The whole world

I am reminded of the “I love the whole world” song from the Discovery Channel this morning.

I was fortunate to spend the whole day yesterday in a place with a wonderful view. I spent a lot of time just taking in the fresh air and feeling grateful.

The world is a beautiful place and we are very lucky to have the opportunity to share it with each other. It is hard to keep that luck in perspective on a daily basis while we’re busy fighting our many, often trivial, battles.

But, that’s what traditions like thanksgiving are for. If you are reading this on a laptop or a cell phone somewhere, it is likely that you have plenty of privilege to be grateful for.

Here’s to making that privilege count.

Old self behavior

A friend recently described a moment he had recently. He was in a situation where he realized exactly what his old self would have done. As he chose a new and different response, he realized how much had changed over the past few years.

I go through moments like that every once a while and can speak to how liberating it feels. You know you’d have been tied to a certain script a while ago. But, now, you can choose different.

It feels great.

I’ve met and spoken to people who are steadfast in their belief that people can’t change – that they think a certain way or are only capable of doing a certain kind of thing. There’s a part of me that always finds that sad. It isn’t sad because they think less of people around them. It is also not because they are always wrong.

But, I’ve come to realize that where there is desire and strength of character, change is not just possible. It is probable.

And, I am saddened because looking at everyone around us with a fixed mindset confines us to one too. There is certainly joy in watching others change because of something we did.

But, there are few more powerful moments in our lives when we’re able to look into ourselves in the mirror and say – “I can change.”

The possibilities are endless.

Pick up the phone

If an email exchange exceeds 4 back-and-forth emails with limited progress on what you’re trying to communicate – stop. Pick up the phone.

If you are going back and forth on whatever chat tool you use for longer than a minute – stop. Pick up the phone.

If your text message spree isn’t solving the problem – stop. Pick up the phone.

If you are attempting to text while driving – definitely stop. Pick up the phone.

Or, if these folks live with you or work close to you, go meet them in person.

Asynchronous communication has a time and place. Best to use it when it is effective.

In the know and oblivious

There was a time when being “in the know” meant meeting a few members of the community who, combined, had all the news. In one catch up conversation, you learnt who was doing what, marrying whom, living where, etc. Being “in the know”, beyond the evolutionary usefulness of gossip, was a useful asset as it meant you had network intelligence. And, such information had the potential to bring insight.

Now, of course, you don’t need any such catch up. Your life is full of feeds that keep you “in the know” about close friends, acquaintances, and the like. Network intelligence is just one click away.

And, yet, we’re constantly seeking to be “in the know.” So, we’re fed more about the events occurring in the lives of people we’ve met. But, events matter little in the long run. And, a mind overwhelmed by absorbing and keeping track of events has little time in dwell in ideas.

So, maybe, we should go the other way and take pride in a certain amount of obliviousness. What if you knew very little about what was going on in the lives of people you met? What if you only looked them up before a business meeting? And, what if you only paid attention to important events in the lives of those who were close to you?

Community gatherings become old-style fun again. And, besides, this path may just be comparison-free, mindful, and happy.

Worth a try.

Magic, algae and what we consume

Israeli researchers have theorized an invisibility cloak. This only further blurs the already fuzzy boundaries between real life and magic.

Experiments using algae to solve our issues with carbon di-oxide emissions are an example of the magical nature of science these days. The Algoland project in Sweden is working toward zero emission cement (cement produces 5-6% of the world’s carbon di-oxide).

We’re still in the early days of exploring this. But, it is very encouraging.

While we’re hopeful science will help us solve problems created by our consumption, the fact remains that our consumption model is broken. A few examples –

  • Consumer powered — In 2007, consumers contributed to more than 60 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. They (/we) also contributed between 50 and 80 percent of total land, material, and water use.
  • Food — as income rises, people consume more dairy and meat products. These are the food categories with the highest environmental footprint. In fact, the global livestock industry produces more emissions than all cars, planes, trains, and ships combined. A study by Oxford University calculated that a global shift to a vegan diet would reduce food-related emission by 70 percent by 2050.
  • Clothes — The world now consumes 400 percent more clothes than two decades ago. According to the World Bank, textile processing causes 20 percent of water pollution globally. Cotton, the “thirsty crop,” makes up about half of our clothes and requires 5,300 gallons of water to produce 1kg of cotton.
  • Waste — Only 9 percent of all plastic waste produced since the 1950s has been recycled. The rest ends up in landfills or polluting our environment. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation projects that, by 2050, oceans will contain more plastic than fish.

This isn’t limited to food and clothing – but, to ideas as well. We ascribe a lot of blame to Facebook. But, Facebook’s product managers only shape their product based on what we indicate we like. They don’t control the feedback. Or, as Ben Evans eloquently puts it –

You can shape things, sometimes. You can ride and channel the trend. But I think we attribute vastly too much power to a handful of product managers in Menlo Park, and vastly too little power to the billions of people who look at their phone screen and wonder which app to open. Facebook writes algorithms, and designers cut the cloth, but that doesn’t mean they control what people look at or what people wear.

The point of all this is not to parse out what we do well and take a self righteous stance. Self righteousness is dangerous because it often precedes or accompanies a complete lack of self awareness.

For example, in our household, we are minimalist in our consumption of goods or clothing in our household. We sort our trash, recycle and even use a compostable diaper service to ensure diapers don’t go into landfills. Our diet is mostly vegetarian.

But, being self righteous about any of the above would overlook that we drive petroleum based cars, enjoy dairy and chicken every once a while, and so on.

It also inspires very little actionable change.

My hope, instead, is that this spurs reflection around 2 questions —
1. What is my consumption model like?
2. How can I do better?

A wise friend told me that the best diet is the one that is a bit better than the one you currently consume.

I think it works the same for consumption. We need to fix our consumption models. Over time, that’ll help us fix the consumption model of our families, organizations and communities… i.e., our world and, eventually, the world.

Change begins with us.

Longer version on Medium or LinkedIn.

Having fun with it

Life delivers a mix of major and minor setbacks through the course of our journey. For most people, major setbacks happen once every few years while minor setbacks happen all the time.

Major setbacks typically deal with the mortality of people dear to us, our health or difficulties in our relationships. For these kinds of setbacks, I think the fundamental choice we have on our hands is akin to the line from Timon in “The Lion King” – “You can either run from it… or learn from it.” 

But, this post isn’t about major setbacks.

It is about the many minor setbacks we deal with as part of our day-to-day. As I grow in my ability to separate stimulus and response and keep things in perspective, I realize there something incredibly powerful when you realize that you can choose to not just deal with setbacks but to have fun with them.

I had a minor setback recently when I found myself stuck for a few hours. After a night of sleep, I went through the following internal dialog –

“Okay, it is what it is. I can’t change the situation. It sucks.” (acceptance)

“But, in the big scheme of things, it isn’t that bad and could be much worse. In fact, there are many positives.” (perspective)

“Now, I’m going to have fun with it.” (response)

And, have fun with it I did.

For many years, I didn’t really understand the concept of “keeping good humor.” But, with a bit of perspective, I’ve realized that good humor isn’t far away. And, where there’s perspective and humor, there’s the ability to choose to have fun with it.

And, so we should.

How to: Make introductions and connect people

Every once a while, we find an opportunity to make an introduction and connect people. Someone we know (person 1) wants to talk to someone we’ve worked with or know personally (person 2). If done well, the offer to make a connection is an act of generosity and is a wonderful way to build a network.

But, this can also go wrong. The most common way this goes wrong is when person 2 isn’t interested in the connection or is far too busy to deal with a new, unexpected, introduction.

There is one simple principle that helps resolve this potential issue – always ask for permission. It doesn’t matter how well you know the people involved – it is always in your interest to ask for permission. Let’s play out the scenarios –

  • You know person 2 really well and they would be thrilled to help you. Asking for permission makes them feel even more respected and cared for.
  • You don’t know person 2 all that well, haven’t stayed in touch and don’t know what is going on in their lives at the current moment. Asking for permission ensures that you are taking their feelings into consideration and not thrusting an obligation on them.

This is important to keep in mind even if you are the person asking for an introduction. It is in your interest to request the person who has offered to introduce you to ask for permission first. Else, your conversation isn’t set up for success.

The best introductions are win-win-win introductions where each person walks out feeling positive. And, asking for permission to make an introduction helps ensure that happens more often than not.

Potential to Kinetic

In science textbooks growing up, we used the the image of a rock sitting atop a hill as the example of potential energy. This potential energy is converted to kinetic energy when the rock is pushed down the hill.

However, the transformation from potential energy to kinetic energy is far from guaranteed – both in rocks and in humans. We’ve heard the wistful “He/she has so much potential” line among sports analysts and managers in the workplace alike.

Unlike rocks which need some environmental prompting to move, the transformation of energy in humans can occur from within as well.

And, for most folks, the difference between it happening and not happening is the outcome of two developed traits – discipline and a growth mindset. Discipline provides the push to convert the potential energy to kinetic every day.

And, a growth mindset ensures the use of the discipline muscle feels worthwhile.

Curators and synthesizers

Curators sift through a lot of what’s written or shared about a particular topic or topics and put them together in one place. Synthesizers, on the other hand, attempt to make sense of what happened.

Curators, thus, focus on breadth while synthesizers focus on depth. Excellent news outlets mix both curation and synthesis. They send you a “daily brief” that brings together the news you need to know. In addition, they also share links to deeper insights and analysis.

It helps to have a nice balance between curators and synthesizers. For example, if you love reading about technology, Benedict Evans’ or Azeem Azhar’s weekly newsletters are examples of curation. They put together a collection of links they think you should read. Ben Thompson’s Stratechery or Ben Evans’ blog posts (or The Notes by Ada project :-)), on the other hand, are examples of synthesis.

On average, more folks default to curation over synthesis. This is partly why Facebook is the media superpower that it is. It is easier to skim through a few links and a one line description than it is to commit oneself to reading analysis.

But, the more synthesis we read and understand, the better we learn and retain.

So, that then brings us to some interesting questions. For starters, is it worth revisiting what the goal of your information diet is? For example, if you only read the news to stay informed, can you reduce the amount of news you read by half and still be okay? And, if you read about your industry to learn, can you invest in reading more synthesis and, maybe, over time do some synthesis yourself by writing and sharing?

We all have fairly heavy information diets in this day and age and, on average, take in far more information than we need.

Time to cut those carbs, then.

Aircrafts and Canmore on Unsplash

As I open up the “post” collection of links these days, I open up 3 tabs – one with a WordPress “Add New Post,” one with the Hemingway Editor and one with Unsplash. I use Unsplash for images when I share the post on Twitter, on the ALearningaDay Facebook page and on LinkedIn.

Thanks to Unsplash, however, I frequently find myself admiring some of the photos. Below are 3 photos I admired today.

I’ve looked at this photo multiple times. I’d love to know where this is. But, there’s something both beautiful and haunting. How did the aircraft end up there? What’s the story?

This is a cloudy Macchu Picchu. I’ve always found Macchu Picchu intriguing and I hope to hike up this peak sometime.

This photo in Canmore, Canada, is just stunning.

Great photographs are such wonderful reminders of the power of still images to tell stories and ask important questions. These photos inspired awe while reminding me that there’s a lot more to life than simply driving “shareholder value.” :-)

Unsplash is special thanks to the many generous photographers who share their photos for free. Thank you to all of you. Generosity is a beautiful thing.