The Human Heart & The Human Condition – Searching for Answers

“The account of these friends on the Emmaus road is, admittedly, sparse.  We seem to be told only what we need to know.  Yet their discussion, joined by a third man – a stranger – comes to us with singular force.  What follows is a layman’s reflection on the meaning of that exchange, a story of hope, despondence, and faith.  It is a story latent with insight for the believer, as well as the honest skeptic.

Its significance seems especially important for our own day, a period marked not only by religious zealotry, but also by massive indifference to matters of the spirit.  Many people seem too content with the quality of their faith, certain that nothing should disturb it.  For them, their beliefs require no examination.  Others,though, have given up hope of discovering truths about God that they can hang on to.  For them, there are no certainties in the realm of religion; it seems best to muddle through without them.  Menachem Mendel, a Rabbi in the nineteenth century, put it this way: “For the believer there are no questions, and for the unbeliever there are no answers.”

That claim, however, doesn’t ring true for most of us.  Life has a way of forcing painful questions upon us, whether we welcome them or not.  And the human heart has a way of keeping alive in us the longing for answers.  To extinguish this hope, either through neglect or cold rationality, would seem to diminish what it means to be human.  The road to Emmaus, after all, is a road all of us find ourselves on – eventually.  It is the path of every pilgrim who tries to make sense of the wilderness of the world around him.”

From The Searchers, by Joseph Loconte

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Productivity, Focus and Multi-Tasking

“Schwartz argues that it’s up to individuals and managers to avoid the multitasking trap. But I look at it a different way: ultimately, it’s up to institutions to make sure employees are focused. Businesses and government agencies that are serious about improving productivity need to tackle this as an organizational initiative.

With increasing automation in every aspect of organizational work, people tend to be left with tasks that require judgment, thought, and creativity – precisely the kind of tasks that require focused effort and are most hurt by the distractions of multitasking. Moreover, because most work emerges from collective, rather than individual, efforts, the losses caused by multitasking multiply and spread. Here’s how:

  • Multitasking workers keep others waiting for their output. When people do not have everything they need to take a task to completion, they either begin work with incomplete inputs — only to be interrupted later — or they start on new tasks, which reduces focus and the quality of work.
  • When managers multitask, even small decisions can take days. Instead of spending, say, a quality 15 minutes with people, they can afford only a rushed and ineffective two to three minutes.
  • Every task seems equally urgent. As a result, truly critical issues and genuine bottlenecks can’t be identified, and the organization wastes its resources solving the wrong problems.

I would estimate the net loss in productivity at 50% to 75% for an organization, compared with the 25% figure for individuals.

Most importantly: it’s far easier to stop organizational multitasking than to change individual habits. Organizational multitasking happens when people’s day-to-day task priorities are out of sync. People don’t get the inputs and support they need from others in a timely manner, or are constantly pressured to do “more urgent” tasks first. So they stop what they’re working on and start other tasks. Changing individual habits is very difficult, but all that is needed to stop organizational multitasking is a process for synchronizing task-level priorities. With synchronized priorities, people can focus on one task at a time and take it to completion without interruptions.”

Sanjeev Gupta, HBR Blog Network

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Freedom & the Next Steps

“Why am I willing to make sacrifices to cut my costs and increase revenue to be student loan-free in 10 months?

To Have Freedom
I want to achieve my dream. My long-term goal has always been to own my own business, and that’s what I told the admissions counselor during my HBS interview. However, it’s hard enough to bootstrap a start-up with cash for everyday operations without adding student loan obligations to the mix. Imagine that for a minute–not being able to achieve the dreams that I hoped to achieve by going to HBS because of the financial obligation I owe to the creditors who allowed me to go to HBS. Ironic.

I want the option to get off the treadmill. The Verve put it best: “You’re a slave to money then you die.” By taking a stand against my debt, I’m demanding an exit from that treadmill. I like my job and I enjoy going to work every day, but I’ll bet there are a lot of jobs that don’t pay six-figures and are more fun than what I do now.

I don’t want to my job choice dictated by the salary so that I can maintain my lifestyle and still make monthly $1,057 student loan payments. I want to broaden my choices.  I want to go to a start-up and see what’s it’s like before I take the plunge myself. The start-up jobs that I’ve heard about rarely pay six figures.

I want the option to get off treadmill in a major way. There is an extremely, extremely low probability that I would ever do it, but I want the ability to sell off all of my stuff and just leave, just walk away from everything. I’m guessing this desire stems from the fact that before I was 14 years old, I lived in five states, two countries, and moved seven times. The thought of having to stay in one place and work a six-figure job just to make ends meet, and cannot, at any one point, walk away from it all without getting into serious trouble with the government seems a bit…stifling. If I can shed the student loans, then I have options. The value of my house has stayed flat if not appreciated since I purchased it and started paying down the mortgage over a year ago, so I can cash out of that (and pay off the $8k new homebuyer credit) and walk away and not owe anybody anything. But as long as I have student loans–which I cannot directly cash out–I’m stuck.”

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The Web, Mobile & the Pace of Change

“The failed history of Web 1.0 companies adapting to the world of social suggests that Facebook will be as woeful at adapting to social as Google has been with its “ghost town” Google+ initiative last year.

The organizational ecologists talked about the “liability of obsolescence” which is a growing mismatch between an organization’s inherent product strategy and its operating environment over time.  This probably is a good explanation for what we’re seeing in the tech world today.

Are companies like Google, Amazon, and Yahoo! obsolete?  They’re still growing.  They still have enormous audiences.  They also have very talented managers.

But with each new paradigm shift (first to social, now to mobile, and next to whatever else), the older generations get increasingly out of touch and likely closer to their significant decline.  What’s more, the tech world in which we live in seems to be speeding up.  Tim Cook had an interesting line about the velocity of change in his earnings call last week:

through the last quarter, I should say, which is just 2 years after we shipped the initial iPad, we’ve sold 67 million. And to put that in some context, it took us 24 years to sell that many Macs and 5 years for that many iPods and over 3 years for that many iPhones. And we were extremely happy with the trajectory on all of those products. And so I think iPad, it’s a profound product.

Yahoo is already a shell of its 2000 self.  There is increasing chatter (including from me) about how Google’s facing a painful multiple contraction, once its desktop search business (still accounting for the vast majority of its revenues and profits) starts to fall off a cliff as users dramatically drop traditional search for new ways of getting information they want in a mobile world.  Is Amazon destined to decline?  There seem to be no signs of it today and people will still need to buy stuff in a mobile world, but the new mobile platform will certainly open the possibilities for new entrants that Amazon can’t even imagine today.

Facebook is also probably facing a tough road ahead as this shift to mobile happens.  As Hamish McKenzie said last week, “I suspect that Facebook will try to address that issue [of the shift to mobile] by breaking up its various features into separate apps or HTML5 sites: one for messaging, one for the news feed, one for photos, and, perhaps, one for an address book. But that fragments the core product, probably to its detriment.”

Considering how long Facebook dragged its feet to get into mobile in the first place, the data suggests they will be exactly as slow to change as Google was to social.  Does the Instagram acquisition change that? Not really, in my view.  It shows they’re really fearful of being displaced by a mobile upstart.  However, why would bolting on a mobile app to a Web 2.0 platform (and a very good one at that) change any of the underlying dynamics we’re discussing here? I doubt it.

What about Apple?  Where does it fit in to this classification scheme?

Apple is really a hardware company, so it’s difficult to put it into a bucket related to web apps.  It certainly seemed very Web 1.0 with its Ping social application.  Yet it’s succeeded in mobile from making the best hardware and software ecosystem for apps to proliferate on.  In some ways, as long as it has a successful iOS platform, it doesn’t care which Web 1.0, 2.0 and mobile companies fail or succeed on top of it.  Maybe that’s why so many non-mobile companies seem to want to emulate Apple.  Google bought Motorola Mobility (MMI) to get into the hardware business.  Facebook and Baidu (BIDU) are rumored to be launching their own mobile OS.

The bottom line is that the next 5 – 8 years could be incredibly dynamic.  It’s possible that both Google and Facebook could be shells of their current selves – or gone entirely.

They will have all the money in the world to try and adapt to the shift to mobile but history suggests they won’t be able to successfully do it.  I often hear Google bulls point to the market share of Android or Eric Schmidt’s hypothesis that Google could one day charge all Android subscribers $10 a month for value-added services as proof of future profits.  Yet, where are all the great social success stories by Web 1.0 companies?  I imagine we’ll see as many great examples of social companies jumping horses mid-race to become great mobile companies.

It’s a lot easier to start asking Siri for information instead of typing search terms into a box compared to thousands of enterprises ceasing to upgrade to the next version of Windows.  Google’s 76% market share.  Facebook’s 900 million monthly users.  They just aren’t as sticky as they seem.

And does anyone think the pace of change is going to increase in the next 5 years versus the last?  That we’re going to see fewer innovations, fewer start-ups trying more stuff on cheaper and more powerful processing power?  In all likelihood, we could have an entirely new way of gathering information and interacting with ads in a new mobile world than what we’re currently used to today.

The Googles and Facebooks of tomorrow might not even exist today.  And several Web 1.0 and 2.0 companies might be completely wiped off the map by then.

Fortunes will be made by those who adapt to and invest in this complete greenfield.

Those who own the future are going to be the ones who create it.  It’s all up for grabs.  Web monopolies are not as sticky as the monopolies of old.”

By Eric Jackson,

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Love, Happiness & Strength – Soulmate

“I’ve been a walking heartache
I’ve made a mess of me
The person that I’ve been lately
Ain’t who I wanna be

But you stay here right beside me
Watch as the storm goes through
And I need you

God gave me you for the ups and downs
God gave me you for the days of doubt
For when I think I’ve lost my way
There are no words here left to say, it’s true
God gave me you

There’s more here than what were seeing
A divine conspiracy
That you, an angel lovely
Could somehow fall for me
You’ll always be love’s great martyr
Ill be the flattered fool
And I need you

God gave me you for the ups and downs
God gave me you for the days of doubt
For when I think I’ve lost my way
There are no words here left to say, it’s true
God gave me you

On my own I’m only
Half of what I could be
I can’t do without you
We are stitched together
And what love has tethered
I pray we never undo

God gave me you for the ups and downs
God gave me you for the days of doubt
God gave me you for the ups and downs
God gave me you for the days of doubt
For when I think I’ve lost my way
There are no words here left to say, it’s true
God gave me you, gave me you
Gave me you”

-From Blake Shelton’s God Gave me You

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Lewis & Clark, Judgment & the Course of U.S. History

“The expedition proceeded in the morning past a two-mile island where Colter, with the last horse belonging to the expedition, had camped for the night and killed four elk.  He had hung them on trees along the shore.  Lewis sent a pirogue to pick up the meat.  As it was being loaded, Colter ran up the bank to shout that Indians had stolen his horse.  Soon after, the captains saw five Indians on the bank.  They anchored the keelboat and “Spoke to them,” either through signs flashed by Drouillard or by using “the old frenchman,” Pierre Cruzatte,who could speak a bit of Sioux, as interpreter.

The captains were stern.  They said they came as friends, but were ready to fight if need be, and warned that “they were not afraid of any Indians.” They told a little lie, saying that the stolen horse had been sent by the new father of the red children as a present for the chief of the Tetons.  They said they would not speak to any Tetons until the horse was returned.

The expedition arrived at the mouth of the next river, at the site of present Pierre, South Dakota, late in the afternoon.  As a defensive precaution, the party anchored the keelboat off the mouth of the river.  The captains put the party on full alert, with one-third ashore on guard, the other two=thirds camping on board the boat and pirogues.

In the morning, the captains raised the flagstaff, set up the awning, and prepared for a council, taking the precaution to leave a majority of the party on board, with the keelboat anchored seventy yards off shore so that its swivel gun commanded the site.  At 11:00 a.m., three chiefs and many warriors came in, bearing large quantities of buffalo meat as a gift.  The captains offered some pork.  Then it was time to talk.

To their dismay,  the captains quickly discovered that Cruzatte could not speak the language beyond some simple words.  Nor could Drouillard convey via the sign language the relatively complex thoughts and proposals Lewis was making in his basic Indian speech.  Recognizing the difficulty, Lewis cut the speech short and began putting on the traveling medicine show.  It started with a close-order drill by uniformed troops marching under the colors of the republic.  Then came the air gun, magnifying glass, and the rest.  Finally, Lewis handed out medals and gifts to the chiefs.  He designated Black Buffalo as the leading chief present and gave him a medal, a red military coat, and a cocked hat.  The other two chiefs, named the Partisan and Buffalo Medicine, got medals.  As far as the captains were concerned, they had completed their part.

That’s all? the Tetons demanded, unbelieving.  Some worthless medals and a silly hat?

Sensing the discontent, especially from Black Buffalo’s rivals the Partisan and Buffalo Medicine, the captains invited the chiefs on board the keelboat, where they gave each a quarter-glass of whiskey.  The chiefs were “exceedingly fond of it, they took up an empt bottle, Smelted it, and made maney simple jestures and Soon began to be troublesom.”

Clark detailed a party of seven men to help him put the chiefs ashore.  The chiefs resisted and had to be forced into the canoe.  When it landed, three warriors seized the bowline while another hugged the mast. The Partisan “pretended drunkeness &. staggered up against us, Declaring I should not go on, Stateing he had not recved presents Suffient from us.”  His insults became personal.  He demanded a canoe load of presents before he would allow the expedition to go on.

Clark would take no more.  He drew his sword and ordered all hands under arms.  On the keelboat, Lewis ordered the men to prepare for action.  The swivel gun was loaded with sixteen musket balls; the blunderbusses were loaded with buckshot; the men threw up their lockers as breastworks, loaded their rifles, and prepared to fire.

Up the bank, twenty yards from Clark and the pirogue, some warriors saw Lewis preparing the swivel gun and began to back away, but others strung their bows and took out their arrows from their quivers, or began to cock their shotguns.

It was a dramatic moment.  Had Lewis cried “Fire!” and touched his lighted taper to the fuse of the swivel gun, the whole history of North American might have changed.  Here is one possible scenario:

The cannon roared, spitting out sixteen musket balls.  The blunderbusses roared, spitting out buckshot.  The muskets roared, spitting out aimed lead bullets.  Sioux warriors were mowed down in the dozens.

But there were still hundreds of warriors on the bank, and even as the smoke lifted they filled the air with arrows, and kept them coming, for they could reload and fire at a much faster pace than the American soldiers.  Lewis and Clark, prime targets, went down.  With the captains incapacitated or dead, Sergeant Ordway rallied the survivors, got into the keelboat, pushed off and retreated downriver.

In short, had that cannon fired, there might have been no Lewis and Clark Expedition.  The exploration of the Missouri River country and Oregon would have had to be done by others, at a later time.

Meanwhile, the Sioux would have been implacable enemies of the Americans, and in possession of the biggest arsenal on the Great Plains.  For some time to come, they would have had the numbers and the weapons to turn back any expedition the United States cold send up the Missouri.  They would have increased their trade with the British North West Company coming out of Canada.  In the War of 1812, they would have been British allies, perhaps strong enough to wrest Upper Louisiana away from the Americans and make it a part of Canada.  Improbable, certainly.  Impossible, almost certainly.  Still…

Aside from the possible long-range consequences, the confrontation on the riverbank was threatening to make it impossible for Lewis to carry out his orders with regard to the Sioux: to make a good impression on them and make them into friends of the United States.  This was the moment Jefferson had had in mind when he told Lewis in his formal orders to exercise caution.”

Excerpted from Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West by Stephen Ambrose

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The Bible, Faith, The Beatitudes, Living Life

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

The Gospel of Matthew, 5:3-11

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Christianity, The Bible, How to Live

“To think of the Bible as an almanac or law book is a fundamentally wrong way of thinking about the Bible.  The Bible doesn’t provide all the answers in a legalistic sense for two primary reasons.  First, it would be practically impossible – the Bible would have to contain millions of pages (Have you ever seen a law library!?) Second, and perhaps more important, such a use of scripture is entirely contrary to God’s intention to create free, rational, thinking beings that bear his image.

Christianity is not about rules! That’s moralism.  That’s Pharisaism.  Christianity is about the life of Christ imparted to the human race.  The Bible doesn’t give us all the answers, but it does provide us with a structure for renewing our minds.  Simply put, the Bible can teach us to think.  As we learn to think in a Christlike manner, we can begin to discern the will of God.  But if all we want to do is “paint by numbers” with the Bible … well, most recognize that it’s possible to “biblically” justify almost anything with a concordance and a bit of cleverness.”

–Brian Zahnd, from Beauty will Save the World

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Management – Flexibility – Work & Life Balance

“Most employers still tell their employees when to come to work, when to leave, and how they’re expected to work when they’re there. Why not measure employees by the value they create, rather than by the number of hours they sit at a desk?

Too many companies continue to operate by the premise that their employees can’t be fully trusted, and so treat them as children, who must be continuously monitored.

The solution is to hire people you’re prepared to trust, and then treat them as adults, capable of making responsible adult choices. Do that, and it’s a good bet they will. Indeed,considerable evidence suggests that the more confidence managers have in their people, the better they perform.

At the same time, companies who give employees more autonomy have every right to expect accountability. That begins with clearly and explicitly defining what success looks like in any given job, and making that, rather than face time, the measuring stick.


The job of a leader or a manager, I’ve concluded, isn’t to tell people how to get their jobs done, or when and where they do their best work. Rather, it’s to free, fuel and inspire them to bring the best of themselves to work every day.”

-Tony Schwartz, HBR Blog Network

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Politics & Team Effectiveness – Culture

“The desire to avoid conflict is understandable, but it’s one of the most debilitating factors in organizational life.  Lack of candor contributes to longer cycle times, slow decision making, and unnecessarily iterative discussions.  A too-polite veneer often signals an overly politicized workplace; Colleagues who are afraid to speak honestly to people’s faces do it behind their backs.  This behavior exacts a price.


True collaboration is impossible when people don’t trust one another to speak with candor.  Solving problems requires that team members be unafraid to ask questions or propose wrong answers.  Risk management is another area that relies almost completely on people’s admitting their mistakes.  It takes work to create a candid environment supported by respectful, honest relationships, but it’s a challenge every leader should embrace.”

-Keith Ferrazzi

Harvard Business Review Magazine, January-February 2012 issue.


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