Is it all about Me?

Perhaps this recent post by a motivational speaker is just one more illustration of how differently younger generations think than our older generation.  The key question in the title to this blog says it all in my opinion.  I saw this image posted on LinkedIn with an invitation for anyone to comment.

Needless to say, I did with the question: is this really all about me, or shouldn’t it be more about the people around us and the communities in which we live, serve, and love?  No one agreed with the graphic which was encouraging to me.  Maybe there is some sanity in the masses?

I thought one clever way to flip this paradigm around is to simply flip the letter “M” to a “W” making it  Is it all about We?  Work with me, you and I both know that doesn’t work precisely, but it is a good shortcut to a much larger mental state change.

The graphic clearly shows how views in the workplace have shifted over the past 60 some years.  I remember my father’s generation complaining that work was not personally satisfying … but it was necessary to provide for their families.  Boy, has that changed!  Now all I hear is people change jobs almost as often as they change their underwear … seeking experiences, not experience.

What is at the root of all this?  We can all detect a number of underlying challenges: disintegration of the sense of community brought about by social media and a digital workplace.  People no longer feel connected to each other in their workplaces, communities and even in their own homes … they just don’t form communities like we did, dysfunctional as they might have been.  Friends no longer hang out the same way watching football games and then going out in the yard to throw one themselves. Perhaps too this long period of peace and prosperity in this country has given people the sense they don’t need to work together or work hard at anything.  Nothing like a world war to pull people together.

Perhaps the deepest cut is the loss of a sense of purpose.  It is no longer about “leaving your mark on society” by doing something that makes a difference.  It is all too much about my experience and my free time.  Most have lost any sense of loyalty to an employer … employers are nothing more than a financial source to fuel these other areas.

Obviously, these are generalizations, and we can all point to exceptions.  But it does seem that striving for excellence is becoming the exception in many people’s lives, and one that is being ridiculed today along with capitalism.

Technology Can Backfire

Susan and I have learned the hard way that today’s technologies can get so smart that we no longer even know what they are doing.  I remember when I flew sitting next to a pilot and I asked about how complex things were in the modern cockpits.  He told me that he and his copilot often look at each other on long flights with autopilot asking each other: “What is it doing now?  … Why did it do that?” This of course reflects the interface to the weather forecasts to adjust the course for cross winds, etc.

Perhaps you have noticed that technology is creeping into everyday life.  Traffic light cameras are almost everywhere that can automatically issue you a ticket for traffic violations.  Self driving cars and trucks (called autonomous vehicles) are no longer the realm of futurist predictions.  I have one but it freaks Susan out whenever I engage it to show how it works.

Online help is rapidly moving to “chat bot” models where the first round of questions you ask are managed using artificial intelligence, kind of like what happens when you talk to today’s smart speakers like Alexa.  Most of us find these comfortable and acceptable, except that lately Alexa has been engaging me with follow up suggestions after I ask a question.  This brings do mind some of the online spoofs where Alexa reminds the person they shouldn’t be buying that item given their health status.

We are clearly moving into the realm of electronic assistants pervading our world.  However, the cartoon above illustrates a key point: we really need to also educate people about what we are doing and what is going on.

Is Honesty the Best Policy?

Of course it is, you say!  It is implied in the Ten Commandments … thou shalt not bear false witness.

Perhaps not.  Here are two illustrations.  One you may have seen that is circulating on the internet where an obviously blind man with a white cane is seated alone on a park bench.  A young man in sunglasses sits down next to him and he asks this perfect stranger to describe what he sees going on in the park.

Off-put for just a few moments, the stranger seems to realize the blind man wants to know what a seeing person can see in the park.  So he begins describing the children playing with their friends, the little boy flying a kite with his parents, still another celebrating a birthday party, and a young couple sitting on a blanket enjoying some food and wine together.  The blind man beams with happiness through this, thoroughly enjoying the joyful scenes being described to him in colorful detail.  When a friend calls to the younger man to join them, the stranger says his goodbyes and walks away.

The scene then shifts to show where the stranger had been looking, and nothing was going on in the park.  No children playing, no kites, no people picnicking on a blanket. Then they show the young man in sunglasses walking toward his friends, with his white cane for he too was blind.  When asked to simply honor the request of another person, why not use it as an opportunity to make and share joy?  Nothing was to be gained by just telling the first blind person that he was blind as well.  Why not enter into a conversation with the vision of what is possible and create and share some enjoyment with another human being?

The second illustration is something that happened in my family.  We were visiting one of our elderly parents in the nursing home to celebrate a birthday and reading her cards from each of her children.  Unfortunately, one of her sons had passed away that year and of course could not have possibly sent the card. The siblings had decided to not share with her the loss knowing it would only bring heartbreak.  So, they wrote one from him and read it to her along with the others. She beamed in appreciation.

What was funny about that was something her niece commented after the gathering, “I am going to need therapy for this someday!”

Loving one another does not require us to be brutally honest in every situation.  There are times when simply not answering the question is the best answer.  There are other times when we should tell a white lie.  And, there are still other times when we should enter a make-believe world where everything is better.  Operating from a motivation of love is the best guidepost to your answer.


Stakeholder Groups

If you talk to anyone involved in politics or senior leadership in companies, you will hear the term intervenors.  These are people or organizations whose role it is to be a public advocate for goodness by watching over businesses.  Perhaps you remember Ralph Nader who was a prominent advocate for consumer protections and environmental stewardship.

The energy utilities typically call these advocates stakeholders, which is a word with natural roots in the concept of “having a stake in the business or concept.”  The roots for this come from gambling jargon we all use like “they have skin in the game” or the ancient roots of owning a piece of property with others… from which we get the idea of claiming your stake.

This rightful balance in perspectives and dialogue in the game of business fairness and societal benefits has now devolved into a form of primitive warfare where each group holds sharp pointy sticks (stakes) and advocates goring the ox of their “adversaries” in life.  Compromise is not their intent, nor is a balanced discussion of any issue.

As proof of my point of view, take a gander at this article about “Big Oil” fighting electric vehicles.  This article is from a major engineering news source in March of 2019.  More recently, the boardrooms of these same big oil companies have been hijacked by environmental advocates in what I would describe as an abdication of leadership from within.  Everyone now is afraid of appearing out of date with this new woke, politically correct group of stakeholders.

This is an excellent article in that it points out how things start out with noble intents and are endorsed by all until someone’s ox gets gored.  We need to put down the stakes we are holding and discuss what is in the best interest of our nation and how we are going to pay for things.

When is One plus One not Two?

I am sure you have heard the story of three people interviewing for a job each being asked this question.  The first answers two.  The second asks one of what is being added to one of what else?  The third, reportedly a lawyer, draws the blinds down on the room and whispers: “what did you want it to be?

There is also a video circulating on the Internet where the child answers this question with number eleven and the teacher who had marked that incorrect gets into trouble for doing that.

Puzzles like the one shown here are circulating on the Internet, ironically to gather your contact information and friends, because they draw us into the mathematical question.  The one shown here starts with an obvious first equation which implies each cookie has a value of 10.  Few will notice that there are 10 raisons in each cookie so in fact the value of the cookie in the question at the bottom is seven, not 10!  The bananas don’t seem to present any difficulty but the clocks once again can play a trick on you since the two in the third equation are pointing to the 3 position and the one at the bottom points to the 2 position.  So, one plus one might not be two after all unless you define what each one is.

The final trick is to know the rules of math where multiplication is applied first before the addition, so that final line is 2 + 1 + 1×7 for a total of 10.  If you simply went from left to right you would have added 2 + 1 + 1 for a total of 4 then multiply by 7 for a grand total of 28 … which is incorrect if you know these rules.  If you never were taught these rules you might argue you were correct of course.

So, the rules matter, or at least they should matter.  But, what happens when the average person does not know these rules?  They get the wrong answer.  If the person grading the paper doesn’t know the rules, they might be marked correct.  Worse yet, if the person grading the paper didn’t notice the clock face there would be another error.   If any of you have ever tried to explain higher math to people who have never learned higher math you already know where I am going.

The key point with this exercise is that consensus of thought doesn’t matter in math problems.  I frankly don’t care what the average person thinks.   Also, you really have to be sure what and how numbers relate to what you are seeing. The answer is 10 to this problem whether you like it or not.

Today’s society will call me an elitist … a bigot … and a racist.  I am a mathematician and an engineer. Some things in life are best answered with this perspective … if you want to know the truth.