Friday, October 14, 2016

Legos, Trains, and Haunted Houses

The Limiting Truth of Unlimited Possibilities

How to Overcome The Adversity In Your Life, One Lego At A Time

In a room, two boys are playing, each with their own Lego set. Each boy has an equal number of pieces, identical in every way.

The only difference is that one boy has the box that shows a picture of what the parts can build. It demonstrates the potential that using the particular pieces as depicted can form.

The other boy has all the same pieces in a clear, plastic baggie. He has zero guidance, no scaffolding to work from, and has an unlimited set of options in front of him.

For the first boy, we think of his options to be more limited by being given the display. While he may choose to build something unique, the probabilities are that he'll build something derivative of the display.

While he's been given a head start on what he is potentially able to build, it would seem that it also limits his creativity by creating a preset image of what should be done. One would think that this is the fallacy of expectation; that by showing what is possible, it creates limits on his creativity.

But for the other boy, the one with an unlimited set of options with what to build, how many pieces to use and for what purpose, the task is actually much more limiting.

He lacks any frame to focus his creative energy on. The limitlessness of his options actually works to hinder his creativity.

He has too many options, too many choices to make. He can build tall, he can go wide, he can make anything he imagines, and that analysis leads to a paralysis of action.

Trains In Vain

How Designers of Disneyland Overcame Physical Limitations  

Self Improvement Tips

Take a look at another example. When Walt Disney was growing up, he had a fascination with trains. 

He was so keen on trains; he made the designers of his theme park build a railroad track that circumnavigated his property line as an attraction.

When Disney was designing the park, he placed a train track that went around the perimeter of the park for people to get a tour of everything that was offered. But as the popularity of Disneyland grew, and Disney wanted to include more attractions, the property limitations placed a huge burden on the designers and architects. There was a finite amount of space and an unlimited number of options for more rides and attractions.

So what were the designers and architects to do?

If you've ever been to the California Disneyland, you've seen some of the creative solutions to these property limitations. Most likely, without even being aware of the problem in the first place.

If you've ever entered the Haunted House, you know that you walk into an octagonal room that closes behind you. As the doors close, a pre-recorded voice streams over the loudspeakers and sets the tone for what comes next.

As the tape is played, the room elongates and stretches before the audience's eyes.

But it's all an optical illusion.

What's happening is a creative solution to the limitations placed on the designers.

To add an attraction without taking away from other existing rides and structures, as well as the train that circumnavigated the perimeter of the park, the designers realized that they couldn't build upward -

- they had to build down.

So the magical stretching room is an elevator that goes underground to a tunnel that is the ride.

It was only through the limitations placed on the designers that they created one of the most memorable, popular attractions in Disneyland.

And it was because of the restrictions imposed on the developers that a solution was formed, not from them having unlimited options.

So, when you're confronted with endless options, ask yourself what are some parameters that you can work within.

What are some things that can confine you, to help you devise a plan, an option, a strategy?

Learn to set limits, you'll discover that you'll need to be more creative with them than without.

(I first read about Walt Disney, Trains, and The Haunted Mansion "Stretching Room" on the Nerd Guru blog)

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Cutting Strings

The door pushed open slowly as her fingers curled over the edge.

It was the first time I saw her that morning.

She walked into the room. Her eyes on the floor, her black hair wet and curly from the shower. She wouldn't look at me, just kept staring at the carpet that separated the two of us.

It's an ugly, old, stained carpet. The stains are from previous tenants, sure, though I know we're just as guilty to the patterns that've developed over time.

At least it's a dark colored rug, brown in fact, with darker shades mixed in at random.

Anyway, this old, ugly carpet laid before us like a gulf between a sailor and shore; all he can think about is landing in port, gathering up his gear, heading home to have a beer and, if lucky, have sex with his girlfriend or wife.

For the less lucky sailor, he'll cast off to the nearest bar and watering-hole hoping that the arrival of his ship in port will bring out the local gals; the ones interested in the guys who pursue a life on the ocean, a wanderlust that is the solitary independence of being on the open seas.

They'll look for the type of gals that say they only want what the sailor wants - a beer, a shot perhaps, than to go home to get laid maybe, but most of all to lay down with someone else, if for just a few hours - and to lose the loneliness of being an adult in this world, before the mask of self-deceit is ripped away by the intrusiveness of morning.

It was morning. And I was spinning about in my head like I did every day, scrolling through emails and unessential social media, in effect, mentally masturbating.

I was decisively indecisive over what path I was to take for the day. I knew I needed to exercise - and so too, did the dog - but I didn't  want to do anything, stressed about the normal adult things, finances, bills, work, and the usual what-not.

In other words, I was too paralyzed by fears and thoughts. I was 100% self-absorbed.

It's usually when we're at this exact moment in our lives that the universe comes along and slaps us upside our heads. The little lady that controls this thing called life (if it is a little lady - I'm sorry - I mean nothing wrong by revealing your existence) has a penchant for the dramatic, a tendency to shake the tree and see what falls. If not for her amusement, then at least for our own.

It doesn't matter to her what we've planned, the vacations, the holidays and trips to visit friends and family; nor the best time to start a family; or for the retirement for those lucky (or smart) enough to plan; the toys to buy, the stories to write - it doesn't matter, because when the little lady decides she wants to do something in our lives, we're like marionettes on a string, her hand makes us dance to the song she's singing.

I wasn't much there, not mentally present at least. As she stood, she stood by the bookcase that we had put next to the door of the bathroom, the carpet sea a gulf between us,  and I turned back to my desk, too self-absorbed to see her.

"I'm pregnant."

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

To The Barometer of Temperature - A Nightly Show Goodnight (keeping it 100)

There Are More Important Things Than Profit

One of the greatest tragedies in modern society is the fact that something of value, something that represents positive thought and opinion is subject to the whims of a profit motive.

Take Comedy Central's "The Nightly Show."

While it's hard to replace a great program like the Colbert Show (ask Steven Colbert about replacing Letterman) - The Nightly Show was a necessary infusion of viewpoints under-represented otherwise.

I didn't always find the show funny.  There were times it was boring and dull.

But there were other times it was incredibly entertaining and funny.

Most of all it tried to be fresh; it worked to present perspectives that you couldn't find on the other networks.

Today it was announced that The Nightly Show was cancelled and wouldn't air after the end of the week. 

While that may, or may not, seem like a big deal, it is.

The reason it matters is that The Nightly Show brought to attention a lot of racist and socio-economic issues that you haven't seen or heard of before.

And tonight, the cast, especially Mike Yard and Rory Albanese, ripped apart the veil that too many in an industry are willing to hold over their faces. They were willing to say basically, "fuck it, I'm now out of work anyway, so here's the truth as I see it."

In the segment "Pardon The Integration," they discussed the "N-word", it's power and influence on society and most importantly, how it still has it's power.

The segment showed that the word has it's power because it makes white people uncomfortable.

I will miss The Nightly Show.

Much like I miss Jon Stewart, Edward G. Morrow (even though I wasn't alive before he died) , Howard Zinn, Kurt Vonnegut and others (such as Mark Twain, Edgar Allen Poe) that were willing to speak truth to power.

Larry Wilmore has been willing to speak for those of us without the megaphone that what is going on is not right. He said some incredible things about the dangers of a Trump Presidency in a way that was honest and truthful without the histrionics of other shows.

Gone is the voice willing to speak when others shout.

Forgotten is the power that nonviolence wields as a hammer on the anvil of hate.

Lost somewhere is the authenticity, the genuine, for the temporary pursuit of profit.

When we leave, it doesn't matter how much paper we had or what our returns on investments carry.

What matters is how we treat people, what we make them feel, and most important, what we make them think long after we are gone.

There are more important things than a profit motive. 

How often do you discuss profits and margins with your loved ones?

How important is your 401(K) to your friends?

While they matter to you, it's not that important at the end of the day.

There are more important things than a profit motive.  

(Fuck you Comedy Central, MSNBC, Viacom and others. Yes, you have a right to make a profit, but not at the expense of truth)

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Only Way To Develop Expert Habits Is To Fail At Developing Them

Just This Once You Should Look To Fail

If you want to make a change in your life, there's only one way to do so.

If you were to go for a hike on the local trails, how'd you get started?

How about losing some weight, get in better shape and become healthier?

What's the first thing you'd do?

How about wanting to make more money?

Would you get a new job, pick up additional shifts at your existing one, or start a business?

In every example you're making a trade-off.

You're making a trade-off of something, it may be time, or money, for the idea that there's a payoff at the end. You're giving up something in order to receive some type of reward.

If you were to make a lifestyle change, such as living healthier or making more money, how would you get started?

What's the first thing you'd do?

No matter what expert habit you hope to develop, no matter what new skill you want to master, and what change you wish to see in your life, there's no fool-proof method.

Regardless of what you want to accomplish, or wish to change, there's only one way to get it accomplished.

Get started.

There's only one way to be successful.

To get started.

Will you fail?

Will you learn?

What you do with your experience(s) after you learn is up to you.

When asked how he persevered to develop the light bulb after almost 10,000 different versions failed, Edison is quoted as saying

"I didn't fail. I just found 10,000 ways that won't work."
If you want to make an effective change in your life, you need to act.

It's only through action that we learn, and through the trials and errors that we experience, is how we succeed or fail.

Another American innovator Henry Ford is quoted as saying, "whether you think you can, or cannot, you're right."

It won't be easy. It probably won't happen when you need it to, but if you try, fail and learn, you're further along than if you didn't get started in the first place.

In other words, the only way you can develop expert habits in your life is to fail at developing them.

But it's by failing that you learn what doesn't work and puts you one step closer to finding what does.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

How To Develop Expert Habits One At A Time

Develop Expert Habits One Step At A Time - That Is, Until You Find Your Shortcut

In this post, we'll discuss the process of skill acquisition and what it takes to develop expert habits, one at a time.

Master This!

Trying to develop mastery of any task or subject takes time. That's something we all know and is well understood.

But for some people, it seems simple. They make mastering a new skill or task appear effortless, but why?

What separates those individuals who can master anything quickly from the rest of us?

Growing up in Southern California, playing outside was never a question.  Every day I'd be outside running imaginary routes from the famous "Air Coryell" route tree of the early '80s Chargers.

Other days I spent dribbling around the multiple defenders I could imagine, scoring a goal off a self-pass from the walls of the indoor venue that the San Deigo Soccers like Julie V. played in.

Whatever I did, it was to emulate my sports heroes, and I spent hours trying to hone my skills.  One of my kid brothers was so smooth at acquiring new skills that it drove me crazy.

I'd spend hours in the driveway shooting hoops, kicking a ball against the retaining wall in our front yard or working out in the pool - only to be shown up by my kid brother. He'd ask what I was doing; I'd tell him, and he'd effortlessly perform better than I could.

On top of being taller and better looking, being able to pick up a skill or task and outperform me with little effort, after hours of me sweating, just didn't seem fair.

It wasn't.

He had an edge - he was able to watch me and could identify something in my actions about what worked and what didn't.  So he focused on what did work and discarded what didn't.

When 20 > 80 - What To Do About Efficient Learning 

Lately, there is a whole cottage industry of experts finding ways to speed up the process of skill acquisition from novice to intermediate to expert.

Tim Ferriss, for example, is the author of The 4-Hour Work Week (among others) and has reinvented his career by studying and showing others how to accelerate the learning curve. Much like my kid brother, he focused his efforts on the tasks that worked and discarded the others.

It's a school of thought that there has to be a shortcut to expertise.  That there is a more effecient mode of learning than countless hours of dedicated practice (more on this below).

Part of the philosophy behind Tim's strategy is the belief that there are repetitive processes that masters learn over time that shortcut the usual process of skill acquisition to mastery.

It's a philosophy based in part on the Pareto Principle, otherwise known as the 80/20 rule.

The Pareto Principle builds on a Roman philosopher that grew peas centuries ago. He observed that of all the peas planted in and around Rome, 20% of all the plants yielded 80% of every harvest.

This theory has been tested over millennia and in a number of industries and states that 80% of your productivity returns comes from 20% of your efforts.

In order to find a shortcut to mastery, first, we have to understand what mastery is and how it is a task best acquired.

Seminole Moment

At Florida State University it can get hot, humid and steamy. Unless you're a glutton for being fed upon by mosquitos the size of buzzards, spending a lot of time indoors seems the sane route.

It's under the gaze of fluorescent and LCD lights with air conditioning that K. Anders Ericsson, a man who wears a tight beard colored the same as the salt and pepper hair on his head, specializes on Cognitive Behavior at Florida State University.

Originally from the University of Sweden, his research has developed the concept of the 10,000-hour rule of mastery, which states that it takes 10,000 hours of highly dedicated, extremely focused practice to become an expert at any task.

Check Mate - How Learning To Overcome Different Strategies Actually Works

In one published study, Ericsson references the research by renowned psychologist Adrianus de Groot. In his research, de Groot, who was a master a chess himself, studied how world chess masters studied and acquired new tactics.

The chess masters were asked to announce their moves aloud when undertaking an unknown move or unfamiliar tactic.

What de Groot discovered wasn't that the chess players had an expansive memory any greater than anyone else, or that they possessed an incredible speed of cognition, rather the chess masters possessed a unique speed of tasks and tactics they were already familiar.

So the most revealing aspect of the study wasn't the acuity of the chess players, rather it was their ability and speed at which they operated under previously mastered stratagems.

In other words, they found shortcuts in how they responded to new and unfamiliar situations from hours of dedicated practice.

This study shows that mastery isn't the capacity to think on your feet quickly, or be able to process new information and cogently respond, rather the rapidity at which one can act on tasks that they have already mastered.

" performance is viewed as an extreme case of skill acquisition" 
(Proctor & Dutta, 1995.  Richman, Gobet, Staszewski & Simon, 1996; VanLehn 1996) 
What this research tells us about developmental processes and skill acquisition is that when we try to develop expert habits, it takes time, highly focused dedication to the techniques and refinement before mastery.

Once expertise of any particular task is achieved then, it next becomes a process of finding the shortest route to the desired outcome. This is where labels like "genius," expert," and "master" become attached to someone.

It's because through these highly acquired tactics and skills, performing the functions appear to be effortless. My brother could watch me and see what worked, discard the rest and had mastered the skills faster than I did through traditional trial and error.

The Balance Necessary For Mastery

So why could my brother pick up skills faster than I did?

He was able to dedicate his focus on the 20% of my actions - and those of others performing the same tasks - that resulted in the 80% of the desired results.

For some people, they can intuitively pick up what works effectively simply by watching others perform a similar task.

For most of us clods, it takes plenty of time of highly dedicated practice to learn how to develop and acquire the skills necessary.

What we find is that the two schools of thought regarding skill development and mastery should be in perfect harmony.  A balance between the need to devote massive amounts of time to highly dedicated practice - the 10,000-hour rule - and the ability to achieve mastery faster.

Somewhere in between the 10,000-hour rule and the Pareto Principle is the sweet spot we should strive for then.

By finding that balance of devoted, dedicated practice, while focusing on what yields the greatest results regularly, we're able to fulfill our goal of developing expert habits one at a time.

Do what the experts do, find what works for them, discard the rest and get started on your own road to developing expert habits.