Basically The Matrix… FOR YOUR BRAIN

What if I told you that Wayne Gretzky has a perfect birthday for hockey?  How does that make any sense?  How did being born on January 26 as a hockey player in Canada give Gretzky an advantage?

Simple, really.  The cutoff date for youth hockey leagues in Canada is December 31.  Therefore, young players who start when they are 5 or 6 who are born earlier in the year have nearly an entire year’s advantage of, not only practice, but also speed and size.  Although that doesn’t offer much of a competitive edge as an adult, when you’re very young, it’s a pretty huge difference.   From that team, the kids with birthdays in the first three months of the year are therefore more likely to be picked for select or advanced teams the following year, gaining better coaching and more practice hours than the more casual teams.  This advantage carries on throughout their career… and it all starts randomly, as children, for an arbitrary reason.

“Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell examines how culture, situation, generation, and even birthday can greatly contribute to the potential for success of an individual. He dissects a number of different “rags to riches” type tales and finds that one of the biggest common dominators is the opportunity to do work circumstantially leading to success, sometimes in very odd ways.

Among the case studies presented in the book offer insight on why Asians are better at math, how New York Jews became leaders in the fashion world, and how entitlement in perpetuated in upper class families.

This is the kind of book that makes you think.  What are my opportunities?  How did I get to where I am?  And how can I best leverage what I have for future success.

I would definitely recommend this book.  It makes for a great road trip audio book since most of the sections are explained through the analysis of short stories and the ideas presented are broader concepts rather than great soundbites that you wish you could stop and write down.

 

Book Review: “Outliers” by Malcom Gladwell

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Book Review: “Getting Things Done” by David Allen

There is no exaggeration in saying that Getting Things Done by David Allen has changed my life.  I cannot recommend this book enough for those who over commit themselves, juggle multiple projects at once, or just want to have a better grasp on their life.  Following the principles in this book, I’m markedly more productive, able to prioritize social/family time, I’m more creative, and I even sleep better.

The basic premise of the book is pretty simple: your brain is like a computer.  When you have too many applications open at once, it doesn’t function optimally and eventually it crashes.  Similarly, when you are trying to regularly process everything that you have to do in life, the same thing happens.  By getting everything out of your brain and into a trusted system of reminders, you become infinitely less stressed and better able to focus directly on the tasks at hand.

As a very simplified overview, you begin by writing down everything in your brain that you think you need to do.  It can be immediate things, such as take out the trash, to long term goals, such as pay off debt or learn Russian.  This process will likely take quite a while because you need to get literally everything you think about all in one place.  Then you start sorting it into either Next Action, Waiting For, Read/Review, Someday Maybe, and Reference material, immediately doing any tasks that take under 2 minutes so you no longer have these “open loops”.

From there, put everything into bite sized pieces.  For instance “Plan Vacation” is not a good to-do list item because it’s too broad and not something you can sit down and just do.  It would need to be broken down into pieces such as discuss destination ideas with spouse, review available budget, check visitation schedule, confirm that time off work is available during that time, research travel and hotel options, book travel and hotel options, etc.  Then consider dividing everything up by location rather than by general task.  For instance, at the office, at home, at a computer, on the phone, etc.  By doing this, when you have 10 minutes free at your computer before your next meeting, you can review your “At computer” list and start making progress on a variety of different projects simultaneously rather than wasting that 10 minutes trying to figure out how to spend it (and ultimately wasting it on Facebook).

This is really just the tip of the iceberg on creating an efficient workflow system as outlined in the book.  A lot of it is common sense, a lot of it may already be things you do, however getting a cohesive plan in place on how to tackle life is imperative.  I’ve used these principles to set up a system through Evernote that allows me to help keep track of projects from any device anywhere.  When I have an idea or remember something I need to do, I add it to my Evernote list to be sorted later and go back to focusing on the task at hand rather than letting my mind wander about how I will make progress on this other thought.  The moment you are trying to think about two things at once, you’ve failed to do one of them.  This system help the time and attention you spend feel more successful utilized (as well as making sure you do it in the right places at the right time).  I cannot over emphasis the importance of this read.

Change your life.  Get this book.

Sports Ball Leadership Insights Pt. Deux

Book Review (Pt.2): “The Score Will Take Care of Itself” by Bill Walsh

I’ve completed a third book (Getting Things Done by David Allen) since my intent to finish the follow up review of the second half of this book, so I’ll keep it brief.  Although there are many, many phenomenal quotes to site from this book (I recently purchased a paperback copy to re-read later), these are a few additional quotes that stuck out with me as I finished the book.

 

“The culture precedes positive results.  Champions behave like champions before they are champions.  They have a winning standard of performance before they are winners.”

I see too often in general, particularly in my generation and younger, the expectation to be successful just because they showed up.  I think some of it started when everyone started getting a participation ribbon to make them feel “encouraged”, however it seems to have made a pendulum swing in the other direction where few are really willing to try.  It’s created a vacuum of work ethic, which makes it easier to get noticed for those actually putting forth the work.  And they can’t be completely to blame because they were never taught otherwise, however it is a somewhat sad state of affairs looking forward at the future generations of leaders.   I think we would do well to find a happy medium of positive reinforcement and developing a culture of standards.

 

“Conventional wisdom often produces conventional results.”

This simplistic, Confucius style statement really stuck out to me when I heard it.  Too often we run into the convention of “that’s not how we do it, we’ve always done it this way”.  Which, on one hand, is comfortable and low-risk.  It’s also inhibiting of the potential of growth.  I tend to get a bit of a reputation as a rebel rouser because I have a tendency to break convention… and it seems to have worked relatively well for me so far!  Calculated risks, although still risks, can reap great rewards.

 

 

“Flying by the seat of your pants precedes crashing by the seat of your pants.”

All of that being said, the key phrase is “calculated risks”.  By establishing purpose, followed by goals, followed by strategies and tactics, followed by measurable metrics for success… risks really aren’t so risky.  And even when they don’t work out as plan, typically you still have enough structure to learn something from it.  “Winging it” doesn’t often grant the same benefit with an increased amount of risk.

 

“Don’t mistake activity for achievement.” – John Wooden, Wooden on Leadership

This quote was featured in the book and I thought it was pretty solid.  Being busy does not equate to being successful.

 

“Don’t let anyone tell you that a big ego is a bad thing. It is reflective of anyone willing to take their talent as far as it will go.  Ego is pride, self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-assurance.  Egotism, on the other hand, is an arrogance that comes from your own perceived skill, power, or position.  It makes you self-important, self-centered, and selfish… and slow, vulnerable, and easily destroyed.”

That says just about everything, doesn’t it?

You Personally Are What Is Wrong With This Country

…If you don’t go vote in local primary elections. Right now.

This may not be quite the ludicrous sentiment it seems.  Here’s why.

Primary elections have one of the smallest voter turnout of any electoral process, specifically if there aren’t during major elections cycles (i.e. the President).  So who does show up?  People who are extremely passionate about their politics… and often equally polarized in their opinions.

This creates a scenario where a candidate with moderate, rational views who is willing to see both sides of an issue is at a major disadvantage for winning a primary election because they don’t indulge these extreme demographics (of people who are guaranteed to actually vote).  Thus, because local primary election voter turnout is low, the candidates who end up ultimately representing their party on the ballet are very rarely a genuine representative of the people, but rather champions of the limited view of the few that actually show up to vote in the primaries.

This is where the downward spiral begins.  It generates extreme polarization at the polls where voters who are somewhat in that middle (which is… you know… most people) either end up casting their vote against one candidate they don’t like, vote straight ticket because it is easier than thinking, or just don’t end up voting at all because they don’t agree with either extreme.  And you know what?  These polarized groups depend on those in the middle to react that way.

Politicians know this, so they often have to be extreme in their promises to get elected… and then they have to be consistent in these extreme views throughout their term to stay in office.  How much of your mail right now consists of political propaganda stating that “This conservative senator that is currently running didn’t vote to the extreme on this one issue, so he must be stopped before he destroys America!  Visit http://www.GuessWhoIsActuallyACommunistSpy.com for more information on how awful they are!”

Because of this, both sides end up unwilling to work together on big national (or local) issues because they have to gain or maintain the approval of this tiny primary voting populace… and that’s the way this tiny voting populace prefers to keep it.  It gives them unwarranted power on an international scale just because they are willing to show up at somewhere at an appropriate time.  Unfortunately, this means there can be no compromise on finding a rational middle ground that is a more reasonable representation of the ideals of the general population.

National news stations know this to be true as well, and have evolved into pandering to extreme demographics because it earns more viewership, which brings in more advertising dollars.  This biased view of political news creates even more extremely polarized people, who are also more likely to vote… Meaning this problem is only going to get worse.

General apathy, lack of information, and “I’m too busy for democracy” has allowed extreme views to rise to authority… and, really, they’re all pretty terrible excuses for letting democracy fail.  Spend an hour Googling your local candidates – be it senator, judge, or anyone else – because their job is important and it will directly impact you more than the current SportsBall game or the newest episode of Zombie Prison Hero Show.  And then actually show up to vote in the primary elections.

If extremely polarized views still win the day, then great; at least they are a fair representation of what people actually want.  But stop being lazy.  Stop making excuses.  And vote in the most underrated, but often most important, part of democracy.  I’m not exposing some grand secret by letting you know that your vote actually does matter, particularly in a primary, even more so at a local level.

And guess what!  The state even makes it easy on you.  In Texas, you can vote at ANY polling station in your county (on your way to work, headed home, or even when just out getting tacos) during early voting (February 16 – February 26, 2016).  Or you can wait until the last minute and vote on March 1 at your designated polling station, which can be found at http://www.votetexas.gov/voting/where/ (along with other pertinent voting information).

Either way, you get a pretty rad sticker and earn the right to complain if things don’t turn out the way you think they should.  But… you might be surprised at how much of a difference a small group of people can make.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

 

Above image borrowed from The Economist article available at http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21689543-marvel-jaw-dropping-spectacle-then-worry-american-politics-has-taken-dangerous

 

Sports Ball Leadership Insights with That Guy From The 49ers

Book Review: “The Score Will Take Care of Itself” by Bill Walsh

Bill Walsh was the head coach and general manager of the 49ers in the early 80’s that took them from being in last place to winning the Super Bowl in 3 seasons.  I’m not the biggest sportsball fan, so I’m sure many of the anecdotes were lost on me, but it does a good job of bridging that by making sure the leadership principles discussed are fairly universal.

The books is pretty lengthy, so I decided to try the book-on-tape route to and from work as recommended by my cousin.  It took about a month of transit to get through, however there were a lot of really good insights.  A lot of it offers top down leadership advise on managing every aspect of an organization, so it’s a book I will likely re-read later in life when some of the ideas are more applicable to my level of responsibility and authority.

That being said, there is a through line of a micro-management style of leadership, which is not one that I personally am fond of, however I can appreciate how it was effecting in the context in which it was used.  It was interesting to get a very different perspective on leadership and it does offer great advice on setting goals, creating a plans and contingency plans, actively teaching, analyzing and evaluating strategies, having open communication, and adhering to a standard of excellence; some of which I will start incorporating in to my everyday life.  However, I could also see where someone could potentially read this book and justify a closed-minded approach to management without utilizing the aforementioned qualities, which is why I would might hesitate recommending it without a few caveats.

The title of the book comes from the idea that if you focus on continual improvement, attention to detail, and establishing high personal accountability, your team will eventually become so efficient that “the score will take care of itself”.  The book features a lot of different lists of ideas for surrounding different situations, however the predominant one is Walsh’s “Standard of Performance”.

  1. Ferocious and intelligently applied work ethic directed at continual improvement.
  2. Respect for everyone in the program and the work that he/she does.
  3. Be committed to learning.
  4. Demonstrate character and integrity.
  5. Honor the connection between details and improvement.
  6. Demonstrate loyalty.
  7. Be willing to go the extra mile for the organization.
  8. Put the team’s welfare ahead of my own.
  9. Maintain an abnormally high level of concentration and focus.
  10. Make sacrifice and commitment the organizations trademark.

 

It was more difficult to pull quotes from the audio book, but there were a few that really stood out (with a few more and additional commentary to be included in a follow up post).

“Few things offer greater return on less investment than praise.”

“Hearing someone described as being able to “Fly by the seat of his pants” always suggests to me a leader who hasn’t prepared properly and whose pants may soon fall down.”

“Others follow you based on the quality of your actions rather than the magnitude of your declarations.”

“Your enthusiasm becomes their enthusiasm; your lukewarm presentation becomes their lukewarm interest in what you’re offering… When the audience is bored, it’s not their fault.”

“Victory is not always under your control… However, a resolute and resourceful leader understands that there are a multitude of means to increase the probability of success. And that’s what it all comes down to, namely, intelligently and relentlessly seeking solutions that will increase your chance of prevailing in a competitive environment.”

 

 

Chef Bryson’s World Famous Hot Cakes

One of the few childhood memories I have of my granddaddy was his legendary pancakes on Sunday morning. He was the pancake man, my grandmother was the butter lady, and my cousin Jordan and I would fight over who got to be syrup boy when I would visit East Texas.

When I got to be about 10, I remember he let me help; a monumental accomplishment for a 10 year old. For what ever reason, I meticulously remember every detail about how he made these pancakes… Not necessarily the recipe, but all of the tricks on how to make the perfect pancakes.  Yet 20 years later, I hadn’t ever made them without him since.

At our missional community, we were doing breakfast for dinner and I volunteered to make the pancakes; partially because the ingredients are pretty cheap when making them from scratch, but also because I was secretly hoping to recruit my pastor’s 10 yr old son (Bryson) to help so that I could teach him the way my grandfather taught me. Although a little hesitant at first, he agreed to help, and by the end of it, he was foregoing both watching football and playing with the other kids so he could cook and help serve others. Pretty proud of this kid.

Chef Bryson’s World Famous Buttermilk Pancakes (from scratch!)

Recipe from AllRecipes.com

Time: 30 minutes-ish

Feeds: A small army (12 people or so, roughly 2 pancakes each)

Ingredients:

3 cups all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons white sugar

3 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

3/4 teaspoon salt

3 cups butter milk

1/2 cup milk

3 eggs

1/3 cup butter, melted

In a large bowl, combine all of the dry, powdered ingredients first, sifting the flour, baking powder, and baking soda together to prevent clumping (sifting optional).

In a second large bowl, add the wet ingredients (although let the butter cool for a moment before adding it to the mix).

Pre-heat your griddle (we used 300-350).

Slowly mix the dry ingredients in to the wet ingredients.  Stir with a wooden spoon*, breaking up any chunks while gently stirring.  As the batter thickens, do not over stir, but rather attempt a folding motion to finish mixing.  This will help keep the pancakes fluffy.

Flick a bit of water on to the surface of the griddle, and if it sizzles, it’s ready.

Scoop the batter on the griddle with the wooden spoon and gently break up any clumps that you may see in the batter as it spreads on the griddle.  Make good use of the griddle surface space, however do not over pack it, as it may get difficult to flip the pancakes if they are too close together.  Note that the batter will continue to spread out slightly after you put it on the griddle.

Watch for bubbles to form on the top of the pancakes (on the batter side).  This generally denotes that they are ready to flip!  Peek under the corner and flip if ready.  This is more of an art than a science being that different sizes of pancakes and their position on the griddle can impact how quickly they cook, so there’s a little bit of finesse involved.

When both sides have perfectly browned, serve to the salivating hordes of onlookers.

*When people asked my grandfather his secret to hot cakes, he would sarcastically tell them “Okay, are you ready?  Write this down, so you don’t forget.  First off, and this is important, I use a metal bowl.  Then, (are you writing this down?), I use a wooden spoon to mix it”.  Although logically these things make no difference, I still attempt to adhere to this when able.

One of the older gentlemen of our missional community was ease dropping on the pancake tutorial while making his egg casserole and commented, “I should be taking notes.  I don’t think I’ve heard most of those tips since boy scouts.”  Perhaps these pancake tips originated in the boyscouts, perhaps they are universal pancake truths, or perhaps my granddaddy pioneered pancake technology that has been passed down through word-of-mouth tradition.

Whatever the case may be, the end product is fluffy, picturesque, and delicious buttermilk hot cakes from scratch.  I wish I had more pictures of the finished product to share, however they moved too quickly.

Book Review: “Tribes” by Seth Godin

After reading “Trust Me, I’m Lying” and “Growth Hacker Marketing” by Ryan Holiday, I subscribed to his newsletter… which is primarily just his reading recommendations.

I’ve picked up quite a few of these books, among them, Seth Godin’s “Tribes”.    It’s a relatively quick read, roughly 150 pages, written in short segments (most likely entries lifted from his leadership blog).   I don’t think I’ve dog-eared and highlighted any non-academic book as much as I did with “Tribes”.  While reading this book, I’ve already purchased two separate copies for people I’m working on projects with and encouraged them to pass them on when they are done… and will likely send it to others.  I genuinely cannot say enough positive things about this book.

I will give fair warning: this is the kind of book that can get you in trouble.  It inspires you to step up and take the lead on whatever you are passionate about.  Challenging the status quo isn’t always favorable, however it seems that growth is almost always dependent on change.

 

A few of the (many) quotes that stood out to me are:

 

“The one path that never works is the most common one: doing nothing at all.  Nothing at all feels safe and it takes very little effort.  It involves a lot of rationalization and a bit of hiding as well… Leadership is a choice.  It’s a choice to not do nothing.”

I’ve been in positions before (even recently) where I identified a problem, but I also identified it as “not my problem”.  I’m too busy and it will work itself out if it’s supposed to… right?  I’m reminded of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s statement “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it.  He who accepts evil without protecting against it is really cooperating with it.”  Replace the word “evil” with “being uninspired”, “boring”, or any number of other verbs and it effectively works out the same.

 

“Almost all the growth that’s available to you exists when you aren’t like most people and when you work hard to appeal to folks who aren’t most people.” 

Stop trying desperately to appeal other people’s audiences.  It’s ingenuine.  Develop your own.  They’ll be more loyal, anyway.

 

“Leaders who set out to give are more productive than leaders who seek to get… The benefits to these leaders aren’t monetary or based on status… instead, they get their compensation from watching the tribe thrive.”

Leadership by service is a theme that has always rung true with me, although this isn’t the first place I’ve read about it.  There was that other guy who kind of wrote about it too… what was his name?  He was, like, pretty famous.  Oh yeah!  Jesus.

 

“Leadership comes when your hope and your optimism are matched with a concrete vision of the future and a way to get there.”

Seems like a pretty solid formula for leadership to me.  I’d add “and the willingness to do something about it.”  Although that’s added pretty frequently throughout the book, so I assume it just goes without saying in context.

 

“Find leaders (those who are doing things differently and making change), and then amplify their work, give them a platform, and help them find followers – and things get better.”

I’m pretty sure this whole idea is really a central theme in public relations.  Everything you read about “opinion leaders” or “power users” or “brand ambassadors”?  They’re basically all just fancy ways to mobilize the aforementioned idea.

 

This is a good book.  You should own this book.  I’d advise picking up this book.  And then reading this book.  And then re-reading it.  Perhaps annually.

You Do You, Boo Pt. 2 

I had a weird series of dreams last night. I can only image that recent conversations with my friend Eddie about his upcoming Europe has reawakened the part of my brain that misses the freedom of traveling.

In the dream, I was never really traveling, I just happened to be at a bunch of different places around the world. Right before I woke up from the dream, I was living on a large estate in Mexico and one of my friends from the UK was staying with me. I was on my way home from class (I’m stuck in school even in my dreams!) and decided to give him a phone call to see what he was up to. He didn’t answer.

I got back to the estate and he was casually mowing the lawn with a push mower while wearing a Manchester United jersey and said to me:
“Please don’t ever do that again. Don’t try to make your plans with me; we’ll both just feely awkwardly obligated to chit chat and ultimately be disappointed. Instead, perhaps say ‘Hey, I’m having going to have tea here’ and maybe I’ll join. Or maybe I won’t. But have tea because you want to have tea, and simply appreciate the company of another if it happens. You can better appreciate unforced moments that way.”

I’m not quite sure why I remembered this little diatribe so well, but it’s kind of stuck with me this morning.

You Do You, Boo

When I was in high school, the XBox had recently come out and everyone was obsessed with Halo. Some of my friends were phenomenal at the game, and on the occasions that I would play with them, I would frequently get pretty harshly dominated. This would be pretty frustrating, until I would go and play with someone else… and it turns out I was pretty decent.

Practice makes perfect, however surrounding yourself with people who are better than you certainly helps expedite the process. It can be humbling (and disheartening, at times), but setting aside ego and being willing to actively listen to criticism, absorb from observation, or evolve from competition can assist in more readily accomplishing one’s goals.

I’ve been very fortunate over the years to be able to surround myself with mentors who impart their unassuming wisdom upon me, often redirecting me to focus on what is genuinely important. Once, when discouraged by the inefficiently of others, the advice was thus:

“You have to run you. If your personal satisfaction is dependent on how others do things, you’ll always be frustrated. And it might sound selfish, but I much rather be excited than frustrated, so I focus on what I can do to always be improving in what I do, no matter how small it may seem to someone else.”

The idea is staggeringly simple, but really helps put things in perspective. When you’re feeling dispirited, undervalued, unmotivated, or underappreciated, you’re letting someone else dictate how you feel about yourself.

Inspire yourself. Impress yourself. Motivate yourself. Lead yourself. You might find that others follow.

“Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.” – William Faulkner

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