Sunday Roundup – May 4, 2014

Day one of Social Media Camp 2014 was a blur of returned smiles, and an auditory cacophony of “good morning” and “welcome to Social Media Camp 2014!” – I volunteered as a greeter (I recommend that to anyone working on interacting with strangers). Day two was eight hours of information intake. The final keynote speaker, Julien Smith stands out amid those hours.

He pointed out that change is constant. It doesn’t stop or end – like death and taxes it is inevitable.

To paraphrase Mr. Smith: Life is not just about what you want to be, it is about what you want to be plus what the environment demands. Change to be what you want but never forget that you do not exist in a vacuum.

The short game, the long game and the infinite game

The infinite game is not one that can be won. It has no end. The game itself must be the reason for playing.

What you want to be needs to be an infinite game. Julien Smith, I believe, is playing the infinite game and is asking us all to do the same. The purpose is to evolve, not to “win”.

Ep 2 of Vogville Presents Conversations with Brian Thompson and Chad Brownlee

Chad Brownlee says it well. Going from hockey to music is a drastic change. He also notes that one must be in a constant state of evolution – to play the infinite game.

To borrow from Mr. Smith again, “the you that you think is you is temporary”. Mr. Brownlee realized that he wanted to be something else. His current self – a hockey player – gave way to the singer-songwriter, and eventually the co-writer. He makes a living, I am sure, but it sounds like he makes it in a constant state of “becoming” what he wants to be (another infinite game).

“There are not enough professionals to help with suicidal individuals, so it is up to us to care and help”

Speaking about suicide and mental illness is a change everyone can make. Chris Holt opened the second day of Social Media camp on that note.

Open and honest conversation are worth doing for their own sake. Helping another human work through the pressures of life is worth even more.

Over to You…

What is your infinite game? What part of the environment has shaped that game for you?

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Sunday Roundup – April 6, 2014

We are proud of communication. Whether we are sharing a mundane shopping list or a multi-hundred-page report, using words and language to convey meaning is something to celebrate—when it is done correctly.

Sometimes being correct is a matter of logic. Just because something has been done one way for a long time, for example, does not mean that it is the best way of doing it:

Have you been to this meeting?

Sometimes being correct is a matter of terminology and knowledge. Click the title and watch the video embedded in Mr. Godin’s blog post. Big words sound impressive; using them in context requires knowing what the word means. Say what you know, and let experts guide you when you do not.

Stuck for Words: 5 things to not say when a person is grieving

Sometimes being correct is a matter of emotion. Feelings are complicated, especially those as strong as grief, and it is not always clear how one can help. We look inward and speak about our own emotions often, so walking with someone through their own is not easy.

Over to You…

What do you think about how people communicate? What is correct? What is polite?

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.

Sexuality is Not a Game

I deliberately stay away from publishing things that are negative, because I believe that this blog is a positive space and should stay that way.  However, today I am not sure if I can stay positive.

There is some things in this world that need to be stopped.  Sexual assault, rape, and the objectification of women is one of them.

Recently, it has been alleged that a book project on Kickstarter advocates all three (Thanks to @normandiewilson for Tweeting about it; I probably would have missed it if she hadn’t).  Oh yeah; the project met and exceeded its funding goal.  Links to the project’s Kickstarter page lead nowhere, so I cannot link you to it, however, there are excerpts on Reddit (link below).

The author has released a statement about the allegations brought against him.  After reading some excerpts from the book on Reddit, I am not 100% convinced that it is as bad as some people say, though there is one part that I do not agree with.

Before you read on, please read the excerpts on Reddit yourself.  I have made up my mind about the book, but you are entitled to your own opinion, free of influence.  I do not want to influence your opinion any more than I may have already.  

Feel free to stop reading my post at this point and add your thoughts to the comment section below.  I promise that I will not cut you down for whatever opinion you have; however, I will ask questions about you opinion.  I’m curious like that.

The project is a book designed to help men pick up women for the purpose of having sex.  I understand why these books exist; there are many lonely people out there.  I am aware the sexuality can exist outside relationships.  There are those who have lovers, and this arrangement works for all parties involved.

I am also aware that pushing a person into a purely sexual relationship when they want a more mentally and emotionally intimate relationship is the definition of “slimy douchebag”.  The one part of the posts on Reddit that I already mentioned bothers me because it suggests a level of dominance that would make it difficult for a woman (or any person) to make her own decisions.  It also suggests sexual contact that would overwhelm a woman’s brain with hormones that trigger sexual arousal, eventually leading to a state where rational thought is impossible (this can happen in men’s brains too).

In the author’s statement linked above, he does note that what he meant is that making the first move is the right idea, but to back off entirely if the woman is not interested.  I appreciate that he said that, but at the end of the day, the book excerpt still seemed more about controlling the situation than allowing a mutual decision to lead to sex.

It is almost impossible to parallel the level of physical intimacy that comes with sex and sexuality.  Surgery is the only thing I can think of that comes close, and the results are not as pleasurable, nor is there a mutual exchange of tension and release.  Because of that physical intimacy, the decision to make sexual must be mutual.  What the author suggests in the “sex” section of his book is not mutual.

Perhaps the final copy of the book will account for that mutual decision making process.  I cannot know that, nor can anyone except the author himself.

Until the book hits shelves, all I can do is hope.  Oh, and use crowdfunding platforms other than Kickstarter.

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).