Questions

Do 97% of climate scientists believe in climate change?

I’ve just read my dozenth or so column where the author lambasted his poor readers for not “believing in climate change.” My thoughts on the subject have been difficult to put into 140 characters due to the branching nature of the questions and conclusions, so I decided to make a flowchart outlining my thoughts on how most of us may experience the conversation of climate change and what ought to be done about it.

Do 97% of climate scientists believe “yes” to the final portion of this chart? Of course not, but that’s what your neighbor expects you to believe when they say it over a beer while playing pool. It’s an emotional argument and an appeal to authority. It’s designed to end debate like a MOAB.

The 97% could be saying “yes” to the first question on the chart, or the fourth question on the chart, and that would make total sense, but it’s far from the only question. In additon, the scientific method avoids “belief” in things that aren’t consistently reproducible. Climate models and predictions routinely fail over and over again. Is it that the believed consequences of our collective inaction have caused stoics to turn into zealots?

It’s my belief that absent generalized political associations or dogma that each of us would move through some process like this to determine our course of action. At each diamond shaped question, I believe some percentage of people choose “no” and thus become what many will call “climate deniers.” I think the same people that would bandy about a pejorative will inevitably be the same people who get all the way to the very end deciding that any action at any cost is preferable.

I’m fine with people concluding that, by the way. I have quite liberal friends and I can appreciate their sense of dread at what they believe to be our inevitable destruction at our own hands. For myself, I’m more doubtful. If this were a trial, and I had to condemn a man to death with 100% certainty and I had to move through a chart like this I would never be able to pull the lever. There are too many variables and possibilities vs. the ultimate cost of what many would like us to do: give sweeping powers to governments, both domestic and international and impose regulations, taxes, and fines on all areas of life. In my opinion, it’s simply a bridge too far.

Globalwarming

Conversely, if you find yourself getting to the end and you take any issue with my layout or construction, please don’t hesitate to comment or drop me a line and let me know. I only worked on this for about 30 minutes and I’m certain it’s far from complete or wholly representative of the views of my cohorts that find themselves on the left side of the political aisle.

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To write a better Mission Statement, have a better mission.

Planning is invaluable, but plans are useless.

Planning is invaluable, but plans are useless.

For the last year we’ve been discussing our Mission and who we want to be as a team. What’s the imprint of our collective souls and what words do we want to live by, faithfully? It’s not an easy question and it’s taken us the better part of a year, with regular meetings, to arrive at this:

In everything we do we seek to simplify the complicated. Because nothing is faster, we trust our teammates and clients freely and implicitly, and we treat them that way. Doing so builds a safe environment where communication is free-flowing, open, and honest.

Through this environment we continually work to innovate our operational systems to ensure the best possible user experience (UX), from first tour through graduation. Knights Circle creates an exceptional Student Housing experience by focusing on people, and a ceaseless desire to make their lives easier.

A few thoughts relating to our mission statement and how we went into the process of creating it:

It’s focused: We wanted something that wasn’t too long or too all encompassing – if you have five priorities, you have no priorities. We wanted to focus on systems because we all could and everyone had skin in that game. From the bottom up, our organization has an interest in making sure our systems work properly every time. Our clients’ satisfaction is directly wrapped up in our systems, as are our front line team members. If things work right, you’re generally happy with the service – both inside and outside the operation.

It’s not permanent:  I think too often people tend to assume that a mission statement needs to be god speaking for all time. Not so. It’s a living document, much closer to a constitution – this is how we’re assembled and for what purpose. If we no longer feel as though this speaks to our highest purpose, and there’s another revelation that we want to enshrine, then change it we will. The good news is we don’t need anything as unwieldy as a continental congress to do it.

It advises action: A mission statement that can’t help guide your choice in actions isn’t worth the time it takes to read it. If we’re going to say that we trust everyone implicitly, what’s that look like in action? Are there things we’re doing now that suggest we don’t trust people? For example, some managers have required doctor’s notes for absent employees who’ve called out for appointments. Requiring the note says fully “look, we don’t really believe you and we want to see proof – we don’t trust you and we have to protect ourselves from you.” That’s not at all the message we want to send, so we stop doing it. The same with our clients – if they want to switch rooms due to an unsolvable roommate dispute, requiring the jumping through of hoops for documentation in order to offer it, it says “We don’t believe you and we don’t trust you. You’re trying to get over on us and we’re not going to have it.” That was never the intention of course, but that’s the resulting feeling to the client.

 It’s honest: How many times have you looked at a company’s stated mission only to shake your head? The soaring platitudes are exhausting and immediately erode whatever trust you may have had. If an organization can’t be honest with themselves, how can they be honest (consistently, institutionally) with anyone else? We wanted to say something we all believed in and that we all wanted to live by. The best parts of US is our ability to work together and our shared desire to provide a great experience. We were honest with each other that while we’re pretty damn good at this thing, we’re not perfect and we’d like to get closer to that. Breaking it down we realized focusing our energies on perfecting our systems would have a ripple effect positively touching every other aspect of our business; Happier clients, happier Team, and more success.

Another great design by Danae McDermott

Another great design by Danae McDermott

We started with Why: A giant hat tip to Mr. Simon Sinek for his inspirational TED talk. If you’re not familiar, I can’t implore you enough to check out his work (Talks, books, consulting services, etc…) as he’s directly responsible for how we chose to approach this formulation. In short, Sinek advises that great organizations start with Why they do things, then How, then What. Most though do it the other way around and this gets it all wrong, eliminating any of the inspiration and identity that could be had between the client and the company. For an example, ours is as follows:

WHY: We hate needless complication. We like things to work seamlessly. We think we can simplify things better than anyone else because we understand WHY they ultimately should be that way.

HOW: Because we trust each other, and our clients, we’re able to be honest about our business and our shortcomings in our systems. We strive to fix our systems to eliminate institutional defects.

WHAT: An exceptional student housing experience. This starts with everything working the way it should. The exceptional part is that we’re also exceedingly nice and warm, happy people who love what they do and each other. Since we work in a system that values people and making things work, we’ve got lots of goodwill in our hearts to treat you like a rock star and to go out of our way for you. We’re not scared of you, or hiding from you – we want to delight you.

We think this should be a good overall statement for this coming year and I’m impressed with how the team has taken to it with enthusiasm. I’m confident that a year from now, we’ll be writing a different version that recognizes our shifting focus while retaining our core Why, and that’s how it should be. Involvement breeds commitment, and that’s one thing we have plenty of.

What’s your mission? How did you get there? Does it still serve you and your team?

“Her” – What does it say about “Us?”

Having just watched Spike Jonze 2013 Oscar Winner for Best Original Screenplay, “Her” last night, I’ve been flooded with questions the last 24 hours, and not a soul to discuss them with that thought anything other than “that was… weird.”

Some SPOILERS beyond this point:

In fairness, it was weird. That’s what completely new things feel like – weird. Not the familiarity of the tried and true and too often repeated. And being so original it can make one uncomfortable with its intimacy. Not just the kind shared between the lonely poet-of-sorts and a computer program, but the unveiled honesty of the whole experience.

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From the start we see a famous pregnant woman’s photo (Demi Moore’s 1991 Vanity Fair cover, anyone?) come to life in Theodore’s mind as pure fantasy (weird, right?) and further to his brief, anonymous phone call with a woman who encourages him to choke her with a cat in order to bring the interlude to climax. Super weird. These aren’t things we’re used to seeing or thoughts of a nature we’re used to sharing.

Theodore is alone, and as he’s not surrounded by another person, there is no reason for artifice. He communicates like we all do with our most intimate selves – we just happen to be watching – and that’s the problem apparently. It is fully accepted and understood that we all live private lives that we don’t share with anyone – something always is held back for fear of how it will be construed. But Theodore doesn’t have this limitation: telling all to an insanely curious operating system (desperate to know the world and to know this man) he’s not at risk of being judged the same way his blind date will judge him.

In that last part there’s the bit of the ultimate male fantasy, I suppose: The woman who exists (it appears) to do little else but to love and care for us. Lest Ted get bored too quickly, he tells Samantha that he’s not ready for anything too serious. To our surprise she responds not as the demure, emotionally attached woman, but as an honest-to-goodness person of her own. She has dreams and wants, and doesn’t just live to make our guy’s life grand. That’s interesting and refreshing – because this is a love story and not just “guy has interactive phone-coitus with his OS and it’s totally weird but beautiful, kinda, because Spike Jonze put cool music over long shots of Phoenix riding a train.”

These characters are real and more importantly, honest. The normal bet-hedging we all do when we meet someone gets eliminated here. She’s forthright with her fears, though appropriately hesitant (for effect) and does her best to grow as a person. She wants him to be happy and wants the same for herself. Instead of being the trapped housewife we might imagine, she’s actually living an incomparably full life – one Theodore can never match.

Being that close (as viewers) to the unbelievable highs of new love and the (inevitable?) growing apart that these two go through, is an unsettling experience. So yeah, “weird…” is a perfectly appropriate description of “Her” but also woefully incomplete. It’s also about the scars of losing someone and the scariness of loving someone else again. It’s about selflessness and shared existence, about our desire to find happiness almost anywhere.

Could you love a computer program? I think most will be quick to dismiss the notion as too fanciful, but isn’t (sufficiently bright) Artificial Intelligence, still “Intelligence?” And isn’t that half or more of what we come to love about another person – or at least the part that really sticks? Sure, the way they wrinkle their nose when they’re about to sneeze, or the way they hold their coffee with both hands when it’s cold, are super cute, but is it the lion’s-share of why we love them?

In the end, isn’t it the relationship between our intelligence and another’s, that pulls the lever in our brain, the one releasing the dopamine and serotonin that cause us to get so insanely high that we act all kinds of crazy in love?

Amy: “Are you falling in love with her?”

Theodore: “Does that make me a freak?”

Amy: “No, no, I think it’s, I think anybody who falls in love is a freak. It’s a crazy thing to do. It’s kind of like a form of socially acceptable insanity.”

Would it have made a difference had Theodore reached Samantha on the phone randomly at the start of the film, as opposed to uploading her onto his computer? His having never known she was a program – would we view it any differently? There are plenty of people who have relationships that are entirely long-distance, one’s where they’ll never meet the person on the other end of the phone, or computer. Little odd? Maybe, but not dismissively so. 

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I’m haunted by so many aspects of this film: What does it say about the connections we make and the connections we don’t? Towards the end it kind of dawns on Theodore that everyone is having these silo-like-relationships. It’s almost a “Soylent Green is made out of people!” moment. But far less ominous, of course. Would such a relationship, undertaken knowingly, be “healthy” in any way? There clearly aren’t any ethical implications, right? Wouldn’t an unchecked AI with the power and sophistication of Samantha be incredibly dangerous? I mean, Terminator starts with far less in the way of operational processing power, doesn’t it?

More importantly: if Samantha can feel things, emotionally, what kind of responsibility does that place on Theodore (or anyone) to treat her in a respectful manner? Is an AI, regardless of how sophisticated, just a series of switches and impulses sending out hyper-realistic communication, but ultimately nothing more than so many magnetically positioned ones and zeroes?  And if so, should it be excluded from the same respect we pay to animals? Or the mentally deficient? If an AI (like the newly resurrected Alan Watts of the film) is created with a sufficiently complex “personality” does that mean it should be afforded the same rights as a person? Meaning it would be unethical to shut it down without due process?

Much like an iceberg, the total mass of questions this movie represents are largely unseen, I just wish more people saw the exposed parts for how intricate they are.

Success is Simply Luck?

What is talent? Malcolm Gladwell, somewhat famously, has said he believes talent to be the innate love of some particular pursuit – more so than most other people. Listening to Penn Jillette’s new audio book “God, No!” he states that the real trick to doing magic is simply the willingness of the magician to spend an insane amount of time learning something that no one else would think would be so important. And simply for the sake of pulling off this “trick.” 

success has a thousand fathers

Most people don’t care that much, thus they don’t display the “talent” for magic that someone else does who has put in thousands upon thousands of hours.  Gladwell believes similarly, noting that Wayne Gretzky so loved hockey that he thought about it incessantly. In fact, he thought about it so much that he was the first to score a goal by picking up the puck with his stick and flipping it in from behind the net. That’s love. The same, of course, would be said of Michael Jordan who was famously cut from his High School basketball team but put in intense amounts of work to get back on, and to secure a scholarship to UNC. 

Gladwell also notes, through his best selling book “Outliers” that many famous successes were due to being in the right place at the right time, or even being born at the right time. No doubt that it is helpful to turn up in situations that are primed for success. By definition though, these success stories that he focuses his attention on, are true outliers in that they’re statistically abnormal. The vast multitude of successes and failures that occur each day are of the far more normal variety, not involving some extreme set of criteria. 

During the Summer of 2012, a speech by the President declared “If you got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” Setting off a discussion about success and its roots, the likes of which hadn’t occurred before in such a public way. Of course, conservative leaning people were up in arms, declaring that they had in fact “built that” and that success isn’t reducible to  simple luck. Likewise, failure isn’t the result of bad luck necessarily.

Clearly, liberally minded individuals tend to disagree with their conservative counterparts. Gladwell is dismissive of the greatest of successes as being too much a manifestation of luck, be it genetic, chronological, or cultural. There is something to be said for noting the obvious advantages the cases in Outliers enjoyed. However, I don’t think that’s the most effective way to think about success.

When we say to ourselves, success is the product of luck, we’ve let all motivation out the window. If we’re not responsible for our success, if there is no credit to be taken for having worked hard and succeeded – especially where others have failed, then what’s the point? For the collective good? Take a good look at Russia and tell me how that’s working out.

The United States makes up 22.5% of the Global economy despite our making up only 4% of the population. Oh, and we didn’t exist as a country more than 250 years ago. How old is Egypt? Europe? China? Rank of GDP by Country Ours has been an economic system of opportunity to do whatever you like and to create value for those around you. Starting a business and putting in the long hours is not an easy road to hoe, regardless of what kind of background and normative advantages you have. If success was entirely luck, how then to explain for the out-sized success of a 237 year old country vs the other 180 or so? The US has been that lucky for all this time?! Year in, year out?!

Obviously, the young science student who was born to well-off, educated parents, who provide her with the financial, emotional, and cultural support to attend a University in pursuit of a STEM degree has a little help in the pursuit of her success, but she still has to love it. Like Gretzky, Jordan, or Penn Jillette, she has to be willing to spend her time and energy on difficult studies. Is it a little easier for her than the son of a single parent who is working three jobs to help pay for text books? Certainly – but she still has to do the work. If you tell her that after she’s completed school, gotten a job as an engineer and finally secured herself some success at the age of 40, that she didn’t really earn it, what are you doing to the motivation to keep going? Is telling her that her success is not hers done so to benefit those that do not achieve? To help alleviate their bruised feelings as they wait for their good luck (or more likely, bad luck) to arrive?

I know people like that. They’ve never found success of any real sort, and generally struggle through life. Nothing much interested them enough to move beyond the comfort zone of sacking out in front of the couch. Reading seemed tedious and pointless. Besides, success and wealth just sort of happen to people, right? It’s not the same thing as people trying and failing – that’s worthy of the greatest of respect. Trying and failing is what has made our economic success so powerful – we take risks and we get back up off the floor and try again. No, the real shame is telling some portion of our population that they’re not responsible for their successes or failures, that things just… happen.  As much as I respect Mr. Gladwell, and hold his work in the highest regard, I can’t agree with his outlook in this instance.

What do you think? Is success largely the result of the conditions one comes up in? Or is success as much, or more dependent on individual effort and the strive to achieve?

"Knowing neither victory nor defeat"

“Knowing neither victory nor defeat”

Is College Worth it?

As hundreds of thousands of fresh faced high school grads launch their credit-card-driven assaults on Target & Walmart positions the nation over, are parents and students spending more time debating mini-fridges than the very education they’re aiming to get?

ABC’s 20/20 broaches the subject in the video above. I’m certain there are a number of college grads who feel as though, perhaps, they paid a bit too much for their educations. But hey – what are you going to do, right? “We had to go! It cost what it cost!”

I remember sitting on a porch one evening about ten years ago speaking with a friend’s beau who claimed that:

“College has absolutely no value whatsoever.For anyone. Seriously. No one should go.”

In only his early 20’s, this guy was knocking on the door of six figures, with only a high school diploma to speak of. Well, that and a truckload of charisma and confidence – but they don’t have pieces of paper for those sorts of things.

As I was presently enrolled in school, I rebuked his claim as a bridge too far. Certainly there had to be some redeeming value I was getting for my hard earned money!? I’d read Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and was now well versed in the ancient Japanese practice of “foot binding” but did that make me any more employable? Better yet, would it help me break through the phalanx that is a modern day HR department to even get myself in front of someone for an interview? When everyone has a degree, does anyone have a degree?

I guess the pertinent question here is “what makes people successful?” Is a college education, where students learn to work hard, study, prepare for large projects, etc… the best indicator of future success? Or, as the guy in the video asserts, would those top high school students have been successful no matter? Isn’t it their innate drive, passion, and personality that serve as the better markers for a stellar career?

I never did get my 4 year degree. I was putting myself through school full time and wound up finding out that I was really good at property management and sales. It also helped that I was making double what I would have, had I finished with a journalism degree (my chosen course of study) and all without taking out a ton of additional loans. Not that I could have found a job at the time anyway (broadband internet wasn’t exactly the best thing to happen to newspapers) but I digress…

Something doesn't add up...

I’m in the wrong business! Clearly opening a college is where it’s at!

Undoubtedly, a college education is valuable. How much so remains the real question and one that only parents and students can answer for themselves. Live it up at an out of state school? On campus or off? Attend a local college or take mostly internet courses? What you choose to spend is entirely up to you. Just make sure you’re honest about what it’s worth to you and what you think it’s worth to the market place.

If you did graduate and are now enjoying the process that is paying off student loans, let me know your thoughts! Worth it overall? Would you do it over, and if so, would you change anything?