Your Gut is Thinking Too

I finished Jonah Lehrer’s book, How We Decide, last week. In it, Lehrer describes his view on, well, how we decide things. It’s basically the same concept that was presented in Gerd Gigerenzer’s Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious and Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink. In fact, some of the same research is used as examples across the three books. In Lehrer’s book I found something a little different though. He proposes that the decision isn’t one of deciding rationally or emotionally. He offers that it’s a matter of whether to decide with the conscious or the unconscious parts of our brain. He argues that the emotion we feel about a decision is the result of our subconscious brain weighing all the variables and summarizing them as a feeling for our conscious brain to use.

I like that view. Having a bad feeling (or a good one) about something should not be overlooked. There is good reason for your having that feeling. The challenge is to know when that feeling is the correct way to go. And Lehrer helps with that by explaining that we most often use that feeling in the wrong situations which leads to bad choices which leads us to mistrust our gut when we should be listening to it. He argues that our real challenge is to remember to think about how we’re thinking and then to decide whether it’s better to go with our gut or to let our big prefrontal cortex do the work instead.

I read Gigerenzer’s and Gladwell’s books first, and I almost passed on Lehrer’s. I’m glad I took the time to read it. It’s helped me to start thinking more about how I’m thinking. Time will tell if the decisions get any better.

Everyone Has the Entrepreneur’s Work Schedule Now

A recent article at CNN introduced me to the term “weisure.” It’s the blending of work and leisure time that is spreading across America. I found the article interesting because that’s been the way I’ve lived ever since I started my computer outsourcing company, Port-to-Port Consulting, back in 1991. It’s how every small business owner I know has lived for the past decade or more. Sure, it’s easier now because we have smart phones that allow us to reply to email when it’s not our kid’s turn at bat or in the pool or on the field or stage. But we’ve always blended work and leisure. Perhaps it’s happening more because, like Thom Patterson said, our work is more fulfilling as more of us do creative class work instead of toiling away on the assembly line. I don’t know.

I do know that I’m glad more people are doing work the same way that I’ve been doing it. It will become liberating in the long run. You see, when you have a hard time distinguishing between what’s work and what’s play, you can spend more time playing. That’s what I do. I don’t necessarily mean that I take more time to go golfing, but I golf with business associates as often as not. The truth is that many of my business associates are also my friends. In some cases, I don’t remember if we were friends first who became business associates or vice versa. It doesn’t really matter. I’ve found that I enjoy what I do a whole lot more when I like the people for whom I do it. The more I like what I do and whom I do it for, the less it seems like work.

Don’t think that I’m advocating for a 24-7 work life. I’m not. I think we’ve sped up the turnaround time on work to the point that most of us think everything is a crisis if we don’t get an instant reply to our every request. I’m still refusing to use text messaging on my cell phone. I realize I’ll eventually lose that battle, but it just doesn’t make sense to me that a person holding a phone in his hand who wants to reach me by phone thinks it’s better to scratch out a cryptic message than to simply CALL! No. What I’m advocating for is having work that we like enough that we’re willing to work whenever it is convenient to do so. That’s what all of the small business owners that I know tend to do.

Is Time Real?

I stopped wearing a watch more than a decade ago. I was in my office, deep in some project or other when I suddenly glanced up to see what time it was. Without having to do a Linda Blair kind of head turn, I was able to see three clocks plus there was one on the phone on my hip and one on my wrist. I haven’t worn a watch since that day. A strange thing happened after that. And no, that’s not when I started arriving late at most meetings. The strange thing was that removing my watch sort of freed me from the time continuum. I’ve since read that time is just a construct of man. Too deep for right now.

It does, however, seem to bother people that I’ve been freed from the continuum. My wife, for instance, likes to sleep in on the weekends. I am an always early riser, so I’ve usually been up for quite a while when she arises. Every Saturday and Sunday morning, her first question to me after we say good morning is, “What time did you get up?” My answer is always exactly the same phrase: “I don’t know what time it was when I got up.” Yet, she continues to ask each weekend and seems to still be annoyed with the answer. She’s not alone though. I usually don’t mark my daily routine with a clock (which explains some of my difficulty in getting to meetings on time). When people ask me what time something happened, I often respond that I don’t know. That answer always seems to annoy the questioner. I don’t know another way to respond, other than lying. When I try to do that with something vague like a while ago, they press for something more specific. When I try to be more specific but still vague, like a couple of hours ago, they want to debate whether that is an accurate estimate. I can’t carry my share of that debate because the truth is I have no idea but they won’t accept that answer without getting upset.

In the end, we’ll all discover that time really isn’t as important as we make it out to be. I’m just heading in that direction faster than most of you.

The Things We Take for Granted

I got out of the shower yesterday morning and heard noises downstairs. Susie was still sleeping and I didn’t figure there was any way that Christopher would be out of bed this early. The noise wasn’t the sound of intruders though, so I dressed and went downstairs to see what was going on. There, in the middle of the kitchen, stood Alex! He had come home from Howard a day early and was fixing a big breakfast for the whole family. It was so cool! I gave him a big hug and while I was embracing him I realized how much I appreciated him being home.

We take so much of our bounty for granted. Most of us spend our days worrying about the next thing: meeting, paper, phone call, whatever. We use so little of our time enjoying the things that really keep us going. We take the important stuff for granted while we fret over the lesser important things.

Later in the day yesterday, the entire Port-to-Port staff went to see the new Star Trek movie at a downtown theater. We’ve done this for every Star Trek opening since we started in business in 1991. This time, there was a lot of consternation about us all taking two hours in the middle of the day. What if one of our clients had a problem? The people I work with are my second family. I spend more time with many of them than I do with most of my family members. In the grand scheme, a couple of hours to catch a movie shouldn’t cause any great stress. It didn’t. We loved the movie.

Your Incredible Brain

I’m the Executive Director of the Indiana Post Adoption Network this year. I-PAN is a support group for parents who have adopted special needs children. This past Saturday we had our monthly meeting. The speaker talked about neurofeedback, biofeedback, and other methods for becoming aware of what your brain is doing. I confess that I’m fascinated about the way our brains work. I’m even more amazed at how little we know AND how much we continue to learn.

The Rules We Create

I was a Distinguished Graduate of my Air Force Officer Training School class in 1984. To this day, I give credit for that distinction to the fact that I was good at following the rules, without creating extra ones. Have you noticed how people will start to create rules that don’t exist? Then they start enforcing those non-existent rules on others. I guess it has something to do with our pattern seeking nature. We need only one or two observations of an action to build a set of rules about how that action should be done thereafter.

Energy Suckers

When I read The Cellestine Prophecy a few years ago, there was one piece that keeps coming back to my mind. The main character learned to see the energy fields of other people and how they interacted with one another. I often get that feeling when interacting with others.

I can feel my energy being sucked right out of me when I’m dealing with a negative person. Alternately, I can sense my energy level rising when I spend time around positive people. It’s amazing because it happens even when the negative person is in a positive situation or the positive person in a negative one.

I went from a meeting with a very negative person to one with an extremely positive one today. I’m so glad it wasn’t the other way around.

Pie Day

Today is Pie Day! Only math geeks really appreciate it. I was a math minor in college. Pi starts with 3.14. Today is 3/14. I probably didn’t have to give that much explanation but just in case your wheels are turning slower on Saturday.

I’m a big fan of holidays that are just fun rather than just commercial (Valentine’s Day) or over-the-top (Christmas, Halloween). I will celebrate Pie Day by taking an apple pie to the card party I’m attending this evening. It will generate some fun conversation about both math and lesser-known holidays like Flag Day (June 14) or Talk Like A Pirate Day (September 19).

After that, we’ll get in with the business of trash talking about our Euchre skills before the table tells the tale of who is the best ( or luckiest) this night. But watch out. I will have created one or two more Pie Day celebrants for next year. Please don’t let the folks at Marie Calendar or Mrs Smith’s in on it or another holiday will surely get ruined.

How Many People Do You Really Know?

I’m sitting in a customer’s office watching his computer grind away at synchronizing his contact database to his Outlook address book. (For the record, synchronization sucks.) As I watch the nearly 7,000 contacts move, I’m reminded of a recent conversation I hadwith a co-worker about friends. He said he has about 20 close friends. I thought that was a bit high. I know about a couple of hundred people, but I have to say that a much smaller group constitutes my friends.

To me, friends are people I’d drop everything for. They are the ones who can talk me into road trips. They are the ones I’d lend money to without worrying or caring if I get it back. My list of real friends is pretty short, but the love I share with that group eliminates time and distance.

Will Your Machine Have Rights?

ElmoIn the February issue of Wired magazine, Daniel Roth describes the discomfort of watching an incineration of Tickle Me Elmo. He goes on to wonder about the future of machine rights. I wonder too. As machines get better at mimicking human behavior; as they appear to have personalities and interact with us by voice instead of mouse and keyboard, what’s to say some disenfranchised group of loonies won’t decide that machines have rights too.

I don’t buy it! Of course I’m not one of those people who gives people names to his cars or any of that stuff either. A machine is a tool intended to make my life easier in some way or another, even if that’s just by entertaining me (or keeping my little rug rat entertained while I do something else). I realize this is a rather extreme position, and it could lead to the kind of revolt made famous in I Robot or 2001: A Space Oddysey. Nonetheless, I stick to my guns on this one. Besides, we’ve done such a poor job so far of providing basic rights to our fellow human beings. Let’s get that right before we start worrying about the machines.

OK. I have to admit that I felt a little sympathy for Robin Williams’ character in Bicentenial Man, but that didn’t happen until he had essentially made himself into a truly artificial human. At some point the line does blur. If, as Ray Kurzweil believes, we figure out a way to put our brain pattern into software, will the machine running that software be us? On the other hand, if a person replaces enough of his organs with artificial ones, does he become a machine?

We may have to struggle with ethical dilemmas like this at some point. It isn’t with Ticke Me Elmo.

What’s the Alternative to Incentives?

Dan and Chip HeathIn the February issue of Fast Company magazine, Dan and Chip Heath write about the curse of incentives. They tell an interesting anecdote about a clever lawyer for the New York Jets added a penalty clause to Ken O’Brien’s contract that made it cost him to throw interceptions. His interceptions were the lowest in the league in ’85, ’87, and ’88, because he stopped throwing the football!

The thing that makes this interesting to me is that it’s an indication of how we can be pre-conditioned for things. I’m still reading Alfie Kohn’ book Punished by Rewards in which he outlines how rewards and incentives are not any different than punishments and penalties when it comes to the long term motivation of people. My personal experiences support the notion, yet I can’t come up with a better way to get people motivated. The Heaths simply say that people need to be managed better. What’s that?

I’ve begun my quest to try to figure this one out. Let me know if you have ideas or experiences that shed light on this. I work with an incredibly talented group of people. They are highly creative, intelligent, and driven. My job as their leader is to channel that positive energy into a world class organization. The only tool I’ve ever been taught to use is reward. If it’s not the right way to go, what is?

Avoiding Confrontation

When my wife and I started living together more than 26 years ago, we came to an unspoken agreement about divisions of labor that has worked well for us. Quite simply, the person who cares the most gets to choose, or the person who is most picky has to do it. There are occasions when we can’t agree on who cares the most because we each care differently, and there are times when we’re picky in different ways too, but this rule has kept us from a lot of fights that we’ve seen our friends get into.

I’ve been having lots of fights with my youngest son. He has great trouble with authority figures, and that’s what we parents are. Last night, I had the house all to myself. I went looking for something that I couldn’t find in its usual place so I went to check his room. When I opened the door my body went tense. His room is beyond the pit that many teenager’s rooms are. It made me so mad that he won’t keep it picked up like we ask him to. Then it hit me. I should approach this in the same way that Susie and I have done things. Keeping his room clean isn’t something he cares about. It’s important to me. So I cleaned his room.

It took almost two hours. I hauled out two large trash bags of crap. For the first time in a long time, I wasn’t mad at him or stressed by him. Each article of clothing I picked up (four laundry baskets full) made me feel better. I cleaned and organized his room. Today I washed and folded his laundry.

I realize that sometimes we have to keep our bearing and look for a solution that doesn’t involve confrontation, especially when dealing with those we love.

Things Santa Didn’t Bring Me

In the last few years, Santa Claus and I have had a very intimate relationship. You see, he just tells me to pick up whatever I want, wrap it, and put it under the tree with a tag that says it’s from him. I’ve been more than willing to oblige the old man and do my part to lessen his load. This year the deal didn’t go so well. As a result, I have several things that I’d like to have gotten but didn’t. Now I don’t know how to get them before my birthday in June. Of courseĀ  I do understand why I didn’t get the same deal with Santa. Most of the things on my list cost in the hundreds of dollars (and I just wasn’t that nice last year).

So I have this list of rather expensive toys and this pile of clothes that my family thinks would look good on me. I don’t want to sound ungrateful. I got to spend time with my entire family and my wife’s too over the holidays. It was great! I also got some excellent gifts that were thoughtfully considered. I just wish I could have gotten that Garmin 405, or a new hybrid bike, or that 18 – 300 zoom lens for my digital camera. Do you see why Santa left me hanging?

It’s just as well though. By avoiding my Christmas booty, I was able to fully fund my gift giving from my cash flow instead of using Mastercard. I was also able to make donations to several charitable organizations that I believe in. And there is still my birthday in June, with Father’s Day right in tow.

Do This and You’ll Get That

John Watson is known as the father of Behaviorism because of a series of lectures he gave at Columbia University in 1912. His greatest contribution, besides coining the name, may have been to have written the book, Behaviorism, that prompted Burrhus Frederic Skinner to become a psychologist. It was B. F. Skinner, in his lab filled with rats and pigeons, that made behaviorism the de facto standard for getting people to do what you want in America. It’s so pervasive that we don’t even question it. There are probably more Americans who question the existence of God than who would challenge the notion that rewards beget behaviors. We use it in child rearing, in teaching, in the workplace, and yes, even in the bedroom. This insidious form of bribery is so common that we believe it is the only way to motivate others — we even believe that it’s the only way to motivate ourselves.

In the early 90s, Alfie Kohn wrote a book called Punished by Rewards. In it, he raises significant issue with this commonly held notion of operant behavior. Yet here we are, more than a decade later, giving gold stars for attendance in school, and electronics for bringing home good grades, and bonuses for good work. We don’t have an alternative so we keep doing what doesn’t seem to work over the long haul.

I’m spending a lot of time trying to figure out how to build a really successful and non-dysfunctional organization. I hope it to be my legacy to the workplace. Everywhere I turn, I find people continuing to do things that they have never seen work successfully because that’s easier than trying something new. Is anybody trying something different? At this point it doesn’t even have to be better, just no worse. At least you’ll benefit from some Hawthorne effect.