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

Feb 152017
 

Most people get old long before their bodies really give out. I’ve met 35 year olds that act like they are 70, and vice-versa. Your mental perspective matters.

Getting old, in some very important ways, is a subtle series of small choices – and those choices are more important than the inexorable realities of biological aging.

Here is my simple 6 step test for true aging and recipe to stay younger longer. If you want to stay young longer (or become younger next year), I believe that:

1. you must have sincere goals (not just lofty never-going-to-get-there goals, but goals with plans, milestones, supporting tasks, and weekly progress to make progress to reach them),

2. you must learn new, good stuff and skills regularly (weekly at a minimum, and write down what you learned (or you are likely to forget it soon)),

3. you must create stuff that matters at least to you if not others (weekly as well because if you don’t do something weekly, it won’t be a habit and habits lead to success),

4. you must make smart choices on a daily basis regarding diet (easiest way is to log your food and drink in MyPlate or similar apps because having it in writing helps a lot),

5. you must exercise because strength, health, and vitality slips away all too easily while a person sits in front of a television, and finally

6. you must make new friends and make the effort to go do fun things together.

What’s one great goal that you want to achieve in 2017? Just one. Don’t have one, with steps and plans to get it done? You might be getting old. As Lou Holtz put it in this video, you are either growing or you are dying.

Don’t read books right now? Well then, what if you decided to watch just one TED video every day, and write down the equivalent of one index card in your journal as to what you learned? TED.com is an amazing resource. It is a continuing education. You can’t help but learn.

What’s your latest creation?  Selfies on Facebook don’t count. Why not write a short story, or start a new creative hobby, or even a blog about something that you truly believe in. It will add youth to your mind.

Are you eating enough fruits and veggies? Maybe buy a Mediterranean Diet cookbook and make one new recipe a week. That’s not a lot of effort, but it has a lot of upside. Here’s another idea – go vegan for one day a week!

Are you breaking a sweat three times a week? If you heart never sees north of 130 beats / min, it is sure to be aging quickly. I started playing a new sport a couple of years ago and was blown away by how it helped my perspective and excitement.

Who is your newest friend or interesting acquaintance? Why not call them today and meet up for lunch?

Stay younger longer, become younger next year. Little steps make a huge difference. Commit your focus and energy and it pays dividends. Lastly, read this book — Younger Next Year — it offers a great perspective — you may not agree with every word, but I promise you that the authors will make you think.

I.M. Optimisman

Dec 262016
 

There is so much opportunity for those who are willing to try creative ways to solve problems.

Here is a great little story from Kenya that I find inspirational. I believe all of us see problems every day but few try to solve them with innovation and the tenacity to adapt, overcome, and get to the finish line:

The world belongs to those with a positive attitude who get started, put in the work, and persist to the finish line, not the intellectuals who sit in coffee houses debating on what might or might not work.

Choose to be a man or woman of creativity and action.

I.M. OptimismMan

Jun 102016
 

What makes one person more creative than another is hard to grasp. We all want to have more original ideas that change the world, make things better, or at least get us noticed. But, in practice, you must have the courage to have a lot of bad ideas to have a few great ones. To be an original, you have to put it out there, in the harsh light of public scrutiny. I think the greatest misconception is that most believe that they will be judged based upon their failed ideas. In truth, your chance for a great breakthrough is built on a foundation of ideas that didn’t work out, and people don’t hold your failed creativity against you.

To be original, you must take initiative and you must be brave. You must go against the status quo and peer pressure.

Consider this excellent TED presentation by Adam Grant of the Wharton School. I hope that you walk away more willing to put your ideas out there and be an original:

Fortune favors the bold.

I.M. OptimismMan

Jun 082016
 

I sometimes hear people say that they are out of fresh ideas to overcome a challenge. When I later ask them about how much they read (books in particular), I invariably find that the answer is that they are heads down busy and haven’t cracked a book in months or years. I have yet to find a person that is both a) out of ideas and b) an active, avid reader.

dots

I also have noticed that whenever I read, a multitude of ideas, often unrelated to the material I’m reading, flood my consciousness. I believe invention is rarely a net new construct on a blank sheet of paper. I believe invention and developing ideas is a matter of connecting the dots of your previous experience and understanding with new input that changes the perspective and creates new connections. The book is a catalyst that changes thinking and structures in your mind.

woman1600

TV and movies don’t have this same positive effect because you don’t use your imagination, your mind’s eye, to visualize what you read in a book. Visual medium makes it too easy, letting your brain rest and just lay there on the couch. Brain research has shown that neural activity is less while watching TV than while sleeping. Bottom line, don’t be surprised if you have few new ideas while placated by the pacifier of television.

Try reading a quality book for 20 minutes each day for a month, while jotting down any fresh ideas that you have during those 30 days. I suspect you will find a remarkable difference. Build a lifelong habit of reading and learning: it will serve you well.

I.M. OptimismMan

 

PS. Keep a log of TV time and reading time. Its a great reality check of time spent vs time invested.

Oct 042015
 

Basic knowledge doesn’t get you far. If it did, everyone with a smartphone and access to Google would become CEO of Skynet or some other growing multi-national corporation.

Ideas are far different than knowledge. Fresh ideas — your ideas — your ideas blended with other ideas — are one of your most important assets. A great idea person is welcome in any group, whether work associates, sports teammate, or personal friends.

The problem is that ideas are often like fine wine — it takes time for them to grow in character.

wine

I have posted often about keeping journals — writing it down is helpful. But, as I personally have discovered, ideas that are inter-dispersed in chronological journals get lost — the signal disappears in the surrounding noise.

Do you keep an ever-growing, well-indexed vault of your ideas? Do you read over your ideas on a regular basis, so that they serve as a catalyst for new ones? How do you distill ideas so that they don’t get lost in the clutter? How do you improve them over time?

Imagine if you started when you were young — lets say as a middle-school student or a freshman in high-school — and wrote down every idea! you ever had in a permanent vault. What if you then re-read and added to your ideas at least once every three months?

This would constitute managing your ideas as an important asset. Do you manage your ideas as an asset?

If you have no idea how to start, I would suggest Day One if you are an iPhone / iPad / Mac person. Evernote is another possibility although I find it cumbersome to review and improve. IdeaMatrix is a good tool that I helped invent, if you are happy with text only idea management (which offers brilliant speed and ease, but gives away pictures). As I type, I realize that I have not done my homework because I don’t know how to effectively export and backup from Day One or Evernote — and it is pretty clear that most tech companies expire after a few years. Trusting one of these with your idea vault also means that you must backup / offline / in a export-import friendly format. I will update this post after I work through the backup capability investigation. [here is an update on Day One — export to an adobe ‘pdf’ file seems to be the best backup — of course, that means you should do so on a regular basis, but in general, I’m comfortable with the capability.]

A few quotes to consider:

“There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come.”
– Victor Hugo

“Ideas are great, but mostly worthless, without action and optimism.”
— Bob Sakalas

“Ideas won’t keep. Something must be done about them.”
– Alfred North Whitehead

Are you an idea person? Manage and refine your most valuable of assets. If you are not an idea person today, start a vault today — it isn’t magic.

I.M. Optimisman

PS. An article worth reading… how IBM encourages invention.

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

Mar 142015
 

It is way too easy to let other people think — and make conclusions — for you. We are often quick to accept myths, and propagate them to others, as though they were God-given.

Myths are all around us.

We only use a small percentage of our brain. Not true.

Men and women are dramatically different. Not so much. In truth, the differences are actually statistically small when it comes to language ability, spatial reasoning, and many other factors, with a large percentage of women outperforming the average man on all factors except for physical strength (and vice versa on the factors where the average woman outpaces the average man).

Left handed people are more creative. Nope. Visual learners vs auditory learners. Everyone has a major lean one direction or the other, right? No, not right. Mozart makes you smarter. All this is myth because differences that are measured and detected are negligible in scale and biased by the test itself.

Flying isn’t safe. Actually, it is crazy safe. Crashing is not safe — ok, that one is true. Filtering your water or drinking bottled water will make a positive impact on your health. Doubt it, given the water quality in most American cities. Now, if you drink more water because you focus on your water, that’s a different discussion. Location matters: If you are in Africa, water quality takes on a whole new level of concern — filters matter. Vitamins will give you more energy. Unfortunately, not supported by any proof.  Aroma oils, or the SleepNumber bed, will help you sleep.  Only if you believe it, and your belief is what matters, not the pricey bed, oils, and atomizers.

Want another 1,000 myths busted? Watch Mythbusters — I love a show that questions prevailing wisdom.

mythbusters-poster

Unfortunately, few humans do their own research. The wisdom of crowds is perhaps, not so wise. Google makes it easier than ever to try to dig one or two layers deeper — but of course, you have to question the motives and perspective of the articles you find as well.

My point is simple. When you hear a “fact” spoken with great authority, it is wise to question it. I have found that perhaps as many as 1/2 of these facts are tainted, or the differences exaggerated so much so that making decisions based on them is foolish. I realize that I often don’t get to the truth, but thinking it through, the process itself, is always helpful in the end.

One of the “facts” I strongly disagree with is that a person “can’t beat the stock market averages” so therefore, go ahead and invest in mutual funds, invest with (expensive) professional investment counselors and brokerages, and invest in ETFs. The implication is that you should simply strive to be average. The people that push this one make their living by selling their services to you.

normal-distrubution-bellcurve

Stock investing returns, and almost everything in life, follows a normal distribution, a bell curve.

If you find your own way to stay above the average even by a few percentage points, your returns over 20 or 30 years will greatly outpace a person that is dead-on average, or a few points below. I believe that is possible by just paying better attention and following some principles in your approach.

The funny part of the myth is that if most people believe they can’t beat the markets, that actually improves the odds for people that believe that they can.

Investing is but one example. Questioning everything opens up new possibilities and new understanding. It is well worth adopting on every aspect of your life.

Life offers great possibilities to be an outlier if you believe you can be an outlier. But that’s a future post.

Cheers,

I.M. Optimism Man

Jan 092015
 

Most of my articles are one-topic-at-a-time but today, I’m simply going to take a random stroll through my brain for the top thoughts I have as I face 2015. I hope that you find a spark in just one or two of them.

We live in the best of times, bar none.

There has never been more opportunity to succeed in a hurry. More than 50% of the humans on the planet have been networked together. Many of us are fortunate enough to carry a magical smartphone that acts as a battery-powered always-on star-trek-inspired ATM to the vast and ever-growing knowledge-base on the network, indexed by Google. The world is not yet a pervasive knowledge utopia, but dang, this is awesome.

Not everyone appreciates it. My kids think that unlimited, always available information at your smartphone fingertips was simply the way it was. They can’t imagine 1984, although I have briefed them on that stone age before 99% of us had cell phones.

Why not make 2015 your best year ever, the year you really take advantage of some great opportunity?

Optimism makes you or breaks you.

If you do not believe in your plan, your vision, and your abilities, you will never get more than a few steps out the starting gate.

Rudy Ruettiger

You have to believe that you can — and — belief is a conscious choice one must make. Has anyone won an Olympic event without believing that she can? Has anyone started a new company that rocketed to stardom without belief? Has anyone performed on a national stage without having faith in themselves? On a smaller scale, has anyone become the captain of their sports team without belief? Would Rudy have had his moment in the Notre Dame sunshine without optimism?

Do you believe? It is not an option if you want to strive for greatness!

Every important mission deserves a plan.

Planning — specifically written planning — with key milestones and target dates, improves a person’s chances of success by a wide margin. Why? Because the act of writing it down helps logical thought. Writing it down helps one’s commitment level. Writing it down helps you visualize the future.  Every plan should answer the “why do I want to do this” question, because why is always more powerful than what.  When you know why you want to do X, the finish line is easier to reach. Having a written plan better enables you to solicit the advice of others, which helps debate the logic even farther. Dates in ink help prevent procrastination.

Sure, plans might change — in fact, they usually do change — but creating a plan (here’s how), having a plan, working the plan, adjusting the plan, is important none-the-less.

Do you have a mission in 2015?  If so, where’s your written plan?

Ideas are sparked by… books… not TV.

I’ve come to realize that books are far more thought provoking that any other media because they are usually a deep plunge into a topic. I find that I come up with more ideas — usually unrelated to the book that I’m reading — while reading a good book.

made-to-stick

Reading is nutrition for the brain and is darn near magical.

Want fresh ideas in 2015?  How many books will you commit to read?

A/B Testing

Most of us come up with our one best idea and run with it. Yet, there is a lot of evidence that people rarely come up with the best idea without trial and error. I think 2015 should become the year all of us come up with our two best ideas per problem or challenge, and test both. The second one might come in first more often than we realize.  Then, after you know which idea is a winner (lets say B), come up with a new A for the next A/B test and keep fine-tuning and improving.

All it takes is a bit more work to improve your chances of success.

Are you willing to create more than one idea or approach, then test and measure to achieve better success?

Ask for Advice

People love to give advice. Yet often, we don’t ask for it, and when we do, we don’t listen attentively, we don’t take notes, and we don’t mull it over for a few weeks. Wise is the person that can learn from others. There is a lot to be learned if one is willing to ask good questions.

There is also a great side-benefit to asking for advice. People will feel that you value their opinion more. This results in better, deeper relationships.

Why not ask more people for advice?

One Great Resolution

People make fun of resolutions because so few people follow through. Instead of a huge list this year, make just one, but make it stick. Write it down in a plan, with milestones, with target dates. Put a reminder card of this resolution everywhere.  Check off the milestones.  You will feel great when you succeed by December.

What is your one resolution that really matters to you?

Make the right choices and I’m certain that you will have a great 2015. Above all things, please realize that optimism is a choice, and optimism is the jet fuel you need to live large and achieve much in life.

I.M. OptimismMan

 

 

Dec 142014
 

Are you failing often enough?

This is a very important question to contemplate, especially if you are not in the middle of spectacular, unusual successes.

If you are not encountering failure, you are not pushing the envelope of your abilities or the opportunities that are inevitably present in your life. Trying something new and daring is the only way to significantly accelerate and expand your life, not to mention feel challenged and enthused. As Lou Holtz puts it in this video well worth watching, “you are either growing or you are dying” — there is no longterm safety with maintaining the status quo.

Unfortunately, as people age beyond 30 or 35, they take less risks and try fewer new things. It should surprise no one that most leaps in society come from the young. What’s true for people is also true for companies; as most companies evolve, they often transform from bold and innovative to conservative, plodding, and risk averse.

At the core of the problem is a myth about failure: Many believe failure is bad, embarrassing, and should be avoided at all cost, especially here in America. Even more people try to cover up their failures and hide them from others, immediately blocking them from their own minds in the cover-up process. The truth is that taking prudent risks, daring to fail, learning from failure, and treating every failure as an important learning experience is how one keeps failure in the right perspective.

sam-walton

I see failure and substantial success as gauges of “am I trying enough new things” — if I go six months without some spectacular setback or win, the alarm bells go off in my head, letting me know that I’m not trying enough new stuff, not taking enough new risks, and missing out on the successes and failures that come with pushing the envelope. Doing a few percent better this year than last is a clear indicator of wasted opportunity.

You must fail forward:

Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.
– Denis Waitley

Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.
– Teddy Roosevelt

It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might has well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.
– JK Rowling

The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Before success comes in any man’s life, he’s sure to meet with much temporary defeat and, perhaps some failures. When defeat overtakes a man, the easiest and the most logical thing to do is to quit. That’s exactly what the majority of men do.
– Napoleon Hill

Forget about yesterday’s failure. Time to try something new, exciting, and at least a little bit risky!

I.M. Optimism Man

PS. Here’s a list of rather famous and successful that failed forward:

Roland Hussey Macy

He failed at selling ribbons, provisions to miners and at a general store before going bankrupt in 1855. His next effort, Macy’s became the world’s largest store.

J. C. Penney

First store went bankrupt when he refused to give whiskey as a kickback for orders from a large customer. Penny went belly up and got a job in a drapery shop that he later purchased and expanded into 1100 department stores nationwide.

Henry John Heinz

Started his first company in 1869 selling horseradish, pickles, sauerkraut and vinegar. In 1875 the company filed for bankruptcy due to an unexpected bumper harvest which the company could not keep up with and could not meet its payroll obligations. He immediately started a new company and introduced a new condiment, tomato ketchup to the market. This company was, and continues to be, very prosperous.

Milton Snavely Hershey

Started four candy companies that failed and filed bankruptcy before starting what is now Hershey’s Foods Corporation. Mr. Hershey had only a 4th grade education, but was certain he could make a good product that the public would want to purchase. His fifth attempt was clearly successful.

Conrad Hilton

Lost all his hotels when he could not pay his bank during the Great Depression. Later, he bought them all back and built a few more. Things worked out pretty good in the end. Just ask Paris.

Frank Lloyd Wright

Famous architect lost his home, Taliesin in Wisconsin and was thrown on the street when business dried up in 1922. During the following decade, he designed some of his most famous projects.

Henry Ford

First two automobile manufacturing companies failed. The first company filed for bankruptcy and the second ended because of a disagreement with his business partner. In June 1903, at the age of 40, he created a third company, the Ford Motor Company with a cash investment of $28,000.00. By July of 1903 the bank balance had dwindled to $223.65, but then Ford sold its first car, and as they say the rest is history

Harry Truman

Opened a shop in Missouri after the First World War only to have it fail miserably. He was further humbled by having to move in with his mother-in-law. Truman later settled his debt for pennies on the dollar when the bank at which the underlying note was written actually went bankrupt itself. He is said to have learned a lot from the misadventure. And it all turned out OK in the in end. You may have heard, he eventually got a good job, in Washington, DC.

Walt Disney

His name is synonymous with Mickey Mouse and the “happiest place on earth,” Disneyland. However, Disney’s career wasn’t always a moneymaking venture. In 1921, he began a company called the Laugh-O-Gram Corporation in Kansas City, Missouri but was forced to file for bankruptcy two years later because his financial backers pulled out. It must have been fate because Disney then headed to Hollywood and became one of the highest paid animators in history.

Sam Walton

His first store was a Ben Franklin discount shop that he made among the most profitable and successful in the chain. Walton’s problem was a short lease. When it expired, the building’s owner canceled his lease and took over the store himself. Walton was broke had to start over from scratch. You may have heard, however, that things turned out pretty good in the end. After these early financial difficulties were behind him, he later created the largest company in the world and became a billionaire.

 

May 102014
 

Many people, perhaps most people, relax from the daily grind by vegging out in front of a television and getting spoon fed mindless entertainment.

But does that really refresh you? Does it change you? Does it change how you think? Does it expand your possibilities?

You have a choice to try more, do more, think more, be more, if you want to.

I would bet Randall Munroe spends less time than you do in front of the TV. I find the freedoms we have incredibly fascinating. The internet lets us connect with people so easily, to create a new circle of friends and associates in just weeks. In our newly interconnected world, all barriers are obliterated. Please watch this short 7 minute clip, and then consider what might be a better way to refresh your mind after the daily grind.

2014-05-10_0739-randall-munroe

Why not be all you can be?

I.M. Optimism Man

Bonus PS> One of Randall’s comics from his xkcd.com website:

2014-05-10_0814-xkcd