Once upon a time, as I waited my turn for some minor surgery (major for me, minor for everyone else), my doctor stopped by the gurney and asked how I was doing. “Fine”, I lied, and then added “More importantly, how are YOU doing?” His simple reply -“Balanced.”
I once knew a salesman who had a baseball cap emblazoned with the words “We screw the other guy, and pass the savings on to you.” Those words could easily represent a guiding principle for the Internet. Nothing, most of us realize, is really free. The goal is to get someone other than you to pay for it.
Everyone wants to be successful. Examples of success are everywhere, and you spend a great deal of time and money to take it all in. Lists of “successful people” usually include actors, musicians, writers, CEO’s, world leaders; all of them pass through your success filter and earn your attention. Although you study success compulsively, there are 5 very good reasons you will not be successful.
There are two kinds of people in this world. There are those who will wait in line for 24 hours or more to get one of the first new iPhones, and those who will not. For the record, I am of the “will not” persuasion. I confess that I am not completely immune to the Apple spell; I expect my new pre-ordered iPhone 6 to arrive in the mail sometime in October. I am hoping it won’t be bent during shipping #Bendgate.
You are a professional big game hunter in the remote grasslands of South Africa. You are widely known and respected for a reason; you are very, very good at what you do. On this particular day, a young trainee who has shown great promise accompanies you.
“If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room.”
No one is sure who actually said this, but that hasn’t stopped lots of folks from quoting it. It’s often used to emphasize the importance of surrounding yourself with smart people, putting your own ego aside and not letting yourself be intimidated. All of this will allegedly lead to great things. But what if the room is smarter than all of you?
Whether you’re a brain surgeon or a postal clerk, you count on your training and experience to help you recognize certain patterns and respond appropriately. The human brain that makes this possible is a living magnum opus, and the more we delve into its inner workings, the more awe it inspires. One of the most enlightening and sometimes frustrating paths toward understanding the brain is to try and replicate it. Depending on your perspective, this is either “reverse engineering”, or “research and development.”
You can be sure the NCAA Basketball Tournament Brackets, flying under the banner “March Madness” have become a fixture of our culture when none other than the Sage of Omaha, Warren Buffett himself, joins in. This year, Warren offered a headline-grabbing prize of a billion dollars (as in nine tantalizingly arrayed zeroes preceded by a $1) for a perfect bracket. Nearly 9 million people accepted the challenge. About 12 hours into the tournament, every last one of them was eliminated.
Irony is defined as:
a) A process for removing wrinkles from a dress shirt
b) A metal prosthesis connecting the femur and the tibia
c) Something humorous based on contradiction
d) All of the above
Bad is more powerful than good. That’s not what you wanted to hear, but it’s true. Really smart people, like psychology professor Daniel Kahneman, have studied this extensively and proven it to the satisfaction of a bunch of other smart people.
The magazine pages are flipped too quickly for comprehension, punctuating the silence with a metronomic predictability. The familiar vibration of a hidden cell phone, demoted for now to a mere annoyance, briefly draws the focus of everyone’s attention. Fluorescent lighting creates a sickly pallor on the faces of the room’s six occupants, somehow complementing the stale odor of hope and fear that taints the air. Every tap of foot, crossing of leg, shifting of weight, clearing of throat – every simple, benign movement is somehow magnified by the slowly building tension. The slow creep of time in this small room mocks the laws of physics.
If you think your boss (assuming you still have one these days) is a micro-manager who constantly has you under the microscope, you can probably summon up some empathy for President Obama. One of the most visible “new hires” of these trying economic times, he survived a strenuous interview process to land a prime position, relocation and benefits included. Politics aside, Obama began his new job in an unprecedented time, bringing his charisma and promise of change to an American people who were hammered by looming bank failures, double-digit unemployment, and the escalating expense, in dollars and lives, of at least two overseas wars. It comes as no surprise that the clothes he (or his wife) wears, the amount of grey on his temples, the wrinkle-count of his face, the words he utters, and even the status of his jump-shot are chronicled daily in great detail. Analysts with sophisticated computer software and nothing better to do have discovered that Obama’s favorite phrase is “Let me be perfectly clear.”
If you are like most of the people reading this, the term “network management” conjures images of blinking, multi-colored lights and little black boxes sprouting wires in all directions. The network itself is a paranormal entity with a soul of its own that inhabits this aggregate of metal and plastic. This beast meditates to the sacred exclamation of a 60-Hz Aum in the presence of incense vaguely reminiscent of burning phenolic. Over the years, numbed by the recurrent paranoia of catastrophic loss, I have become conditioned to trust “the network” with the precious output of my engineering efforts. On those occasions when it appears to have failed me, a plea to the IT helpdesk usually begets the same opening question – “Did you save your data?” This is not reassuring. After 35 years in the data storage industry, I know too much.
What are you worth?
If you are an engineer like me, your first inclination is probably to think of a number with a dollar sign in front of it. When the courts are forced to deal with this issue to resolve a civil suit, they begin with lost earnings potential. Less tangible things like emotional support for a family may be argued based on previously resolved cases, which explains why lawyers have so many books. There is no doubt that this is a question which intrigues most of us, and one for which there are many approaches. There is even a website which, with mock seriousness, promises to assign a unique retail price to each human who fills out the online survey.
Last night I watched a Peyton Manning interview, right after he had rescued yet another football game from the fire. Peyton appears to love the “test” of the NFL two-minute drill, where over the years he has repeatedly faced difficult odds and delivered victoriously. He is also talented, good looking, humble and articulate, much like the others on his home planet, wherever that might be. For the rest of us earthlings, tests mostly represent an opportunity to expose our weaknesses and reaffirm our secret belief that we are, in fact, a demonstrable failure
I can forgive the girls who broke my heart, forget the embarrassing moments in the high school cafeteria, and even overlook the exams I failed. Doing so allows me to bask in the glow of the good stuff from almost any era of my life. The 60’s, the latter part of which heralded my graduation from high school, are no exception. Sergeant Pepper tuned up his Lonely Hearts Club Band, Psycho was the top grossing movie, unemployment was around 5%, and the Dow hit a peak of 685. The families of the neighborhood were clamoring for my lawn-mowing and leaf-raking services; my first job was taking shape.