journalofnothing

Archive for June, 2010|Monthly archive page

Trust and Doubt

In Uncategorized on June 11, 2010 at 1:50 pm

“What would you do if you weren’t certain?”

This is the opening line of the play Doubt. by John Patrick Shanley.  I’ve written about this before, but feel compelled to do so again because of the oil spill and the financial regulations bill being debated right now by Congress.

Over and over again I see people in the news representing anyone who has a financial stake in the outcome– except for the environmental people- act as if there is no room for doubt.  Maybe they are going overboard in their doubt, but the environmentalists seem to at least use their experience and data.  Some of them have taken the media out into the oil.  Maybe the media is just better at choosing level headed environmentalists.

But from BP, Wall Street, and even business owners in the Gulf, I hear the same phrase.  “We’ll take care of it.”

Really?

BP’s ads are simply ridiculous mirroring other comments from their CEO.  They have no idea how to fix this.

From Wall Street and members of Congress who believe in “capitalism,” we are told over and over again that we need Wall Street to thrive and they will do the right thing.

From the people representing the beaches that need tourism to survive, we hear the beaches are fine. C’mon down.

Here’s what I know about doubt.  Every study I’ve seen, every book I’ve read says some level of doubt is a good thing.

One famous study about doubt showed that people considered the best at what they do have doubt about outcomes.  People considered mediocre, do not have a healthy level of doubt.  They truly believe that they can make things work, all evidence to the contrary.

Physicist Richard Feynman once said that he loved science because it has doubt built into the process.  He said it gives you “the freedom to doubt.”

Here’s the issue for me.  If you took money out of these equations, would these people really say “We’ll take care of it.”  Would they really tell you keep drilling?  Would they really say plan your vacation at a beach that has oil offshore?  Would they really say that derivatives are worth the risk?

I suspect they’d say “We’ll do the best we can.”  They’d really say “All of this is unprecedented.  We need time to figure this out.”

But because time in so many people’s lives has, in fact, become money, they cannot afford to do it.  Taking time to plan, to inspect, to adjust.  And people will lose their livelihoods, lose everything they had…and that is tragic.

What I don’t understand about the oil spill is why is this not treated with the same urgency in doing what we can (protecting the shores and animals and therefore the livelihoods of people) as the financial crisis or 9/11?  Even if we can’t solve the leak problem, why aren’t we doing more to stem the consequences.  I suspect we have no idea how to put Humpty Dumpty back together again, but we certainly could do more to limit the damage.  We are more afraid of losing money than we are of losing Nature’s gifts to us and the livelihoods of the people who need its bounty to live on.

Doubt is a good thing.  We need it.  But we need it most at the front end, when we’re planning, testing, preparing.  But in each case, it seems because time is money, we allowed that part of the process to proceed to quickly and behind closed doors.

Money is energy.  Money cannot fix things precisely because it is only energy.  Money doesn’t know anything.  It doesn’t provide information.

If work is energy knowing what to do and doing it, if work is fuel doing what matters, then we need doubt built into our processes.  One of the best lessons I heard over and over in my interviews was “If you don’t know, ask!”  I would add that if you don’t know, find out.

I don’t know what the answers are to any of these problems.  What I know is people are too polarized and I believe that polarization is driven by over exuberance or fear.

We need people who doubt not only each other, but ourselves, who ask questions when they don’t know.  But it seems everything has gone the other way.  Reporters are not given the time or resources they need to professionally doubt and pursue true stories.  Regulators do not have the staff and the power to do what they are paid to do– doubt.

Thomas Paine said:

“For were the impulses of conscience clear, uniform and irresistibly obeyed, man would need no other lawgiver; but that not being the case, he finds it necessary to surrender up a part of his property to furnish means for the protection of the rest; and this he is induced to do by the same prudence which in every other case advises him, out of two evils to choose the least. Wherefore, security being the true design and end of government, it unanswerably follows that whatever form thereof appears most likely to ensure it to us, with the least expense and greatest benefit, is preferable to all others.”

We need government and the press to doubt for us.  It seems that has not been the case.  We all need to doubt and doubt when it matters most– as we enter into risk and innovation, not after.  And when things fall apart, we need people to say “I was wrong.”

Entire generations are being raised to be “positive” and “confident.”  But I believe the consequence of that is that it kills doubt.  It creates a false sense of ability and expectation.  It leads to mediocrity or worse– uninformed risk taking.

And what we’ve all seen, what Alan Greenspan said is the best predictor of the economy, is the transitions from irrational exuberance and fear.  The bubbles and collapses.  The spills.

We seem to want to live in and witness extremes.  To borrow a term from Malcolm Gladwell, these are the true Outliers from everyday life.  We are entertained by, transfixed on, the drama.  We are addicted to energy in every form.

But the tragedies of the past two years make my point for me.  Without information, energy will consume us through our own consumption of it.  Without fuel that knows what matters and how to do it, we are all at risk.

Trust and doubt are opposite sides of the same coin.  Trust and doubt are a healthy combination of energy and information.  Exuberance and fear are emotional and as such are merely energy.

As such, exuberance and fear are not as Paine said “impulses of conscience clear, uniform and irresistibly obeyed.”  Time is their enemy.

We need government because we are emotional, impulsive beings.  We need capitalism or some form of it to thrive.

Trust and doubt allow for the time as UConn Coach Geno Auriemma said, to figure things out.

I don’t trust people who say “Ill take care of it,” unless I know they have done it before.

But when there’s doubt, let’s figure it out together.

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Easy Speed vs. Pulling a Fast One

In Uncategorized on June 8, 2010 at 10:21 pm

About fifteen years ago, I met Jeff Rouse, an Olympic Gold Medalist and World record holder in the 100 meter backstroke.  I interviewed him about his success, not just as a swimmer, but also as a person.  Almost everyone I’ve talked to who knew Jeff told me what a great guy he was.  He was one of the first of over 600 world class performers I’ve interviewed since then.  We became great friends and he went on to win two more gold medals in Atlanta.

While everyone I interviewed has their own unique story, some of these people had something very special to share with me, something I will always remember, things I always go back to when I work with people seeking my help.

Jeff told me about Easy Speed.  Easy Speed is going 100% of your maximum speed while exerting what feels like 80% of effort.  I’ve heard great golfers use this exact same equation.  I’ve seen heart surgeons, writers, musicians exhibit this easy speed in their work as well.  I have come to believe it is how we are designed by Nature.  But Jeff named it for me.

I will be starting a new blog called Easy Speed on wordpress (http://easyspeed.wordpress.com)  to go back to my roots.  I will continue to do this blog where I can be more big picture.  When Jeff described Easy Speed to me, we got in an argument because he said to me it happens by accident.  Not knowing much about swimming or about him, I challenged him.  “I can teach you to train for Easy Speed,” I told him.  He wasn’t pleased.

My blog Easy Speed will be focused on this, teaching people about Easy Speed, no matter what they do.  I hope you will check it out.  I will make my first post early next week.

But I am fascinated by Nature, by its design.  What Jeff did for me was explain something to me  I’d been watching on the Outer Banks– the Easy Speed of pelicans.  the pelicans fly along the coast surfing the wind in the curl of the waves about to break.  On film, they appear to be motionless, subtle movements only as they feel the wind.  Easy speed.  Charles Lindbergh once said:

“Building an airplane is easier than the evolutionary process of the flight of a bird.  I’d rather be around birds.”

I keep this in mind when I work with people, especially when I watch them perform.  Easy speed is nature unleashed doing what it is meant to do.  I thank Jeff everyday for telling me about it.

But my heart is breaking watching the calamity in the Gulf.  Brown pelicans covered in oil.

I can’t help but think about the difference between easy speed and pulling a fast one, taking shortcuts, dishonesty.  We’ve been hit with too many of the people overseeing our institutions taking shortcuts.  I can only think they have never experienced easy speed.  If they had, they would never choose its opposite.

So I am recommitting to share easy speed with the world as best I can.  I know how to teach it to people who want to learn it.  I am tired of shortcuts.  I’ve never seen a look in the eyes of people pulling fast ones like I have of the people experiencing easy speed, amazed at how easy speed can be.

I made a video of my time with Jeff, of his experience learning to train for easy speed and will share clips of him on the new blog.  I hope you will invite me into your world to share and interact, and like many people do, challenge me.  To quote a professional hockey player I am currently working with “That sounds too easy.”

Exactly.

The content will be on how to understand and achieve easy speed no matter what you do, using the interviews of the performers I’ve talked with over the years and seeking new people to talk to.  In a sense, this will be the first “how to” project I have undertaken publicly.  I hope you will join the conversation.

For those of you who have visited this blog from Ted Spiker’s marathon virgin, I cannot promise to be as funny or enlightening as Ted is, but I hope to engage you with the idea of easy speed.

I’ll close with this.  Easy speed demands, no, is the definition, of doing work.  It is mastery, not a shortcut.  As the philosopher Gademer said:

“Relaxation is not the lack of effort, merely the absence of tension.”

The Dream

In Uncategorized on June 5, 2010 at 1:40 pm

I watched faithfully America:  The Story of Us that recently aired on The History Channel.  Two things jumped out at me.

First, it was a very well done program like most History Channel productions, but the Bank of America commercials sadly were produced to be too much like the program itself.

Second was a comment about George Washington made by Mack Machowitz, a former Navy Seal:

“He committed to this idea of standing on your own.  America is a dream and the only way to go get this dream is to show up and bring your very best to that moment and not stop until you bring that very dream into existence.”

Immediately a line from Gladiator  jumped into my mind:

“Marcus Aurelius had a dream that was Rome.  This is not it. THIS IS NOT IT!”

The most compelling part of the series was watching the ebb and flow between the creativity to solve problems and then problems caused when the creativity was unleashed in the name of “progress.”

I believe in capitalism especially the idea that is the foundation of it as articulated by P. J. O’Rourke in his book about Adam Smith:

“The property which every man has is his own labour, as it is the original foundation of all other property, it is the most sacred and inviolable.”  Property rights are not the invention of the rich to keep the poor people off their property.  Property rights are the deed we have to ownership of ourselves.”

In other words, poor people have the same property rights everyone else does.

This idea, though, has been turned on its head.  It has come to mean to own things, to own stuff.  Along with that is the social status that is also a part of Adam Smith’s capitalism.

Watch the news, check the internet, listen to what people talk about everyday.  I can only repeat, “This is not it!”

Check out David McCullough’s Jefferson Lecture When in the Course of Human Events and see what he believes the dream was, what John Adams said about his decision to go to law school:

“It will be hard work…but I shall have the liberty to think for myself.”

I would change this a bit based on my research:

“I shall have the liberty to think and feel for myself.”

In today’s environment this is hard to do.  We are surrounded and overwhelmed by marketing and sales pitches, by politics, by disasters of potentially epic proportions (financial, health care, and the oil spill).

I get asked all the time about motivation.  How do I motivate myself to do something that is good for me?  The real question we should be asking ourselves is why in the world is it so hard to do the what is best for us?

My answer to everyone I talk to is to remember the Dream George Washington seems to have had.  Why do I trust Washington on this? Because he walked away from political power.  When he left the presidency, King George asked what Washington would do then.  He was told Washington would return to his farm.

“If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world,” King George reportedly said.

Want to be motivated, want that inner drive?  Then walk away from the illusion of power and control, of a world that demands your energy to make money for people who gamble it instead of invest it, from energy that has no idea what work is worth doing.  Walk towards the discovery of who you are, who you can be.  Walk away from “playing the game” that really means covering your ass, that turns wonder into worry, and walk towards play and the power to do what matters.  Let go of the external pressure of potential and discover the promise inside you, that is you.  Not a comparison of who you can be relative to others,  but as Adams said to have the liberty to think for yourself.  Or as was said about Washington, to show up and stand on your own.

When we do that, when we all know how to stand on our own together, when we have ownership of ourselves individually and as a people, then, and only then, can we understand what Archimedes meant:

“When we have a place to stand on, we can raise the world.”

That is what Washington did.  That is the American Dream.