Dec 102017
 

This year, I have posted several articles observing how the vocal few, amplified by online social networks, have an outsized voice in the political discord that swirls all around us. A few thousand like-minded activists are being heard while 350,000,000 others shake our heads in disbelief and sigh, while sipping our beverage of choice, remote control and smartphone in hand.

Simultaneously, I believe the remainder of this decade will be the true dawn of machine learning algorithms. While the concepts are not new, the practical application of machine learning is really hitting its stride, especially at the companies that are cornering many of the brightest minds in computer science, namely Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Netflix, and the private unicorns awaiting their IPOs.

Machine learning needs big data sets to “learn” and no companies do a better job at marrying big data with algorithms and computer power than these. Traditional businesses rarely recognize that their most valuable asset to leverage is their data, still mired in thoughts about facilities, machines, and stores. Most of the Fortune 2000 do not run their data as a business, making investments and measuring results of analytical programs.

Here’s the bottom line:

If he decides, Mark Zuckerberg now, in 2017, has the power to decide who will be the next U.S. President.
— Bob Sakalas

I’m not saying that Mark will use his super power, but he has that power. Right now, Facebook’s and Google’s power is clearly driving greater and greater polarization of the public. This power extends to many countries, not just the United States.

Don’t believe me?

Watch this TED presentation by Zeynep Tufekci. It is eye-opening, and common sense tells me she is spot-on. It might just make you rethink your own level of participation on social networks, but that unfortunately will not change destiny for the country.

So what is the bright note for the optimist? Well, I’ve argued that optimists must take prudent risks within the backdrop of capitalism. As an investor, I’m increasing my long exposure to Facebook, Google, and perhaps add a small stake in Tencent. And, on a less serious note, the artificial intelligent Skynet won’t build terminators to exterminate humans, it might only try to control our thinking and ideology in an insidious Matrix-like mirage.

I.M. OptimismMan

PS. Are you interested in other side-effects of powerful social networks?  Here’s another angle worth understanding.

 

Oct 292017
 

As part of my Have a Daughter series, check out this speech by Reshma Saujani at TED.

I have written plenty of articles talking about the value of taking prudent risks and failing forward without loss of enthusiasm, but not in any specific context of helping daughters grow up well. Reshma opened my eyes to an important difference between boys and girls and how they are nurtured, and what must be done to encourage girls to take more risks at an earlier age.

You have a duty and choice: Choose to be a thoughtful, optimistic parent!

I.M. OptimismMan

Oct 012017
 

It starts with “We the people…” America is not about one leader dominating the agenda, getting stuff done for the other 350,000,000 of us. Yet, it seems that we (and everyone in the news business and even everyone at Saturday Night Live) have forgotten this truth.

Here is a brilliant speech, barely 12 minutes long, by a British Rabbi — believe it or not — that does a great job in reminding us why the selfie generation is confused and misguided, why America, the land of immigrants, is special, and what all of us in America must remember: Sound ideas and ideals matter far more than Trump, Pelosi, Pence, or Schumer:

Rabbi Sacks is on point regarding the need for embracing and seeking out differing points of view with respect, the incredible need to maintain our country’s identity, and to enthusiastically embrace individual responsibility.

We can solve problems, we can flourish, we can stay true to our ideals, and we don’t have to bankrupt future generations. It takes great vision, hard work, “we the people” working together, and a lot of optimism. I’m no magical thinking “just coexist’er” — but nothing happens with no-compromise extremism. Without optimism, that real hope and belief that there are better days to come, it will not happen. Right now, about 50% of this great country doesn’t believe it can happen — but we need all of the people, not just some of them, to roll up sleeves, to compromise, to work together, and start getting things done.

I.M. OptimismMan

Jul 212017
 

Everything is become more complicated and interconnected. When faced with a difficult decision, almost everyone adds more detail, weighs more aspects, analyzes the problem to the n-th degree, and creates complexity. I personally work to sell solutions that create timely, valuable, and actionable insights from data, a topic that is truly large, complex and ever-growing, given the explosion of “big data” as zillions of devices connect to networks and every aspect of business becomes digitized by computers. The result is thousands of topics from hundreds of vendors and millions of powerpoint slides.

Every data analytics vendor dilutes its message with every word added to every powerpoint slide. Every company uses the same buzz words, every slide says much of the same, and the final slides always says the preceding 100 slides prove that this vendor’s specific solution is the best decision.

I believe there is great opportunity for a bold optimist that decides to zig when everyone else is following the zagging herd: simplify the message while everyone else complicates it.

If I was the customer, I would limit each presentation to 30 minutes, with 20 minutes of presentation and 10 minutes of question and answer. I would limit each vendor to the top 5 reasons their solution is best for my company. I would limit the number of powerpoint slides to 10, and the number of words per slide to 20.

bruce-lee-simplicity

Would less be better? Of course it would, because each vendor would be forced to distill their message to the essential. The customer could better compare each vendor’s solution at its core essence. TED presentations are phenomenal and each is limited to 20 minutes.

This applies to all aspects of life, and it offers you great opportunity to shine. If you are a lawyer, are you better off with a rambling 40 minute final argument or a 5 minute hard hitting one? If you are a teacher, is it best to spend hours on one topic or boil it down to the essential while students are still paying attention?  If you are a preacher on Sunday, will the congregation pay better attention to 40 minutes of fire and brimstone… well, you get the picture. I have found that if you “train” your target audience that your message will be short, they will pay close attention because they appreciate your approach.

Anyone can become the Master of Succinctness with effort and expertise. People love those that can make their point, with impact and simplicity.  Less is more, when done well. Your career will flourish. I’m still amazed that the Gettysburg Address was less than 300 words, yet most big data analytics slides have 100 words of broken English on each.

I.M. OptimismMan

PS. In case we forget, here is the Gettysburg Address, all 272 words of it…

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863

Apr 292017
 

We have lived through a truly divisive decade and election. In just the last few months, Trump pulled off a shocker win, the Brits decided to bail out of the European Union, and the war on terror continues with senseless killings everywhere that have numbed people emotionally: a headline that dozens of innocent citizens have been slaughtered doesn’t disturb the hustle and bustle of everyday life.  A common theme through it all is that we should not help people that need help and kindness, for fear of the few radicals that strive so hard to dominate the media headlines. Many people today care less about others than ever, at least in my lifetime.

I believe we need to think about this spreading darkness, this growing callousness that is becoming all too acceptable. If we want a better society, with hope for a better future, we can’t trudge along with the herd, yelling for closed borders and constant distrust. I’m not so naive to think that intelligence should not be improved and that we should retreat from chasing the bad guys, but broad brush exclusion of needy and helpless is a steep price to pay for it darkens our own soul, our society, our future.

Pope Francis addressed this when he spoke at the TED conference this month. I hope that you click and listen, or read the transcript below. We need to keep our individual souls hopeful and believe in a better tomorrow, or the terroristic few will ultimately win an important victory.

[His Holiness Pope Francis Filmed in Vatican City First shown at TED2017]
0:15
Good evening – or, good morning, I am not sure what time it is there. Regardless of the hour, I am thrilled to be participating in your conference. I very much like its title – “The Future You” – because, while looking at tomorrow, it invites us to open a dialogue today, to look at the future through a “you.” “The Future You:” the future is made of yous, it is made of encounters, because life flows through our relations with others. Quite a few years of life have strengthened my conviction that each and everyone’s existence is deeply tied to that of others: life is not time merely passing by, life is about interactions.
1:27
As I meet, or lend an ear to those who are sick, to the migrants who face terrible hardships in search of a brighter future, to prison inmates who carry a hell of pain inside their hearts, and to those, many of them young, who cannot find a job, I often find myself wondering: “Why them and not me?” I, myself, was born in a family of migrants; my father, my grandparents, like many other Italians, left for Argentina and met the fate of those who are left with nothing. I could have very well ended up among today’s “discarded” people. And that’s why I always ask myself, deep in my heart: “Why them and not me?”
2:35
First and foremost, I would love it if this meeting could help to remind us that we all need each other, none of us is an island, an autonomous and independent “I,” separated from the other, and we can only build the future by standing together, including everyone. We don’t think about it often, but everything is connected, and we need to restore our connections to a healthy state. Even the harsh judgment I hold in my heart against my brother or my sister, the open wound that was never cured, the offense that was never forgiven, the rancor that is only going to hurt me, are all instances of a fight that I carry within me, a flare deep in my heart that needs to be extinguished before it goes up in flames, leaving only ashes behind.
3:38
Many of us, nowadays, seem to believe that a happy future is something impossible to achieve. While such concerns must be taken very seriously, they are not invincible. They can be overcome when we don’t lock our door to the outside world. Happiness can only be discovered as a gift of harmony between the whole and each single component. Even science – and you know it better than I do – points to an understanding of reality as a place where every element connects and interacts with everything else.
4:27
And this brings me to my second message. How wonderful would it be if the growth of scientific and technological innovation would come along with more equality and social inclusion. How wonderful would it be, while we discover faraway planets, to rediscover the needs of the brothers and sisters orbiting around us. How wonderful would it be if solidarity, this beautiful and, at times, inconvenient word, were not simply reduced to social work, and became, instead, the default attitude in political, economic and scientific choices, as well as in the relationships among individuals, peoples and countries. Only by educating people to a true solidarity will we be able to overcome the “culture of waste,” which doesn’t concern only food and goods but, first and foremost, the people who are cast aside by our techno-economic systems which, without even realizing it, are now putting products at their core, instead of people.
6:08
Solidarity is a term that many wish to erase from the dictionary. Solidarity, however, is not an automatic mechanism. It cannot be programmed or controlled. It is a free response born from the heart of each and everyone. Yes, a free response! When one realizes that life, even in the middle of so many contradictions, is a gift, that love is the source and the meaning of life, how can they withhold their urge to do good to another fellow being?
6:50
In order to do good, we need memory, we need courage and we need creativity. And I know that TED gathers many creative minds. Yes, love does require a creative, concrete and ingenious attitude. Good intentions and conventional formulas, so often used to appease our conscience, are not enough. Let us help each other, all together, to remember that the other is not a statistic or a number. The other has a face. The “you” is always a real presence, a person to take care of.
7:52
There is a parable Jesus told to help us understand the difference between those who’d rather not be bothered and those who take care of the other. I am sure you have heard it before. It is the Parable of the Good Samaritan. When Jesus was asked: “Who is my neighbor?” – namely, “Who should I take care of?” – he told this story, the story of a man who had been assaulted, robbed, beaten and abandoned along a dirt road. Upon seeing him, a priest and a Levite, two very influential people of the time, walked past him without stopping to help. After a while, a Samaritan, a very much despised ethnicity at the time, walked by. Seeing the injured man lying on the ground, he did not ignore him as if he weren’t even there. Instead, he felt compassion for this man, which compelled him to act in a very concrete manner. He poured oil and wine on the wounds of the helpless man, brought him to a hostel and paid out of his pocket for him to be assisted.
9:26
The story of the Good Samaritan is the story of today’s humanity. People’s paths are riddled with suffering, as everything is centered around money, and things, instead of people. And often there is this habit, by people who call themselves “respectable,” of not taking care of the others, thus leaving behind thousands of human beings, or entire populations, on the side of the road. Fortunately, there are also those who are creating a new world by taking care of the other, even out of their own pockets. Mother Teresa actually said: “One cannot love, unless it is at their own expense.”
10:26
We have so much to do, and we must do it together. But how can we do that with all the evil we breathe every day? Thank God, no system can nullify our desire to open up to the good, to compassion and to our capacity to react against evil, all of which stem from deep within our hearts. Now you might tell me, “Sure, these are beautiful words, but I am not the Good Samaritan, nor Mother Teresa of Calcutta.” On the contrary: we are precious, each and every one of us. Each and every one of us is irreplaceable in the eyes of God. Through the darkness of today’s conflicts, each and every one of us can become a bright candle, a reminder that light will overcome darkness, and never the other way around.
11:27
To Christians, the future does have a name, and its name is Hope. Feeling hopeful does not mean to be optimistically naïve and ignore the tragedy humanity is facing. Hope is the virtue of a heart that doesn’t lock itself into darkness, that doesn’t dwell on the past, does not simply get by in the present, but is able to see a tomorrow. Hope is the door that opens onto the future. Hope is a humble, hidden seed of life that, with time, will develop into a large tree. It is like some invisible yeast that allows the whole dough to grow, that brings flavor to all aspects of life. And it can do so much, because a tiny flicker of light that feeds on hope is enough to shatter the shield of darkness. A single individual is enough for hope to exist, and that individual can be you. And then there will be another “you,” and another “you,” and it turns into an “us.” And so, does hope begin when we have an “us?” No. Hope began with one “you.” When there is an “us,” there begins a revolution.
13:16
The third message I would like to share today is, indeed, about revolution: the revolution of tenderness. And what is tenderness? It is the love that comes close and becomes real. It is a movement that starts from our heart and reaches the eyes, the ears and the hands. Tenderness means to use our eyes to see the other, our ears to hear the other, to listen to the children, the poor, those who are afraid of the future. To listen also to the silent cry of our common home, of our sick and polluted earth. Tenderness means to use our hands and our heart to comfort the other, to take care of those in need.
14:13
Tenderness is the language of the young children, of those who need the other. A child’s love for mom and dad grows through their touch, their gaze, their voice, their tenderness. I like when I hear parents talk to their babies, adapting to the little child, sharing the same level of communication. This is tenderness: being on the same level as the other. God himself descended into Jesus to be on our level. This is the same path the Good Samaritan took. This is the path that Jesus himself took. He lowered himself, he lived his entire human existence practicing the real, concrete language of love.
15:23
Yes, tenderness is the path of choice for the strongest, most courageous men and women. Tenderness is not weakness; it is fortitude. It is the path of solidarity, the path of humility. Please, allow me to say it loud and clear: the more powerful you are, the more your actions will have an impact on people, the more responsible you are to act humbly. If you don’t, your power will ruin you, and you will ruin the other. There is a saying in Argentina: “Power is like drinking gin on an empty stomach.” You feel dizzy, you get drunk, you lose your balance, and you will end up hurting yourself and those around you, if you don’t connect your power with humility and tenderness. Through humility and concrete love, on the other hand, power – the highest, the strongest one – becomes a service, a force for good.
16:52
The future of humankind isn’t exclusively in the hands of politicians, of great leaders, of big companies. Yes, they do hold an enormous responsibility. But the future is, most of all, in the hands of those people who recognize the other as a “you” and themselves as part of an “us.” We all need each other. And so, please, think of me as well with tenderness, so that I can fulfill the task I have been given for the good of the other, of each and every one, of all of you, of all of us. Thank you.

Let’s not sit idle while hope is extinguished. America must stand for more than that. We are the shining city on the hill that sets the example for all.

I.M. Optimisman

Feb 242017
 

America, God bless her, is all about capitalism, competition, and a definition of success that often leaves the successful, at least the financially successful, wondering if this is all that there is. America’s scorecard is too often the resume version, the version that focuses on winning “the game”, conquering, accomplishment in the here and now, and financial windfalls. It is not surprising that happiness is elusive, and is just as elusive to those who have landed the outsized windfalls as to the ones that have much less worldly stuff.

I have written about the rules of financial success (they aren’t all that hard to understand) and the pursuit of happiness, which I believe has gratitude at its foundational roots.

Here is another take, a viewpoint that I think makes a lot of sense. Are you living with your eye on your resume or your eulogy? I believe there should be balance, with a substantial bias toward the latter, if you hope for true success. Enjoy this thoughtful and brief five minute TED talk:

I.M. Optimisman

Nov 102016
 

I have often argued that change is good, and fear of change is irrational. Our election was actually a referendum on the appetite for level of change that America was ready for, cleverly disguised in less than like-able candidates, frequent surprise revelations, personal attacks, and a homogeneous media establishment that lost all perspective drinking its own Kool-aid, losing touch with the voter.

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks about the results of the Michigan, Mississippi and other primary elections during a news conference held at his Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Florida, March 8, 2016. REUTERS/Joe Skipper TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTS9XHP

We will be better off trying new things, renegotiating new trade agreements, removing excess regulation, and focusing on jobs, the economy, healthcare, and security. Everything is on the table. Progress happens when you embrace change, strive to do your best, and fine-tune everything.

Most importantly, America now has a moment of Republicans controlling the House and Senate. Stagnation should be gone, at least for a few years. Its an opportunity to be bold and fix a number of things for the better, to earn the trust of America to keep going when the next election time arrives.

Don’t believe me that change should be embraced? Answer this simple question: Will you pay more or less if you shop and fine-tune your insurance coverage every six months, or simply stay with State Farm for two decades, sending them check after check?  Re-negotiation and re-visiting deals, policies, taxes, and government incentives, once you have the hard data from previous and recent results, makes a lot of sense.

Those who embrace change with optimism, win in life. Sure, you make a few mistakes along the way, as that is the price of trying new things. Perfection and risk avoidance are not the real goals – both lead to stagnation and a result far from perfection. In the end, you end up in a much better place, no matter if we are talking about your personal career or if we are talking about Uncle Sam’s place as the leading country in the world.

I’m an economically focused voter: Less taxes works. Less regulation works. Making our companies more competitive world-wide, works. Bringing overseas cash home to America will result in more investment here. Investment leads to more jobs. Lets actually do stuff and try stuff, not just talk about stuff.

A lot of people who voted blue are despondent, but I believe we must become American first, not politically partisan first. Washington has been constipated for far too long, not fixing anything. Trump was not my first choice, but lets support change, experiment, and see what works. Trump was elected by the same democratic process that elected over 200 years of presidents. We live in the greatest time ever. Pessimism has been the religion in DC for the last 12+ years. I believe a lot of people will be optimistic because they think Trump will change things. Optimism builds on itself. Lets start working together now.

I am truly optimistic today!

I.M. OptimismMan

PS> Happy Birthday U.S. Marine Corps. We love and appreciate all you do to ensure our freedoms.

 

May 232016
 

Re-uniting the country is a tricky topic these days. Red vs blue seems to be getting worse. Race issues continue to crop up and violence spills out onto the streets. We have a huge group of voters that are sick and tired and want to send Washington a message, no matter the cost. The middle-class is getting squeezed. Jobs continue to vaporize to the dragon of outsourcing.

I ran into this short presentation about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that might be exposing the root of a lot of problems we are facing in our “modern” society. I can’t say this presentation is optimistic per se, but understanding a problem is always the first step to solving it. I think it goes beyond PTSD. At first glance, Sebastian Junger might really be on the trail of something important:

2016-05-23_2104-junger

What do you think?

While many of us might feel powerless to fix society, we should have the goal of keeping our own family’s ties strong. Strong family matters. As far as society, I think it is time we start to reach across the aisle, compromise, work together, and show each other some respect. Voters have to start insisting on it. Extremist positions are not making things better.

I.M. OptimismMan

May 182016
 

Silicon Valley and the avid users of social media, which is nearly everyone under a certain age, think that social media is great for society. I believe, like any technology, there are negative consequences that few appreciate.

What seems clear to me is that social networks — Facebook, Twitter, and the rest — are the key contributor to the political quagmire we see in Washington.

jack-dorsey-twitter

There will always be programs that the nation must tackle that will not be popular but necessary. Social media allows a concentration of just a few voices to intimidate politicians into doing nothing, even when action is prudent. Left leaning factions pull their representatives more to the left, making them unwilling to reach across the aisle and compromise. The hard right does the same, barbeque-ing anyone who is willing to negotiate to make progress. Yet, the total number of activists is far less than 1% of the population. CNN, Fox, and all the traditional media outlets, all serve to amplify the views of those few yelling loudly in cyberspace.

I think it is comforting for Americans to blame (only) the politicians as the cause of quagmire in D.C. Let’s face it, the politicians should shoulder some of the blame, but blaming someone at the top is easy. The truth is that the greatest threat to progress is a generally uninformed, focused on one-issue-in-isolation public, joining causes on our incredible digital network, and essentially torpedoing the idea of negotiation, compromise, and progress as our founding fathers intended. The politicians listen to polls and the digital din.

washington-dc-sunset

So how could we improve the situation, given that internet connectivity and the digital social world will not disappear? I don’t have all the answers, but I think short term limits (4 years max?) would help. If a senator was only going to be there for 4 years, perhaps they would hurry to leave a legacy. Today’s senators and representatives spend far too much energy on the pursuit of popularity and re-election. If re-election was off the table, good things might happen. We must start to negotiate and  compromise again — and stop listening to the activist few.

I.M. Optimisman

Mar 102016
 

We have often faced what seems like impossible problems. Unfortunately, 99.99% of people throw their hands up into the air and believe that impossible is impossible. But are they really impossible?

Mike Huckabee, in the recent Republican debate, sounded ‘pie in the sky’ to the 99.99% when he talked about curing the 4 diseases that are the primary expense of U.S. Healthcare, and the extraordinary effect it would have on our nation’s, our world’s financial and personal family outlook. I commend Mike because it takes leadership to help people change their question from “If we can cure Alzheimer’s to how can we cure Alzheimer’s…” — or insert another disease that has impacted your loved ones. More of our leaders must genuinely embrace optimistic leadership. JFK mobilized the nation to win the race to the moon. We need the same leadership and mobilization against disease.

Please watch Jennifer Doudna in this TED speech and then think about Huck’s call-to-action again. Perhaps he is just an optimist?
.

I.M. Optimisman

PS. Unfortunately, many diseases are not “just” genetic in nature (as though just genetic is easy, which right now, it is not) — Alzheimer’s included (see this Mayo Clinic synopsis). But, promising science, if used wisely, can make a positive impact. If we don’t set audacious goals, if we don’t believe it can happen, we will not figure it out nearly as quickly. Let’s elect leaders with vision, not politicians with egos.

Nov 202015
 

We all have witnessed the stellar rise of Google. One thing that concerns me is that the Millennials, many of whom are so young that they don’t remember a world before the internet, Google, and smartphones, are treating search results as a perfect source of accurate answers.

It is crystal clear that search results are not equal to knowledge, experience, or true understanding. They are limited by popularity, average “thinking”, algorithm programming, a concerted effort to hack results, a lot of false internet noise, and bias in the system and the software architects who designed it.

Here is a short 10 minute presentation that offers an excellent discussion to open people’s minds to the good and the limitations of Google (or any search engine in fact):

Always question everything. Seek to understand. Understanding leads to wisdom and making a greater impact.

I.M. OptimismMan

PS. I think there is plenty of room for altsearch, a search engine that would specialize in quality answers that are always different than page one and two results on Google.

Nov 162015
 

I was recently asked by a parent for my one and only one best nugget of advice I would offer to a college student who is struggling a bit. Limiting any answer to such a broad, open-ended question is brilliant, because it makes you pause and think carefully before answering — I suspect I will write an article on this “limits make answers better” concept in the future — but for now, I’ll turn to the challenge at hand.

My best advice is to evaluate and then choose your best friends carefully. College (and high school for that matter) gives you a lot of opportunity to select which friends you would prefer to get close to. Unfortunately, many students fall into a group without forethought, just as many adults fall into a job.

college-friends

If you fall into a group that is more concerned about the next party than the next homework assignment or upcoming exam, the gravity of the friendship will inexorably influence you to party more and achieve less. If you surround yourself with lazy pessimists that only hope to graduate in 6 or 7 years, don’t be surprised if you join the same track of dropping classes more often than finishing them. If your friends have no vision of their future, ponder why they are there, and still believe that their parents will somehow magically arrange their future, you will too. On the other hand, if you carefully choose and cultivate friendships with individuals with passion, drive, leadership, charisma, and other characteristics that you yourself aspire to, you will find vision, momentum, and encouragement when you need it most.

It is never too late to reassess. Are your close friends helping you succeed or dragging you down? Are they true friends or are they only friends of convenience? Is their heart in the right place? What do they say about you when you are not there? If they are dragging you down, make a bold decision, change your friends for the better, and you will find that you will change your trajectory. Looking back, I was fortunate with the close friends I made at school, starting with a good first “suite” of achievers in the freshman dorm (that was a lucky break, not one of my own choosing). Like everything else, it is not a matter of wishing things were different. Change only happens when you make clear decisions and then do it, finishing what you started.

I.M. OptimismMan

PS. A couple of quotes, because I love quotes.

Consider each of your friends in this context. I would add help you “be all you can be” but this quote goes a long way in capturing the essence:

best-friends-quote

It isn’t all that hard to test your friendship:

nice-things-to-say

You can’t really know until times get tough. Everyone is your “friend” when things are going well:

hard-times

Oct 272015
 

I have often talked about the importance of planning your day — it is far too easy to give in to other people’s urgencies. Here are two articles that outline my thoughts on the topic:
First Cup of Coffee
Urgency Conspiracy

Today, I simply want to point out that checking your email first thing in the morning is pretty much the worst thing that you can do to torpedo your day. Imagine if you changed your habits to avoid your email until 10 am, or better yet, 11 am. What would happen? Imagine if you actually worked on your single most important “strategic big rock task” every morning — the item that you wanted to do, on your own agenda, first — and only then turned your attention to all the issues that other people will upon you, via email. I’m betting that the stuff that comes in on email would still get done, and you would ultimately be far better off.

Did any of the greats — Herb Kelleher for example — work on the agenda other people emailed to them, or did they decide what was most important to them, and work on that?

herb kelleher southwest airlines

Are you willing to take control of your own destiny? It is not as hard as you think. It only requires better habits and a little bit of will power.

I.M. Optimism Man

 

Sep 262015
 

A thought to consider:

invest-your-time-quote

We all have far less time than we think we have. Invest time wisely. Write it down. Analyze your habits. We are all a product of our habits. You can change your habits for the better, if you understand what they are and why it is worth the pain of change.

I.M. OptimismMan

May 022015
 

Here’s a short thought to consider:

Alexander the Great was tutored by Aristotle from the time he was 13 until he was 16 (yes, that is an education in 4 short years). He then conquered and assembled one of the greatest empires – ever – before he died at the ripe old age of 32 in Babylon. His military tactics are still taught today. That was a heck of a 16 year run.

Alexander-the-Great

Read the wikipedia on Alexander the Great — its worth the 10 minute investment of time.

alexander-empire-map

So my question is simple… what should you be able to conquer this year? What should you conquer in the next 16 years?

I believe we are preconditioned to not get much done in a hurry because most people don’t. We have a lot of upside. We must change our internal expectations of excellence, pace, milestones, and goals.

I.M. Optimism Man

PS. Here is an interesting quote to think about from a man who clearly knew a thing or two about leadership. I wonder if we don’t focus on leadership enough. I wonder (out-loud here (I don’t know the answer, yet)) if companies with five star leaders tend to outperform the S&P 500.

quote-Alexander-the-Great-i-am-not-afraid

 

Mar 152015
 

Can you think differently? Really creatively? Can you ask “why am I doing things this way?” or “why am I doing this at all?” at a truly atomic level?

In many things — business, school, life — we seem stuck on rails, unable to stop doing things the way we have done them, the way they have been done for prior decades — even if we have many proof points that question whether we are on the right track.

One of my most obvious examples is managing public companies for results every 90 days. The “quarterly results squeeze” invariably results in a whole host of problems, including net margin compression, motivation destruction, loss of quality employees, loss of quality in general, investing only for the short-term, and all kinds of foolish wasted time and energy. Yet, almost every public company continues the sad practice unabated. It hits the company that is struggling hardest of all, which helps many good firms auger into the dirt, unable to pull up from the dive.

This TED video is a great test to see if you are able to think differently on a large scale. I believe Ricardo is a wise luminary who tests most people’s ability to take a leap of faith. I’m sure others will see Ricardo as flat out crazy.

ricardo-semler

I think his ideas, ideas that have actually been tested in his company and in education, should be considered, given the dismal results many of our current paradigms in business and education are delivering.

Most importantly, all of us have opportunities to do things differently, to question everything in our own personal sphere of influence. What is a topic in your like that you should ask “why” three times in a row on, and what can you try to do better, to do differently?

Please watch the video, and then decide — are you able to truly think differently, or are you cemented in the status quo? You are not on rails — you can, if you believe that you can. Choice is all powerful.

I.M. Optimism Man

Nov 122014
 

I recently read a few articles that got me thinking about co-workers and hiring employees in general. In my job, I become part of virtual teams that self-assemble and de-assemble as needed for a particular opportunity. I am fortunate in the fact that I often serve as the recruiter, and therefore, am in a position to decide who I want on my temporary team to explore an opportunity.

good-team

When you recruit, you wind up picking people that you can count on to get the job done, while being enjoyable to work with. If one of these facets is great but the other is not, you will never pick that person unless you have no other choice in the matter.

Here is my quickly conceived diagram about what I think ‘picking your team’ always boils down to. The best people to work with are the ones that combine all five of these aspects:

people-I-love-to-work-withNow, here is the interesting paradox. When managers hire new people, how often do they hire in terms of “would I really like to work with this person on an intense project for a month or two?” I think a lot of companies often overcomplicate the hiring process — and as a result — make decisions based on obscure details that distract from what truly matters most. Hiring a bad apple is hard to un-do and often causes years of strife. While basic skills, experience, and subject matter knowledge are somewhat needed (and this falls into the ability to get the job done), keeping your eye on the big picture matters most.

This concept is important on a personal level, even if you are not hiring people: How do you rank yourself against this diagram? Consider asking five people that know you well, the five straight-shooters that will give you advice that is not candy-coated. If you come up short in one or more of these areas, why not decide to change yourself for the better? I believe that ranking in the top 10% of these five key aspects can put your career on a new trajectory with exponential benefits over 10, 20 or 30 years. Everyone likes a hockey stick chart, not just venture cap investors.

I.M. Optimism Man

Sep 222014
 

Most commercials offer little value. Once in a while, however, Madison Ave manages to capture an idea brilliantly in just 30 or 60 seconds. Here is one such spot well worth thinking about if you have a daughter:

girl-engineer

I hope that you take it to heart. It is really easy for parents to be protective. We have a kid who wants to build, to invent, to have her own tool box. I believe it is time to let her breathe, even if it costs a few bandaids.

Don’t miss Have a Daughter? Part 1, here.

I.M. Optimism Man

PS. I have no idea how this actually sell more Verizon phones and plans… but I’m glad that they funded it.

PSS. Here are the other two parts of my Have a Daughter? Series… Part 1 and Part 3.

Sep 022014
 

I have two teenage daughters so I’m truly conscious of how difficult it is to grow up in America’s totally faked “what is beauty” ideal. Every TV show, every magazine, every commercial seems to tell girls that they should not be happy with what God gave them and that they should strive for an ideal that is frankly, a mirage.

Here is a typical beauty shot:

covergirl

Dove ran a series of commercials that exposes how contrived the concept of beauty has become in society. Please watch these two videos as a reminder, especially after looking at the picture above:

dove-evolution

Dove Evolution Video

dove-body

Dove Body Video

I hope all parents can convince their kids, and especially their daughters, that beauty starts from inside. What they see, far too often, is skin deep and unattainable without a lot of photoshop distortions.

I.M. Optimism Man

PSSS. Here are the other two parts of my Have a Daughter? Series… Part 2 and Part 3.

 

Jun 242014
 

Regret is often the product of not taking a chance, not embracing an opportunity, when we had it. While people offer a lot of excuses for why they missed out as they express regrets, the underlying truth is most often a failure of courage. If you are not making mistakes, it is a clear indicator that you are not trying enough new things. But it takes courage to try anything new, to embark on any new exciting journey, to try a road less traveled by the rest of the human herd.

The hardest step is always the first — getting started comes before getting motivated — and getting started takes courage.

Nothing gets in people’s way more often than fears, and fears are usually quite silly once one looks back on them and sees them for what they really are. It is often more than just the fear of failure that prevents people from trying the new. Others have fear of success, for with success comes far greater responsibility. Others yet fear change or the unknown, simply because they assume the the unknown is worse than where they are today. Small minded people fear people that are not like them, or people that think differently than them. In every case, those who decide to risk in the face of small fears or large fears, expand their lives and their horizons. This is courage and like every key to success, courage can be learned, courage can be practiced, courage can be expanded through experiences.

skydiving

This is not to say that all fear is bad. Fear is what drives prudent decision-making, in other words balancing the chance of success versus the chance of failure. But those without courage allow themselves to become paralyzed. Fear prevents so many things that are good. A person with a fear of rejection doesn’t stick their hand out and introduce themselves to new people. Similar fears convince people to not try out for the team, to not run for class president, to not put in for that promotion, to not decide to have kids, to not be all they can be. In each of these cases, the upside potential usually outweighs the downside risk but those who have not developed the courage to take risks, shrink away from opportunities.

All the great leaders of the last century have observed the extraordinary importance of courage. Winston Churchill, perhaps the greatest leader during world war two, proclaimed “Courage is the first of the human qualities because it is the quality that guarantees all the others.” He is right. I have often written about the crucial importance of integrity. Is it possible to be a person of integrity if you do not have the courage to stand up for what you believe is right? Is it possible to have extraordinary character if you don’t have the courage to stand up to peer pressure? Your faith will be tested, as will your sense of duty. Even your purpose will be questioned and you will have to have to courage to swim against the ever-changing winds of “popular” thinking.

Courage takes practice. One doesn’t typically have the courage to speak in front of an audience of thousands if they have never spoken in front of an audience of five, then ten, then thirty. One doesn’t step onto a basketball court and hit two game winning free-throws unless they have played thousands of games first. The trick is to take every small opportunity you can, at least every one that makes prudent sense along the road of life, so that when the time comes, you have the experience and the courage to give it your best shot.

speaking-well

Fear is often driven by perceived risk, not necessarily actual risk. Irrational fear is driven by an irrational perception of risk and it leads to paralysis or irrational failure. Healthy fear — lets call it apprehension — is healthy, because it is driven by an accurate assessment of risk. It does not immobilize us, but helps us make good decisions when it is critical that we must. A great example is a person trapped atop a burning building. While most of us have a fear of heights, the prudent and courageous person can evaluate the situation, and decide that sliding down a wire over the yawning abyss is less risky than staying put on top of the inferno.

Courage therefore is not lack of fear but rather mastery of fear and risk. Mastery of fear and risk starts with doing your research, your homework, evaluating your situation. Preparation helps an extraordinary amount, yet many people are lazy and do not prepare. Using my example of speaking in front of a large crowd, it is far easier to master your fear and succeed if you have developed great material, written down a crisp opening, made some backup notes to keep in your pockets, and practiced your speech once or twice. Courage is bolstered through preparation.

Preparation may not put you completely over the top, but it makes that last bit of courage far easier to muster. Courage allows a person to become decisive, to grab opportunities that others do not, to take chances when the odds are good.

Take every prudent risk, face the world with courage, and your world will be a far bigger place, with far more expansive horizons, with plentiful opportunities. Don’t listen to your peers for you must realize that smart, courageous people are rare – most everyone you will know will have far more limited horizons than you.

The world can be your oyster if you embrace it. Envision yourself courageous. Take smart risks. Embrace opportunities with little hesitation. Most importantly, realize that courage requires practice.

Here is a quote I love:

What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?

Embrace opportunities. Life is better when you have the courage to live life large, with few regrets.

I.M. Optimism Man

PS. Watch Jim Carrey in Yes Man once a year.

yes_man