Running, Mind Mapping, Math and Good Art

Sunday-SnackThe last six months, my medium weekly written word count has been 40,853 words according to Grammarly. That’s over 5,000 words a day! I am pretty sure this number is off by at least a factor five. But as it goes with metrics, often the trend means more than the actual numbers. And for me, that means I am writing a lot more compared to a year ago.

However, on the flip side, I don’t publish as much anymore. Most of what I write are notes, emails and confidential reports not many will ever see. When every word I write stands against at least ten words I’ve consumed reading, watching or listening to content, then there is a lot of valuable information that remains underutilized.

So, I decided to put some of the best material I stumble over during my research or while actively procrastinating in short posts like this one; hoping that some of it may turn out to be useful for you. (more…)

Simplicity

Simplicity_3If you ever tried to hold your breath for as long as possible,  you know what one thought occupied your thinking right before you gave up. You wanted nothing more than the next breath.

Ever hit your thumb with a hammer? Same thing. Just one thought.

People get addicted to extreme sports because they want to relive moments of clarity when only survival matters.

There is something beautiful about the number one. There is no “and” and there is no “or“. Just one, nothing else. No distractions, no questions.

Simple.

Yet, we are not inherently drawn to simplicity. We usually want more of the good stuff not less.

And because I am just the same, I made a list of what simplicity means to me and why I want to strive for it. (more…)

Why User-Z Matters

Bad ReviewWhenever you propose your plan for a big project in a meeting, and everyone is immediately fine with it, then you know something is wrong. Maybe not necessarily with your plan, but with the group you are presenting your plan to.With more than five people it is usually hard to get a consent on what route to take to the airport, thus, something is foul when nobody questions anything you are presenting.

They either didn’t listen, or they didn’t care, or they didn’t get what you were saying, whatever it was, undisputed consent should always raise a red flag.

John D. Rockefeller, who started out from humble beginnings to become the richest man of his time, surrounded himself not with yes-men but with critical thinkers and operated only by consent of his leading directors. This way he avoided major blunders and was thus able to grow his Standard Oil company to the biggest oil refiner in the world. And all that in the highly volatile years of the mid 19th to early 20th century.

What you want is strong opposition in your inner circle to make sure you can face the hard realities of your work’s existence in the outside world. (more…)

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On Themes

Marathon-BridgeThis year, instead of primarily setting goals, I decided to go for themes. If you find the word theme confusing, then think focus word.

So far, for most of my big goals, there was always a chance that something could go wrong last minute and cause a major setback. It’s just life; there is always something that can and will go wrong. As a result, you can never really relax and be content before you completed your mission.

Let’s think binary for a moment. A “1” indicates success and a “0” the lack thereof. Your life in goals looks like this: (more…)

The Future Looks Dark- Why I Am Still Excited To Live Now

tracksAt times, I wonder if in the grand scheme of things we humans of the digital age are so much better off than our prehistoric hunter-gatherer ancestors.

It may be great to see when Jack across the globe is relaxing under a Palm tree in Bali. At the same time, Heather really hates the weather in New York. So great, she was fine an hour later when she posted her desert on Instagram. “What an amazing restaurant, the food was yumy.” “Yumy?”, I wonder. With one m? A second later I learn from Google that there is a Yum-Yum Donut’s close to my home, and their Apple Fritter has 600 calories…

Sure, it still makes me smile when I can send a fax, cash a check and schedule a dentist’s appointment with only the push of a few virtual buttons on my phone. These tasks would have taken me a couple of hours merely ten years ago.

I don’t have to leave my home for anything. I can buy, watch, and learn whatever I want from any room in my house. I can even do all that while I brush my teeth, take a bath or wait on hold at some customer support hotline. Great new world.

In all earnest, is it really that great? Does it make me happier or feel more accomplished?

Some sabre-tooth tiger may have killed me any day back then, a car, some disease, or freak accident my do it today. Are we dying less? Are we less afraid? Do we work less? Is there less hunger, less thirst and less anger in the world?
I don’t really know. And if it didn’t get much better then it may even get worse. We may run out of clean water, energy, helium, space, food, and ways to trick the financial systems.

And yet for all I know, I consider myself the lucky one. I am fortunate to sit at this very spot (20 minutes from the beach). And I am certainly happy to live at this time.
Thanks to all the banalities that seem to occupy most of our time today, there is real hope for real progress. I mean progress that matters. Not for my convenience but humankind and this planet.

Because we cared so much about taking our music with us, because we got hooked playing games on the go, because we were willing to pay more for more added features, yes, because we are still riding this never ending consumerist wave we now hold the future in our hands.

It was not for Dale in L.A. caring so much about the global community, but because he and many others were looking for stuff to buy and sell on the internet that now children in remote villages in Ethiopia and other developing countries have access to knowledge at a scale that was unthinkable a few decades ago.

And I am convinced this is just the beginning. As with every major shift in human history, several new technologies are available right now that in combination will impact our lives dramatically. Let me just glance at a few. (more…)

My 2015 Annual Review

2015-great2015 was great.

2014 I really liked.

2013, what?

Gee, I think I skipped 2013.

Have you ever come out of a movie feeling great, but a couple of months later, you didn’t have much recollection of it?

Some years are like that for me. 2013 for example. I guess it was a pretty good year, nothing bad happened, but I just can’t remember much of it now.

Big events act as landmarks for our brains. In contrast, like in a movie, without big, memorable scenes, a year may have been enjoyable but may appear irrelevant in retrospect. But what are 90 minutes of shallow entertainment compared to an entire year of my life?

In recent years, I would take barely a minute on New Years Eve to decide, “Well, there goes another great year!” and then welcome the new one. I am sure I did so in 2013, but heck, still can’t remember if I did anything cool that year. I also don’t remember my small victories and fails. Quite sad, isn’t it?

I am a big fan of project reviews (aka. postmortem meetings), in which you revisit the wins and losses during a project and identify what aspects need improving and what worked well. It’s a great method to improve and grow personally and as a team.

So why not do it on a personal level for the past year?

I’d like to keep it short and focus on three main questions in my 2015 Annual Review:

  • What went well?
  • What didn’t go so well?
  • What are themes for 2016?

2015 was a year full of positive changes for me, but I also failed on several levels. Since it always easier for me to find more things I am failing at over things that work, I will limit myself to the four biggest points each to keep it balanced. Let’s start with the good stuff. (more…)

Why You Should Aim for More Problems

Empty-RoadI was raised to ‘get things done’, to ‘get it off the table’, to ‘finish quickly what I started’. And that is a great attitude to have. It feels good to pull through and complete something that was not fun to do. I love the feeling when I get my taxes filed, or a big report submitted or my garage cleaned up. There are many of these tasks that feel so good to check off my to-do list.

But somehow I always have at least one big thing on my list or in the back of my mind that is bothering me. Something that is sitting on my shoulders and weighing me down. At the moment, it is a scientific paper I wanted to get done in February. But then I moved and ever since I keep dancing around it. Now so much time has passed that I need to review the literature again to make sure I don’t miss an important study that came out in the meantime. Time is tight right now and even though I know I could get done if I just dedicated 15 minutes every day, I just can’t get myself to start. Do you know the feeling?

It’s not that I don’t love writing. I enjoy writing a lot; I even like literature research and drafting diagrams because I love producing something useful. For me, it is difficult to start because I already know that to get done I’ll have to answer a couple of quite difficult questions. Right now, I don’t even have the slightest idea of how to deal with these questions.

We like to see the end of tasks before we start. If we know there are problems that are complicated to solve, then it is hard for us to imagine the end and that is why some tasks are just harder to start than others.

The main reason is that we don’t like to deal with problems. Somehow we think problems are bad.

We want to look at our day as an empty road without any obstacles. When is life ever like this?

And if it were, it would be hell. Just imagine you had nothing to do tomorrow. Nothing, no work, no errands, no food to buy, no laundry to do, no emails to write. Imagine that everything is taken care of. (more…)

The Monday Check – Robot or Not?

Human or Robot

As you embark on this journey of yet another work week, ask yourself: “Am I still human or have I become a robot?

Don’t you sometimes feel like we are on the best way to becoming robots?

We humans love consistency and structure. Being safe in our caves before nightfall protected us from falling prey to predators that were better adapted to nocturnal life than us. Following the same trails protected us from getting lost, drinking from the same water source from getting sick. In short, consistent behavior kept us safe. Rules and habits helped us survive and evolve to the modern human that we are now. As a heritage of those darker prehistoric times we still easily snap into routines. That is how we like it and always have.

However, when we think about the great developments of humankind, we value them because at the time they happened they represented significant deviations from the norm.
A well was dug because someone didn’t want to fetch water from the river anymore. Clubs were switched for spears because someone didn’t want another scar. We have vacuum cleaners because somehow beating a rug every Saturday had lost its appeal.
You can argue whether and how we are better off than our ancestors. Sure is, without these deviations we would still sit in caves.

As you wake up, check your phone, eat the same breakfast, get to and from work, all in the same fashion every day, how about you think about what can you do differently today?

When was the last time you stopped in your tracks to smell a flower, watch a squirrel, or notice anything else that can’t be re-watched on YouTube? Actually, when was the last time you took a stroll?

When was the last time you noticed how you felt and intentionally took some action to prolong or change this feeling?

When did you last take a different turn at a traffic light, just to see where to road leads you?

Life is how you live every single day. Robot or human? Decide now. Do it consciously.

Ballet, Cakes and Ants

balletshoesThis morning, I dropped my daughter off at the theater for her ballet dress rehearsal. She just turned six. Costume and all. It’s incredibly cute. And hard to believe for someone who is is flexible like a brick that they have fun doing all this. They do because it’s easy for them.

All other parents seem to know where to go and what to do. That’s another thing that’s not easy for me, knowing what’s going on. Reading all the emails that tell about schedule and room changes is one thing, remembering another. So I am standing here after we’ve rushed from A to B to C, back to B and over to E. I am sweating. We made it, even in time. Everything is okay, but it could have been easier.

Parents are not allowed behind the scenes -I didn’t know – and so I am standing here, waiting and writing this post. I may not publish it. I may change it a hundred times. I may also delete everything I just wrote. But you’ll never notice. That happens behind my scenes.

Ten minutes later, talking to the other parents I realize most of them don’t know what is going on either. One guy admitted he was following me because he thought I looked like I knew where I had to go.
Not sure how he got that impression. It was nice to learn that I am not alone, though. We all struggle. You see it when you get granted a look behind the scenes.

One day years ago, we returned home just to find an entire ant invasion coming through some crack in the wall. They formed a thick black line straight from the crack to a spot in the middle of the living room. That’s where I must have dropped a cake crumble the day before. They were in a straight line! Crack to cake. Those were tiny ants. Imagine ant, less than a 1/10 of an inch (about 2 mm). Distance crack to wall about 15 feet. That’s like if you and your friends managed to find a giant cake within a three mile (5 kilometers) radius in the middle of a deep forest. You also established the shortest distance between the cake and your cabin while bringing pieces back to your cabin. All that without any tools or devices at all!

Incredible, isn’t it?

That is until you see the very first ant. (more…)

Pronounceable Serial Numbers

Serial-NumberYesterday at my local coffee shop, I realized how many variations there are for some names. Bob, John, Brian, and also Alex are simple. But Catherine, Carry, or Jasmine allow for quite many variations. Here are – just for fun and absolutely not related to recent news – some ways to write another name: Kaitlyn, Katelyn, Kaitlin, Katelynn, Katlyn, Kaitlynn, Katelin, Katlynn, Kaitlin, Caitlyn, Caitlynn. While our names are supposed to be pronounceable (or in shout- and scream-able), serial numbers are not.

But why not?

(more…)