Sunday Roundup – June 8, 2014

Intention. It is the reason why we act – we intend to get a result.

Exactly what the result is, however, is the important part of intention. Intending only to be kind will get the result you want, even if you don’t know you want it.

Treating People with Kindness

Kindness begins with one of two intentions: 1) to receive something in return or 2) for the sake of doing it. Reason 2 is best, as it focuses on one’s own intent.

There is no expectation of return, so there is no chance to be disappointed. Expecting nothing in return makes it more pleasant when one receives something in return anyway.

Pillars of Trust

Business owners will consider Reason 1 first. That is how a business functions: it is intended to generate a profit .

Reason 2 to be kind does not expect return, but that does not mean there will be no return. Being kind with no intention of instant return is more noticeable than one would imagine, and doing so creates stories of trust that are worth sharing.

Clients sharing their own stories about an amazing business works far better than a business telling the same stories. There is no better endorsement than “on top of delivering the goods at the right price, they were exceptionally kind”.

Career Boosters: The Value of Volunteering

“I did it for the sake of itself” is not the best interview content, so the article linked above focuses on direct benefits of volunteering. Though one may volunteer for the sake of doing it, the interviewees make it clear that there are tangible benefits.

Just like being kind, volunteering has more benefits than “more business” or “another sale”. Volunteering is kindness given action – doing good deeds for the sake of doing it. Picking up skills, knowledge, and relationships are side-effects that need no warning label.

Over to You…

Do you give away your time? What about your kindness? Tell a story about the unexpected benefits of your intention to be a good person.

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Sunday Round Up – June 1, 2014

Respect usually refers to equal treatment. Treating others as one wishes to be treated, as the Golden Rule states. It seems that some individuals, like Elliot Rodger, create stories driven by a warped sense of respect.

Luckily those stories can create positive change. In this case, Twitter and the Internet at large exploded with stories of violence against women, almost all using the #YesAllWomen hashtag. Two articles caught my eye.

14 #YesAllWomen Tweets Everyone Needs To See

140 characters are enough to explain hell. 14 different hells, in fact.

Your Princess Is in Another Castle: Misogyny, Entitlement, and Nerds

My parents did an excellent job of instilling the fact that movies, television, and video games do not depict reality. Though many of them come close to it, the scripts we see in modern media are meant to entertain, not explain how one is to live.

This article grabbed my attention because it calls out some of the scripts that are fed nerds and geeks like me. It reinforces what my parents taught me so many years ago: consider everything I choose to consume and every action that I wish to take. After all, I do not exist in a vacuum devoid of other human beings.

Tomorrow and Beyond

Gender or sex or religion or any other “dividing line” are fine to make note of, but are no excuse for abuse, violence, and rape. Human beings deserve to be treated as human beings – respected as equal partners in the success of our species.

Control

While driving on the two-lane Fraser Highway, hundreds of feet above a frothy river of the same name, I was given sagely advice from the car’s back seat.

The only thing you can control is yourself.

Do Unto Others…

…what you would have them do to you. That’s an old cliche, but it makes a good point.

I got into an argument with my father two weeks ago, right before I left for vacation that would take me well outside cell phone range. I pushed too hard to make my point, and after we stopped talking, I knew I had been the aggressor. I hesitated to say anything, and missed the chance to be leaving the city.

My mother and I discussed it (she was on vacation with me). I thought about it myself. In the end, I wasn’t happy with how the situation had ended, but for a while I was unwilling to admit that I should be the first to take action.

On the way back from that vacation, I was given the piece of advice that at the beginning of this post. I realised that if I expect an apology, I would have to take control of myself and apologise.

Aftermath

I decided to take control of myself. When I got home, I apologised. It was the first thing I did after depositing my bags.

The words of the earlier argument melted away and became immaterial. All the tension that had built up over my week-long vacation disappeared.

Do you expect people to apologise to you when they do something wrong? Apologise when you do something wrong. Do you expect people to solicit your feedback? Ask them for theirs.

I took control and did what I had to. I chose to act, and the needle moved.

Assumptions and Optimism

So! I am disappearing to the middle of nowhere for 10 days. When I return, there will be new content, but there will be nothing new here next Friday.

Now, on to assumptions and optimism.

Where It All Started

Since my parents purchased our first home computer, I have played video games. I can’t say that I come from the same pedigree as gamers that began with large machine in an arcade, nor can I say that my first gaming console was one of the classics (Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, etc). My first console was a Nintendo 64 that I bought in my teens. A friend of mine has the machine now, and it still runs.

Anyway. This post is not about video gaming or consoles. It is about a phenomenon I have noticed in online multi player games. It is the tendency to leave when the going gets tough (or before, in some cases).

Playing the Game

In a single player game, leaving has no consequence. When the game gets frustrating or pointlessly difficult to play, the player can stand up and go do something else or play a different game.

Some multiplayer games function in a similar manner: the game is hosted on a server and runs perpetually. Players can come and go as they choose. If there are players on the server who are too good for everyone else, one can simply find another server to play on. The only time a game ends is based on how the game is scored or if a time limit elapses, and even then, then server usually just changes the map or restarts the match. Once again, there is no consequence for leaving.

Other mutliplayer games function in a random match format. The player hits the “go” button and they are matched with enough other players to fill the space on each team. This method usually employs some form of “matchmaker” that uses parameters such as player skill, how far they have advanced into the game, and/or other relevant measurements.

Win/Loss

A pair of games that I have been playing recently, World of Tanks and War Thunder fall under second category of multiplayer game. Interestingly, they are also free-to-play. Any user with a good enough computer can play these games, and the system requirements are not high.

Zero entry price for the game and low computer requirements mean that the level of player skill will vary wildly. Some players will exceptional, many will not be.

That also leads to interesting matchmaking. The matchmaker in each of these games does not use win/loss ratio, average damage per game, or any statistical measure associated to any one player’s account. Instead, the matchmaker uses the rank of the vehicle being used by the player.

Beacuse of that, some players to acquire user-made modifications for the game that allow them to see the win/loss ratios of players on each team and calculate the percentile chance each team has of winning, based purely on those numbers.

Assumptions

Now let’s get into the meat of this discussion.

The modifications I mentioned lead some players assume whether or not their team will win. There are more factors than statistics to a win/loss equation, but some players seem to rely entirely on the numbers, and then leave a match if there is a low chance of victory.

About a month ago, I was playing World of Tanks and noticed something strange. Using the in-game chat system, a player on my team, let’s call him JoeBob stated “win chance too low. bye”. A system message came up: “JoeBob has left the game” and his tank exploded.

That situation is not unique. I have seen the same thing happen several times. It is annoying from my perspective because my team is at a disadvantage: one less player, one less gun, one less bullet magnet.

Optimism

Absence from a game is like lining up a shot and then not taking it. At least taking the shot gives one the chance to hit the target. It’s like saying “It looks too tough” without knowing whether or not it will actually be tough. Raw statistical calculation does not account for every variable possible.

That kind of negative, “can’t do, won’t do, might fail” attitude is usually called “pessimism”. Most, if not all, of you have heard that word before. Giving up before you start is the ultimate definition of pessimism.

To get back to the game I mentioned earlier, I go into every match without a mod that tells me the chance of victory because I don’t want to begin a negative self-fulfilling prophecy. Like Han Solo once said: “Don’t give me the odds!”

I don’t have the keys to the Millennium Falcon (I wish I did), but I do like Solo’s optimism. Despite facing overwhelming odds, he chose to ignore them and bet on his skills (and a little bit of luck). Just like Han, I would rather make the best of the situation than back out based on an assumption.

Textbook Reading: It’s Just a Phase…

In my first year at college, a student approached me after class to ask a question.

“How did you remember that one sentence in the assigned chapter that answered the professor’s question, man?”  At the time, my answer was lame (and the irony is that I can’t remember the professors question or my answer):

“I just read the material.”

Though not exciting, that was the correct answer at the time.  I would skim the chapter, and then read it soon after.  Since then, I have refined my textbook reading technique into a phased approach.

It works for me, but it is by no means the “only” way to get through an assigned reading.  At the very least, I hope it will help you create an approach that works best for you.

Phase 1: The Set-Up

Set Aside Time

My usual is 4 hours in a morning for one subject, 4 hours the same afternoon for another subject.  If pressed, I can add additional reading or assignments (or a social life) to the middle of the day or evening.

If you’re taking a course that has a regular schedule, a regulated reading schedule will be helpful.  The routine will make it easier to actually do the reading instead of putting it off until later.  It will also make it easier for your brain to categorize and retain the information.

Grab a glass of water.  Fill a cup of coffee.  Make your lunch.  Whatever makes your study time comfortable and allows you to retain information; do it.

Study Space

I study at my dining table.  Always.

Just like the consistent timing of a study session, the consistent place will help you retain information.  It can also help with the next step.

Remove Distractions

Turn off the cell phone.  Log off Facebook.  Disconnect from the internet.  Lock your front door.  Seriously.

This is the most important step.  Do it right.  You are trying to create knowledge, so focus on that instead of the world around you.

Phase 2: Information Intake

Know What You’re Getting Into

Read the chapter overview.  It’s there for a reason: to tell you what you’re about to read.

Read the End First

Just like an awful novel you don’t feel obligated to read completely.

A well written chapter summary is worth its weight in gold.  It should tell you what you can expect from the chapter and the author’s writing style.

If the summaries in your textbook suck, write a list of the reasons why and discuss them with your professor.  Generally they choose the textbook for the course, so will appreciate the feedback.  If they don’t, then they aren’t much of a professor.

Skim the chapter

Read definitions of key terms.  Highlight sections that grab your attention.  Take a look over charts and graphics.

At this stage, you don’t need to think about the information.  By this point, you should have a general sense of what the chapter is trying to say.  If questions come to mind, write them down and try to answer them in the next phase.

Break

Take a 5 minute break.  Mentally bounce what you just read around in your mind.  There is no need to draw conclusions.

Phase 3: Knowledge Creation

Other than removing distractions, this is the most critical phase.  It will take time.  It may not be easy.  However, it will help you get what you need from the textbook.

Reading

Read the chapter word for word.  Re-read the summary.  Take the time to consider definitions in a way that will help you understand what the term means.

Highlight key concepts.  Think about them, too.  Ask yourself “what does this concept mean in the context of this class and my life?  How can I apply it?”

While reading, take notes based on how you understand what you are reading; you can always check your understanding with your professor.  These will be useful in class and later in life.  The way that you understand the content is more important than how the textbook presents it. Exact format is unimportant: mind maps are effective, but you may find other forms of notes to be more effective.

If there are example exercises, do at least a few of them.  This is especially important for math-heavy classes.  Do the math; it will make your in-class and in-exam life less painful.

Re-read sections that do not make sense.  Take a 5 minute break to consider a section if it still does not make sense.  Write down questions.

Review

Reading needs to be done first; however, review is just as important for retention of information and creating knowledge.

Open the textbook to the appropriate chapter, read over your notes, highlighted concepts, and sections that didn’t quite make sense.  Consider how it could apply to your life or how you assume it applies to the context of the class associated to the textbook.  Think of examples of putting the chapter concepts to use.  Spend at least 10-20 minutes reflecting on the material.

Review in a way that fits the class material.  For dense and complex textbooks like those I read for psychology and consumer behaviour classes, I recommend taking additional time for review.  When I took those classes, I would dedicate the first 4 hour session to reading with some time to review, and then a 2-3 hour block either the next day or later in the same day to review and re-skim the chapter.

Break Away

Organize and collect your notes.  Close the textbook.

You’re done…for now.

Phase 4: Final Review

Re-skim the chapter and your notes the night before or the day of (if you have the time) class.  I know some students that re-read the entire chapter.  Write down any new understandings of the material that come to mind as you revisit it; same for questions.

Bring your knowledge to class.  Answer questions.  Ask questions.  Feel smart.

How do you read your textbooks?  Is there a specific ritual like the one I’ve described?  Tell us about it in ta comment.

Self Leadership and Me Incorporated

Hello everyone!  This post is going to be a conceptual one.  I tried to wrap it up in a metaphor and to provide analogies, but my mind was not cooperating.  I know you’re all smart people, so if you have any metaphors or analogies, share them in the comment section!

Onwards!

Last fall, a professor introduced me to the concept of self-leadership.  He said that that a person cannot lead and organization or group if that person cannot lead their own life.

The same professor also introduced me to the concept of Me Incorporated.  As a person, you are the owner, operator, marketer, R&D department, front-line staff, and product of a company called “me”.

Those two concepts are permanently entwined until the end of life.  Without leadership, Me Inc. will operate inefficiently, market itself poorly, develop unsellable products, and hire the wrong staff.

Today, I am going to focus on the concept of marketing Me Inc.

The Lifelong Marketing Campaign

People already do this every day.  We prepare ourselves for the showcase of the world; we perform rituals for that showroom shine (shower, brushing teeth, etc), and present ourselves in the package we want others to see (wearing clothes, shoes, etc).

We bring our values, personality, and attitudes wherever we go.  There are things we can do better than the next person in line.  We interact with others, and they interact with us.

Leading Self and Branding

This is where self leadership begins; think of it as a marketing decision.  What are your values?  What is the image/brand that you want to project?  What do you do better than the other guy?  How will your personality traits affect how people see you?  How do you interact with people?

Punk rockers do this very well.  Black denim, metal studs, mohawks, piercings, and attitude combine into an image that stands out amid the everyday and average.

The most important point to consider is “If I market myself this way, will it help me reach my goals?”

For me, it boils down to two overlapping things; my personal image and my professional image (or brand; whichever you prefer).  I say overlapping because when (not if) an employer spots me on the street, I do not want my image to say something stupid before I even get an interview.  Conversely, when I am in professional attire, I do not want to hurt my chances of personal interaction.

So what is your image or brand?

Moving Forward

At the end of the day, you must lead yourself where you want to go.  It’s your life, after all.

Did this basic overview help you?  Did I completely miss the ball?  Tell me in the comment section; I’m always eager to hear your thoughts.

Being Mindful

Hello everyone!  Today isn’t going to be about marketing; there is a self-help technique that I would like to share instead.

There is a lot of talk on the internet about being mindful as a path to having better days and a better life.  I have been practicing it for the past nine-or-so months, and the results have been profound; I am happier, more energetic, and get more work done.  As such, I wanted to share one of the simple ways that I practice mindfulness that is also a great way to improve your writing skills.

Mindfulness and being mindful is the result of paying attention to your senses to the point of “not thinking”.  It relies on sensory input to be effective.

A Beautiful Space

My house is on a hill that overlooks the East coast of Vancouver Island.  Unfortunately, it is not high enough on the hill to be above the treeline.  However, there is a nearby trail that ends up at a bench that is well above the treeline.

It is at this spot where I am able to be mindful most easily.  I usually trek up to it in the evening, and there is so much sensory information that it is nearly impossible to think.   This is the view at about 7pm:

I can see rectangles of green and yellow farm fields in the valley between where I sit and Douglas Mountain.  I hear the surges of traffic on the highway, and the occasional siren of an emergency vehicle.  On these summer evenings, the breeze feels warm against my face and thick with the moisture given off by the swathes of trees between houses and roads (temperate rainforests are my favourite).

There are the blinking red and green lights of planes landing at YVR airport.  Red warning beacons pulse in the Strait of Georgia and a lighthouse on one of the islands swings its beam of light past at regular intervals.  I can see the orange glow of Seattle and Vancouver (especially when there is a layer of clouds), and I often catch glimpses of bats as they glides by my head, close enough that I can feel the air disturbed where they pass.  The lights illuminating Vancouver’s ski hills glimmer amid the haze of the city’s own lights.

Describe!

You can read what I did there.  I described what I could see, feel, and hear.

Description is one of the most important parts of good writing, and observation is one way to be mindful.  Marrying the two is the easy way to get better at both.

Make It Your Own (& a couple more suggestions)

I like to rely on an abundance of sensory input, but you don’t have to.   I know of some individuals who focus on a single sense, like the authoress of this article on Tiny Buddha, who explains how she practices mindfulness when kneading dough.  

I also practice mindfulness while walking.  It has become habit to pay attention to the sensation of each footfall; my joints flexing, my muscles contracting and relaxing, and even what the ground feels like.

However you do it, practice mindfulness.  Hopefully what I have written here can help you do just that.  

Give it a try and let me know how it goes!  You can use the comment section of this post, or email me (russell@rggraham.me).  

4 Twitter management tips

I like Twitter. I’ve already said this once. Nonetheless, it can turn into a gargantuan stream of Tweets that you will ignore like a bad book.

That’s why I decided to create this guide on a few simple tools to organize your Twitter feed.

Hashtags

Yup.  The hashtag.  Twitter’s ubiquitous symbol.

So what the hell is a hashtag, anyway?  Twitter itself defines the operator as this:

Definition: The # symbol, called a hashtag, is used to mark keywords or topics in a Tweet. It was created organically by Twitter users as a way to categorize messages.

I use them to refine who and what I want to follow, read, and talk about.  Some of my personal examples include #guitars, #marketing, and #music.  However, my actual use of hashtags is more refined than that.

The best part about hashtags is that they work like search terms, so it is easy to refine what you want by using multiple tags.  A more refined hashtag search (such as using #rock and #music instead of just using #music) will usually get more relevant results.

Saved Searches

Once you know what you want to watch and follow, you can use saved searches to find specific new content.  For example, you could save a search for #bacon or #driving or #shoes, or #drivingshoes or any combination of search terms (including those without hashtags).

Search terms can include users; however, I think that the following method is better for organizing Twitter users you follow.

Lists

Twitter lists are one of my favourite ways to find what I like and share what I like.  It’s easy to set them up while browsing Twitter and following users, but I find it’s easier to use Hootsuite or TweetDeck to display my lists (the next section will cover these platforms).

By using lists, I organize the users I follow into something like a text-based television channel.  For example, I created a list of the Twitter accounts associated to the CBC Radio shows that I listen to.  Other users can also create lists, and those lists can be followed.  I follow Alan Cross’ Music News-Biz list and Brian Thompson’s Music News list.

Publishing Platforms

If you find content online like I do over the course of the day and want to share it without posting 20 linked articles in the space of half an hour (or if you are using social media for your business), then platforms other than Twitter itself may be what you need.  Hootsuite and TweetDeck are well known and widely used for a reason.

Social publishing platforms like Hootsuite and TweetDeck allow for feeds of searched terms, lists, individual users, sent tweets, and every other action associated with the Twitter account.  They can also schedule posts for a later point in the day, week, month, or year.

I have used Hootsuite to manage all my social media accounts.  If all you need is a more organized Twitter feed, this is one place to start, though it does include functions that you may not find useful, such as link shortening and analytics.

I am still testing TweetDeck.  The interface is more straightforward than Hootsuite as it only covers one social network (Twitter).  It has more advanced functions like link tracking using bit.ly.  I will be testing TweetDeck over the next couple weeks and will report back with my findings. 

Does that cover everything you need to organize your Twitter feed?  Send me a tweet or use the comment box below if you would like help organizing your twitter account.  Happy Tweeting!