On shortcuts

It's important, when considering shortcuts, that you nail two things: what you're willing to bypass and where you're going.

If you use a surgery as a shortcut for weight loss, you might bypass the formation of healthy habits that will help you keep the weight off.

If you buy social media followers, you only get the appearance of an audience. They don't engage with your company or buy things from you.

Watch where you're going, and how you get there.

In praise of the greatest you

Lewis Howes releases three podcasts a week. One of those is a quick take on Fridays he dubs "Five Minute Friday." The one above is from April 14, 2017 and is called Be True to Yourself.

It's a look at what is commonly called crab mentality — the notion that one crab in a bucket will scurry out, but if there are a lot of crabs in a bucket and one tries to crawl out, the others will grab that crab and pull it down.

I know this wasn't the point, but I did try to look up whether this is actually true, since in my experience crabs are merely delicious. All I found was this:

[C]rabs pull on stuff when they can't swim. They're trying to move. If there's nothing else around, they'll pull on the other crabs. And there's nothing else in a bucket of crabs.

Back to the crab mentality.

The analogy in human behavior is claimed to be that members of a group will attempt to negate or diminish the importance of any member who achieves success beyond the others, out of envy, spite, conspiracy, or competitive feelings, to halt their progress.

Howes notes that we don't want to feel lonely or excluded or to disappoint or upset other people.

It's worth noting here that for survival, humans as a species had to conform to our communities or we'd be ostracized and not receive the benefits of collective living, like sharing in food gathering, child-raising, etc.

While that's still true in many communities, if you're in a position to listen to podcasts or read blogs, you're most likely not stuck in such a community. It might be difficult physically or emotionally, but you can change which communities you're a part of.

If you're missing out on what's possible in your life, Howes does offer some tips for dealing with people who try to hold you down while never climbing to achieve anything in their own lives:

  • Have a conversation with the person hold you back. Request that person's support for your endeavors.
  • If you can't garner that person's support, don't get caught in the trap of being dragged down by others. Set boundaries. Know when you have to get up from the table and not be part of the conversation.
  • If necessary, significantly cut back on the time you spend with people who hold you back. Instead, go find people who life you up

You can love and support negative people from a distance, he says, but don't spend time around them allowing their negative attitude seep into your world.

Remember, there's room for everyone to be great.

Of stories and storytellers: Farewell to the ‘unlettered bum’

Clifton Pollard's name was queried on Google more on Sunday than it had been perhaps any other day except for one — Nov. 22, 2013, the fiftieth anniversary of the death of President John F. Kennedy.

I'll save you the search, if you don't recognize the name. Pollard was the man who, on a Sunday morning, finished his bacon and eggs, went to Arlington National Cemetery, climbed into a reverse backhoe, and dug the grave into which Kennedy's casket would be lowered.

He made $3.01 per hour, and he came in on his day off.

He didn't get to go to the funeral. It was too crowded.

We know about Clifton Pollard because a New York Herald Tribune columnist named Jimmy Breslin wrote about him.

On April 5, 1992, Pollard, a World War II veteran, died and was soon after buried not too far from our thirty-fifth president.

Breslin died over the weekend at the age of 88. He had, earlier in the week, been admitted to the hospital to be treated for pneumonia and released the next day. His wife thought he was getting better and his death came as a surprise to her.


Breslin was part of a generation of hard-scrabble storytelling journalists. He wrote stories, not articles. He drank whiskey. He smoked cigars. He scorned reporters who stayed in the newsroom, and instead wandered the streets, pubs and tenements of New York, speaking to people.

It's a storied generation — one that included Hunter S. Thompson, Norman Mailer, Truman Capote, Tom Wolfe and Gore Vidal. Most of them predeceased Breslin.

While journalism — and the rest of the world, frankly — has certainly changed in the couple of generations since Breslin went and found Pollard, there are remnants of his world. I recently found in a used bookstore a collection of essays by PJ O'Rourke. Younger essayists like Doug Rushkoff and Chuck Klosterman certainly carry forth a biting witness. My friend Tommy Shea was so well-loved at The Republican that even the competition wrote him a nice sendoff. My friend and former colleague Sean Kirst had the same impact in Syracuse, and has now moved on.

Reading Shea and Kirst in print — actual newsprint still feels, and smells, familiar to me — put me in mind of a time I never really got to know. But the writing is still there. Wolfe is still writing books and the occasional column. Count among Breslin's non-journalistic contemporaries William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Charles Bukowski and Jack Kerouac.

These are not easy men to read, but once you start, it's nigh impossible to stop.


Yes, the world has changed. You won't find many smoky bars anymore. Nor too many people in suits willing to walk into a slum in search of a story (nor many people willing to talk to them if they did).

Breslin was the sort of guy who was able to find not only Clifton Pollard but also a man named Tony Palma.

If that name doesn't sound familiar, I'll again save you the searching. Palma was once a long-haired Beatles fan in the 1960s, and later, on December 8, 1980, he was the police officer, along with his partner, Herb Frauenberger, who responded to a call of, "Man shot, 1 West 72nd St." That night, they helped a dying John Lennon.

And Breslin had his interview conducted and typed up that night in time for 1:30 a.m. deadline.

It takes hours or days to get that kind of access to some people in uniform nowadays. That's not a complaint; it's just the world we live in.


There are stories, and there are storytellers, and there are people who read stories.

I think a lot of people would like to claim to be the second, but to do so, you have to truly understand the first. And that's a hell of a craft. You'll know who they really are, because they attract the third.

Many people have stories — hell, many people are stories — they just don't know it. It takes a real storyteller to pry the stories out of those folks.

It's why we'll read a headline or a couple of sentences in almost everything we click on these days, but we'll read giant novels by Wolfe and Carlos Ruiz Zafon. It's why we'll read Kirst's book of Central New York stories.

Breslin told stories. They were stories of New York and New Yorkers, and people felt they knew him and the stories. Maybe that's why David Berkowitz — the Son of Sam killer — wrote him letters.

Sometimes the stories don't realize what they are. You might think you have a story to tell, but the one that comes out when a storyteller gets a hold of it may be entirely different.


"You climb the stairs," Breslin is quoted as saying, "and all the stories are at the top of the stairs."

Maybe it's a simple metaphor for doing the work ‐ climb the stairs while everyone takes the elevator, or just stays in the lobby. Or maybe it's a simple instruction manual. When you climb enough stairs, there are certainly stories when you get to the top.

Breslin called himself an "unlettered bum." He certainly put a lot of letters on a lot of pages.


Be a story, or be a storyteller. Hell, be both. Or neither. But don't pretend to be either. We have enough pretenders out there.

To Mr. Breslin, ever a story and a teller, may your cigar ever be lit, your glass three fingers full and your typewriter ready for some punishment.

Would you still be doing what you’re doing?

I recently re-read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. Maybe I should be doing it more often, particularly given it's about a three-hour read.

Here's something important I pulled out of it.

"Here’s another test. Of any activity you do, ask yourself: If I were the last person on earth, would I still do it?"

It gave me pause, but not for very long.

Blogging and podcasting are how I understand the world. I would certainly still be doing those things.

My job in news? I would definitely do that. It's gathering information, processing it and sharing it.

Running? Yep. Eating? Yep. Meditating? For sure.

There really are a lot of lessons in that book. I recently ordered a copy on a whim for someone who needed it. It's that important.

Here are a couple of other lessons I've learned from the book.

What's the Platonic ideal for Resistance? »

Pressfield imagines Resistance as a dragon, and you, as artist or entrepreneur or whatever, must slay the dragon to do the work you want to be doing.

The thing is, upon further review, I'm not sure that dragon ever dies. Is wounded to the point of dormancy? Sometimes. Dead? Never.

We are nothing if not present tense »

There's a line. On one side are the people who say "I'm gonna" and "I used to" and "I wanna" and "I wish I could," and on the other side are the people who say "I am."

Be on the important side of the line.

Stop cursing 2016 and go make something great

I see a lot of people on social media cursing 2016 for taking some of our greatest creative minds. A lot of one-of-a-kinds died this year.

To name a smattering, in no particular order: David Bowie, John Glenn, Prince, Muhammad Ali, Alan Rickman, Alan Thicke, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Harper Lee, Leonard Cohen, Glenn Frey, Florence Henderson, Fidel Castro, Gene Wilder, Arnold Palmer, Gwen Ifill, Leon Russell, Janet Reno, Fyvush Finkel, Merle Haggard, Elie Wiesel, Garry Shandling ... it was a long list and then George Michael died on Christmas.

It may seem like the universe is taking something from us. It's not.

The universe is saying, "You see how much these people have done? They get to rest now. Go create something amazing for yourself."

Heed the call.

Hey, we're about to flip the calendar page. There's no reason not to go for it in 2017. Onward!

Regressing toward a higher mean, or, there’s room for everyone to be great

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There's a phenomenon in statistics called regression toward the mean. You can read a good explanation of it here, but the short version goes like this:

(1) Give people a test (say, driving a golf ball, but don't worry, this isn't going to be a sports post), then plot the results. You'll notice that there are some outliers (those with really long drives and those with really short drives), but most of them will cluster around a mean, or average.

(2) Add a new variable to all of them that you'd expect will change their drive. An example might be a golf lesson (which you'd expect to increase the drive distance) or wrist weights (which you'd expect would decrease the drive distance).

(3) Test them again, and plot the results. You'll find that there are still outliers and a cluster around a mean. The mean may be different, but there's still a mean and there are still roughly the same number of people clustered around it.

Got it?

OK, cool. Now, let's look at life.

Can we all agree there are outliers? We might have different measures and have different tastes, but I'm going to suggest as success measures not having trouble paying your bills, generally enjoying what you do, and not worrying about what other people think.

I'm going to suggest the "positive" outliers — people who are "winning" at life, if you will — are people like Richard Branson, Joe Rogan and Kim Kardashian. They all seem to be pretty happy folks with successful business ventures (look, I'm a fan of one of the three of them and I did absolutely no research).

Then there are "negative" outliers — people who maybe aren't doing so well. People who are homeless, hungry and unhappy about it, maybe. (Yes, I realize it's a very American-centric view of things, can we move on, please?)

Then there's some line that is the average of those people.

Depending on how you measure things, now you have people clustered around that line. We're going to stick with the generally subjective items I seem to have come up with here.

There are people who have no trouble paying their bills, have a generally satisfying family life but hate their jobs. Or people who are wealthy but alone and miserable. Or people who like their jobs and like their home lives but are just scraping by, sometimes eating just rice for a couple days at the end of the month to keep the heat on.

When you add up their "scores," they wind up somewhere in the middle, give or take.

This is regression toward the mean.

Now, let's add some measure of happiness to everybody. I don't know, maybe one day each week, every person gets some sort of dopamine release that launches them into absolute bliss for 16 hours. Or maybe everybody always gets all the sleep they need every night.

There are still outliers now, but everyone's happiness went up. Most people are still clustered around a mean, just the mean is higher than it was before we added our new thing.

Still with me? Good, because this is where it gets important.

We're all making this up as we go along, trying to get a little bit better, day by day. Some of us have figured out some things. Some of us have figured out other things. Some of us haven't figured out anything.

But we can all get better. The top outliers can become better, the bottom outliers can become better, and everyone who regressed toward the mean can get better — it just gives us a higher mean. The distribution remains the same, but we're raising the mean.

Let's make up numbers. Let's say the outliers at the top are 90 and the outliers at the bottom are 10 and the mean is 50. What if we bump the top outliers to 100 and the bottom to 20 and the mean to 60? Everybody got better. What if we bump the top outliers to 200 and the bottom to 120 and the mean to 160?

Same distribution, but the mean is higher.

Here's the point: Nobody has to get worse for you to get better. There's room for everyone to improve, for everyone to rise, and it doesn't detract from your ability to also rise.

So lift people up, don't put them down. As you rise, bring people with you. It'll be easier at the top if you have people around you.

Lessons in leadership from Jocko Willink: Extreme Ownership and beyond

"Don't count on motivation. Count on discipline," Jocko Willink says on an audience Q&A episode of Tim Ferriss' podcast.

Willink is a retired Navy Seal and co-author with retired Seal Leif Babin of Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win. The two are partners in a corporate leadership consulting firm called Echelon Front (NOTE: auto-play audio, safe for work).

I first came to know of Willink on an interview-style podcast he did with Ferriss; Joe Rogan learned so much from that episode that he had Willink on his show soon after.

I know that lately with my non-fiction book reviews, I've been primarily listing the notes I took. But I took six pages of notes on this one. I'd be doing both you and Extreme Ownership a disservice if that's how I approached this.

What I'm going to do first is recommend the book. It's a quick read (I read it in three sittings, despite taking six pages of notes), it's really interesting and it's immensely practical.

In each chapter, Babin or Willink (they each wrote half the chapters) begins with a combat story. They set the stage, discuss the mission, how it was designed and executed, what went right and wrong, and discuss the principles at play. Then, in a short section, they more clearly define the principle. Finally, the chapter concludes with the principle at play in a business setting — using an example from a business their company has actually worked with.

The combat stories are interesting to me as someone who has never been in combat; I imagine they'd be interesting to someone who has served, as well. The principles are clearly defined. I've seen many of the business examples at play in companies I've worked for.

I tend to take bodies of work as a whole in my brain. These items were certainly in the book, but they also bleed into the podcasts and other writings. These are my four favorite takeaways (but again, read the book and listen for yourself). You can also scroll down to the bottom of this post for photos of my notes if you want more.

When the team understands the mission, they can better carry it out. This isn't a new idea, but it is something that leadership has long been resistant to. Jump to around 50 minutes in this Richard Feynman lecture — when the military conscripted a bunch of engineering students to punch holes in cards at Los Alamos, it was slow going. But when Feynman got clearance to tell them what they were doing and why, they went from solving three problems in nine months to solving nine problems in three months, inventing new processes and programs along the way.

Too often, the people doing the work are asked to just do the work, without any insight into the larger goal. In other words, they don't have a look at the big picture and are just checking off something on their to-do lists.

Be willing to tell your frontline workers why you want them to do something. At the very least, you give them a sense of purpose within the larger context of what you're trying to accomplish. You might get a lot more, though: you might get better ways to do things. You might get insight into other ways to accomplish your goals. You might get insight into other things you're also accomplishing without realizing it.

The more people you have invested in the goal, the more likely you are to be successful.

I think enough time has passed that I can talk a little about the time earlier this year when I thought I was going to be unemployed. I had received a month's notice that my department was to be eliminated. A little less than two weeks later, an asshole with a gun shot up a gay nightclub in Orlando, and instead of waiting until 9 a.m. to post to our news sites, when I was scheduled to work, I delayed my run by half an hour to post it before 7 a.m. A few days later I got a call that the company had decided not to eliminate my department.

I'm sure that the one action I took did not save the department. I'm sure, however, that it helped. I wouldn't have done it if I hadn't understood our mission as a company and what my role in accomplishing that mission was. I don't post news to check "post news" off my to-do list, I do it because it helps us achieve our goals. If I didn't understand that, I might have just waited until it was time for me to clock in.

Departments within the same company need to find a way to work together without blaming each other for shortcomings. I've encountered this problem in every company I've ever worked for. Some of those companies have been hugely successful. Some have failed.

In every case, the problem has been communication. Specifically, a failure to communicate a reminder that different departments are not competing, trying to keep each other down. We are working toward the same goal. It seems sometimes like Department A is trying to sabotage Department B. In all likelihood, it really is that Department B has never told Department A what the problem is how Department A could better help Department B — and conversely, ask if there's a way for Department B to help solve the problem, with different communication or other practices.

Leadership works in two directions within the chain of command: Down and up. Leadership is a personality trait more often than it is a function of title. If you have a leader among the rank-and-file, you'll want to make sure you listen, even if you're a great leader. A higher rank is not always an indicator of the best idea for every situation.

In about 4 of every 5 shifts I work, I have rank. I'm good at a lot of things. Sadly, delegation is not one of them, but I'm working on that. One of the things I have definitely gotten better at, though, is recognizing strengths in others and either leaning on them for the things they're strong at, or asking them to teach me those things.

If you want to change the way things are done, pick your battles and earn the right to be heard. This is hugely important in every organization, not just companies. Every organization has its faults, and many of them are operational. "That's the way we've always done it" is a common answer for why things are done the way they are. That doesn't mean it's a good answer.

When you see something that could be done better, it makes sense to speak up. But first, you must show you understand the mission: why you're doing the thing you're doing and why it's been done that way for so long. You must be a voracious worker — someone who has earned the trust of those who have the power to change things before you'll really be heard up the chain of command.

And if you make noise on one thing, you might not get heard on something else, so pick your battles. You don't want to be seen as a complainer, someone who just hates all the processes. At some point, you'll just be the boy who cried wolf.

***

Willink also has his own podcast. I personally don't enjoy it: his delivery is very dry even if the information is interesting; it's not for me. I know other people who enjoy it.

Photos of my notes: Pages 1-2 | Pages 3-4 | Pages 5-6

Political disclaimer: Willink and Babin are both veterans. They served their country with honor. They support the missions given them. They also follow Department of Defense guidelines n the way they write about war, soldiers and the U.S. mission. You do not need to agree with them to get a lot of their work. You do, however, need to be willing to look past your own prejudices, whether you agree with them or not. Either way, I don't believe either of them is guilty of blind boosterism.

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Holy crap, we’re an amazing species

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The photo at the top of this post was taken with a cell phone on a plane while I was listening to Tchaikovsky on Sirius XM through headphones.

Can we break all of this down for a minute?

First off, I'm sitting in a chair in a metal tube in the sky with 150 other people. We're going 1,000 miles in under two hours. What a giant fuck you to gravity — and pretty much everything else we thought we knew 125 years ago.

125 years. Seriously. Your grandfather's grandfather was an adult already. That's a blink ago.

While sitting on this plane, I've got headphones in. There's sound coming through these little wired pods in my ears that only I can hear. Specifically, it is an orchestral recording that has been committed to some digital medium and sent from earth to space and then bounced back to me moving 500 mph through the sky in a metal tube.

An orchestral recording? That's 100 different people sending sound through instruments we built and shaped to make sounds. All the sounds are coordinated because we came up with this language drawn in symbols we could all agree on that say, "On this instrument, play this sound for this long." And one person put all those instructions down on paper and someone else is standing up and reading it and leading a whole bunch of other people who are reading it to make sure everyone's in the same place.

At the same time, the sound is traveling into some sort of device that captures that sound and can reproduce it in a format that is readable by other devices, including the one that can send it into space for me to hear.

Cripes.

Now, can we look at the stuff in the photo?

I don't even know where to start. Maybe with the book? It's full of words. Printed words. We not only agreed on sounds that mean something, we drew symbols to represent those sounds. Then we figured out how to pulp wood to make paper, have some ink and a press to permanently impress the symbols onto the paper, bind them together, and reproduce that a whole bunch of times.

We then took that ink, created a container that can leak just a little bit, in a controlled manner when in contact with a solid surface, and put the ink inside.

Now look a little to the left. We got more ink to stay on that napkin, which is a different version of the reconstituted pulped wood. The cup is yet another version of reconstituted pulped wood, also with some ink, and it's full of hot coffee — a drink that is amazing in itself. We took this berry, got the seed out, roasted the seed and steeped it in hot water. And we managed to get it hot in a metal tube in the sky.

If you can look at everything around you and not be AMAZED at our ingenuity, you might need a perception adjustment.

Unity of vision

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The rabbis tell the story of a student of the seer of Lublin, a wise and religious man.

The student decided that in order to be closer to God, he would fast (no food or water) from the end of one Sabbath (Saturday at sundown) to the beginning of the next (Friday at sundown).

As the next Sabbath approached, the student was very thirsty, and, as he walked to his teacher's house to welcome the Sabbath, he passed a well. He stopped at the well, and then told himself, "If I have a drink of water now, I will have wasted the rest of the week." He walked away without a drink.

As he continued his journey, the student felt proud of himself, and recognizing the sin of pride, rushed back to the well, saying, "better I should fail in my fast than to feel pride." When he got back to the well, however, he was no longer thirsty, and continued on to his teacher's house without taking a drink.

When he arrived, the seer admonished him for his patchwork approach to getting closer to God. "You should go into your fast with unity of soul."

This translates so well into our want-to-do-everything world. Beyond #FOMO ("fear of missing out"), we have a problem wherein we want to be seen as so many different things — indeed to do so many different things.

It's fine to do a lot, but do it with unity of vision. Do it with a sense of purpose. Do everything with an eye toward being your best you. And if something is leading you away from that path, stop doing it. Now.

Want to know if you're on the right track here? Open your calendar. What did you do last week? The week before? What's there for the next week? How about the week after? Ask why about everything that's on there. Can you come up with an answer that makes sense to you? If not, maybe consider reconfiguring your calendar a little.

Start saying no to stuff that you feel like you have to do but that don't suit your purpose. Be one with you.

Oh, and have a great day.

Lessons in working hard and reining it in from Bert Kreischer and Robert Kelly

Sometimes I listen to a podcast with the expectation that it's going to be really fun, and instead of laughing a lot, I find myself saying, oh no, now I need to listen to this again with pen and paper nearby.

Comedian Robert Kelly was on Bertcast — the podcast of comic and Travel Channel personality Bert Kreischer — and it really turned into something you need to hear.

Here are my takeaways from the episode:
• Help your friends out, but also hold them accountable
• Know the things you want and need to be your best — and demand them
• Learn how to cut off the fat
• Learn how to say no
• Don't say anything you can't take back (Kelly is sometimes on Comedy Central's "Roast Battle," a show on which the point is to make fun of other comics; the lesson here is some things are off-limits — know how you can tease people, but know what's too far)
• Spontaneity isn't always good
• Don't put in the work if the payoff isn't there
Hard work is hard
• We are in a period of excellence and variety
• Don't let emotion get the better of you
• What is your peak? Are you willing to keep going on the other side of it?
Sometimes it's worth the risk
• It's worth doing exactly what you want, but do it for you, and do it your way
• You don't know where it's going, but it's definitely not going anywhere if you don't do it to your expectations
• Not everybody is going to be a rock star
• Have measured expectations
• Be realistic about where you are
Try to be better
• Do what you do; you ever where it's going to get you
• Don't let expectations weigh you down
• In a saturated market, how do you stand out?
• You're worth what you're worth. If you get $X and someone's only offering $y, you can still love them honestly but say no
• Don't jump in a big pond just to be a small fish. Kelly's actual quote: "Why do I want to be the pepper in your chop suet? People want chop suet; they don't care what's in it."
• It's up to you if you stay or go – not the audience, not your mother, not anyone else
• Bring people with you

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