Saturday, August 19, 2017

Confirmation Bias and Root Cause

If the same problem keeps happening, figure out why. Otherwise you are tossing a whole lot of wasted effort.

I'm saving this cartoon to keep this little principle in mind.


Taking the effort to fully understand a problem, digging in all the right places  (no matter how murky they may be) is the only way to get to root cause. Get to the root, cut off the problem. 

Digging to root cause can also deflect another cognitive fallacy, confirmation bias. I must take care that just because I've always lost my keys when there's a policeman present, that the police must by association be guilty. 

Our minds can play tricks like that, making associations where there aren't any. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Mrs. Jones

I'm at the peak of a generation that has been dominating the landscape for the past twenty years. Why then do I feel like I'm barely seen or heard?


I've been complaining of my invisibility for a while now. But when I looked hard at it I have come to the uncomfortable realization that I am sitting in the middle of the dominating generation. I know so because of statistics, baby. Here's the StatsCan pyramid contrasting 1996 to today.




If the population pyramid were a slope-headed Inca, my generation sits on the tip of the nose. Being female, I also manage to edge out the men of my generation.




By Unknown / restoration and digitization. Didier Descouens - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26546146


So why do I feel invisible, unheard? I had blamed the baby boomers most of my life. Technically I am a boomer, but the great majority (Zoomers now) were older than me. I've felt like the kid sister at the party, where plans and benefits were doled out long before I got there.


For instance, is it any coincidence that Old Age Security eligibility changes just as I am scheduled to get there?


I don't identify with the boomers, as they slide gracefully along the golden retirement path. And I'm older than their Gen X children, chinning themselves up to the bar. It's generation Jones that I identify with most strongly, shared with Obama (yay!) and Michael J. Fox (double yay!). Apparently my generation is watched closely by marketers and pollsters, as we tend to swing. An edge of bitterness could very well leave a representative voter/consumer with my nose, and a tad cynical. I imagine bitter and cynical voters keep their voting choices close to their chest.


If my generation makes up the lump of available voters and consumers, are our interests very well understood? I've seen the marketing change from "anti-cavity" in my youth to "whitening" in my maturity. There's plenty of anti-aging marketing out there. And promises of freedom on the road. The boomers sure have been good to the motorcycle and recreational vehicle markets.


Are middle-aged women represented in mass media? I don't think so. Meryl Streep is Zooming along, but even for her generation she's token rather than the norm. Oh, and Betty White, bless her.


There's a commercial making the rounds right now that grates me every time it plays. A young man (Gen X?) is handing over the house keys to.... it's got to be mom, right?


It's a Sonnet commercial. Mom looks tired, beaten. Shaggy son comes through with....insurance? A paid-off home? What in the heck has my generation been doing for the past twenty years? Do we really look that worn out? Bitter and cynical doesn't mean beaten.


It seems to me that the days of being a passive consumer are over. This woman wants to be heard. If marketers are seeking to understand, watch the crocheted pussy hat movement. Or something similar. We might have moved on already.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Christmas Greetings 2016

Out the window a light dusting of the sparkly stuff reminds me that we are closing in on another year. This annual newsletter is a fine excuse to observe the grains of time that have slipped by. I was introducing myself to a fine new bunch of staff the other day, and being of this era, I pulled out my phone and flipped through it to show them the last year in selfies.



Gosh, it looks like all I've been doing is going on runs. Crystal joined me this year on a few MEC runs; a great deal by the way if you don't need the T-shirt. I also did the spring Shamrock run just because, and the Run for the Cure with Tammy, Donald's fiancee. Tammy and I have a standing date on Wednesday nights, usually fitness related. That girl has lost a total of a hundred pounds, and is a superstar at the Weight Wise clinic.

This summer was a different trial of endurance, as we faced the spectre of unemployment. Art got a work promotion and his supplemental salary got us through more than one rough patch. Since the fall I have been working for West Canadian Digital, and a very fine employer they are turning out to be. The work is challenging and, my staff, every one of them, are dedicated and hard working people.



Nothing gets under my skin faster than boredom, so with spare time on my hands I have been Pok√©mon playing (level 22), sewing, painting, writing, and jumping in to new opportunities. I did a talk on the power of Process workflow at Nerd Nite Edmonton (sort of like Ted talks with beer), and now I'm a fan. Like them on Facebook. Cruise through event photos of past events. Join me at The Needle Vinyl Tavern one fine night. The next event is January 11; hint, hint I'll be there. Get a ticket before it sells out.

And I have joined Brownlee's Best Toastmaster's club, as part of a personal long-term goal that I choose to keep to myself for now. Check back with me in 2019.

Naomi is sixteen, maturing before my eyes, scaring herself with the reality that the future is truly hers now, and finally settling down taking each day as it comes. It helps that she has some stellar teachers this year. Crystal is of course taking life seriously. She also is my biggest fan, capturing some of the best shots I have of Nerd Nite. We do the MEC runs together, but not at the same pace. She has her best gait and I have mine. So we high-five at some point in the race on her return leg, and she is there to greet me at the finish line. A fine analogy of our relationship, I think.

Donald is calm, happy, and in love. His plans for a fall wedding to Tammy in 2017 are shaping up. I am so proud of them both.

Dad has entered the final phase of life with more grace than I would have credited him. The truth is that COPD will take him, and that he faces increasing frailty to the end. He loves visits, and inquires often on the welfare of all his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He tells stories, he shares family history, and provides always crystal clear insight in to life. I look forward to our visits not out of any sense of duty, but treating each visit as icing on the cake.

Icing. A dusting of snow. Sparkles. Joy.

All in all, a very fine year.

Art and I pass on our very best wishes to you all this coming year.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Managing the Mundane

Have you ever had to slog through a repetitive task that seemed to never end, struggling to keep mind and body engaged, wondering if any of it was worthwhile? Seen on a gravestone never, "Here lies a good worker."

A good part of my career is composed of managing simple, mundane, ordinary, invisible, routine tasks. I can bore an executive silly in seconds, simply by talking about my day. They know the work is important, but spare the details, please. 

There are hordes of workers like these that keep a complex, industrialized society running smoothly. They keep the lights on, the doors locked, the wastebaskets empty, and the notices flowing. Unfortunately, the few times these workers do become visible is when something goes wrong. 

Is there a way to find meaning and purpose in mundane tasks? Why, yes there is. Since 1975 Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has been studying a state of being where the entire body and mind is engaged in a task, and published a work called "Flow" to describe this state of mind. In this work, he describes an assembly line worker who repeats the same activity many times in a day. (Pick up sprocket A and insert it in to Widget B at point C). How can such a worker find significance and meaning in his work? One way is to become increasingly skilled in his task, setting up personal challenges and steadily improving his technique.

I have used this flow technique to bring a spark of joy to any task. I have experienced flow when painting, sorting, and data crunching. I've been honing my carrot peeling technique for a decade now. Flow does indeed allow time to fly by. My best paintings were completed quickly, seamlessly, and seemingly effortlessly while in a state of flow.



More recently as part of my personal transformation, I have introduced exercise as a new discipline. But discipline, "knuckling down", gritting it through, and boot-camp style isn't the way to inspire me to jump out of bed in the morning. Deep down, I have to believe there's some fun in what I choose to do. To my great relief, I found out I don't have to do burpees to be fit. I can fling myself around like a fool in Zumba if I want.



It also helps if I set medium and long term goals to train for, like the Tough Mudder that my niece invited me to in August 2015, and the Grande Cache Death Race I'm planning for now.

These days when I see an extra set of stairs I have to run up, I see an opportunity to get stronger. If I need to carry an extra five pounds of equipment, it's building my upper body strength. Every week those five pounds get lighter. I'll walk the five blocks, thank you very much. It's helping me get to where I want to be.

Energized, strong, able. 
.
Having fun.

Keeping the gears of an invisible service running smoothly.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Tikkun Olam

Word of the day Tikkun Olam. Repair the world through kind acts. Consider if there are too many people who are disinvited from the table of prosperity, they will react. As in reactionary.

Prosperity however, grows from stability.



If the disenfranchised have rejected the political establishment, perhaps it is time for direct giving, generosity. That is, by those with the most to lose from instability, chaos, anger.

I'm not using the word charity on purpose. See what Thoreau has to say about that.

The kind of giving that heals is where I come alongside my sister and put my arm around her shoulder, asking quietly, how can I help?

Charities I am considering this year include,

Kiva
Lucky Iron Fish
Homeless Connect
https://www.givedirectly.org/

Friday, June 17, 2016

Please, google, may I work for you? Thank you

Charming May Ashworth and her grandson Ben are basking in the glow of internet stardom this week, for Nan's polite google query,


Time magazine noted this viral news, and google UK was tickled pink. Here's their warm reply.

Which got me to thinking today, in my fourth month of unemployment, that it might not hurt to cast my sights wider. If I asked politely, might my application float it's way past thousands, and get google's attention?

Not that I'm beneath casting my net lower. The morning paper route is invigorating.

Casting higher again, google is a great place to dream for. What I would bring to google, I believe, is my ability to understand large systems and how they interact. I find new connections that leads to unique solutions. These may be buzzwords to some, but this is honestly how I put things together. I see a great shift in society in the next thirty years or so, and sharp companies will ride the wave of change.

This is why I think the change is inescapable:

World Population Trend


  • World population will peak
  • Our consumer economy is dependent on a steadily growing population 
How can an economy continue to prosper in the face of an aging or declining population? The consumer based model must be replaced with something else. I believe an efficiency based economic model would be ideal. Since we are dealing with fixed resources and a fixed population, the only way to get more with less is to get smarter about it. Our current throwaway generation will fade in to an annotation in history.

Our society has experienced great leaps in efficiency before with such innovations as crop rotation, mass production, and the Green revolution (fertilizer and improved seed).

Here's two leaps I've been pondering. I've got more ideas but I'll hang on to them for now.
  1. Global automated job matching
  2. Car for life
Automated Job Matching
Regional unemployment and shortage of skilled workers leads to missed potential. Efficient matching of worker to opportunity - globally - would increase world efficiency (prosperity) many times over. Search engines/algorithms are becoming increasingly skilled at reading our tastes and interests. But this potential has been barely utilized by either employer or employee. 

Advertising, interviewing, and selection is slow, and there is uncertainty whether the best matches are selected. Many great matches are missed simply because the selection process is so cumbersome, and the filtering process brutal. 

I think cooperation of some of our great search engines with the top employment sites would be a great first step to make job matching so much more efficient. 

Another required skill-set for this imagined future is the experience to set up a turnkey work camp with all the amenities, anywhere in the world. Some jobs, especially in labor, must be mobile in order to adapt to shifting world demands. Imagine if workers in these fields could know if an operation is closing in this part of the world, there's a home and a job for them even half a world away. A great deal of disruption and lost income (both for the employer and the worker) could be eliminated if these mobile work camps were quickly set up at location of the new demand.

Car for Life 
The disruptive technology of autonomous cars and the market forces I mentioned above means transportation and vehicle ownership in the next few years will be transformed. Futurist Tony Seba speaks of these coming changes. He is highly persuasive. I would add that in a limited-resource, limited-population economy based on efficiency, we will no longer "throw away" or exchange our vehicles every ten years. 

I envision a future where the small percentage of the population who would own their vehicles, will own them "for life". The intelligent car would stay busy during the day, earning it's keep so to speak, by picking up and dropping off rides. It picks up the owner to take her home at the end of the day of course. That owner would get pretty attached to her ride, I would imagine, over time. I don't know about you, but if I knew if I had one car for life, I'd customize my ride. 3-D printing will facilitate this. Parts on demand.


I won't be driving my ride either. I see all sorts of car fun emerging. 


Eyes on the road, James Corden!



Anyways, those are two ways I envision a radically different future. There's all sorts of innovation opportunities in the periphery of both ideas. I'd love also to coach the upcoming generation on how to see the big picture, how to find the new connections and opportunities, and present their ideas in a coherent form. The kids these days are poised to take over, and I wish them all success. It's a radically different world they are making.

Even ideas can be a dime a dozen. But I've got maturity, too. Just in case google is listening, here's my resume.

Thank you greatly for your time,

Janet

resume

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Self-Made Books

Some days I wonder if I have read past my contemporaries - certainly well past the young folks these days, my head so stuffed full of sage advice and wonders from a lifetime of reading, if I'm ready for roasting.

Books change one. Call them the flavor enhancers of a life well worn.

Books open up new worlds and fresh perspectives in a compact and private discourse that cannot be matched in a hundred lectures. So what is a woman like me to do, when there are few who have traveled as far or as broad?

Have you ever wondered how Marco Polo fared when he returned to his home town? Would his mother's cooking ever match the exotic fare that had passed his lips? Who of his friends could match his stories, never mind understand them?

One thing a world traveler can do is write. Those thirsty for adventure can drink deep from his experience.

A modern Marco Polo is Louis L'Amour who traveled the world as a merchant seaman, making up his own education as he went along. His memoir, "Education of A Wandering Man" includes a condensed list of must-read books. I've added his list to my own.

Here's a list of self-help books that have done the most to improve my life, in order of impact, with a short note on why they made my list.




  1. 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Covey. A tough book because it demanded a tough look at my life. I got stuck on habit three and I had to put the book down a few months. What is the one thing I'm not doing would have the greatest impact on my life? I knew what it was, and indeed it made the biggest difference. Why did I wait so long?
  2. On Writing Well by Zinsser.  I put the principles in this book in to practice, specifically crafting all my writing succinctly. Clear writing demands clear thought. Clear thought leads to purposeful action and eliminates confusion. This book changed the way I think. 
  3. The Time Paradox by Zimbardo. By simple examples, the author convinced me I'd be happier reframing my miserable past in warm nostalgia, discarding the crippling bits. The happiest people have warm memories of the past, enjoy a hedonistic present, and prudently future oriented. 
  4. The Power of Habit by Duhigg. The author offers a simple but powerful message. I now redirect my habits instead of fighting them. It's way less tiring that way. 
  5. Catch! A Fishmonger's Guide to Greatness by Crother. I used the principles in here to insert fun and energy in to a large records office. Our group and the Ministry won a recognition award for this. 
  6. Leave the Office Earlier by Laura Stack. I picked up this book when I was in a very, very busy position. Indeed I stopped all overtime by applying these principles while meeting all my deadlines. I use this book as a foundation for my time management course. 
  7. Getting Things Done by David Allen. This is a time management advanced primer. This book let me relax in the midst of a hundred tasks. Have a system; trust the system.
  8. Flow by Csikszentmihalyi. This researcher's compelling studies convinced me to find moments of flow and high creativity in everything I do from peeling a carrot to completing a painting. 
  9. Iconoclast by Berns. A validation for my out-of-the box thinking. 
There's another book on Change Management, that provides over a hundred strategies on "recipe cards" that outline when and how the strategy would be used.  But I can't find it right now.