Sunday, December 29, 2019

Rotary Moment of Reflection - 12-3-19

Rotary Moment of Reflection
You are more complicated than you know
Kim Brand
December 3, 2019
(redacted due to time constraints)

I’m reading a great book titled The End of Average. It’s made me think of all the ways we measure ourselves and other people by someone else’s yardstick. The book explains that some measures are possible, like height & weight for example. But most are impossible like heart and character.

We have become a number for the convenience of computers: Age, Credit Score, GPA, zip code. The problem is when we believe that those numbers tell the whole story – especially when we believe them about ourselves.

You may not know that the concept of average is a fairly recent invention. Lots of smart people with high IQs measured lots of physical and personality traits and then summarized their findings using new math – they invented averages. It’s called averagarianism.

Being average was once considered the pinnacle of evolution because nature surely intended for average to be the target. Being average was cool!

In 1943 a doctor sculpted a statue of the average woman, named Norma. They launched a contest to find any woman matching her dimensions. Nearly 4000 contestants applied, none was average.

Their research implied authority. But although you can calculate the average type nobody is really average!

Later, the distance from average – above and below – was studied. Depending on the scale, either could be more or less desirable. Consider a golf score vs IQ – I’d be happy to hit 100 on either one!

Within the last couple generations it was believed that if you were good at anything you’d probably be good at everything. That’s why high SAT scores and GPAs used to get you into any school. Microsoft and Google don’t care about SATs or GPAs anymore, they don’t even care so much if you graduated. Now they care about what you’ve done and what YOU care about.

Maybe you’ve been measured by the Myers Briggs personality test. ENTP or ISFJ or whatever. The End of Average claims this is psychological mumbo jumbo. Researchers found that context is critical. Were you measured in family situations, work settings or social environments? It matters a lot. People are just more complicated than the combination of four letters would predict. (That would be 16 types by the way – I got an above average score in combinations & permutations!)

The truth is that our personalities, potentials and physical and mental abilities – and those of everyone you know – are just too complicated for averages - or - to be able to judge a person by his or her type – otherwise known as prejudice.

I’m making this little book report today to encourage you to celebrate the end of averagarianism. Stop comparing yourself to anybody else. 

Russeau said “I may be no better but at least I am different!’ Be a little easier on yourself and more tolerant of everyone. There’s more to our human stories than you can measure.

And finally: You are not average . . . I can prove it!

Saturday, November 02, 2019

Advice to a college student regarding career options

A friend's son asked me for advice about what to do after graduation. Here is what I said:

I envy your options!
Once I told a friend’s son he should get his merchant seaman’s license and travel the world. He went on to graduate from Yale and is now a nuclear sub engineer in the Navy. Not exactly the swashbuckling option I dreamed about – but for the few days a year they are in port he gets to see the world anyway!
There are many people who could give you much better advice than me. You probably have access to experts at your school. Talk to your friend and family – what a great conversation starter! Your choices may be constrained by student loans or a girlfriend  
The concept of constraints is really important – your life is as open now as the sea – everything that happens after this freezes a part of it.
Life is simultaneously long and short. Poets and playwrights have pondered the best use of it over and over. I like the advice of Seneca, Shakespeare and Emerson.
As for careers: they are temporal. I’d keep my options as open as possible. I understand people your age will have over a dozen . My advice is to make the next career more interesting than the last.
You’ve got to be comfortable with the mission, meaning, rewards, work:life balance and risk.  I just made that up – please don’t infer any metaphysical importance to that list 😊
That said, I believe being a lawyer is no longer the right career choice for most people. It’s expensive to get a law degree and many of my friends think the decline in income prospects combined with the debt service/opportunity cost has made it a bad investment.
You’ve got to be excited about whatever you want to do – even if it’s for a little while (1-2 yrs.) The major benefit may be experience. There may never be another time in your life when your tolerance for risk is as high as it is now. (No kids, mortgage, roots, etc.) So go for it!
Ask yourself: do I want to find adventure or vocation? What have you already done that interested you? What networks have you plugged into with the most interesting people? I’d look at the quality of the people you work with as a form of compensation. They will also help you create your professional network.
Do you have a calling? Some are motivated by their religion, an internal quest or desire to help solve a problem in a charitable way. Some only keep score by the money they make. At your 10th or 40th reunion what do you want to say to the friends that remain when they ask: What do you do?
At my age I think about epitaphs 😊  What 3-5 words will define you?
With your education and family you truly have unlimited potential. DO NOT LET YOUR DEGREES LIMIT YOU. Don’t be put in a box. Most of the smart people I know had no clue about a plan for life until it happened to them.
I’ve gone on too long and don’t think I’ve answered any of your questions.  Here are a few more places to look:
Good luck!

Trump's Twitter Feed

A great article in the NYT appeared today: Trump's Twitter Feed. President Trump is the first to employ this social media platform to such advantage and it would be safe to say society is having a hard time dealing with the consequences.

There were many fine comments posted by readers of the Times. I felt compelled to post mine. These ideas have been rumbling around in my head for a couple years.

Two problems of social media: anonymity & free. These twins breed unrestrained hate like garbage rotting in the sun.  
Force every account to be verified and add a nominal cost to use the platforms. Traditional TV, Radio, magazines and newspapers employ writers and, if they deliver valuable information, attract subscribers and advertisers. They spend money to create and distribute their news/views which are curated by experts with standards. 
We stumbled into electronic media platforms and became drunk on free.
Anonymity has unleashed our id. The movie Forbidden Planet from 1956 foretells this story and its consequences. It doesn't end well.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Be the change you wish to see in the world

I got to do another 'Moment of Silence' sooner than normal because I couldn't do one on the regularly scheduled day.

Inspired by Ghandi . . .

Be the change you wish to see in the world.

August 20, 2019 - Indianapolis Rotary Club

You may have heard or seen this bumper sticker feel-good quote a million times. You may know that it is attributed to Mahatma Gandhi. A little research shows that he may have truly said:

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. ... We need not wait to see what others do.”

Not a contradiction, but no longer a bumper sticker. Perhaps the idea for the phrase came after his actions - almost like a surprise - he may have been summarizing his experience not inspiring change. The results of an experiment summarized to a conclusion; not advice really.

Here are the experiments I have conducted for the past few years in the spirit of Gandhi

  • Tip fast food workers - don’t wait for minimum wage to help them
  • Pick up some trash every day - not your trash - trash in the McDonald’s or Walmart parking lot (I find it more interesting!) - don’t wait for the trash collector
  • Drive like you are a driver’s education coach - don’t reserve hand gestures for bad moves - say thank you and wave to drivers who exhibit courtesy and skill
  • Smile at everybody. A smile truly is contagious - and while it may make them wonder what you are thinking, it may just may them believe for a second that the world is a more friendly and caring place.

The evidence that I am changing the world may be weak but I believe that I’ve undoubtedly improved a few very small corners of it. I always get a delightful smile of surprise when I hand a counter worker a tip, the parking lot has a few fewer pieces of trash for a moment, my drive to work is a little happier and I see a lot more smiles everywhere I go.

The results of my experiments are the same as Gandhi’s: We need not wait to see what others do before we act to make a better world.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Another Rotary 'Moment of Silence'

TIME - Two Versions

I was really shocked when the members applauded when I finished this.

Moment of Reflection – May 28, 2019

The subject of this moment of reflection is time. Which begs the question: how much time is spent in a moment? In this case less than 3 minutes – I timed it!

There are so many great quotes about how we all have the same 24 hrs in a day, how time flies and so on and so forth – so I won’t try to impress you with the wisdom of those quotes. Just Google it.

What got me thinking about this is my recent birthday. I was 24,107 days old on May 7th – 66 years. My 25,000th birthday will be October 17, 2021. I’m already 3 years older than my dad when he died. But I would need to celebrate my birthday in 2039 to live as long as my mom – who died at 86 last November.

My life expectancy is just over 32,000 days (88 years). If that’s right, I’ve got about a quarter tank left on life’s highway.

I’ve tried lots of tricks to manage time but failed at them all. I’ve read Getting Things Done twice, I use ToDoIst to keep a digital to-do list. I discover lost lists, plans, goals and journals all the time with obsolete records of where I wanted to be by when. As John Lennon sang: Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

I gave a speech twenty years ago about my frustration. The title was: OK, I’M 45, WHERE’S THE FERRARI?

But I’m ready to try again! I came across a website a couple weeks ago that filled me with enthusiasm that I could reform my time management dysfunction: The author calculated that after subtracting time for sleep we each have about 1000 minutes left to spend per day, or about 100 ten-minute blocks. On the table you have a chart with 100 blocks to take home. He recommends keeping track of the blocks and the way you spend them. This seemed simple enough for even me to do. The result will be a picture of your priorities, interruptions, misdirections and the investments you make in the people you care about the most.

But wait – there’s a challenge: Imagine another page – one which is pre-filled with how you *want* to spend your time. Maybe we can’t live everyday trouble free and on-track. But the days lead to weeks and those to the years which comprise a life. If the way we spend most of our days doesn’t add up to the way we want to spend our life then maybe we should change course or something?

On the back of the page is a 90 year life represented in blocks of weeks – 4680 of them. The website has lots of interesting charts of famous people, when they did what made them famous or simply when they died along the way. Fill it in for yourself. The span of your youth, education, or career, your wedding, kids’ birthdays or the passing of a loved one can be visualized on the canvas of your life.

It’s never too late to see the big picture.

The bad news is time flies. The good news is you're the pilot*.


From November 5, 2013

Ever since I was a boy I’ve been fascinated with time.

Back then, science could tell time to the millionth of a second.  Now, we keep it to better than a trillionth.  For comparison, light travels about one foot in one nanosecond – one billionth of a second.  GPS and the Internet can’t work if clocks are wrong by just a few of them.  We’ve gone from telling time by the change in the colors of the seasons to telling time by the change in the color of light that reaches us from the stars.

Most of us live minute to minute.  By comparison an impossibly vast amount of time – if you’re a computer.  It’s all relative.  Einstein, the expert of relativity, noted the time you spend with a pretty girl is relatively short when compared to the time you spend sitting on a hot stove – though both time periods may be the same.

Everyone wants to save time – but there is no hoarding it.  Time is the great equalizer.  Everyone has less than they need, but according to Chief Red Jacket, of the Six Nations of New York, everyone has all there is.  

Time and tide wait for no man.

I see time pass in the birthdays of my grandchildren.  I wonder if they realize those ‘endless days’ til Christmas, til Spring, til birthdays, til whatever will someday pass like ice melts in hot tea.  Look away and it’s gone.

How to make time slow?  I’ve found one way: live today.  The setting of appointments and anniversaries is particularly problematic.  Like the time between them is ‘fly over country.’  Lacking an excuse to pay attention, time filled with work, we compress away those spaces like ‘filler,’ and lose the time to anticipation. 

Oliver Wendell Homes, the astute early 20th century Supreme Court Justice said: ‘I do despise making the most of one’s time.  Half of the pleasure of life consists of the opportunities one has neglected.’  ‘Life is What Happens To You While You’re Busy Making Other Plans,’ wrote a more contemporary artist of our language, John Lennon.

Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love, time is eternity. 

Dr. Seuss said: “How did it get so late so soon? It's night before it's afternoon. December is here before it's June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?” 

Saturday, March 16, 2019

College admission scandal

I read Frank Bruni, opinion columnist at the New York Times, frequently.

Today's column: The Moral Wages of the College Admissions Mania was particularly good. Most  colleges are walking dead in my view.

But many remain and will for a long time.

This quote quote reminded me of an article from Scientific America a long time ago. Something about the object of an education is not hammer - it's carpentry.

He wrote:
Barry Schwartz, who taught psychology at Swarthmore from 1971 to 2016, said in an interview just before he retired that his current students “want to be given a clear and unambiguous path to success.”
“They want a recipe,” he told me. “And that’s the wrong thing to be wanting.
Recipes create cooks. They don’t produce chefs.
I thought that was tragic.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Children are born powerless

In the journey from infant to adult the brain of a child is transformed by experiences. Some are accidental, some intentional. Parents are the original teachers; siblings and environment too. But schools play a critical role. 

The interplay of formal curriculum and the development of a child’s sense of self is the subject of research at Harvard’s Agency by Design Project. Agency is a measure of how ‘in control’ of their lives youth feel. I believe it is related to hope (what will happen in the future) and power (what can I do about it now.)

I’ve thought a lot about what motivates human behavior and concluded that one of the principal motivators is power. The accumulation and exercise of power, whether by children, adults, leaders or countries, is unarguably a factor in personal and social evolution.

Children are born powerless. From birth they set upon a course to accumulate it. How do they do that? I believe evolution has bestowed on some the advantages of strength, intelligence, beauty and health. Their families confer others like sustenance, safety, love and legacy. And the aim of society is to distribute power through education. The degree to which society succeeds or fails at this aim is the subject of great debate.

One measure of power is agency, otherwise known as self-efficacy. Unfortunately, I see lots of kids that lack this fundamental capacity. It exhibits as low self-esteem, incuriousness, low persistence and hopelessness.

Think about the consequences of powerlessness: kids who don’t think they are good enough, that tomorrow won't be better than today, that the world is a scary place and they are vulnerable. Or worse: acting out, dropping out, drugging out.

I think schools that focus on the attainment of a standard (and more easily measurable) set of skills (too often clinging to those that were relevant a hundred years ago) fail to develop the uniquely human skills of curiosity, creativity and a love of learning. We need our education metrics to prioritize ‘robot proof’ talents like these. 

The ‘Carnegie units’ employed in the dispensation of learning is a perpetuation of an industrial model of school responding to the needs of an industrial revolution. It is no longer effective – or equitable – for a future where 65% of today’s students will be employed in jobs that don’t exist yet.

Today, we sort kids by their capacity to acquire knowledge based more on the rate of absorption than the rate of digestion. We measure their attainment by their memory skills more than what they understand. The system rewards ‘quickness’ and moves classes along like herds of cattle driven on a trail headed to market. Learners who can’t keep up or who would rather indulge their curiosity are branded as slow. (The analogy is apt.)

The pace of coverage and selection of subjects are rarely the choice of students. Current brain science shows that it is literally neurologically impossible to learn deeply about something you don’t care about. Ask kids if they care about what they are learning – not just what they learned about it. (Ask teachers if they are exhibiting enthusiasm for the curriculum in today’s test-focused classroom. Enthusiasm may be more important than competence in a subject to get kids to learn deeply.)

Which leads me to kids and power. Schools insist that learning will be rewarded in life after school. Will it? Calvin Coolidge famously said:
Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.
Kids know this. They are stuck in school, being taught crap they don’t care about, at great effort and expense, for little or no perceived benefit. They are powerless. They see the smart kids earn extrinsic rewards for memorizing while their curiosity is being ignored. They conclude they are not-smart, disengage from the process and simply wait for it to end.

What if the goal of school was to indulge a student’s curiosity? What if the pace of learning was tuned to their interest? What if the rewards were intrinsic? That is what making things does effectively.

Making = Persistence + Problem Solving + Pride = Power
Making = Power

Power, and its proxy: Agency, are not given like school grades are given. They are the result of investment of effort over time, struggle, coping with frustration and failure, concluded finally with the experience of success. It is an intrinsic reward for proving something to oneself. Failure is simply feedback in this process. The desire for power overcomes the fear of failure and other hurdles which need to be overcome.

I believe that making something is almost always engaging and meaningful. It rarely happens on the timeline or under the conditions set by someone else. Along the way a teacher can facilitate learning, but the learning is a byproduct of making something not the objective. Adults may learn for some abstract benefit, but kids just focus on the thing they are making and learn despite the fun they are having. All learning should be fun.

We need to reintroduce making into the curriculum for all children. (Children were almost always exposed to making outside school when the economy was more closely tied to manufacturing and farming.) Making can mean a physical product or creating a system as it oftentimes does in project based learning. Students should be able to connect what they are learning in the classroom to relevance outside the classroom.

Making something yields authentic/intrinsic/personal rewards that give kids power over their lives. Kids need more of that, and for the sake of our society, we need more powerful kids.