Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The write side of the brain

Since I quit eating sweets, my brain needs another source of joy. So I learn. I enrolled to online courses, now I do two in parallel. I eat sweets occasionally, to be fair, but at most a few times a day. But it is learning that gives me the kick, I practice a small language every day, I finish my assignments for the essay writing course on time, I practice and practice. “No pain, no gain” says the workout mantra which emphasizes the less important part of the experience. Learning and practicing can be sheer joy, let me share my examples.

Public speaking. I have been a member of Toastmasters for two years. It is a international organization that has as many members worldwide as half of Amsterdam. Its goal is to help its members become confident speaking in the public; the fear of public speaking is presumed to be worse than the fear of death. I didn’t find it dreadful when I joined the club, I was comfortable to speak my mind in front of people, but they had difficulty to follow my thoughts that jumped from topic to topic. It was a gradual progress, I hardly noticed it, but I am more confident now. The club has a strict schedule, every evening is structured the same way, we clap a lot. First it felt as alien as stumbling upon a gathering of the Alcoholics Anonymous. Then I got used to it, even realized how much this warm atmosphere helped me: I could experiment with seemingly stupid ideas, I could make mistakes, and all I got was a round of applause and a nice piece of feedback what I could do differently next time.

Drawing. I am not a Pablo Picasso (in his early years), but I am above the stickman-only level. It is not my hobby, but I had periods in my life when I carried sketchbook with me and my then favorite pen; I sat on a bench and made a quick sketch of a fallen oakleaf or an old lady in a purple coat feeding her snowwhite poodle. Well, showing these drawings to my friends would have been embarrassing. Then I heard of an application, Paper by 53. I thought drawing applications are for illustrators, for those who can draw, like a racket is for those who can play tennis or at least intend to learn it and take it seriously. After ten minutes spent with Paper, I had to admit this was something different. I don’t know if you ever had this feeling of immersing in drawing for an hour, then you come back to this sobering world, look at what you have done, and say, meh. It is not fair that so much effort adds up to so little. When I looked at my sketches with Paper, I felt the opposite, they looked better than what I had been prepared to see.

Drawing again. When I first encountered the book Drawing on the right side of the brain, I was skeptical. I didn’t expect more than what similar books on the same shelf had to offer: deep knowledge on how to make my aura colorful or how to have a happy life in 3-4-5 easy steps with just five minutes every morning before my breakfast cereal. I tried the first exercise in the book. Then I looked at my drawing and it made my jaw drop. Impossible, I couldn’t draw this well. And this jaw-dropping moment repeated more times while doing the exercises. I haven’t become a Pablo Picasso (in any of his years), but I enjoy drawing now and I am usually satisfied with the result.

Where is a toastmasters club for writing? What is the “write side of the brain” method? I have been looking for it, and I still don’t know. I know there are tons of books on how to write (I have a shelf full of them). There are courses on all sorts of writing from academic to creative to script writing. Writers’ groups, National Novel Writing Month, and tons of tons of advice, “Just keep writing” being the number one of them. Oh boy. I want to have that jaw-dropping experience when I jump and yell, Impossible, I can’t write this well. I want others to have this experience too. Are you in? If so, let me know.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

A taste of majority

The master does not hit his slave anymore, the manager lives in harmony with his people. Our modern age reinvented the pyramid, organizational consultants never stop preaching the difference between management and leadership. The chain of command belongs to the past, like the steam locomotive and printed books.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The dirty secret of being funny

We sit on the cozy couch, watch soccer players or politicians, and we nudge our partner, “hey, I could do this too”. There are some professions though that we are less confident about, we probably would not climb the stage, make fun of ourselves, and enjoy being laughed at. Being a comedian seems to be more challenging than being a soccer player or a politician.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The tiger and the manager

A few companies ago I had a wise old manager, the big belly of Buddha, the white beard of Obi van Kenobi, and the management skills of Steve Jobs... no, Jeff Bezos, no, he was an experienced guy anyway. He invited me for a beer one afternoon (I'm not sure if Kenobi would do that). I asked him what his top priority was (this is a question managers eat and drink). "I have a bunch of great people," he answered, "I'm working on how to set them up for success." What a noble soul, I thought, he's obsessed by how to make others successful. We tasted our craft beer, it was bitter, so it must've been excellent; I shivered. He continued, "People are like tigers, they have a lot of power without direction. How can you use that power?"

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Across the Authentic Ocean -- why you don't want to be true to yourself

I wish I lived in a softer world where I could jump around without bumping into the sharp edges of the cupboard or the windowsill. A world where I can be myself, express myself freely without a fear of harsh consequences, without people punishing me solely for being who I am. The world as we see it is far from this ideal. No coincidence we fall so easily for promises of such a wonderland. The hardest lesson we learned as children was the difference between the land of fairy tales and the land of the angry neighbor. It's not much easier as adults either, we're just more used to it, but we are willing to pay a fortune to get a taste of that other world. This is the business model of movies, drugs, and religions: they take us to Utopia.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Digging deeper in garbage

Burger is not the first on the menu, because it starts with a B. Crafting a menu has its science based on what thousands of customers selected previously. Wherever you see items on a shelf, tooth paste and pop music magazines, you can be sure a team has already analyzed what people had selected. Then you bite into that burger and find the onion spongy, you leave it on the plate. You try a new brand of tooth paste, but its too strong, so you end up not using, off to the garbage bin it goes after a month of hesitation. Is there a big team analyzing what's left on the plate and what half-full packages land in the garbage? Yuck.

Things have a lifecycle just like a relationship. They arrive on the shelf fresh and new and sexy, they feel at least a bit different than anything you ever touched and tasted. You look at it from the corner of your eye, it's a teasing glimpse, you are not committed yet. You take it from the shelf, ready to put it back in case it's too pricey, not organic enough, too this or not enough that. Hm, shall we try it? Maybe. It finds a cozy place on top of your cart between a sliced bread and a pair of good old grey socks. You drag your prey home, take a first bite. It tastes a bit different than back then in the shop, it's slightly salty, not suave enough. Maybe try again later. You get used to after a while, it becomes a part of your life, like sliced bread or the annoying bark of the dog in the neighborhood. Time passes and on a sad Saturday afternoon you realize the story is over. If you had more sensitive ears, you could hear the thing squeak as your hand moves it to the garbage bin. Plupf. It finds a pathetic spot between a rotten slice of bread and a sock with a hole.

Some relationships last decades until death do the parties part. Other relationships finish as a one night stand or just a wistful glimpse on the bus. It's the same with things. We watch movies about how a boy and a girl meet each other, fall in love, marry, and live happily ever after. These stories energize us, we hold our partners hand stronger on the street, we quickly send a text message "I love you". Movies about divorce, death, and loss are far less popular. They are about a period after the peak in the lifecycle of a relationship. Again, it's the same with things. Shopping stats, software applications that deal with recommendation are sexy. Researching what people left on their plates or threw out of their lives? "I'm an expert on decay" -- not the perfect pick-up line.

Your first conscious thought after your gut reaction is you can't learn anything new from old stuff. It doesn't matter how we learn what items most customers prefer, whether we learn it by what they select or by what they get rid of. If people prefer Dent-o-dream to Mouth Magic, it doesn't matter if we learn it by seeing in the stats more purchases of Dent-o-dream, or we find more half-full tubes of Mouth Magic in household garbage. But this thinking is wrong. Purchasing more Dent-o-dream means it looks more appealing, it has an elegant thin tube and a playful picture of a unicorn on it, it has better placed ads, it's advertised with an actress who has bigger tits than the competitor. Purchasing more Dent-o-dream does not necessarily mean people actually like it more. An expedition to the garbage can show us what people actually think after the honey-moon period is over. If Mouth Magic had the best ads ever with the biggest tits ever, but it tastes horseradish mixed with horse dung, annoyed housewives and bachelors and students would toss it to the trash can without hesitation. Garbage tells us the real story.

Exploring garbage is interesting not only for market researchers. It has a symbolic meaning too. The Western way of thinking tends to understand the world in big terms. What is your biggest achievement? What is your wildest dream? What was your most epic failure? These are the questions asked at a job interview, these are the questions you ask when you at a party when introduced to your partner's colleague, these are the questions you ask yourself. This is Dent-o-dream thinking, it considers what looks sexy. Even the biggest failure is related to something big you wanted to accomplish and failed. For a change, you could have a look at the other end of the lifecycle of things that's closer to decay. You could approach the garbage in your life with curiosity. Explore what you do when you're too tired to be a top performer. Explore how you waste your time. Explore what you've left on your plate. The bigger part of life is not golden nuggets in the sunshine, the bigger part is leftover. It's time to make friends with it.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The slow success of Holacracy

I'm so excited about this new idea, I can't wait to give it a try -- after a few friends have tried it and found it okay. This is the usual way of thinking in business. Managers are eager to find solutions to their problems, they'd call a tarot consultant to help in a difficult decision if they are desperate enough,