Feb 242017
 
David Brooks' other books include The Social Animal and Bobos in Paradise.

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

May 032016
 

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

Mar 102016
 
2015-11-01_0837-jennifer-doudna

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
 
2015-11-26_1609-andreas

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

Jun 022014
 

To be a true optimist who makes an impact, you must believe certain things must improve and that proactive action must be taken. Not every corner of any society, ours included, is rosy. Simply having faith that things will eventually get better is not good enough. For things to get better, we have to think about the uncomfortable topics, discuss them, debate them, and even argue about them — we have to demand progress so that we can move toward resolving them.

Some issues are disturbing, if one gets deeper than the simplistic and often out-of-context sound-bytes from Washington DC’s politicians, as quoted by the USA Today and Headline News.

693px-US_incarceration_timeline-clean-fixed-timescale.svg

One of these issues is why America has had an 8-fold population explosion of prisoners, going from 300,000 to well over 2,300,000 in just the last 40 years? This is a difficult issue, but it never seems to hit the top ten discussions of any presidential election.

Chino

I believe another difficult issue that cause many Americans to look the other way includes inequalities and injustice in our legal system. This includes the staggeringly disproportional incarceration rate of black young men and the question of whether God gives us the right to levy the death penalty as a valid tool of justice.

There are other, smaller, but equally perplexing “justice” issues as well. Let us not forget the extraordinary financial damage our justice system dispenses with frivolous class-action suits and I continue to be perplexed at the political and legal support for patent-troll companies, full of lawyers who do little but stifle innovation while enriching themselves.

For justice to get better, we have to make progress on all these fronts, and most of these topics are not comfortable ones.

Below is an extraordinary talk by Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer who is a leading spokesman about many aspects of injustice, especially as it comes to race. I highly recommend listening to Bryan, and contemplating the topics. It helps that he is such an accomplished orator. There will be no progress unless all of us first understand the issues — beyond just the sound-bytes — and then take action, sooner than later.

bryan-stevenson

We can solve anything if we are willing to take it on. I find it hard to fathom why the USA, the land of opportunity, should lead the incarceration of the developed world.

I.M. Optimism Man 

PS. Here is one more chart to think about:

Incarceration_rates_worldwide

May 282014
 

The more information is shared, the faster progress accelerates. Yet, most people hoard and keep information secret, because they believe such info is the source of their power. The idea of “need to know” has an Achilles Heel, namely the assumption that the information gatekeepers really understand who have the need to know what.

The truth is lots of things should be shared far more freely than they are. No, I’m not advocating that everything should be shared with every terrorist-wannabe. But I do suspect that if we could increase information sharing and information interconnections by 80%, we would see a much larger increase in the pace of innovation for society as a whole. The internet is clearly an empowering revolution. Countries like China, Turkey, and others who are trying to slow it down for their own populations will do little but slow their own country’s progress in the end. It is inevitable.

Not sure what I mean? Consider these 7 minutes of thoughts by General McChrystal, a central figure in recent conflicts:

mcchrystal

This applies more to your life than you realize. The more information you find, mine, refine, and share at work, the more you will become invaluable and succeed.

I.M. Optimism Man 

May 192014
 

If you pay any attention to the news or any survey on the topic of safety, people feel less safe now than they did in the past. I believe the perception is seeded and watered by CNN and all the other all-news-all-the-time networks that sell fear, first-and-foremost. People tune in for “fear uncertainty and doubt” stories, and tuning in is what drives ad pricing power.

The truth is that the USA, and most of the countries of the world, are far safer now, than at a time only a few decades ago. But, because the networks must make money, they sell gloom and doom 24-7.

Consider these 5 facts:

1. In the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, an average of 433,000 people died each year globally from “extreme weather events.” That figure has plunged to 27,500 per year because we have better communications and better understanding of how to adapt and cope with difficult challenges like hurricanes. That’s almost 1,000,000 more people surviving every two years. The world is a safer place, even though the ABC weather man is always getting pelted by hurricane force winds.

abc hurricane coverage

2. No one has died from a new nuclear weapon attack since 1945. No political scientist from 1950 would have predicted that. Nuclear arsenals remain locked. The world is a safer place, even though Fox News keeps coverage going on Iran sanctions whenever a saber is rattled.

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3. A flu pandemic in 1918 killed as many as 100 million people. Today, flu deaths are rare and pandemics don’t happen. The world is a much safer place although bird flu made for great ad sales at MSNBC. Could a pandemic happen? Perhaps. But does selling this fear, year in and year out, help us, or just contribute to the background stress?

flu pandemic

4. America averaged about 21,000 murders per year in the 90s. That rate has dropped nearly 20% to 16,000 per year in the 2000s. Give or take, that’s about 50,000 citizens not killed, but CNN covers every grisly, spectacular event, to ensure that we don’t feel one bit more secure, while simultaneously informing us about the power of the Ecoboost V6 engine in the Ford F150.

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5. In 1950, 23 Americans per 100,000 died annually in traffic accidents, according to the US Census. That traffic fatality rate fell to 11 per 100,000 by 2009, even as traffic has grown more challenging in our biggest metros. Due to the declines, nearly 350,000 more Americans would have perished from 2000 – 2009. CNN missed this good news story too, covering only the unfortunate events when a school bus is rammed by a train.

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We are safer in so many ways than ever before, but CNN and the others don’t let us feel that way. If you want to be an optimist, you have to look at the news and see it for what it really is. It doesn’t cover the longer-term, slower moving stories of important progress and improvement, defaulting to fear and sensationalism.

I personally think its a terrible shame that a lot of kids no longer play outside because mom’s don’t feel safe. Keeping one’s perspective and situation awareness is crucial if you choose the enlightened path of the optimistic few.

I.M. Optimism Man

Mar 192014
 

We have an efficient society, but far from a perfect one. People like to think the the cream always rises to the top, makes the big bucks, deserves all the respect and accolades. Meritocracy theory rules the day.

The truth is that we do live in a time of extraordinary opportunity. The market for talent, ideas, and creativity does give some people a change to become overnight successes in just 5 – 10 short years. But, there are also many other factors in play. If you ask a few questions at the right time, most entrepreneurial success stories that I hear always have one or more “…and then I got a lucky break…” moments in them. When you dig deeply, you tend to find other moments of extraordinary support from a third party, whether financial, resource, or connections. I have yet to find a person who really went from no where to the top of the world without some good fortune and a bit of assistance along the way.

Meritocracy is good, but if you are wise, you must also clearly see and understand the issues that surround it. The dark side of the coin is that it gives rise to a certain snobbery, a lot of jealousy, and tremendous frustration for those who make the wrong decision when faced with a crucial crossroads moment.

Here is a great little video that delves into the idea of meritocracy and whether it is truly possible. Alain de Botton: A kinder, gentler philosophy of success:

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With all thy getting, get understanding.

I.M. Optimism Man