After enough time, even important things fade into the background

Things fade into the background if they’re no immediate danger to us. The aging nuclear power plant that provides power but is not in compliance with safety regulations and sits near an earthquake fault line (like the Indian Point nuclear reactor outside of NYC). Or the cost of war in lives and money that doesn’t effect you… yet. Or the bank that continues to go into debt making risky bets because the government bailed them out by also going into debt. And without making cuts in government services…yet.

Last week the CEO of JP Morgan Chase, Jamie Dimon, made an interesting announcment. The company lost over $2 billion dollars continuing their risky betting. Now, this is a fraction of their hundreds of billions of dollars in income. (Income, not profit: They have 3 times as much debt as assets.) So is Dimon preparing us for worse to come? Maybe. Or is he trying to establish an environment of acceptance of risky betting? Dimon said the investments were a “terrible, egregious mistake” but “we maintain our fortress balance sheet and capital strength to withstand setbacks like this.” Was this a PR move to instill trust in a market that is losing it?

In 1912, JP Morgan, the founder of this company, was speaking in a testimony with Congress. He was asked whether banking debt is based on money or property.
He answered that it was about character, “before money or anything else. Money cannot buy it…Because a man I do not trust could not get money from me on all the bonds in Christendom.”

Do you trust a market where you buy things like a television? How about a market that buys…money? There’s a big difference that needs to be appreciated. One is in the business of creating cheap goods and services for money. The other is in the business of creating money. One is less government driven and difficult to corrupt, while the other is more government driven and much easier to corrupt. What they have in common is that the consumer decides whether to buy their goods or services.

And that consumer is you and me.

Your workplace is life. Life is your workplace.

As I’m currently transitioning to new clients in my career, I’ve been thinking about what makes a healthy workplace and my past experiences with companies and teams. Coincidentally, I was watching an episode of The Office and the executive manager decided to resolve a power struggle between two employees who wanted to be manager by saying, “I’m sure you two can sort this out among yourselves.” and left them to resolve the issue. It reminded me of how the department I worked at previously was being run and how we need a social structure to excel.

Where I worked, every so often, the manager would get a visit from one of the team members, complaining to her about what another team member was doing. She would listen, and then do nothing. There was no discussion. As a consequence, there was little talking on the team, socially, or in terms of hashing out problems. People felt the need to go to her and didn’t feel comfortable enough with their team mates to express themselves.

A vacuum of leadership

I remember when I started there, I was not welcomed by the manager. I did my consulting projects with minimal training on their work process. There were no team building exercises or outings. There was no feeling of community.

The team completed their work, but is that enough?

Stuff got done, but with the minimum of service and occasional added cost to the company. And it was done in a sterile space. It’s clear that this is because there was no communication. This hurts performance in terms of the company’s interests, but my point here is the impact on the people, which is the most important asset of the company anyway.

It’s sad when we spend most of our lives at work, more than 8 hours a day, day after day, and we often don’t connect with our co-workers. Maybe because the workplace is too rigid, but it could be because there is no framework of managing the people.

We need a social structure with a leader

Alain de Botton has observed this as well. He tells us that the same guidance in religious communities is necessary in the secular population. People need a social structure with a leader, a place to connect and share. The congregation should extend beyond church walls to many places, most of which being the workplace.

So as I review my past and future work experience, I ask, if our workplace is not a congregation of friends who can synergize for the company and socialize for our own quality of life, then it might be time to reconsider where we want to spend the rest of our lives.

TED Talk Tuesday invaded by FOX News: What if…?


“What if the two-party system were actually a mechanism used to limit so-called public opinion? What if there were more than two sides to every issue, but the two parties wanted to box you in to a corner, one of their corners?

What if there’s no such thing as public opinion, because every thinking person has opinions that are uniquely his own?

What if public opinion were just a manufactured narrative that makes it easier to convince people that if their views are different, there’s something wrong with that – or something wrong with them?

What if the whole purpose of the Democratic and Republican parties was not to expand voters’ choices, but to limit them?

What if those vaunted differences between Democrat and Republican were actually just minor disagreements?

What if both parties just want power and are willing to have young people fight meaningless wars to enhance that power?

What if both parties continue to fight the war on drugs just to give bureaucrats and cops bigger budgets and more jobs?

What if government policies didn’t change when government’s leaders did?

What if no matter who won an election, government stayed the same?

What if government were really a revolving door of political hacks, bent on exploiting the people while they’re in charge?”

Who watches the watcher?
The answer is clear.
It’s you and me!
An enlightened and knowledgeable population.
The government and corporations and banks don’t rule us.
They serve us.
We can change the power imbalance that has drifted to them.

Yes.
We can.

The perfect backyard and the perfect person.

I was out walking with Jesse the other day. The sun was setting and the western skies were aglow with shimmering orange and yellow and red. We passed a home with a back yard that was carefully landscaped with evergreen trees. They were clustered within neat rings of stone. A decorative stone bench sat at either end of the yard. There was small, neatly trimmed shrubbery flanking the area.

“That yard looks like a park,” I said.

I thought about the care of the owners to ensure that the branches were trimmed. The stones and benches clear of weeds. The grass surrounding them cut. I said, “I wonder what the yard is going to look like in a hundred years. Will the yard even be there? Will it be destroyed? Will the family have moved on, and will there be another family owning the place?”

The transience of life

I think about how much the yard was appreciated. I think of our constant struggle to keep order. Maintaining our hygiene, cleaning ourselves, walking about, working, exercising, cleaning again. Picking out the soap and shampoo that we like, maybe it’s the cheapest, or the one that has best scent, or the one used in all the salons, or the one that’s not tested on animals.

Finding the restaurant with the tastiest dishes, the ones we must have, and we’ll pay for it, because nothing else is good enough. Maybe getting fast food, because we just want to eat something, anything. Or going to places that get their ingredients locally. Or having a garden, or not eating animals because we do care, we care a lot about our actions…

Does it matter?

Eating, brushing our teeth, eating again, brushing again, stopping the rot, keeping the bacteria at bay. Our diligence! Cutting the grass, cursing the rain, cutting the grass again, trimming bushes.

Again and again and again.

Going shopping to replace worn clothes, or just because it feels good. Trying to make more money, searching for that job that will make us comfortable, that income that’s just out of our reach, if only we could get to it.

Until we don’t do it anymore

Until one day, we stand at the gates to be judged. The gates of truth. Our conscience. And we ask ourselves if we spent our time wisely. Did we make an effort to do the right thing, or did we follow the crowd? Did we work too much, too little? Did we care about our contribution, about the consequences of our actions? Did we care about people, about the future, or did we throw up our hands in helplessness? Did we worry too much, or did we enjoy our life?

I looked at the yard and thought all this, because this is what I do. I thought about the big clock. Tick-tock. And then I stopped thinking of that. And I started appreciating everything a little bit more.

The perfect backyard and the perfect person? Neither is possible. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try for them.

TED Talk Tuesday – Derek Sivers shows us how to start a movement



It’s hard being the first to step out of the group:

“Let’s declare our independence from the king.”
“Let’s free the slaves.”
“Let’s not eat animals.”
“I’m going to spin on my head while you scratch that record”

Sivers shows us that the importance of the leader is significant, but the first people who listen to him and do something are the key to driving a movement.

“If you really care about starting a movement, have the courage to follow and show others how to follow. And when you find a lone nut doing something great, have the guts to be the first one to stand up and join in.”

We are social animals, but thankfully, our need to achieve and follow our individual desires drags us forward to a better future, kicking and screaming…or in this case, dancing.