The Settling Dilemma.

Happy WriterI’ve been experiencing new things, and old things differently. Things that maybe the majority of people take for granted, or don’t think about.

Like dishwashing liquid.

To me, the novelty of large bottles of purchasing a large bottle of dishwashing liquid made no sense. Consider: I have not stayed in any one spot longer than 9 years, since childhood.

I have averaged 2 years and 6 months in one spot. The longest I have spent in one spot is 6 years, the majority of places I have lived I have done so for a year or less.

So a big bottle of dishwashing liquid was a strange idea. I buy them now.

Toilet paper? Same thing. How many rolls do you actually need, as a single male? And then, should you have to move, do you really want to lug around a wholesale bargain of toilet paper? No. Try explaining that at the airport.

The idea of settling down has been proposed to me by many, usually in the context of a significant other, in my case a woman. The idea is not a bad one if you can stand people for long periods of time; there are few that I can stand longer than a few hours, less I can stand a day. A lifetime? There were a few I would have chanced in my lifetime so far, but they didn’t work out.

So settling down to me, a minimalist by nature and by nurture, is more about ‘nesting’. Buying a big bottle of dishwashing liquid is me settling. I’m still working my way up to a bulk toilet paper purchase, though this far into my life I don’t want to overshoot.

When I die, “Who gets all this toilet paper?” is not a question I think I want to be remembered by.

“Man, he was a cranky old misanthrope, but he left us all this toilet paper, and we’re grateful. We haven’t bought any in a few decades.”

No.

My point here is that what many people are accustomed to is still a novelty to me. Little details of life that most take for granted border on overwhelming for me to consider – not that I cannot manage this transition, but looking at how and why my life has been so different and the consequences it has had.

Even down to purchasing a bottle of dishwashing liquid.

Mr. Bojangles

A Brazilian friend of mine told me that there is a saying there: “As long as there are people clapping the madman will dance”.

As simple as that is, it merits considering that even as we clap, we dance, and as we dance, we clap, as do the people around us, as do the people we agree with, as do the people we disagree with.

Mr. Bojangles suddenly gained new meaning to me.

The Honest Answers.

k7223-7Once upon a time, when life was a little idyllic, somewhere before age 9, we were going on a picnic – my mother, father and myself – and she asked this little boy what kind of sandwich he wanted.

Without thinking, I blurted out that I wanted Genoa Salami and swiss on rye with a pickle on the side, and a Coke, please.

My parents stared at me. My mother looked at my father, and while I could not see her face I saw his full response. He shrugged, arched an eyebrow, “If he doesn’t eat it, he won’t eat.”

So she proceeded to make the sandwich under my careful supervision, with me handling the mustard – we didn’t have fancy mustard back then – just so. And all was well in the world at lunch time when I devoured that sandwich in front of my puzzled parents and actually wanted the other sandwich that I had begged my mother to create while telling her how pretty she was. “The Snowman”, she would call me.

This all came to mind in the fast food aisle at the grocery store today because, as luck would have it, I was picking up Salami and Swiss (and I’m baking my own rye).

It dawned on me, right there and then, that this was the most honest answer I had ever given anyone… ever. There was no thought. There was no questioning. There was simply the assembly of ingredients in my mind that came straight out of the mind of a 7 year old, without guile, without a hidden agenda, without even influence.

I was asked what I wanted. I was able to answer without worrying about expectation, what the other person would want to hear, and so on.

For a long time, I lost that, and if I’m honest with myself, it is even now difficult after years of my self-rehabilitation.

Children, in happy homes – and up til age 9 or so, mine was – have that gift of honesty. They don’t care. They say it. They mean it, and the only trouble is that they don’t necessarily have the words or data to express it as best they can to adults that aren’t as honest with themselves.

We go through our lives, thinking we’re giving honest answers, when so many aren’t.

Nothing of Consequence

©#74A few people who I have run into lately have asked the standard question: “What have you been up to?”, a troublesome question of cultural dimension.

My answer lately has been, “Nothing of consequence.”, and the reactions to that have been interesting to note.

One of the more mature human beings I know, Mark Lyndersay, took it in stride, perhaps because I have been uncharacteristically open with him a few times.

Others, though, seem boggled by my response. The modern human condition, most certainly as fatal as it ever was, comes with a need to demonstrate some level of progress to others. It is expected that the progress will be exaggerated to some degree – some overdo that – but there is this need to report some level of moving forward in the context of society.

Buying a house. Buying a car. Getting a better job, or promotion, a new significant other, the removal of an old significant other… all the way down to minutiae, like buying new clothing or something that somehow is supposed to improve status.

And this, in turn, is used by others who are connected to you to show others the value of their status being connected to you, and so on. This is how those networks are built.

So to tell people you are doing nothing of consequence, whether true or not, is amusing, and I think productive.

It’s a reality check. When I think of what I have worthy to report, I think of what will be remembered not even 100 years from now, but 20, and in this day of age it boils down to…

Nothing of consequence.

Leaders, Managers, Bosses.

boss leaderOver the last decade, I’ve had to explain way too often the difference between leadership, management, and being a boss. There are people with training that will disagree with some of what I write, if not all of it, but you can notice my level of concern with what they think by the fact that I’m publishing this.

Leadership is the ability to lead – and it requires a few ingredients that can vary across cultures and groups. Probably the most important aspect of leadership is trust.

People have to trust the leader, which is the constant political debacle of humanity. How that trust is formed varies around the world (When Culture Collide: Leading Across Cultures is a good resource, though the Caribbean suffered some laziness). That trust in someone as a leader is the most important aspect.

Regardless, that trust hopefully comes from some demonstrated ability, as well as a communicated vision that people agree on. The leader, as it is, doesn’t have to come up with the vision – this is a common misconception; visionaries aren’t always leaders and leaders aren’t always visionaries. The leader simply has to lead toward the common vision.

To continue leading, the leader has to retain the trust of those following – which is really the trickiest part of it all – while adjusting for changes in the vision and allowing for what people are willing to accept and sacrifice. People may take off their shoes a while to swim, but they are unlikely to be willing to have their feet amputated and fins installed.

We could get into the fine points of how to retain trust and so forth, but that varies from group to group and leader to leader. There’s no real school that can make everyone a leader, there is no book that will allow people to magically become leaders, and there’s absolutely nothing you can read on the Internet that will make you a leader.

It gets even more interesting. In different times, different skills and abilities – perhaps even talents –  are needed to become a leader. In business, it’s rare to find a CEO that transitions from startup company to mature company. In complex technology products and services, different people lead different aspects of the project and hopefully some people at the top steer everything the right way with a common vision across the projects.

I’m not sure how it works in governments because I’m fairly certain it doesn’t.

So, that covers leadership.

Management, on the other hand, is not really leading. Management is simply a matter of making sure that the leaders are at their most effective. If someone has written that somewhere before, please let me know – I’ve yet to hear someone with ‘management training’ say it.

This does not mean a manager cannot be a leader. Traditionally, managers are expected to be leaders to some degree, but it’s just not necessary – they have to empower those that they manage to attain the common vision of a business, and that is really not so much about getting people to agree to a common vision but making sure that they work toward it for the pay that they get. In this, a manager is a boss – and a boss is not necessarily a leader, either. In fact, I’ve encountered bosses who were neither managers nor leaders – they’re more prevalent than you might think.

A boss is basically the person that can hire and fire people. Hopefully they have some management ability. Hopefully they have some leadership ability.

A Different World.

A creature from another worldIn writing an upcoming post on KnowProSE.com related to information theory and an unannounced software project I’m fiddling with, I found that there was a need to explain reasons why I see the world differently than others.

So, some of the key things that allow me to see the world differently:

  • I’m a Third Culture Kid. I had to define my identity instead of simply having a hand-me-down identity.
  • I’m an atheist who became one by exploring multiple religions and, after weighing merits so forth, consciously decided none were for me. I’m not an anti-theist. I believe religion does have a use for people, I just have no use for it, and I only mock religion when it’s being used as an excuse to do disagreeable things.
  • I’m better traveled than most.
  • I’m largely self-educated and have not stopped that self-education.
  • My life has not been one of constants but variables – until lately, no ‘home’, periods of ‘regular’ work offset with the majority as a contractor. In the words of someone who came dangerously close to knowing me, “you lead a non-linear life”.
  • Worked in multiple fields, ranging from medicine to software engineering, tangible work to intangible work.
  • I have little sense of permanence.
  • I’m much more interested in the best path, or the truth, than being right.
  • I read a lot, but sometimes well off the path of what is popular, and consider everything in multiple contexts.
  • I’m not worried about what is popular.
  • I’m rigorously pragmatic.

All of this means a few key things about me that confuse a lot of people when they deal with me because I’m not something formed in cookie-cutters of culture. This means that sometimes, I have to appear a chameleon to move things forward, but largely I’m just someone who…

Sees the world differently.

And I look for others who do.

 

Comm Failure

Arctic CommunicationsI’ve spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about communications, information, and how one can weave ideas into the fabric of other people’s minds.

Writing has always come easy, and for a long time was something I took for granted because it simply helped me or hindered me. If someone didn’t understand what I said or wrote, I took it upon myself to get better at communicating. Lately, though, I find myself feeling less responsible for what people don’t understand or misunderstand – no one likes a pedant, not even other pedants, and there are some people who are simply unreasonable and unreachable. I turned to writing long ago because shouting at walls makes no sense.

Yesterday, two people took issue with this article about the digitized paper processes of Trinidad and Tobago, and it was a little revealing. To understand this, you have to understand that getting a credit or debit card in Trinidad and Tobago is a daunting process that many people don’t qualify for. It’s a bureaucratic process that, instead of getting approved in one day, can take months (I know) – and even then, teeters on the brink of whether or not you’re presented well to whoever is behind the Mastercard or Visa system associated with it. Because the majority don’t enjoy this luxury, I didn’t write about it.

Two people took issue with that. They began commenting on Facebook about how one didn’t have to print bills because you could pay with the credit or debit card… which is true, if you can get one, and in the weighted world of finance specific to Trinidad and Tobago, is not the majority of people. Further, the point about those who lacked that financial luxury taken for granted elsewhere – in the U.S., banks give out debit cards like candy, as an example (more really, most banks don’t have candy anymore). So those who don’t have the financial tools in Trinidad and Tobago, the majority, have to print out the same bill.

It’s not as if one can depend on the local postal service to get you your bill on time, assuming that the relevant service provider has sent it on time – so people interested in uninterrupted service end up going to the website and using their ink and paper to print the very same bill – which is 2-3 pages, usually, when really, done right, you could just print one and go to a more convenient outlet to pay. Parking at the offices is always problematic, so they have ancillary places where one can pay.

Why do people have to print out all those pages? Largely because the bills are inefficient and have been for as long as I remember. After all, one might just hand someone the account number and the amount to pay – and they should be able to handle that, but because of receipts and bureaucratic fail-safes, and because… well, because they just digitized a paper process.

And that was the point of the article. I’ve written more than enough about the failure of banks to provide better online payment services for more people, but these two people were stuck on their ability to pay their bills online.

They were stuck in their perspective – nothing existed beyond their perspective. Even saying that they were correct in that they could pay their bills online while the majority could not was a bridge too far for them.

This ground away at me for all of 5 minutes, before they removed themselves from my audience (thank you!). Their minds didn’t stretch that far, stuck in the ice-tray of their own little worlds they were completely cut off from the rest of the world and liked that so much that they wanted to impose their world on everyone else.

We all do it. Oddly enough, though, it has something to do with a software project I’m working on and a bit of the philosophy behind it. When I write about it on KnowProSE.com, the link will appear below.