Entries by Lon Langston (322)

Personal Branding and Non-Verbal Communication

Posted on Saturday, October 31, 2015 at 02:34PM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | Comments Off

Jim Wood Speaker Series at Clayton State University 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4qaBv6WQKk8 

 

How to Deliver Your Contemplated Truths

Posted on Tuesday, October 13, 2015 at 10:38PM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | Comments Off

Thomas Aquinas said, “Better to deliver to others contemplated truths than merely to contemplate.”

I’m watching the Democrat debate on CNN, as I write this. The candidates on stage, just like the candidates on stage at the Republican debates, are articulating thoughts on complex issues. What Thomas Aquinas said and what politicians, preachers, professors and all good public speakers do is not easy. The idiom “easier said than done” does not apply. Contemplated truths are not easily said.

There are at least three steps through which a thought must travel, before it can be delivered to others. Most of us rarely spend the time and effort to just think. To sit alone in a room and think is a rare thing. The first step is to just think - to merely contemplate.

Good ideas don’t often hang around. They make a brief stop in our consciousness, and then quickly continue on their way. The second step is to capture the fleeting truths that result from contemplation.

The third step is to do the hard work of turning thoughts into words. A lot of contemplative people fail to do this step. The result is being half prepared. “Half prepared” is when we know what we want to say, but cannot recruit and arrange the words to clearly articulate it.

The technique of deliberate practice (delineated in Daniel Coyle’s book, The Talent Code) is useful here. Deliberate practice is learning small chunks of data precisely, instead of learning whole concepts imprecisely.  

The goal is to have contemplated truths march out of your mouth fully formed. 

How Knowing the Unknown Improves Your Brain

Posted on Sunday, October 11, 2015 at 09:46PM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | Comments Off

I really enjoy watching Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown, but what is unknown to me is why.

I’m not a foodie. I don’t drink. I don’t like going to questionable places. I disagree with Bourdain’s politics (as far as I can infer from little comments he makes on camera).

But still I really like the show. And I’m not alone; a lot of people like the show. It has something.

The cinematography is awesome. The music is good. And still, there is more. Certainly, Bourdain is likeable, interesting and knowledgeable, but it is his impertinence that is most compelling.

The fact that he and I are so different is likely the shows primary appeal. I don’t want to go to those places, eat that crazy stuff and drink nonstop, but it is fun to do all of that vicariously through Bourdain, from the comfort and safety of my couch.

Brain-improvement guru Jim Kwik says there are 10 things we should do to keep our brains in shape. One of which is to learn stuff completely out of our normal sphere of interest. I think Parts Unknown satisfies this for me.

And it provides a pretty good geography lesson, to boot. 

Why Your Time is Just as Important as a Billionaire's

Posted on Saturday, October 10, 2015 at 10:22PM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | Comments Off

This morning I had the opportunity to talk to a class of MBA students. I am the Executive in Residence at the College of Business at Clayton State University. A part of that gig is guest lecturing in business classes. My talk this morning was about innovative thinking, but that’s a subject for a future post.

After my talk, several of the students thanked me for my time. I was impressed. These are not undergraduate kids; they are masters students. They are adults, with jobs. And still, I was impressed, because most people, kids and adults alike, do not value time.

My time is important to me, so I appreciate that the students thanked me for it. I also hope they realize that their time is as important to them as mine is to me. In fact, their time is as important to them as Tim Cook’s is to him (CEO of Apple) or as Larry Page’s is to him (CEO of Google’s parent company, Alphabet).

None of us, no matter how rich or powerful, has control over the number of minutes we spend on this earth. It is true that people who have certain beliefs and behaviors live longer, still, any one of us could get killed by a falling meteorite (or whatever), at any moment. And besides, life expectancy numbers are just averages. Your results may vary.

Compare time to money. Thomas P. Murphy said, “Minutes are worth more than money. Spend them wisely.” The vast majority of billionaires are self-made. So, in one lifetime, they went from little money to staggering wealth. They had an exponential increase in net worth. No matter how well you or I eat, exercise and live, we cannot create an exponential increase in life expectancy. We cannot increase our age at death from 78 years to 7800 years. Time is much more valuable than money. 

How Relentlessly Asking Why Gets You to The Truth

Posted on Friday, October 9, 2015 at 09:39PM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | Comments Off

When I owned a production facility, my favorite report – the one on which I most depended, to give me an accurate view of the business – was called the “Whywhywhy” report. I named it that because Jim Collins said, in Good to Great, that asking why and then why again and then why again is a great tactic for gaining true understanding. Since Good to Great, I have heard this advice several times, from other business gurus (the great truths run like a thread through many books).   

Asking why and then why and then why, is like peeling the layers of an onion. You can’t get down to the third layer without going through the first two.  

There is a concept called “the adjacent possible.” It means that we cannot access some possible futures without first going through a specific precursor. Imagine a room with 6 doors. Each door leads to another room. Each adjacent room, one behind each of the 6 doors, represents a possible future. And once we choose a door and go into the next room there are six more doors, leading to 6 more rooms. Each set of doors represents the adjacent possible for that room. But we cannot access the rooms behind the doors in rooms that are not adjacent to the room we are in.

This is why the Whywhywhy technique works. The root cause of an issue may be 3 adjacent possible rooms away. Each “why” takes us through a door, eventually, leading to the crux of the issue.  

You Can Have Your Nonconformity

Posted on Thursday, October 8, 2015 at 10:20PM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | Comments Off

A good friend linked me this Reason.com Scott Adams interview.  Scott Adams is a smart guy with a lot of interesting thoughts. He’s a contrarian. I so relate.

Being a contrarian is freeing. Contrarians are necessarily relieved of the nagging responsibility to think like everyone else. Contrarians are equally relieved of the pressure to believe what is said in the media. For that matter, contrarians are relieved of the responsibility and pressure to believe what anyone says.

Being relieved of the responsibility and pressure is not the same as rejecting everything anyone says. But you get to trade in the guilt of nonconformity. You can have your nonconformity and eat it too.

Contrarianism is mind-expanding. As I’ve mentioned here several times, I’m reading Jane McGonigal’s book Super Better. McGonigal is a game designer and Ph.D. who has extensively studied the effects of game-playing.  In Super Better, she points out that if your objective is to put a small ball in a small hole, carefully placing the ball in the hole, at very close proximity, with your hand, is the most effective strategy. Yet in golf we start hundreds of yards from the small hole and hit the small ball with sticks. This is an incredibly ineffective way to get the ball into the hole. Of course, using rules to create artificial obstacles is the essence of all games.

The contrarian would argue (correctly, in my humble opinion) that creating artificial obstacles is also the essence of life. We humans love to make things more complicated than necessary. Complexity makes us feel smart. Well, it makes us more than feel smart. Sorting out complex problems myelinates neuropathways and so actually makes us smarter. The question is what kind of smart do we want to be, the kind that wrestles with complex problems or the kind that sees simple solutions? Einstein, who solved some complex problems, said, “Everything Should Be Made as Simple as Possible, But Not Simpler.” 

How Playing Games on Your Phone Can Make You a Better Human

Posted on Wednesday, October 7, 2015 at 09:35PM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | Comments Off

Have you played the phone game 1010!? I am not a gamer, but I have been playing 1010!. This is the only game I have ever played on my phone. Well, other than Words with Friends, with my daughter, but that only lasted until she got frustrated with my skill level.

Coincidentally, I am reading Jane McGonigal’s new book, Super Better. Jane McGonigal is a Ph.D. who has studied games for many years and developed 14 commercial digital games, herself. Her research and over 100 other research studies she cites in the book support her hypothesis that gaming can be highly beneficial.

Many of the early studies done on the effects of digital games indicated that game-playing was unhealthy escapism. Yet, later studies contradict the earlier findings. I wonder if, with gaming and other significant changes in our culture, the research is biased one way and then the other based on the age of the researchers and their own understanding of the changes.  

Anyway, McGonigal contends that games can be bad or good, depending upon whether the player is playing to hide from real life or to get better at real life.  

I would not have been able to personally relate to this before playing 1010!. But now I can definitely draw parallels between even this simple game and real life. I was able to triple my high score by changing from an offensive strategy - trying to clear cubes off the board - to a defensive strategy - trying to leave space for the most challenging randomly dealt combinations of cubes.

The parallel is that in real life we are randomly dealt situations. If we plan and leave room for different scenarios, life goes much better. Leaving room, in the game, means being intentional about having space to place the largest cube configurations.  The real life equivalent is preserving enough resources to deal with the unexpected. Obviously, this means money, but it also means time and a support network of family and friends. 

You Don't Need Big Data. You Need A Porsche. 

Posted on Tuesday, October 6, 2015 at 06:33PM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | Comments Off

As a perk of being on the Atlanta Aerotropolis Alliance board of directors, I was invited to the Grand Opening of the Porsche North American Headquarters building, on May 7th. The building is cool. The test track is cooler. It’s like a miniature road-racing course. It has a couple of straightaways and lots of turns and elevation changes.

I got to ride in two different Porsches, with two different professional drivers. Both drivers were incredibly good (obviously). The woman was better than the man, by the way. She navigated the course faster and exited the turns on better lines, requiring less correction before accelerating down the straightaways. It was like being on a roller coaster, with one big difference, the person in the car with me, behind the wheel, controlled my fate.

Big data is a popular catch phrase in the business, for now. There is an advantage to big data. It creates accurate statistical probability. But reams of data are useless. As Nate Sliver pointed out, in his May appearance on the Freakonomics Podcast, big data sets do not insure clarity, the opposite, in fact. The bigger the data set the more opportunities there are for statistical outliers. In a set with a billion data points, there are a lot of one-in-a-million occurrences. One-in-a-million occurrences are not what we want to base decisions on.

Besides, for most of us, in small and medium-sized businesses, big data is just an amorphous concept. What we care about is our data – small data. By “small,” I mean finite. There is an advantage with finite data, mostly that it’s finite. It is possible, in a small or medium-sized company, to identify every data point.

If you have done flow and process work, you’re probably thinking of examples which prove this wrong. Okay, I’ll concede that there is a level of magnification beyond which you begin to chase a dime with a dollar. Identifying data points, like every human activity, has an opportunity cost. My point is that a functionally-complete set of data points can be practically accumulated. The investment of time and money is worth the return.

I am married to a former math and science teacher, which is evidence that opposites attract. I did not learn much in school (half my fault, certainly, and half the one-size-fits-all education system’s fault), but no subject, for me, was worse than math. In college, I had to retake 2 classes, both math classes. I only passed Quantitative Methods because a math-geek friend took pity on me and tutored me.

So it was odd when spreadsheets entered the business world that I was drawn to them. I found that I like analyzing numbers. I like looking for trends in numbers. I like empirical metrics. At first, I didn’t like the fastidiousness necessary to collect accurate data, but I love the story accurate data tells so much that I became fastidious.

Having been in management in small, medium and large organizations, I know that decisions are based on intuition more than on data. One reason is lack of trust in the accuracy of the data. Another is that decisions have to be made fast. There isn’t time to collect and analyze a bunch of data. Opportunity will pass us by.

Great drivers use intuition to get the best out of the vehicle. A Porsche with a sucky driver isn’t going to perform and a Chevy Cavalier with a great driver isn’t going to perform. A great vehicle gives the driver the tools she needs to turn in a great driving performance. Data is a vehicle.
Good data is like a Porsche. A good driver layers her intuition on top of the vehicles capabilities. A good leader layers his intuition on top of accurate data.

Data cannot replace intuition. Businesses will fail, if decisions are based on data analytics, alone. Intuition is important. Good data just helps with good decisions.

So question 1 is how do we get Porsche-quality data and not Cavalier-quality data?

We get good data by creating a culture of attention to detail and by building accurate data collection into the normal routine, by making it standard operating procedure.

As we flew around a tight turn, with my face involuntarily pressed against the window by centrifugal force, I heard my driver explaining the features of the vehicle in an unhurried, conversational voice.

Question 2 is how do we get actionable data, fast enough to matter?

Urgency is a tricky thing. I was in the fresh produce industry. Our products were literally decreasing in quality every day that they sat in inventory. Sell it or smell it. Urgency was paramount.

If we don’t make the right decision, in a timely manner, opportunity will pass us by. Conversely though, if we do make the wrong decision, in a timely manner, misfortune will not pass us by. Making good decisions fast is all about preparation. If the Porsche driver had to search for the data she needed about the car’s performance, she would have to slow down or crash. Instead, the data is displayed on the dashboard and the heads up display. She knows right where to look, to get right what she needs, right when she needs it.

In order to make good decisions fast, prepare before time imposes constraints. Build a report that gives decision-makers access to the important stuff, at a glance, all on one screen. And get in the routine of looking at it daily.

A good data dashboard, with which all key decision-makers are familiar, is like the speedometer in a Porsche. You know right where to look, at the critical moment, to get the information you need.

 

You're On the Wrong Side of Your Face

Posted on Monday, October 5, 2015 at 09:09PM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | Comments Off

You’re on the wrong side of your face to see what it looks like when you are listening to someone else talk, which makes it more difficult to do what I’m about to suggest.

Have you ever noticed what Anderson Cooper looks like when he is listening to someone speak on a split screen on CNN? Anderson Cooper has a great listening face. In fact, his listening face may well have contributed to his TV news success. He doesn’t look anxious or bored. He doesn’t look like he is waiting to talk or distracted. He may well be formulating his next question, but you’d never know that. He looks totally interested.

Totally interested is how you and I should look when someone else is talking, especially when that someone else is a customer, prospect, boss, friend or spouse. The problem, as I mentioned, is that you and I can’t see our own listening faces. I mean, I can see yours and you can see mine, but you can’t see yours and I can’t see mine.  

And, unfortunately, a mirror is useless because of a kind of personal Hawthorne Effect . The Hawthorne Effect refers to the fact that people change their behavior when they are aware that they are being observed. When you look into the mirror, the fact that you are looking at your face causes you to change your face.

A great listening face is a powerful tool. It causes people to want to buy from you, sell to you, help you, hire you, promote you, …

I’ll leave it to you to figure out whether your listening face is good or bad. I would suggest asking your friends to honestly tell you or, if you have the chance, watching yourself on video. 

How Fear Impacts Your Future

Posted on Sunday, October 4, 2015 at 08:11PM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | Comments Off

You’ve likely heard the old axiom, “There are only two human motivations: Greed and Fear.” And since most of us don’t want to think of ourselves as greedy, we default to being fearful. Fear probably also tends to win out over greed, because, before humans enjoyed the relative safety of modern civilization, being fearful, when a bad decision could mean being eaten by a wild animal or starving to death, was just more practical than greed. I’m not arguing that greed is better or fear is better. I’m arguing that greed and fear are both wrong. The axiom is wrong. The only human motivation is joy.

I know joy sounds like a mostly unachievable spiritual state, so you may prefer the word “happiness,” or the word “successful” (see yesterday’s post, below). The choice of words is really just semantics, though I think of happiness as extrinsic and joy as intrinsic. In other words, happiness is subject to what happens to you. Joy is the inner flame that is not blown out by external storms.

Whichever word you are comfortable with, the point is that human motivation is at its best when it comes from a positive source, rather than a negative one.

As an aside, I am familiar with and supportive of the argument that “greed is good,” because it motivates us to be ever more resourceful (Gordon Gecko not withstanding). The concept is right. The use of the word greed, however, evokes such a negative reaction that maybe, “grit is good” or “drive is good,” would be a better way to say it.

Dr. Beau Adams’s sermon, at Community Bible Church this morning, was on fear. He said, “Fear leads to destruction.” And fear tells us the lie that “something bad is bound to happen.” Remember the premise of C. S. Lewis’s “The Screwtape Letters?” Actively doing evil is not what usually gets us, fearfully doing nothing is.

I like to look at things from a Behavioral Economics standpoint. We humans are always doing cost-benefit analyses. We look at a potential future and calculate how much effort it will take to achieve the desired outcome. If the cost is too high – if the quest requires too much effort – we choose to invest our limited resources elsewhere. But fear skews our cost-benefit analyses.

In classical economics, it is assumed that decisions are made by perfectly rational actors with perfectly accurate data. In reality, we know that, while we are rational in the sense that we are mature and informed, we are not perfectly rational. Perfectly rational would be like Mr. Spock in Star Trek – emotionless. And since real life has so many variables, we never have perfectly accurate or complete data.

Behavior economics is more realistic. It adds psychology to economics and takes into account that humans make decisions based on more than just empirical data, as we should.

I’m reading Jane McGonigal’s book, “Super Better.” The book is based on the concept of self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is the belief that we have the power to influence outcomes, in our lives. If we believe our actions will change the future, we are more likely to engage in positive actions. For example, if we truly believe exercise will make us feel better, we are likely to exercise.

Colin Powell said, “Optimism is a force multiplier.” Believing the future will be good tends to influence how good the future turns out to be. But why?

Optimism and self-efficacy are closely related, maybe even synonymous. Trading fear for optimism positively impacts the future for a couple of reasons. One is that it trades the release of feel-bad neurochemicals (like Cortisol) for the release of feel-good neurochemicals (like Dopamine), in our brains. Another is that, because we are imperfect actors, with imperfect data, our cost-benefit scales tend to tip too far to the cost side, when we are fearful. So we don’t invest effort in things (like exercise) that actually would make our lives better.

The good news is fear can be traded for optimism. I teach my clients several practical exercises for doing just that.

(By the way, Pastor Beau also taught us some ways to mitigate fear, in his sermon, which, if you are so inclined, can be accessed on-demand at CommunityBibleChurch.com) 

How Do You Measure Your Success?

Posted on Saturday, October 3, 2015 at 02:08PM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | Comments Off

Success is a loaded word. The general connotation ebbs and flows in and out of favor. To many people, “success” only means financial attainment. For the purposes of reading this, think in terms of overall success. Think of success in its best connotation.

So, with that said, what metric do you use to measure your success? Accomplishments? Impact on others? Spirituality? Autonomy? And be honest: Money? Power?

From Daniel Pink and others, I learned that humans need four things to be satisfied: Autonomy, Complexity, Effort = Reward, and Mastery.

We want Autonomy, because we are imbued with a sense of how we should use our time. We want complexity, because complexity challenges us. We want Effort = Reward, because we have an innate sense of fairness, a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. We want Mastery, or rather the opportunity for Mastery, because every human comes preloaded with the desire to be the best at something.

Unfortunately, over my 26 years, working with thousands of people, I came to disagree with Pink and the others. I observed that only a few people really want Autonomy, Complexity, Effort = Reward, and Mastery.

In fact, in most workplaces there are folks who don’t really accomplish much, at all. They show up, put in their time, perform menial tasks, with minimum effort and go home. This is unfortunate, not only for the employer, but for the worker himself, not to mention his co-workers. These workers measure their performance with time. Did I show up on time? Did I get the proper number of minutes for breaks and lunch? Did I work only the required number of hours? Did I work only the required number of years?

But time is a false measure of success.  

Do we all get caught up in false measures of success, in life? Do we live lives that are the equivalent of busy work? It’s easy to do. I hope I’m not. I hope you’re not.

Autonomy, Complexity, Effort = Reward, and Mastery are legitimate measures of success, but we do not automatically seek them. We have to be intentional.

Taking the time to identify values, cast a personal vision, then holding ourselves accountable for matching our behaviors with our values and vision, insures that we will pursue the best measures of success. The best measures of a great life. 

Why You Don't Make Most of Your Own Decisions

Posted on Friday, October 2, 2015 at 01:18PM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | Comments Off

I played soccer in an adult league for a few years (until the majority of players were half my age and twice my speed). When I started playing, I rolled my ankles almost every week. My solution was to wear elaborate ankle braces, which were uncomfortable and limited my flexibility.

Flexibility is important in sports and flexibility, in the form of autonomy, is kind of important in our larger lives. We each like to believe we know what is best for ourselves. We certainly value the freedom to decide. And yet, we don’t make most of the decisions that impact our lives. We put the cognitive equivalent of ankle braces on our decision-making.

Fortunately, American adults have the right to make the vast majority of our own decisions. Only, we cede our decision-making power, not to the government or other people, but to being unaware and unintentional.  

You may disagree, because from your own experience, you know that you are acutely aware of big decisions:  Where to go to college, where to work, where to live, whom to marry. You gather information, talk to family, friends and experts. And deliberate. You also know that you are aware of everyday decisions: What to eat for lunch, whether to work out or not, what to read or watch on television, who to hang out with. You spend less time and attention making these decisions than the big ones, but still, you make them. The reason our experience tells us that we make most of the decisions is that both big decisions and everyday decisions are conspicuous.

They are conspicuous, but they are not voluminous. They make up only a drop in the bucket of the total number of decisions we each make.

The vast majority of decisions made in a day and a lifetime are micro decisions. Thousands of times every day, we each make tiny decisions that largely go unnoticed – unnoticed but consequential.  

Several months into playing soccer, I read Christopher McDougall’s book, “Born to Run.” (I also enjoy running.) McDougall explained how the naked foot adjusts its 19 muscles and 107 ligaments, with every step, at the split-second of contact with the terrain, to protect itself from injury. I bought into McDougall’s premise and not only changed my running shoes (and even ran barefooted some), but weaned myself off the ankle braces. The idea is that over-supportive shoes and braces prevent the body from developing the hundreds of small muscles, ligaments and tendons, and the neuropathways that activate them, that can increase our performance and our durability.

There are elements of life that are within our control. There are elements that are out of our control. And then, there are elements that seem to be out of our control, but are actually controllable, or at least influenceable.  The decisions we are usually aware of turn elements in our control to our favor. Micro decisions turn elements normally out of our control to our favor.

Micro decisions dictate what all 640 muscles in our body do, including the muscles that control voice tone, pitch and volume. And the ones that control our non-verbal communication: facial expressions and all the movements, large and small, that make up body language.  So micro decisions profoundly impact how we each interact with the world. And how we interact with the world is the primary determinant of how the world interacts with us.

We don’t have enough cognitive resources to make every micro decision consciously, but we can set up mechanisms that will make them tend to benefit us. This is called automaticity. When the brain or body senses a set of circumstances in the environment, it automatically activates an “If-Then” heuristic – If a certain thing happens, then I automatically respond in a certain way. If my foot lands on an uneven surface, then my foot and leg muscles instantly compensate. If a person engages me, then I respond confidently and competently.

Leveraging automaticity for good requires a clear understanding of both personal values and vision, and good habits. When values, vision and behavior (habits) are aligned, the result is micro decisions that make you the best version of yourself.  

I played soccer, with no ankle support, for years, with no injuries. 

How Efficiency is Killing You 

Posted on Thursday, October 1, 2015 at 04:26PM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | Comments Off

As I write, I am doing laundry. Because we just got home from vacation and everyone had a bunch of laundry to do, there was no unused flat surface on which to sort and stack my stuff. So I folded each piece and dropped it into the basket, without rhyme or reason. The result was a basket with towels, t-shirts, underwear, shorts, socks, etc. stacked in no particular order. This made for terrible inefficiency at the other end of the process, where there’s a drawer or shelf for everything and everything in its place.  

I’m a business guy. And even more than that, I’m a business guy who used to own a production plant. In production the game is efficiency. Flow and process are continually evaluated and tweaked, to get the greatest throughput – to produce the most widgets, for the least expense.  

Stephen Covey’s 7th Habit was “Sharpen the Saw” – stop working long enough to improve your skills. When it comes to improving our minds, complexity and variety sharpen the saw. Efficiency does not. Efficiency is great. It makes life easy and lucrative, in the short term.  In the long term, however, efficiency kills our ability to sharpen the saw. 

Driving to work the same way every day – the fastest way – makes perfect sense. Parking in the same spot, eating at the same lunch restaurants, with the same people, is not only efficient; it’s comfortable.  But rote and routine do not stimulate neurogenesis. Efficiency does not make us smarter. Efficiency eliminates the complexity and challenge our brains need to thrive.

Inefficiency can also be useful in leadership. A work situation in which a subordinate is expected to just execute on the bosses orders is efficient. But that efficiency can prevent good ideas from surfacing and cover up issues that will eventually have a negative impact. I had lunch with a client today who told me about his intentionally inefficient leadership style. He said, if someone is expected to just do what he is told, any problems he may have get trampled. And any better solutions he may have get ignored.

I just got an email from the vendor of some productivity software I use imploring me to “Build a process to manage everyday tasks then find the time to tackle the things that really matter.”  It sounds logical to use efficiency, in the form of a process, to free up time for the important stuff. Almost everyone uses some kind of productivity hack. The simplest (and probably most effective) is the basic task list. The value of a task list (or other productivity process) is to insure that mundane stuff gets done. It does not, however, make our brains better. I use a task list. I also coach my clients to create a Daily Habits Checklist. But the purpose is not efficiency; its effectiveness. Cognitive resources are finite. We can only focus on a limited number of things and only for a limited amount of time.  Productivity tools and processes free up cognitive resources for real thinking: problem-solving, creativity, innovation.  

Efficiency kills, because it makes us less engaged, less effective and less fulfilled. The good news is it’s a kind of cognitive delayed gratification. If we are willing to sacrifice efficiency for complexity, now, we just may get super-efficiency, as a byproduct of having super-effective brains, later.  

When I put the laundry away, I had to make several trips to the different shelves and drawers. I don’t think that made my brain much better. But the whole laundry inefficiency thing did make my brain work to write this post.  

Flowers for A Talent-less Alien

Posted on Tuesday, June 30, 2015 at 05:58AM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | CommentsPost a Comment | References2 References

One in 7.31 billion  

I don’t want to be like everybody else, but it’s pretty unrealistic to think that I will differentiate myself, in any meaningful way, against those odds. I’m just not going to be Elon Musk or Jay Z or Jordan Speith. I wasn’t born with the genetics or circumstances to be brilliant, artistic or athletic.  Even if I miraculously became King of Earth, this whole planet is just a tiny spec in the Universe. (Look at these 11 images).  What’s the point? Let’s just go to Breckenridge and get high.

As a kid, I was fascinated with Daniel Keyes’s novel Flowers for Algernon. In the story, a special-needs guy, Charlie, undergoes surgery that makes him smarter and smarter. He eventually becomes a genius but, as time goes by, he begins to regress. He desperately searches for a way to hold on to his brilliance, but never finds it and ends up back where he began.

I loved Charlie’s ascent and hated his descent, as did the first magazine editor to offer to publish the short story version of Flowers for Algernon. He asked Keyes to change the ending so that Charlie remained smart and got the girl. Keyes refused.

I rarely watch movies, but in 2011, the trailer for the movie Limitless, staring Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro, captured my attention. My wife and I went. Just like Charlie in Flowers for Algernon, Cooper’s character, Eddie Morra, got smarter and smarter (because of a drug, not surgery). As I watched Eddie’s ascent, I knew this was an Algernon storyline. I knew he wouldn’t be able to maintain his super smartness.

There are three problems with drug dependency: Diminishing results, side effects and supply. Eddie Morra had all three. Just like with Charlie, this was not going to end well. I’ve read (from unreliable internet sources) that there was an alternate ending to Limitless. If you who saw the movie, you know that the alternate ending would be the Algernon ending, because, as it was shown in theaters, Eddie Morra beat the wrap. He became limitless.

That is so cool!

And dangerous. 

Cool because it gives us talentless aliens hope.

Dangerous because that hope is never going to be in a magic bean.

I wanted to be like Charlie, before his decline, or Eddie Morra. I wanted to find a magic bean that would make me excel at all the things. I clearly remember sitting in my 4th-grade class, at Chapel Hill Elementary School, thinking I should be able to skip over all this boring stuff about how other people think the world works.  The bad news is there is no magic bean. There is no “Limitless” drug or surgery.

Most of us have been in a job interview: The awkward and ineffectual ritual by which jobs and people are mismatched. But what if you went to a job interview for a job that fit your abilities and passions perfectly, while stretching you just enough, a job that none of the other 7.31 billion people could do, a job for which you were the only qualified candidate? You’d get that job and you’d be incredibly fulfilled and well-paid. You’d be limitless.

That job exists.

And it’s more like a mission. “Every person is in certain respects like all other people, like some other people, and like no other person.”Your mission is not going to get done by anyone else. In certain respects, you are like no other person. You are 1 in 7.31 billion. You are uniquely qualified for your mission and I am uniquely qualified for mine. If you are 2 years old or 102 years old, you have a mission and it’s not done. If it were, you’d be gone.

I’ve devoted a lot of time and attention to understanding how a talentless alien can find and live out a unique mission. I’ve absorbed hundreds of books, articles, TED Talks, Leadercast talks, podcasts, Talks at Google, and added them to 27 years of in-the-trenches business experience and access to a lot of successful people. The result is Significance Ideation. Significance Ideation will show you how to go from wherever you are now to limitless, in your unique mission.

 

 

 

1. Brian R. Little, Me Myself and Us, 2014. Chapter 1, page 1 – adapted by Dr. Little from Clyde Kluckhohn and Henry A. Murray, Personality in Nature, Society and Culture, 1953

 

Talent-less Alien

Posted on Tuesday, June 23, 2015 at 06:35AM by Registered CommenterLon Langston in , , , , , , , , , | CommentsPost a Comment

Imagine you were born with great musical talent. Imagine, from an early age, you could sing beautifully. Imagine easily learning to play instruments. Imagine you were born with great athletic ability, first in running and jumping, then in sports of all kinds. Imagine you were academically gifted. Imagine you learned your letters, colors, numbers and shapes before every other little kid. Imagine that reading and math, then the sciences and humanities, just came easily to you. Imagine you had a talent for art. You could draw and paint and take great photographs and these skills grew and grew. Imagine, at your first middle school dance, you discovered you were a naturally good dancer. Imagine that you were innately comfortable, outgoing and articulate, in social situations. Imagine kids your age, and even older kids and adults, were drawn to you. Imagine you always had a lot of friends and fans.

Now imagine you were transported from earth, to some strange planet, but none of your abilities got transported with you. Kind of like Superman in reverse. You were left with no musical, athletic, academic, or artistic talent. And your ability to relate to other people was like, well, an alien on a strange planet.

This is how I started life, like a talent-less alien.  

I cannot carry a tune or hear pitch or tone (whatever those are. I have no idea). At practice for my elementary school promotion ceremony, the kids standing around me told me to just mouth the words. 

I ranged from below average and really bad at sports. I was relatively strong and coordinated, but the other little athletes seemed to know something I didn’t. It was like they were told some secret about sports that I missed.

I had some combination of learning differences and a lot of apathy for education. As General George Marshall put it, “I wasn’t a bad student. I wasn’t a student, at all.” I learned close to nothing in school.

I can’t draw or paint or take good photos, though I have tried. I had a decent 35mm DLSR camera and took pictures of my kids’ activities, until I saw another parent’s photographs and instantly realized hers made mine unnecessary.

I have no rhythm or dance moves. If I concentrate really hard, I kind of “feel the beat,” for about 15 seconds, then, the connection is broken and I look like a baby giraffe. 

I was in my late thirties before I began to understand human interaction. Social cues, sarcasm and implied meanings were lost on me. Sustained eye contact was so distracting that I couldn’t both look someone in the eye and talk. And my lack of eye contact was so distracting to other people that they gave up trying to talk to me.   

I was terrified of public speaking. In 1995, I was elected to a position (I have no idea why) in a trade organization, in which I had to welcome guest and introduce speakers. I was so terrified that I wrote on a piece of paper, “Good Afternoon. Welcome.” Because I was afraid I would forget, even that. If I had to hold a piece of paper or a microphone, it would shake visibly in my hand.

Significance Ideation is the way one person, dropped into this strange life, with none of the tools others use to survive and thrive, survived and eventually thrived, but it is a lot more than that. It is how you can shore up your weaknesses and explosively expand your strengths, even if you have never before understood what your strengths are.

If you are young, maybe Significance Ideation can shortcut the process for you. If you are older, maybe this is finally the key you’ve been missing. This is not a magic cure for everything that ails you. It is a set of exercises that work, over time. The good news is that noticeable change happens quickly and incremental change continues indefinitely. 

Behind the Scenes Tour

Posted on Tuesday, June 2, 2015 at 07:30AM by Registered CommenterLon Langston in , , , , , , | CommentsPost a Comment

Blue industrial tile floors, with drains every few feet, painted cinder block walls, exposed HVAC ducts and plumbing, overhead. Through open doors, we could see normal-looking offices, with normal-looking (though I’m sure very smart) people and normal-looking office furniture. My first impression was that it looked really average. It was clean, but unremarkable. In one area, off to the side, were several Christmas trees, just sitting on the floor.  

In January, my family and I did the Beluga Whale Experience at The Georgia Aquarium. As a bonus, we got a behind-the-scenes tour. The hidden corridors of the Aquarium were fine, but, in contrast to the beautifully-designed and carefully-managed look of the public area, strikingly ordinary.

After college, I lived in a few different apartments, with roommates. But, at some point, I got tired of having roommates and tired of living 25 miles from work, so I rented a one-bedroom apartment, near work, and lived alone. Living alone had its advantages. I’m an introvert. Living alone made it easy to recharge, but that’s another story.

During this time, I met my future wife. We lived in different cities, so I didn’t see her every day, usually just on weekends. When she was coming to visit, I would clean the apartment. It would be spotless. And not just clean, but squared away - a place for everything and everything in its place. I would even line the coke cans and beer bottles up, in the frig, in soldier-straight rows, with all the labels facing out. My wife later told me it felt like a hotel.

There was a storage closet in that apartment. What my future bride did not know was that that closet was an over-filled, disorganized mess. It was awful. In order to make a good impression, I crammed all my disorder behind the scenes. I was surprised to see the Christmas trees in the corridor at the Aquarium, but that was nothing compared to my closet.

The image you present to the world is your personal brand. It is right to cultivate your personal brand, but also cultivate integrity. The brand we show the world should reconcile with our closets. This is a process. Integrity must be built, brick by brick. The bricks are our values. The most important step is for each of us to know what he or she values, which isn’t as easy as it sounds. We can work toward integrity when we are consciously aware of each of our values. Like the old Rubik’s Cube, it takes a bunch of moves to get everything to match up. 

Perfection is not the goal. It cannot be, because it’s unachievable. And it should not be, because being flawless would be un-relatable. That’s where humility fits. In retrospect, I should have said, “Honey, I want everything to be perfect for you, but have a look in this closet, also.”

Ironically, the less alignment there is between my hidden corridors and my personal brand, the less believable and effective my brand is. We each express values in the world, whether we realize it or not. The only way to know how we are impacting the world is to identify, understand and prioritize our values.

Obviously, there are things you don’t show the world. Transparency stops where discretion begins, but in the expression of values, being aligned, bottom to top, is what works.

“To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” William Shakespeare

Advice for Graduates

Posted on Thursday, May 17, 2012 at 07:18AM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | Comments Off

 

It is graduation season, when commencement speakers dole out advice. I’m not a commencement speaker, but here’s my advice for graduates.  

1)     Strive to live a life of significance and joy. If you aim at significance and joy, you’ll get success and happiness thrown in. Intellect and talent are not predictors of significance, joy, success, or happiness; initiative and perseverance are. And besides, we now know that intellect and talent can be developed along the way. 

2)     Be confident and humble. They are not mutually exclusive. Be self-assured, self-disciplined, self-deprecating and selfless. The best way to develop confidence is to keep the promises you make to yourself.  

3)     Exercise often and vigorously; eat healthful foods - fruits, vegetables, fish, whole grains; drink lots of water; get plenty of sleep. This lifestyle not only protects you from heart disease but also depression, cancer, Alzheimer’s and a bunch of other mental, emotional and physical stuff. It makes your body and your mind work better, for longer. It makes you healthier and also smarter and happier.

4)     Be self-reliant but involved: Trade organizations, civic organizations, neighborhood organizations, religious organizations, political organizations, fraternities, sororities, clubs, sports leagues. We are mammals. We do better in groups (this even applies to introverts like me). Just make sure you contribute more than you take.  

5)     Quality friendships are important. Initiate and nurture them, which entails making yourself into someone with whom people want to be friends. Make time for people, not just tasks. Be nice to everyone who will let you, but choose your true friends carefully. Surround yourself with good people.

6)     The #1 predictor of happiness is the quality of your marriage. Choose your spouse even more carefully than you choose your friends. Physical attraction is a factor, but marry the smartest, nicest, most honest person who will have you, not the best looking or the richest. Be faithful and continually work on your marriage. (This item is intended for college graduates. High school graduates should get a college degree or two before marriage.)

7)     You can have it all, just not all at once. There are only 24 hours in a day. But if God blesses you with even an average life-expectancy, you’ll have time to accomplish a lot, and in a lot of different areas. If you plan to have children, just remember, your kids are only kids once. Focus on them during their childhoods.

8)     It’s the journey more than the destination. But still, have a destination. Know what you value; set goals accordingly. Then learn to enjoy the process of getting there. Failure is part of the process. And lifetime learning is the only way to reach the goals and the only way to enjoy the process. Oh, and technology will keep quickly advancing; keep up.

9)     Create and contribute value. Give people more than they expect and more than you expect back. And never expect something for nothing. Everything has a value, especially time. Make a positive impact on as many people as you can.

10)   Money is a great servant, but a terrible master. Give away at least 10%, save at least 10%, invest 10%, live on the rest. Be debt free and always have a plan B and a plan C.  

11)   You cannot be great at your work unless you do work you love. Don’t let your parents or professors or promises of big money make this decision for you. And live near your work (physically or virtually). Commuting ranks high among factors that reduce quality of life.

12)   Develop a strong relationship with your God. This isn’t about pleasing your parents or your pastor. It’s not even about religion. It’s about God and you. Pray earnestly; meditate deeply; read the Bible. All three are transformative. 

And remember, all this stuff takes time, intentional effort and delayed gratification. It is achieved incremental step by incremental step. And delayed gratification does not mean waiting until tomorrow to get the same reward you could have had today. It means that by waiting you get an exponentially larger reward. A life of significance and joy is built brick by brick. 

 

Let Joy Be Unconfined

Posted on Thursday, February 17, 2011 at 07:09AM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | CommentsPost a Comment

We all want to be happy. We are not even sure what happiness exactly is. Still, we know we want it. It’s not so much that looking for happiness is like looking for a needle in a haystack. It’s more like staring at the haystack without really knowing what you’re looking for.

I walked into a men’s clothing store at Atlantic Station in Atlanta. The salesperson asked if I was looking for something specific. I said, “Nope, but I’ll know it when I see it.” That’s how we approach happiness. We go to the places we think it should be, and start browsing. Places like relationships, careers, religions, hobbies and houses. We date; we climb the corporate ladder; we go to church; we play virtual games or actual golf; we hunt, fish or shop. We buy homes and cars and clothes. Or we go to the darker places of substance abuse and addictions.

We think we’ll know it when we see it. And when we do, by blind luck, stumble on some external source of happiness, we spend huge amounts of time, effort and money to replicate and perpetuate the feeling. But we are substituting temporary bliss for deep joy.

The words “happiness” and “happening” have a common root word: Hap. And so, the logic goes: Happiness is derived from what’s happening around you - from external factors. Joy, on the other hand, comes from within and cannot be as easily effected by circumstances.

Wayne Dyer talked about the outer candle flame and the inner candle flame. Happiness, the outer flame, is exposed to the elements and can be blown out by negative winds (like, say, a great recession). Joy, the internal flame, is protected from the elements and burns regardless of circumstances.

How these words (joy and happiness) are defined is mere semantics, but differentiating between fragile and durable positive feelings is important. And the realization, oft preached, seldom internalized, that true, durable, lasting contentment comes from within, is even more important.

Since Major League Baseball begins spring training this week, let’s use a baseball analogy. When a sharply-hit line drive is covering 168 feet per second; and a major-league short stop is only 100 feet from the bat that just compressed it, he doesn’t think. He reacts. His 10,000+ hours of practice and game-play tell his body what to do.

Life’s external stuff comes at us like a sharply-hit ball. And we don’t have time to think. We just have the same desperate reaction over and over, reflexively grasping for happiness, expecting, but never getting, better results.

The reflex sounds like this: “If I had more money, more free time, better-behaved kids, a more loving spouse, a healthier body, a nicer boss, less traffic, then I would be happy.”

Yes, you would. But you’ve got it backwards. “A person who is not thankful for what he now has is not likely to be thankful for whatever he may one day obtain.” -Frank Clark

Money can’t buy happiness. The stories of miserable wealthy folks are legion. Well, yes, it can, actually. Money can, without a doubt, buy a temporary state of increased pleasure. There is a reason we humans become addicted to substances, behaviors, and material stuff. They bring us real happiness, shallow, fleeting and ever-diminishing, but, nonetheless, real. Money can buy temporary happiness. Money cannot buy enduring joy.

Mark Twain said, “Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing.” Not a living or a life. We’re here by the grace of God, for purposes far beyond our human understanding.

In 1802, William Paley formulated a view of God as a watchmaker. Paley postulated that God created this fantastically intricate and beautiful physical reality, set it in motion, then never gave it another thought. I vehemently disagree with the concept of a detached and disinterested God, but the analogy of a watch has merit. A watch works because its myriad of tiny mechanisms fit together in a precise way.

We do not know how God’s myriad of tiny, life-making mechanisms works. And we cannot know. But we need not understand divine eternal justice to understand there are natural laws, unseen. And living within these laws benefits us.

When deep, real joy is at our core, our tiny cogs fit into God’s mechanism and the good external stuff follows. I’m not saying you’ll have every earthly thing you dream of (I’m not saying you won’t). But real joy transcends despair and exceeds happiness.

Each individual should be the only human in charge of his or her life, but we are rank amateur life-makers. No human has the qualifications to create and maintain a great life. We are all incompetent hacks.

“Pause for a moment, you retched weaklings, and take stock of your miserable existence.”  -Saint Benedict

Our only chance at consistently catching the line drives is subjugating our egos to the watchmaker – the life-maker - who is not disinterested or detached, but accessible and engaged in the affairs of man.   

“Let joy be unconfined.” -Lord Byron 

 

Thank you for reading this article. If you found it enjoyable, enlightening, edifying, useful…please recommend it to your friends, family, co-workers, customers, vendors…And please check out other Point28 articles below. Thank You! –Lon 


Aspire to Significance 

Posted on Friday, February 11, 2011 at 06:59AM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | Comments1 Comment | References6 References

I want to write about Ronald Reagan this week. The challenge is that everyone and his sister is writing about Reagan this week, on the 100th anniversary of his birth. Restating all the stuff that everyone else is restating is a waste of your time and mine.

Ronald Reagan was a fan of C. S. Lewis. Despite what Joy Behar thinks, C. S. Lewis wrote more than just children’s books. And even his “children’s” books have complex and deeply meaningful themes. One of my favorite quotes is from Lewis. In “Mere Christianity,” he says, “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.”

It is the same way with happiness and significance: Aim at a life of significance and you will get joy thrown in. Aim at living happily ever after and you will get neither joy nor significance.

So what is significance? Let’s start with what it is not. Significance is not spending your days doing a job for which you have no passion. Significance is not living just 2/7’s of your life (the weekend). Significance is not marking time until 59½ years of age or 30 years of service. Significance is not going along to get along. Significance is not working for The Man. 

Significance is also not avoiding responsibility, as the above might seem to imply. Responsibility and significance are both rooted in prioritizing the well-being of others above your own well-being. But this prioritization does not mean subjugating your will to that of others, even if they are your parents, bosses, spouse, children or government officials. 

You are not living a life of significance if you are subjugating your will to others. You are also not living a life of significance if you are forcing your will upon others. Everyone is equal in the eyes of the Lord. It is doing others a disservice to think them better or worse than you. Of course, there are differing levels of intellect, skill and talent and, as a result, accomplishment. Everyone is not the same, but everyone deserves to be respected, not patronized and certainly not belittled.

A life of significance is knowing who you are and why you are here. And it is using the resulting confidence and clarity to positively impact the lives of everyone with whom you come into contact, especially, but by no means exclusively, family, friends and work associates. So significance is synonymous with responsibility.

Your job, your mission, your purpose, is not to give others fish. It is to teach them how to fish. It is not responsible to enable dependent behavior. It is both responsible and significant to teach others, by word and deed, how to fish for themselves, emotionally, intellectually, and financially.

Living a life of significance is being a maker not a taker. Living a life of significance is holding yourself to the highest standards of integrity and self-reliance and helping others obtain the same standards through your exhortation and example.

Charles Krauthammer wrote, “In the latter days of the Carter presidency, it became fashionable to say that the office of the President had become unmanageable and was simply too big for one man. And America had become ungovernable. Then came Ronald Reagan, and all that chatter disappeared.”

Ronald Reagan lived a life of significance.

“My friends: We did it. We weren’t just marking time. We made a difference.”  -Ronald Reagan, Farewell Address, 1989 

 

Thank you for reading this post. If you found it enjoyable, enlightening, edifying, useful…please recommend it to your friends, family, co-workers, customers, vendors…And please check out other Point28 posts below. Thank You! –Lon 

Impending Boom

Posted on Friday, February 4, 2011 at 08:28AM by Registered CommenterLon Langston | CommentsPost a Comment | References4 References

There is a boom coming to the economy of the southeastern United States that will make the period between 1991 and 2007 look like a downturn. The metro Atlanta county where I live was one of the fastest growing in the nation, before the great recession. And the factors that caused that growth, in this county and state, and other southeastern states, are still in place. But now two more factors will turbo-charge the population growth and economic prosperity of the bottom right quarter of the country.

We Americans are a tough, stubborn bunch. We will endure a lot of hardship before making a radical change. But, after getting knocked down repeatedly, common sense trumps blind resolve. And after seven storms in seven weeks piled off-the-chart amounts of snow on the mid-western and northeastern parts of the U.S., even diehard yankees have had enough.

Being from Atlanta, it was hard for me to fathom why anyone would choose to continue to live “up north.” Then I went to work for a company with its headquarters in Syracuse, New York. For six years I worked with a bunch of folks who loved the winter white stuff so much that they chose to live where tons of lake-effect snow buried their homes, cars, workplaces every year.  

Only they didn’t love it. They loved complaining about it, but definitely not living in it. Every winter, as the white ground and gray sky lingered on and on and on, I would observe the downwardly-spiraling mental states of my northern co-workers. Some took the leap and moved to places (like Atlanta) with practically no snow, but for most the spring sprung just in time, year after year, to keep their snow-frustration from crossing the Rubicon (i.e. I-40). 

This winter, though, will be the tipping point. A vast number of our fellow Americans from Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey will be migrating to the land of short winters, (almost) no snow, affordable housing (for the price of a postage-stamp-sized abode up north, a mcmansion can be had in the sunny southeast), and the world’s busiest airport (so their crazy relatives, who stayed behind, can come visit).

Additionally, as the oldest of the boomers reach age 65 this year, the decades-long phenomenon of snow birds - older folks flying south for winter - will explode. And 2011 is just the beginning; the boomer bulge in the population graph is 18 years long. And boomers, unlike the generation before, have a well-earned reputation for leading their lives on their own terms. Boomers aren’t going to take it anymore. Their move south will be year-round and permanent.

Just the fact that so many people are reaching such an age would necessarily increase the number of folks migrating south, but the serial snow storms will exacerbate the northern exodus. And the boomers will live longer and stay young longer than any people in history, so their impact will be felt in the warmer climes for decades. 

The groundhogs were unanimous, Wednesday, in predicting an early spring. I predict Spring will bring moving day, not only for boomers, but for their children and grandchildren and many others.  

Thank you for reading this post. If you found it enjoyable, enlightening, edifying, useful…please recommend it to your friends, family, co-workers, customers, vendors…And please check out other Point28 posts below. Thank You! –Lon  

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