, you become more comfortable with yourself—and more comfortable to be around.

Once you understand your unique State of FITness (or FITstate), you will be better able to manage the frustration created by pushing your external comfort zone. As I have illustrated before, a FITstate is the naturally defined balance of relevant elements, which are combined in harmony to enable the highest climb with the most stability. Like a healthy tree, the higher the reach, the broader its expanse can be—based upon the given nature of that particular tree. The broader the expanse of "branches" fed by strong "roots", the greater the possibilities for a fulfilling life.

Like a tree, our expanse of possibilities is stunted by an insufficient root system or poor soil, as well as by the available space in the canopy. However, unlike the tree, we can change our root situation, and in doing so, fairly negotiate for more canopy space and resources by which to fuel that new potential growth. This process is inherently painful because we naturally draw the boundaries of our comfort zones at the point where we decide the pain is "unbearable." Roots are not easy to replant, nor is it easy to push new branches into unexplored territory.

However, when something you passionately want requires actions that are outside of your comfort zone (your existing expanse in the canopy), the pain can become more bearable. This is because things you are passionate about carry their own reward in the journey. You are more willing to fail—a necessity for learning—along a path to what you feel is a worthy goal, than you are along a path to something you are lukewarm about.

Once you know what you're passionate about, you will know what to invest your time in. You never "spend" time on your passions, you "invest" time in your passions. If you are truly passionate about something, then even the failures are blessings, because you are interested enough in the project to find the lesson in the failure and try again. This perspective eliminates much of the frustration that comes from falling short of a goal on a path you're simply lukewarm about. When you avoid frustration, you remain comfortable with yourself. When you avoid external discomfort (pushing limits), you become frustrated and uncomfortable with yourself.

So how about it? Would you like to be a big, comfortable tree?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Celebrate You

Whenever a greeting card holiday rolls around, I can't help but write posts about the frivolity of industries based on them. This time, I think I'll switch it up a bit. Valentine's Day might mean a burst of candy sales and restaurant reservations, but because it is a minor holiday, much of this is actually done out of love.

In contrast with Christmas, which I believe is driven by family obligation more than genuine love, Valentine's Day is easily ignored by those not in the spirit. Sure, you run into the candy displays, and your kids have their parties, but it's rare when someone is pushed into a Valentine's Day party who doesn't want to go. No, people largely choose to celebrate the day when they feel they have something to celebrate.

Which brings me to my topic: Why are there so many people who don't have anything to celebrate?

I've been happily married for five years, but I remember hating Valentine's Day. I wanted someone to spend the day with, but lacked prospects. The traditionally male role of finding a mate weighed heavily on me, and the day had a way of rubbing it in.

Being a man and an introvert, I struggled with performing the tasks of my "duty." I wasted enormous amounts of energy on planning, rather than doing. Here's the part where I'm supposed to offer the advice to just do it, and if you're an extrovert, that's exactly what you should do (man or woman).

However, if you are an introvert, the advice is somewhat different. It is not in your nature to do the asking. By the same token, it is also not in the nature of your ideal mate to be asked. If an introvert forces himself into a dominant role for the purpose of winning a mate, he will only win a mate that compliments that role. Going forward, he will be forced to maintain a counterfeit role, or abandon the relationship.

While there are aspects of the human heart that coincide with gender, personality traits are not sex-linked. This confusion is caused by the media's tendency to typecast the sexes through over-simplification of the human condition. Consequently, there are many of us that end up feeling like misfits or freaks, when we are actually perfectly healthy individuals.

Love is finding common ground, often between complete opposites. If you're comfortable with who you are, and you know what you stand for in life, then you'll "magically" attract people that compliment you—including, but not limited to, a traditional romantic relationship.

The reason so many people feel lost on Valentine's Day is because they don't understand themselves. It's okay if you're not suave, if you're just not. In relationships, your level of discomfort speaks louder than any gimmick used to make you seem better.

Jamie Klueck

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Truth About TRUTH

When speaking about the concept of truth, it is important for an audience to understand what that word refers to. In my mind, there are two distinct concepts embedded in that word.

The first is somewhat adequately defined as "facts." The truth (lowercase "t") is a collection of general information about something real and quantifiable. Science seeks the "truth" about or universe through objective, empirical study. It collects and chronicles present and past instances of real events in support of a general theory of the parts' connection to each other.

The Truth (capital "T"), however, is not to be confused with his general theory, which is—after all—only a theory. The Truth is maddening to logicians and intellectuals because, by its nature, it can never be completely known or captured at any instance. It appears fluid because it has a broad application. In reality, it exists as unshakeably as the laws of physics.

Of course, religions claim exclusive ownership of Truth. Also, in many cases, nations or peoples claim this ownership. Even organizations (from legitimate to criminal) claim this ownership before their constituents. Indeed (and ironically), much blood has been and continues to be shed over the ownership of Truth. Yet Truth is bigger than religion, government, and the marketplace, the first informing the others. No man gets to decide what "Truth" is, only what "truth" is.

Throughout human civilization, those in power have sought to do a number of things using the Truth as a means to an end. Some seek to enlighten by attempting to expose the Truth, but the masses habitually remain focused only on what they can see. Others seek to control the masses by propagating a singular view of the Truth. No matter how monstrous or angelic the plan, the goal is nearly always to make the world a better place. The question is, better for whom?

There are two poles to the use of Truth as a catalyst for a better world. The first entails Truth being taught through a broad discussion, as with the Liberal Arts. People study the greatest ideas from all of human history in order to seek for themselves the best understanding of Truth. The other entails a scholar or "expert" building his own understanding (faulty or true) into a singular edifice for the masses.

The result is that only those willing to dive into the Liberal Arts ever acquire true perspective. Everyone else is encouraged to take the expert's word for it. However, the expert is not you, does not share your problems or passions, and ultimately cannot help you like you can when you have perspective. And so, people make do, and fail. Instead of making the difficult dive into the Arts, they latch onto a truth—that is, a prepackaged way of being—that most resembles their current lifestyle.

It's not that people don't believe in Truth, it's that they don't want to believe. Truth is obvious when it is simply laid out, but it may suggest the need for a change in lifestyle for many people. Since this can be painful, and since suffering is not in keeping with a better world, those with the means tend to deliver "solutions" to ease the suffering.

As with physical training, there are ways to work up to the heavy material. However, no fitness coach would be worth his salt if he helped you avoid "the burn"! And no FITness coach would be either if he let get by on half-baked ideas!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Only the Good Die Young

I've recently been watching (and studying) several cancelled television shows. For the purpose of this post, I don't need to go into which ones, but suffice it to say that they carry strong ratings in online forums and databases. The question is: why do these highly regarded first and second seasons not warrant further development?

I think they do. Now, I know that I lack a full understanding of what happened in each case, and it is the purpose of this post to discuss the general reasons that these shows (or any worthy ventures) fail. In fact, to say they "fail" might be a misnomer—in some cases, they're killed.

Like a lot of mainstream media, broadcast and basic cable are largely funded by ads. Whenever ratings take a dip, someone loses money. I don't know if there is a standard for whose responsibility it is to lose said money, but there really are only two choices. Either, the network loses money if the advertisers pay for results (less eyeballs = less advertising), or the advertisers lose money if they pay for time (less eyeballs = less value per dollar).

Either way, a show with falling ratings represents a liability, rather than an asset. Therefore, the same rules that govern any investment govern television production as well. Network executives, whose job it is to grow the bottom line, are in a hurry to cut liabilities—often at the first sign of difficulty.

However, in any business venture, this behavior is short-sighted and destructive. Long-term assets create stability for an enterprise, however, they are not easily identified by short-term market response. Often, assets of long-term value either start out with little success or enjoy a good reception but then suffer a dip when the bubble created by marketing hype bursts.

This is because stories—those of unique people, products, and services or those of an artistic nature—are about more than easily quantifiable facts. Facts are easy to put together, but what makes a story compelling is how and why a certain combination of facts is important. No one becomes loyal to a list of bullet-points.

The only way to identify long-term assets is to consider the potential of a project, not just what currently exists. If the fan base (or customer base) is small for the first two years, that's not a sign that it's a failure, but a sign that more explanation is required. By that, of course, I don't mean more bullet points, but more depth.

It seems to me that any story which acquires even a small loyal fan base, has the potential to be valuable. In fact, this should be the clue to executives that the project needs to be promoted, rather than cancelled. It may not be a short term moneymaker, but building on existing loyalty with existing projects would save the company "startup" costs.

Traditional ratings don't measure (or don't care about) loyalty, just overall numbers. It may be that the number of overall viewers tends to indicate loyalty, but this sort of numbers view is too remote to accurately measure loyalty in all cases. For this reason, this system is hostile to art, which is unpredictable.

Because art is about breaking new ground, it is in art that value created. This is important not just for a media company's stability, but also to society as a whole. Unfortunately, art cannot be rushed, and too many people are afraid of losing their jobs over a bad call on risky artistic programming.

It's just too bad they don't realize that slow growth is never risky.

Jamie Klueck

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

It Could Not Have Been Different

I saw a license plate today that read, "IF ONLY". It echoed some of the familiarly haunting thoughts that had been running through my head this morning. We all have things in our past that we wish had gone differently. Some things are painful failures, but others are joyous milestones that have lost their luster. Commitments we made in a time of naivete, can begin to feel like shackles as time wears on. We can become preoccupied with imagining how life would be now if these things were different.

But the truth is that life could not have been different. Everyone makes choices at a moment in time based upon the information they have at that time. Generally, the information is insufficient to make an truly informed decision. The fact that experience comes from making poorly informed decisions is one of life's many counterintuitive aspects. It is for this reason, that we could not have changed the past.

"If I knew then what I know now."

At any point in the past, we could not have acted differently without different information. However, different information is not inherently a change maker either. When a lifetime (however young the person) is spent building a library of experience, a brief introduction to life-changing information is bound to be insufficient to make an impact. Regardless of how truthful the information is, or how completely the recipient accepts it as truth, the momentum of conflicting past information will tend to overtake it.

Our brains are built to form habits. Our conscious minds are limited, and so we differ certain regularly accessed data stores and repeated actions to our subconscious mind. The subconscious acts as an autopilot, running our routines in the background so that we can be conscious of more important decisions. Unfortunately, the subconscious tends to be overzealous—or we tend to be lazy with our conscious minds. Either way, we form some habits of thought and action that are counterproductive, then we re-enforce them through repetition.

Consequently, it is more difficult to "teach an old dog new tricks" than it is to teach a younger one. That being said, when applied to humans, this adage judges "old" by how long it has been since the last time one's habits have been deeply examined. By identifying problem areas in our habitual minds, we can begin the process of re-educating ourselves to think, then act, differently. This takes time, and is a bit like turning a battleship.

All we can do about the past is to learn from it. By rooting out the causes behind our regrets, we can begin to change the course going forward. The more we learn from media sources about the human condition, the better equipped we are to self-examine and to change what we find. And, of course, you have to take responsibility for the problems that you caused. Running from your faults is the surest way to make more regrets.

No matter how much better it seems that life would be now without that "ball-and-chain" from your past, consider the truth of your ideal. Given your mindset, if things had gone differently, would you have made different decisions? Or would you have chased another woman if your wife had snubbed you? If you hadn't sworn at your boss that day, would you have sworn at him the next? You might wish you hadn't decided to have a child or hadn't had that decision made for you (by fate, et al). Just consider how many times you had missed committing yourself before your thoughts led to actions which led to the consequences (desirable or not).

Likely, it could not have been different. Even if you travelled back in time to warn yourself, the odds are that your habitual mind and the surrounding circumstances would have lead you to the same place. The only way to change your future results—to avoid the regrets and "if onlys"—is through continuous, applied self-examination enabled by a mentor and a varied diet of media sources. It may take time to turn the battleship, but the future CAN be different.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Portable Lessons

I've used this phrase before when describing the importance of Truth in Fiction. However, by its very nature, a portable lesson is something that can be learned anywhere. When I first started studying success principles, I was like most people. I didn't understand how one thing related to another. I laughed at the concept that business principles had anything to do with raising a family.

It is true that many businesses are run by tyrants whom we would never want to have as patriarch of a family, but it is also true that many families are run by tyrants whom you would never want as a boss. On the flip side, it is a reality that there are both families and organizations run by people of integrity. In both cases, the lessons of one are easily transferrable to the other. The lessons a father learns from raising his children apply to leading a team of people, and vice versa.

The reason this is true is that all people respond the same to basic principles, regardless of gimmicks, that's why they are basic principles. Helping people identify these and pattern a life-habits after them is the very essence of the Liberal Arts, and why the study and discussion of them is such an important lost practice. Today's management/positional leadership culture is all about the gimmicks and strategies of getting people to do what you want, how you want it, when you want it. However, people want respect, they want to feel appreciated for their contributions, they want the freedom to pursue things they feel are important, and they need the time and space to do it in.

This runs perfectly counter to the dictatorship paradigm most management schools teach, and so media creators developed "solutions" in the form of endless gimmicks, tricks, bribes, and work-arounds. Endless patches to the human psyche by way of propaganda have brought us to the place in time where we believe that tyranny is the path to success in business, while avoiding relationships at home, is the path to success. We actually believe that one organization is different from another. The adage "people are like snowflakes" is true enough, but organizations are all the same. If you can't treat your son or daughter the way you treat your employees without repercussions, chances are you aren't really escaping those problems at work either.

Hence, portable lessons. Because of our complex culture, many of us work in organizations where it is difficult to perceive the total impact of our actions. Short of restructuring the organization tomorrow to allow more interaction between levels in a massive hierarchy, the solution to this problem is to simply look to areas where the impact of human relations is more apparent, then port those lessons to the workplace to give you a better handle on developing your influence and likability. Short of having a solid relationship, turn to the classic books.

These portable lessons are few and timeless. There is something to be said for the techniques of your industry or organization (even if its a family), but without a deep understanding of connecting principles which lead to integrity, you're doomed to make the same mistake in every single relationship you have in life—and that's a waste.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Quality, Not Quantity

There is a big difference between being long-winded and having a lot to say. Long-winded people—and I'm guilty of this—tend to fill up space with words and content that are empty. People who have something to say don't waste a minute of your time conveying their message. Media today seems to err on the side of long-windedness.

It's a classic case of quantity over quality. Proliferation tends to get more attention because it is so visible by its very nature. However, every individual or organization has a limited capacity for creation. To be extraordinarily prolific in words is to be extraordinarily deficient in content.

"It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." -Macbeth, William Shakespeare

Shakespeare saw the same thing in his day. As I understand it, plays at that time suffered from the overuse of "special effects" and battle scenes which were meant to captivate audiences but were merely gimmicks, adding little to the story. Today's movies, television, books, and music all suffer from the overuse of time-consuming, value-deficient, "filler" content which represents an attempt to expand mediocre (or good, but brief) ideas into saleable media products, based upon what has worked in the past. In their rush for market share, executives kill the golden goose.

The context of the quote also suggests Shakespeare understood the parallel between people's labor for success and the quality of the fruits of that labor. The character, Macbeth, had just learned of his wife's death, and is articulating (not "proliferating") how brief life is. Basically, this quote encapsulates the moral of the play. Macbeth realizes that his untimely rush for power and prestige ultimately became is undoing, whereas he was destined for success even if he had not rushed it.

Most people don't even attempt to be a success, much less go too far. However, those that do push for greatness, often tend to swing the pendulum too far in the opposite direction. Aside from the well-publicized tendency of driven people to cause direct harm to others, a more insidious and pervasive tendency exists. In a push for success, many people undermine the integrity of their projects simply by cutting corners and "padding" sparse content, rather than waiting until their idea reservoir is legitimately full.

The more solid the foundation—the significance part of the project—the more likely people are to discuss what you're doing with others. The more discussion, the more likely you'll get viral spread. Filling up space with long-windedness may be the quick way to get some attention, but if you have to work at keeping your audience, you'll never get a break.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Creep and the Internet

Nothing stays the same, everything changes. There are many people with many different agendas all over the globe who want to direct the flow of that change. Most of these people mean well. Many have a perfect plan to fit their particular perspective. Many more are willingly ignorant, or even outright selfish. Some think things would go better if they had total control. Shockingly, some are even right on this point—at least for a short time. Most plans center on what someONE is going to do about the problems.

Every time something disastrous happens, someone steps in to offer a solution. Unfortunately, the solutions that look the easiest, fastest, or cheapest to us have an enormous long-term price tag—one that always stipulates a loss of freedom. Just as America went from being the most free nation on Earth to a bureaucratic nightmare, so the Internet will likely succumb to the forces of controlling powers. That will spell the end of freedom in the information age.

The technique of utilizing a disaster like 9/11 to push forward political agenda is not a new concept, but is fundamental to political science. Even before we might have understood what it was, we—collectively as a young race, and individually as young children—developed the ability to get our way by applying pressure to a weak spot. Leadership author, Chris Brady, called this the "creep" in a recent blog article. Sometimes, this technique is necessary, justifiable, and even righteous, but not always. And not just because an individual or elite group perceives a benefit to humanity.

If humanity doesn't "buy it" then it's not right for everyone. The obsession with centralized solutions is founded on the belief that one person can't make a difference. The thing is, this observation is accurate, just not completely true. One person can't make a difference, but one person can share his vision with two or three others and inspire them to share the vision each with two or three others. The difference between this and centralized solutions is that the direct approach allows for the vision to be adapted to each group or individual. It both encourages understanding of individual situations, and allows for this information to be shared communally to increase understanding in the whole organization.

Think this doesn't happen? Au contraire! This is what was done in every example of prosperity throughout history. The fact that we feel this is impossible is a creep in media content toward that propagated image. Big media is supported by big-everything-else, and nothing big wants to feel threatened by something little. So they naturally censor—perhaps without even understanding what they're doing—any nugget of an idea that feels like a threat to their interests. The result is a flock of sheep that think they can't solve their own problems—and can't because they haven't learned how.

The Internet is wild and revolutionary. Just look at Wikipedia. User created, user supported, and free to the general public. Nothing that revolutionary has happened since the printing press! But we all know it's under fire for just that reason. The carefully laid structure of a bureaucratic society is being exposed to those who care to engage in the conversation at all. So the weapon of mass media tends to discourage personal exploration.

Even more so, it tends to discourage personal growth. When people become independent thinkers and independent operators, they create change—natural, and therefore, uncontrollable change. That is terrifying to anyone who has a stake in the here-and-now because it might mean the vacation is over. No one can stop change any more than one could stop a speeding locomotive with his bare hands, so in trying to tame the wild beast, they rip up the tracks and undermine the whole thing.

As companies—which shall remain nameless—grow larger and more influential on the internet, they will use the power they gain to stack the deck in their favor. The solution is not to regulate them, because that only transfers the power from one big organization to a bigger one. It also tempts wealthy private businesses with the option to hire lobbyists who can further the company's cause by manipulating the legal system.

The internet still leaves the power in the hands of the people. Let's be bold enough to come together and keep it free. What we need is to prevent companies from growing large without our approval. An internet company can easily generate $1 billion with the help of its customers, but if we don't like something they're doing, we need to lift a different company to that level. It's possible.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Mystery of Selfishness

Selfishness is a concept that surprisingly sees a lot of debate. Of course, it is a loaded term with which only a few would choose to be willingly associated. Those who choose to call themselves selfish and laud its virtues—such as Ayn Rand—undoubtedly reject its negative connotations. On the other side, the word is used by altruists and hypocrites alike as mud to childishly sling in the faces of people who are not so fearless around the word as others.

In this way, it is one of the chief "weapons" used in philosophical debate among today's media. I don't agree with everything Ayn Rand says, but I appreciate her willingness to own an empty, derogatory term. To be sure, selfishness—and all things linked to its roots—is an inseparable part of the human experience. In itself, it is neither good nor bad, but a fact to be taken under consideration. Interestingly, it does not follow the set rules that either side wants to believe it does.

The so-called "Right Wing" believes in the motivational power found in selfishness. They understand that it is an irrevocable fact of humankind, which is better to work with than against. However, they often ignore its weaknesses in favor of its strengths. On the other hand, the "Left" sees selfishness as public enemy number one. They wish it could be bred out, regulated into obsolescence, or forced into submission. They believe in altruism and that a perfect society is one where people serve the whole.

Both these perspectives are accurate, but each only half-true. It is true that many people in many cases actively pursue their own selfish interests, and that rewarding productive behavior encourages productive behavior. Many, but not all. It is also true to say that a society of individuals who each sacrifices his self-interest for the good of the whole would prosper long term. The problem is that, in reality, no one is a purist. One might be a purist for a period of time (or even a lifetime) but this is a rare happenstance and will never be the rule.

As a drive, selfishness always falls short of what would cause society to prosper. Despite what many believe, most people reach an equilibrium at work. They get to the point in life where money satisfies enough desires that taking on more effort is not worth it. People don't run all the way to millionaire just for the money—they do it because they have a vision, something pulling on their hearts. They see a change to help others (altruism) and they chase it, and indeed, that is the only way one gets to be nouveau riche.

But as for the heart, charity has to be something special. When a government program, special interest group, or other similar organization distributes funds to people, it isn't charity—it's entitlement. Most people don't feel compelled to give back to these organizations, they just want more support. It's one of the stranger sides of selfishness. When people are given money for being something they had no control over, they generally don't appreciate it as a gift. To ignore this fact, and to build an organization upon status distribution is to create slaves to your organization.

Seek to understand selfishness, and moreover, how it is manifested in each individual you meet. Work with it, rather than against it, but never assume it is a mechanical push-button, because it will let you down at a critical moment.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Folly of the Performer

It is important to understand one's role in any organization and/or endeavor. Some people have a natural inclination to create. Others possess the ability to sell. Both concepts overlap and people sometimes get confused about their abilities and their proper role.

To create and develop a composition is an invisible enterprise. That is, it is often done by one person or a small group of like-minded individuals behind closed doors. It can be created in its entirety and unveiled all at once, or it can be exposed in stages. Either way, the finished product speaks for itself.

At least, this is the ideal. However, the nature of the discovery-creation-unveiling process gives it the weakness of permanence. Once it is written, it is written in stone. It can be updated, recalled, or added to, but the thing still exists in the minds of the audience—and great first impressions are critical.

This is where marketers come in. Once a thing exists, it is the job of these people to perform the task of finding a home for the thing. They can overcome bad first impressions with the strength of their character and proper promoting of the hidden gems within a misunderstood product.

Their proper role is to find a home for the thing, not to reinvent the thing.

This is often the folly of the performer. Because the fate of the product depends upon their ability to relate it to their audience, marketers often think that the product's real form is irrelevant. They fancy themselves creators, and use words and stories to make a product out to be more than it really is.

But a product—even a fictional story or a piece of fine art—is what it is, and not what a skilled performer can make you believe it is. Any marketing materials that are created must be dependent upon the original creation. If not, then they are devoid of value. Every time a performer "gets away with it" he's really only building himself a house of cards, and it doesn't take long before the edifice collapses under its own weight—often without a clear connection to this root cause.

If you want to tell stories, GREAT! Create stories, and hone your craft. If you're trying to sell a product, I'd recommend selling the product, not some trumped-up fiction about the product.