Friday, November 14, 2014

Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking

Inspired by the book "Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking" by Susan Cain

Steve was a quiet guy.  To get out of talking, he became a monk and took a vow of silence.  At his monastery, monks had an annual review where they were allowed to say two words.  After his first year, he was asked "What would you like to say using your two words?"  Steve replied "Food Cold".   
At his second annual review, once again he was asked "What would you like to say using your two words?"  Steve replied "Bed hard"
His 3rd year passed and again the abbot asked him "What would you like to say using your two words?"
Steve said "I quit."  The abbot replied, "I'm not surprised.  Ever since you got here, you've done nothing but complain"

What is an introvert?
Why is it hard being an introvert?
How can we help introverts?

What is an Introvert

Introverts don't have a social disorder.  They just respond differently to social stimulation.  Instead of being energized by intense social interaction, they prefer a trickle charge; which they get from alone time or maybe with a close, trusted friend.

1/3 to 1/2 of the population are introverts.  There's a good chance there many of us are introverts.

How can you tell if you might be a redneck...er...introvert?
  • You might be an introvert if you enjoyed timeout as a child.
  • You might be an introvert if one of your favorite games is solitaire.
  • You might be an introvert if you can’t understand what’s so bad about solitary confinement.
  • You might be an introvert if you like it when the librarian shushes people in the library.
Introverts are just one type of person.  As you know, there are two types of people in the world: Those that divide people into two types and those that don't.

Actually, the two types are introverts and extroverts, but in reality, we all have a little bit of introvert and extrovert in us and each of us lies somewhere on the spectrum.

Introverts may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas.  They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues and family.  They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation.  They tend to dislike conflict.  Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions.

Why is it hard to be an introvert?

Society identifies two types of people: extroverts and people that aren't extroverts.

It wasn't always this way.  When our communities were smaller and tighter knit, it was your reputation and character that mattered.  With the industrial age, our cities got larger.  It was hard to establish a reputation, so the outspoken extrovert got the job.

In our extroverted world, the extroverts typically end up being in charge.  But there's a problem with this.  While we are most likely to agree with the most outspoken person in the group, research shows that we tend to agree with them even when they are wrong.  Besides being wrong, we tend to ignore the introvert.

This is unfortunate since introverts tend to be more intelligent and creative.  Research shows that introverts make better leaders because they allow their employees to run with their ideas instead of suppressing creativity.

How to help an introvert

Nurture the introvert inside of you.  Embrace quiet solitude, let your mind wander and dream so that you can have amazing thoughts.  Amazing things happen when the noise of the world is shut out and the mind is given a chance to work.

But, remember:
How many introverts does it take to change a light bulb?  Only one, but 3 others show up with a light bulb; they forgot to tell anyone their plans.

Introverts are awesome, they just keep it to themselves.

Don't be like Steve the monk, taking a vow of silence and then sound like a complainer when you say your two words.

How many extroverts does it take to change a light bulb?  Only one, but they only change it if the light is going to shine on them.

For your extroverted side, remember to resist the temptation to hog the spotlight.  Identify the introverts around you.  Listen to them, and let them be creative.

Summary

Steve discovered he was an introvert.  He just didn't need much social interaction.  He found it hard to make it in our society that emphasizes and rewards extroversion.  Steve joined Toastmasters to improve his extroverted side.  His club members found him clever, smart and funny.  At first, they weren't sure if Steve liked them because he avoided small talk after the meetings.  They discovered that he did like them.  How did they know?  Instead of looking at his own shoes, Steve looked at their shoes.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Staying in Shape - Should you do CrossFit?

While walking the dogs today, I came across a group training for a Spartan Race.  They had their obstacle course set up and were really pushing themselves.  When it comes to staying in shape, it seems many think "more is better".  I decided to do a little analysis on the different approaches to staying in shape.  Call it science or math, but my analysis agrees with my experience over 50+ years.

Imagine you have achieved your ideal physical condition.  You're at a perfect weight, muscle tone, strength, etc.  To celebrate, you decided to take it easy for 100 days.  What happens?  If you did nothing, your muscles would waste away, or atrophy.  (see figure)


Of course, we are never completely inactive.  The next figure shows that our muscles would atrophy until a certain point sustained by pushing buttons on our remote controls, getting up off the sofa, opening the refrigerator door, lifting forks to our mouths, etc.  


But we miss being in shape, so every weekend we go crazy.  We hike, do yard work, ride our bike, play tennis, soccer, basketball, etc.  The figure below shows that we are doing better than our couch potato days, but still not to our ideal because we atrophy during the week.

 We make an effort and commit a little time on a regular basis.  Hit the gym 3 days a week or play tennis or whatever.  It's much less exercise than what we did on the weekend, but we keep atrophy in check and finally maintain our ideal condition (see figure).


This should be good enough for you, but then you watch an episode of American Ninja Warrior and hear your friends talk about the upcoming Spartan Race and Mud Run.  You can do it!!!  You decide to go hard core and join a local CrossFit gym.  You're working out harder than you ever have before.  It feels good!!!  After about a month, you get hurt.  You have to stop working out for a few weeks (while your muscles atrophy).  Then BAM, you're back in the gym KILLING it!!!  You get back to your peak and then you hurt yourself again.  With atrophy, you're on your way back to couch potato.  Good Job!!!  (See Figure)

So what's it going to be for you?

Friday, September 5, 2014

I want to be the Pelican

Last weekend I took my sons camping at Two Harbors campground on Catalina Island.  We enjoyed our view of the harbor from our campsite and enjoyed snorkeling in the clear water.  On our last day we hiked over to the "other" harbor.  We watched the pelicans "dive-bombing" into the water.  I don't think I've ever seen so many pelicans fishing.  We were amazed at how they could spot a fish from high up, dive, plunge into the water and come up with a fish.

Each time a pelican would come up with a fish, several annoying island birds would immediately start squawking and try to steal the fish out of the pelicans mouth.  The pelicans learned to come out of the water slowly, bringing their large bills out of the water last.  This way they could secure their catch.

I realized this was a metaphor for life.

There are those that are equipped and skilled at "catching their own fish".  These are the pelicans/producers: entrepreneurs, skilled craftsmen, tradesmen or other professionals.

Then there are those that decide to "squawk at" and take from the producers.  These are the thieves and "re-distributors".

I want to be the pelican.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

I can't trust him

A while back I was coaching a boys basketball team, a group of 14-18 year old boys at church.  We would hold practices in the basketball gym at church. I tried to teach the boys basketball skills while teaching myself how to coach.  I enjoyed the experience even though it took time away from my young family.

One day I needed to leave practice early and the boys wanted to stay.  The problem was that I had the key to the building and the building needed to be locked.  I identified a boy to trust with the building key.  His parents were leaders in the church and community.  They had a large family and were very organized and responsible.  I thought I could trust him.

Next time I saw this boy I asked for the key.  "It's at home".  I kept at him, calling him several times.  Finally he admitted to me that didn't know where the key was.

What should my reaction be?  My trust was broken, so I resolved to NEVER lend a key to a teenage boy again.  They can't be trusted.  The problem is, that means that every teenage boy that I would meet for the rest of my life would be punished for the error of one boy.

It's true that teenage boys make plenty of mistakes.  But if I followed this pattern of broken trust, all teenage boys would be punished for the failings of others.  I wouldn't be able to trust a boy to wash my car, mow my lawn, walk my dogs, bag my groceries, date my daughter or grand daughter, etc.

Luckily I realized this pattern early and adopted a policy of trust first.  A key can be replaced.  A boy experiencing an unjust loss of trust and freedom can result in a lasting scar.

That's why I cringe when I hear the emotional cries for stricter laws.  Every citizen is treated like a potential terrorist.  We take our shoes off, empty our pockets and sometimes get patted down when we want to fly on an airplane.  Luckily this policy has been slightly reversed [link]

Every gun owner is a potential mass murder.  There are just as many deaths from drunk driving as there are from guns.  We tried taking away the freedom to drink and that ended up giving more power to criminals.  Why will taking away guns be better?

Laws are passed.  Signs pop up all over the place restricting access or behavior.  Is it any surprise that more and more people escape into virtual worlds of video games and social media?    

It's something to think about.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Flying to Financial Freedom

While we all consider flying to be a safe form of travel, not all flying is safe.  For example, general aviation (small planes) and space shuttles are less safe than commercial airlines.  There are principles related to flying an aircraft that relate to how you manage your finances.  Some of these principles are as follows:

  • Altitude - How high you fly.
  • Lift/Weight - How the wings make you lighter than air
  • Propulsion - How the engine pushes you forward   

See if you can figure out the underlying financial principle.

How high you fly - Altitude

The lowest safe altitude (LSALT) is defined as 1,000 feet about any obstacle or terrain for the planned route.  Stunt pilots may like to fly low, but this is dangerous.  Obstacles (trees, power-lines, buildings) and terrain (hills, mountains) are unforgiving obstructions.  Commercial airlines fly around 35,000 feet.

A common cause of aircraft crashes is CFIT ("see-fit") or Controlled Flight Into Terrain.  That's what JFK junior did.  Basically its when the pilot doesn't see the mountain they are heading towards or don't realize that they are actually flying into the ground.

Lift/Weight

The shape of the wing is an amazing discovery.  As it slices the air, the wing creates lower pressure on top and higher pressure on the bottom to lift the airplane.  If there is a pressure change in the air, it changes the lift.  This is why turbulence (a mixture of high and low pressure) shakes a plane so much.

The weight of the plane has to be less than the lifting force from the wings in order to get off the ground.

Lift can be increased by changing the size and/or design of the wing.

The Power Plant - Propulsion

The power plant or engine is what propels the aircraft through the air, creating lift from the wings.  The more powerful the engine, the greater the lift from the wing.  Loss of power will cause the aircraft to lose altitude (fall from the sky).  For safety, many aircraft have more than one engine.

The Story

Your flying your aircraft and you decide to fly at 5,000 ft., well above the lowest safe altitude. You hit a pocket of low pressure and quickly drop to 4,000 ft.  As you increase your throttle to climb back to 5,000 ft, your engine stalls.  You're rapidly losing altitude while you try and restart the engine.  You get it restarted but now you are at only 1,500 ft.  Still, the engine doesn't have full power, so you have trouble climbing back to safe altitude.  You know a mount range is coming up, so you need to climb.  You have some heavy cargo that you push out the door.  With less weight, your able to climb back to 5,000 ft just in time to navigate a safe route through the mountain.

What does this have to do with money?

Altitude is like your savings (your "nest egg", the result of "saving for a rainy day").  Having $1000 is the lowest safe "altitude".  Having $5000 is better.  Having $35,000 results in safe travel.

The obstacles and terrain are the late fees, finance charges, interest payments, etc. that kill us when we are in debt (negative altitude or below the ground).

The loss of power that made you quickly lose altitude is the unexpected expense (car repair, doctor bill, etc.).  If you lose your savings, it takes time to rebuild it.

The power plant is your income.  The engine stalling is like losing your income (job, etc.).  It results in you burning through your savings while you try to restart it (find a new job).  A weaker engine (smaller income) reduces your ability to climb (save).

The weight is your debt and monthly obligations.  The debt load needs to be small enough for your "wings" to overcome it.

The wings are how you manage your money.  Even with a small engine (income), you can have high-lift wings that can elevate you to great heights.  This means saving more of your monthly income.

  
Solar powered airplane after flying 24 hours up to 29,000 ft altitude

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Global Warming Update: Polar Bears vs. Melting Glaciers

Let's discuss two concerns regarding the changing climate:  endangered Polar Bears vs. Melting Glaciers.

Which do you think is the biggest problem?

The findings may surprise you.

FearReality
Polar BearsThe extinction of the polar bears could upset the entire ecosystem of the Arctic and may represent a "canary in the gold mine" scenario.  If they are wiped out, what species is next?There are 20-25,000 polar bears and the populations have been stable for 30-40 years.  Many areas use hunting to keep the populations in check.  The biggest threat to polar bears right now is hunters. [1]
Melting GlaciersThe melting of glaciers is a serious problem.  The areas of the glaciers will be turned into deserts and the oceans will rise and flood islands and shoreline.The glaciers have been melting since the end of the Little Ice Age 400-500 years ago and will melt even without Global Warming.
"There is high confidence that current glacier extents are out of balance with current climatic conditions, indicating that glaciers will continue to shrink in the future even without further temperature increase." [2]

I think that a bigger risk than endangerment of polar bears and melting glaciers is the lack of honesty in the climate change discussion.  This disregard for reality creates skeptics.  If climate change is real and a risk for our futures, let's be honest about it so that we can work together to figure out a solution.

References:
[1] http://www.worldwildlife.org/species/polar-bear
Two months ago I reviewed the World Wildlife Foundation website regarding Polar Bears.  It clearly stated that the polar bear populations have been stable for the last 30-40 years and that hunting is used for population control.  The website has been redesigned and this information is no longer available.  The primary focus is on the risks of Climate Change.  The previous site had a map of subpopulations showing which ones were increasing in population, which were stable and which were decreasing.  The new site only states that 8 of 19 subpopulations are in decline.  Here is the old graphic (which I luckily saved)
[2] The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Technical Summary for 2013 regarding melting glaciers.  http://www.climatechange2013.org/images/report/WG1AR5_TS_FINAL.pdf  page 41

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Average = Beautiful?

Tom's stroke resulted in very specific brain damage.  In every way he was normal except in his ability to connect names with things.  When asked to draw a picture of a rose, what he drew was definitely a flower, but his flower didn't exist on earth.  The type of flower he drew was actually a rare glimpse into the human brain; it was the "average" of all flowers he had ever seen.  The way our brain remembers things is to create a composite picture of the "type" of thing.  Seeing new flowers is simply processing the differences.  Our brains do the same thing with faces.

In separate research, a number of photographs of faces is averaged using a computer.  The mouth, nose and eyes are average size.  The eyes are an average distance apart, etc.  Most people find the resulting "average" face more attractive than any of the original faces.

In the context of both of these ideas, the phrase "easy on the eyes" makes sense.  Someone with an attractive face resembles the average in our brain and requires less brain power for processing; literally their face is "easier" to look at.

So this got me thinking about the broader context.  What about people that look different from our "average"?  Is it really that they are "unattractive" or is it that our "average" is too narrowly focused?  If this applies to flowers and faces, can it also apply to ideas and beliefs?  What would happen if you had a greater diversity of people you associated with and exchanged ideas with?

References
The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist's Quest for What Makes Us Human, V. S. Ramachandran
Try averaging faces yourself here: http://faceresearch.org/demos/average
More info here: http://faceresearch.org/students/averageness