Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Laziest Man on the Planet

 I love Work. I can stare at it for hours…

Seriously. Have you ever given thought to WHY we work? I’m not referring to bills (overwhelmingly your own doing) or some PLMM (Peace, Love and Mickey Mouse) feeling. Because, for myself, I try to avoid work at every turn. Work is unpleasant. Work makes me lethargic and irritable. And whilst I am a Stoic, if I can find some fun, or exciting, or general fucking off to do, then I will (Thank you 9GAG!).

So I was in a discussion with the Red-Haired Vixen, coming off a shift of doing God’s work, and it occurred to me that I have gotten extremely good at avoiding work. To wit:

  • I make an extra helping o’ victuals and my roomie washes my clothes. I fucking hate laundry.
  •   I keep a lady with lovely handwriting on retainer for all written communications. Including Christmas cards and breakup notes to lady friends.
  •  I allow my neighbor to use my truck at will, and he keeps it maintained, washed and gassed.
  •  I freeze extra coffee into ice cubes so I don’t have to make fresh every morning.
  • My assistant buys my wine by the case, keeping a bottle for her trouble, truly gets sexually aroused by cleaning, and makes those difficult breakup calls to lady friends (I’m starting to see a pattern here…).
  • My mailbox place screens my mail, keeps extra books handy to send to the masses and deposits cheques for me into my bank account.

This list could go on and on…

But the point is, I outsource anything and everything that I find unpleasant. Things in my life and business still get done, and done well. It frees me up to think, to analyze, or to pick my navel lint…whatever my heart desires. The end result is that I wake up happy, smiling and completely stress-free. And as the Red-Haired Vixen can testify, stress is a killer worse than smoking, drinking or other vices. At this rate, I’ll live forever.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Shooting Around the Corner in Trenches

During the Second World War, the krummlauf rifle was developed by Germany as a weapon a soldier could use to shoot around a corner without exposing themselves to danger.  The concept itself was brilliant...a curved barrel, and your enemy never knew what hit them.  The reason that I bring this bit of historica up is simple.  It is a lesson vitally important in business.

One of the tricks to creating an enduring company is to spot trends before your competitor does, but that’s easier said than done.

In the book “Think Like a Futurist: Know What Changes, What Doesn’t, and What’s Next,” author Cecily Sommers notes a number of key attributes that could make your company more innovative.

First, it helps if you can drop your assumptions and see the market without preconceived notions. If you can successfully lose any personal agenda or a “we’ve always done it that way” mentality, you will be freer to recognize emerging opportunities.

Be curious. Don’t get frustrated by things you don’t understand. View them as opportunities to grow.

Ask the right questions. The right order of questions, according to Sommers, is “why,” “what” and, finally, “how.” Spend enough time with each question before moving on to the next, but be comfortable with ambiguity too. Not having all the answers is part of the journey to the future.

And do all this in an atmosphere of collaboration and constructive criticism. Feeling judged kills inventive thinking.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Be Happy, Dammit!

I'm told happiness is a choice.

Unfortunately we complicate our lives to the point of being unable to recognize happiness when it appears before our eyes.

So how to clear the slate? Here are 10 things you'll need to give up in exchange for your happiness.

This is from The Huffington Post but I loved it so much I'm posting it here.

1. Give up caring what other people think of you. I know it seems counter intuitive as we humans are primal pack animals that don't want to be cast from the village, but spending time worrying what others think, is a waste of energy. You'll never please everyone and it's none of your business what others think of you.

2. Give up trying to please everyone. Unless you're living life to the beat of your own drum, your tribe won't be able to find you. Be the best version of you you can be, and you'll naturally attract in the people that are supposed to surround you.

3. Give up participating in gossip. 100 percent of the time, those sharing gossip with you will gossip about you. Believing gossip is like gambling everything on a horse sight unseen. It's naive.

4. Quit worrying. Where thoughts go, energy flows. Worry is investing time and energy in something you don't want to have happen. Learn to let go and trust.

5. Let go of insecurity. When we take ourselves too seriously, we think everyone else does too. There is one version of you on the planet. Be it, own it and quit worrying about it. No one really cares or watches you that closely.

6. Stop taking everything personally. Truth is, most people are too consumed with their own life to really consider what you're doing. As my first boss said so well: "The world doesn't revolve around you. Most people's reactions have nothing to do with you, so let it go."

7. Give up the past. We've all been hurt, we all had parents that made mistakes and we've all been through hell. You didn't listen to your parents when you were younger, so why are you still listening to their voices in your head now? Every experience in life has taught you something or made you stronger.

8. Give up spending money on what you don't need in effort to buy happiness. Living simply allows the space for life to flow. We complicate our lives by spending too much money and filling our home with "things." Less is truly more.

9. Give up anger. Anger burns a hole in the hand of the person still holding on to it. Move it out once and for all.

10. Give up control. Control is an illusion. We live in an out of control world. Learn to embrace the new and welcome change; otherwise you'll grow old through your own rigidity. Learn to let go.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Quit Working Before it Kills You!

We all do it: Texting while walking, sending emails during meetings, chatting on the phone while cooking dinner. In today's society, doing just one thing at a time seems downright luxurious, even wasteful.

But chances are, you're not doing yourself (or your boss, or your friends and family) any favors by multitasking your way through the day. Research shows that it's not nearly as efficient as we like to believe, and can even be harmful to our health. Here are 12 reasons (according to Amanda Macmillan at Fox) why you should stop everything you're doing—well, all but one thing—and rethink the way you work, socialize, and live your life.

You're not really multitasking

What you call multitasking is really task-switching, said Guy Winch, author of Emotional First Aid: Practical Strategies for Treating Failure, Rejection, Guilt and Other Everyday Psychological Injuries. "When it comes to attention and productivity, our brains have a finite amount," he says.

"It's like a pie chart, and whatever we're working on is going to take up the majority of that pie. There's not a lot left over for other things, with the exception of automatic behaviors like walking or chewing gum." Moving back and forth between several tasks actually wastes productivity, he says, because your attention is expended on the act of switching gears—plus, you never get fully "in the zone" for either activity.

Health.com: 10 Tricks for Paying Attention

It's slowing you down

Contrary to popular belief, multitasking doesn't save time. In fact, it will probably take you longer to finish two projects when you're jumping back and forth than it would to finish each one separately. The same is true even for behaviors as seemingly automatic as driving: In a 2008 University of Utah study, drivers took longer to reach their destinations when they chatted on cell phones.

"What tends to save the most time is to do things in batches," said Winch. "Pay your bills all at once, then send your emails all at once. Each task requires a specific mindset, and once you get in a groove you should stay there and finish."

You're making mistakes

Experts estimate that switching between tasks can cause a 40 percent loss in productivity. It can also cause you to introduce errors into whatever you're working on, especially if one or more of your activities involves a lot of critical thinking.

A 2010 French study found that the human brain can handle two complicated tasks without too much trouble, because it has two lobes that can divide responsibility equally between the two. Add a third task, however, and it can overwhelm the frontal cortex and increase the number of mistakes you make.

It's stressing you out

When University of California Irvine researchers measured the heart rates of employees with and without constant access to office email, they found that those who received a steady stream of messages stayed in a perpetual "high alert" mode with higher heart rates. Those without constant email access did less multitasking and were less stressed because of it.

And it's not only the physical act of multitasking that causes stress; it's the consequences, as well, says Winch. "If you do poorly on an exam because you studied while watching a baseball game on TV, that can certainly trigger a lot of stress—even self-esteem issues and depression."

You're missing out on life

Forget seeing the forest for the trees or the glass half full—people who are busy doing two things at once don't even see obvious things right in front of them, according to a 2009 study from Western Washington University.

Specifically, 75 percent of college students who walked across a campus square while talking on their cell phones did not notice a clown riding a unicycle nearby. The researchers call this "inattentional blindness," saying that even though the cell-phone talkers were technically looking at their surroundings, none of it was actually registering in their brains.

Your memory may suffer

It makes sense that if you try to do two things at once—read a book and watch television, for example—that you're going to miss important details of one or both. But even interrupting one task to suddenly focus on another can be enough to disrupt short term memory, according to a 2011 study.

When University of California San Francisco researchers asked participants to study one scene, but then abruptly switched to a different image, people ages 60 to 80 had a harder time than those in their 20s and 30s disengaging from the second picture and remembering details about the first. As the brain ages, researchers say, it has a harder time getting back on track after even a brief detour.

It's hurting your relationships

"This is an area where I think multitasking has a much bigger effect than most people realize," said Winch. "A couple is having a serious talk and the wife says 'Oh, let me just check this message.' Then the husband gets mad, and then he decides to check his messages, and communication just shuts down."

One recent study from the University of Essex even shows that just having a cell phone nearby during personal conversations—even if neither of you are using it—can cause friction and trust issues. "Do your relationship a favor and pay your partner some exclusive attention for 10 minutes," said Winch. "It can make a big difference."

It can make you overeat

Being distracted during mealtime can prevent your brain from fully processing what you've eaten, according to a 2013 review of 24 previous studies. Because of that, you won't feel as full, and may be tempted to keep eating—and to eat again a short time later.

Experts recommend that even people who eat alone should refrain from turning on the television while eating, and to truly pay attention to their food. Eating lunch at your computer? Slow down and take a break from the screen to focus on each bite.

You're not actually good at it

Yes, you. You may think you're a master multitasker, but, according to a 2013 University of Utah study, that probably means you're actually among the worst.

The research focused specifically on cell phone use behind the wheel, and it found that people who scored highest on multitasking tests do not frequently engage in simultaneous driving and cell-phone use—probably because they can better focus on one thing at a time. Those who do talk and drive regularly, however, scored worse on the tests, even though most described themselves as having above average multitasking skills.

It's dampening your creativity

Multitasking requires a lot of what's known as "working memory," or temporary brain storage, in layman's terms. And when working memory's all used up, it can take away from our ability to think creatively, according to research from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

"Too much focus can actually harm performance on creative problem-solving tasks," the authors wrote in their 2010 study. With so much already going on in their heads, they suggest, multitaskers often find it harder to daydream and generate spontaneous "a ha moments."

Health.com: New Ways to Boost Your Brain Power

You can't OHIO

No, not the state! Psychiatrists and productivity experts often recommend OHIO: Only Handle It Once. "This is a rule of thumb for many people with ADHD, but it can also be practiced by anyone who wants to be more organized," says Winch. "It basically means if you take something on, don't stop until you've finished it."

The problem with multitasking, though, is that it makes Only Handling It Once a near impossibility—instead, you're handling it five or six times, says Winch. "If you're going to stick to this principle, you need to be disciplined and plan out your day so that when a distraction arises or a brilliant idea occurs to you, you know that there will be time for it later."

It can be dangerous

Texting or talking on a cell phone, even with a hands-free device, is as dangerous as driving drunk—yet that doesn't stop many adults from doing it, even while they have their own children in the car.

It's not just driving that puts you at risk for the consequences of multitasking, either. Research also shows that people who use mobile devices while walking are less likely to look before stepping into a crosswalk. And in one study, one in five teenagers who went to the emergency room after being hit by a car admitted they were using a smartphone at the time of the accident.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Do What You Love, and Starve...

Read a great blog post from one of my favourite companys, 37 Signals, today.  The essence of it was that don't follow your passion, but learn to love the process. The blog post is here: Love the Process.

It occurred to me full force that is exactly what we are doing here at Smoke Alarm Media. We don't necessarily love cooking (which I do) or writing books (which I don't)...we love designing the process to bring these projects to life. At least I do.

Honestly, there are two things I'm passionate about, and cooking is the other one.  And at this point in my life, I'm not going to get rich doing either of them. And hence I would have to find a normal job like everyone else out there...but I'm not.  Because somewhere along the dreary paths of my engineering training, I learned to love building the process, and now I'm like a kid in the Candy Store. My brain is coming up with more DOABLE projects than there are hours in the day, and I love it, love it, love it.

And to be completely frank, I'm making a helluva lot more money than working the saute station at California Dreaming or Applebee's or even BIN112. First off, Jason does a hell of a lot better job than I do.  And second, I don't look good on camera for the other thing I'm passionate about...;)

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Digging Through Horseshit to Find A Horse

There once was a little boy who was a hopeless optimist. This young boy would find something good in every circumstance that life threw his way. No matter what happened, this boy would never lose his spirit of optimism and he would always find a "silver lining in every cloud." He was so optimistic, that his parents began to worry. They thought, "Life can be tough and it can present challenges that our son will have to learn how to accept."
Now this boy wanted a horse more than anything else in life. He would pray every night that he would wake up the next morning and find his "horse" waiting for him in the yard. His parents thought that perhaps they could teach their boy a valuable lesson. So, they ordered a truck load of horse manure and had it piled up in their front yard one evening.
The next morning, when the little boy woke up, he went outside and saw the pile of horse manure. He ran out to the pile, scrambled up to the top, and began digging with his bare hands! When his parents saw what he was doing, they rushed outside and yelled at him, "Boy, what are you doing?"
Grinning ear to ear, he replied: "With all this horse manure, there just has to be a pony in here somewhere!"
Well, this week, and it's only Tuesday, has been like that.  We have had a rough go the past few days. Mean things said, silly things done.  And for whatever reason, I've forgotten to be optimistic and find that grain of benefit in this. At 12:42 this morning, it hit me like a freight train. It was so astounding, it is going to completely revamp our company and create a whole new damn profit model.  I could not believe it. Now just have to plan it all out...
So thank you, Jennifer McInnis, for dumping a huge pile of horseshit on my lawn. Because I found the fucking horse buried in it.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Not an Asshole, Just a Bastard...

A situation has recently presented itself where a new author applied first to Smoke Alarm Media, and then to me personally, to sign them as an author. To cut to the punch line, I didn’t sign them. And this pissed them off, royally.

Understand, now that I find myself entering the dreaded midlife years, I am being treated as Old School, whatever the hell that means. Basically, I run a benevolent dictatorship here, and when some fucks up, I let them know, in no uncertain terms, and how to correct it.  Basically, it makes me a bastard, but not an asshole. And in that belief of valuable and immediate feedback, I do something that I wish others did for me; I tell them the truth. 

So this author appealed to me, stating credentials like a Master of Fine Arts, and awards for Bright New Wunderkind (I was a wunderkind, too, once), et al, etc.  These are also fine accomplishments, to be sure. Perhaps yawning did not help his impression of me (no nap that day, so I am excused). He asked me to read portions of his manuscript. I declined. Which made him even more irate, which seems to be a recurring theme these days.

In our world, we are in business to sell books. Nothing. Else. Matters. I asked him his plans for it. Not once in the series of conversations that I had with this gentleman, did he mention how he was going to market and sell his books. He didn’t have a compelling story; he had no identified markets; no plan to take it to the masses. He had a well-written story. That’s it.

I asked his permission to be frank. He gave it, and no doubt regretted it. I told him I didn’t give a damn how smart he was. I didn’t care how well written the book was. All I cared about was his ability to sell it.  I could see the obvious pain my words were causing. So I observed that if he could not handle 5 minutes of honesty, he did not have enough “hide” to be successful when the going got tough. And we did not need that liability in our company.  And in doing so, I saved him months of disappointments, and gave him a MBA for free, or at least an introductory course.

He called me an asshole. I smiled, and told him again, the truth…”Not an Asshole, just a Bastard.”

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

When it rains, grab an Umbrella!

I can promise that I'm not channeling my inner Fat Joe, but there is sage advice to be followed here...when you work your ass off in a worthy endeavour, eventually success is going to get tired of you birddogging her (as I consider a female a proper similitude of success). Be ready for it. Take an umbrella.

And within 72 hours, whilst I'm dodging burning snags, pissed-off squirrels, and generally praying for rain, I forgot to specify where I wanted it. Out of the blue this week, we have added three new authors, who understand that it's called the NY Times Best-Seller List, and not the Best-Written List (witness 50 Shades if you need clarification).  Look up my brothers, it's raining.

So now we scramble. Create an ad-hoc marketing program.  Blitz the calls to designers. Call in last-minute favors.  Metadata? Who has time for metadata? I'm shipping in 45 days! We are going to pull this out of our collective asses and make it happen.  Granddaddy used to say "Make hay while the sun's shining". I say "It's raining, grab a bloody umbrella."

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Keep Digging that Ditch...

It has been a great week, book-wise.  We published three this week...Signature Tastes of Phoenix, Signature Tastes of Denver, and Playing With Fires (my personal ode to Firehouse cooking). So you can imagine that I was pretty proud, and strutting around the office like a banty rooster.

Then I pulled up our publishing dates. Hello Reality Check.

We had published one book in eight months.

One Damn Book.

Granted, it was Signature Tastes of New Orleans, and grand, but really?? What have I been doing with my time?

It occurred to me like a bucket of bricks that there was a reason that we would be eating beans and ramen around the office for the next 3 months.  Because we haven't done shit production-wise. Ultimately, this falls on me. And it is a suck-egg feeling.

The day-in, day-out grind is not sexy, and is not flashy, but dammit, it does pay the bills. Says he who is drinking a protein shake instead of a meal because there aren't enough ducets in the bank account for grocery trip.

Don't stop digging.  Just put your head down and gut it out. And then we can enjoy a breakfast out.

Time to get back to work.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying...

Another stellar week of breaking the rules of corporate life.  It gives one such a warm and fuzzy feeling.  But what are the rules?  Let's just say I've figured out a couple of them...

People with documents in their hands look like hardworking employees heading for important meetings. People with nothing in their hands look like they're heading for the cafeteria. People with a newspaper in their hand look like they're heading for the toilet. Above all, make sure you carry loads of stuff home with you at night, thus generating the false impression that you work longer hours than you do.

Any time you use a computer, it looks like 'work' to the casual observer. You can send and receive personal e-mail, calculate your finances and generally have a blast without doing anything remotely related to work. These aren't exactly the societal benefits that the proponents of the computer revolution would like to talk about but they're not bad either. When you get caught by your boss [and you *will* get caught] your best defence is to claim you're teaching yourself to use new software, thus saving valuable training dollars.

Top management can get away with a clean desk. For the rest of us, it looks like you're not working hard enough. Build huge piles of documents around your workspace. To the observer, last year's work looks the same as today's work - it's volume that counts. Pile them high and wide. If you know somebody is coming to your cubicle, bury the document you'll need halfway down in an existing stack and rummage for it when he/she arrives.

Never answer your phone if you have voice mail. People don't call you just because they want to give you something for nothing - they call because they want YOU to do work for THEM. That's no way to live. Screen all your calls through voice mail. If somebody leaves a voice mail message for you and it sounds like impending work, respond during lunch hour when you know they're not there - it looks like you're hardworking and conscientious even though you're being a devious weasel. If you diligently employ the method of screening incoming calls and then returning calls when nobody is there, this will greatly increase the odds that the caller will give up or look for a solution that doesn't involve you. The sweetest voice mail message you can ever hear is: "Ignore my last message. I took care of it". If your voice mailbox has a limit on the number of messages it can hold, make sure you reach that limit frequently. One way to do that is to never erase any incoming messages. If that takes too long, send yourself a few messages. Your callers will hear a recorded message that says "Sorry, this mailbox is full" - a sure sign that you are a hardworking employee in high demand.

According to George Costanza, one should also always try to look impatient and annoyed to give your bosses the impression that you are always busy.

Always leave the office late, especially when the boss is still around. You could read magazines and storybooks that you always wanted to read but have no time until late before leaving. Make sure you walk past the boss' room on your way out. Send important emails at unearthly hours (e.g. 9:35pm, 7:05am etc ) and during public holidays.

Sigh loudly when there are many people around, giving the impression that you are very hard pressed.

It is not enough to pile lots of documents on the table. Put lots of books on the floor etc... can always borrow from library if necessary. Thick computer manuals are the best.

Read up on some computer magazines and pick out all the jargon and new products. Use it freely when in conversation with bosses. Remember: They don't have to understand what you say, but you sure sound impressive.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

I just gave birth, and hell yes, it was messy...

Our latest ode to culinary gluttony is complete, the Signature Tastes of New Orleans. And she is a doozy. A year in the making, and due in large part to the persistence of the incomparable Paula Garriott.  And while we are comfortable with our Signature Tastes family, every new entry creates a frission of delight, a surge of panic, and a relieved "Thank God we did it" response.  For the parents out there, sound familiar?

So with that being said, I hold forth the most truthful scientific explanation of the birth of a book.  If you doubt it, try it yourself.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Breaking Bread, Not Just For Humans

People have been sharing food with strangers since ancient days, offering up the household's finest fare to mysterious travelers. Think Abraham and the three men of Mamre in the Bible and the folks who take in strangers after natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy. That deep tradition of generous hospitality has long been thought uniquely human.

If so, then bonobos, those gregarious African apes, may be more like us than we thought. So says Nancy Shute, of NPR.

"The pairs that are unfamiliar with each other are the ones that shared most often," says JingZhi Tan, a graduate student at Duke University who tested bonobos' penchant for sharing food and discovered that they not only share with strangers, they even offer their fruit and nuts to an unfamiliar bonobo faster than they will feed one they know well.

Bonobos, like humans, are acutely social, and often eat together. With both species, it works. Children and other vulnerable relatives get fed, social ties are strengthened and alliances formed.

But humans also developed a rich tradition of feeding strangers, one that's embedded in religion and literature – the xenia of ancient Greece, promoted by Zeus, the god of travelers. Back then there were practical reasons for selfless hospitality. It allowed people to travel far from home in the days long before Holiday Inns and drive-throughs. Stingy hosts were reviled, but so were guests who failed to be properly grateful. When Paris made off with his host's wife, Helen, in the Iliad, that faux pas kicked off the Trojan War.

But could hospitality be important to apes? Tan and his colleagues at Duke had done experiments with bonobos two years ago that showed that bonobos would share food with unrelated bonobos, rather than hoard it. Now they wanted to find out just how far that spirit of sharing went. So they created a series of experiments with bonobos living in a sanctuary in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo.

The series of experiments gave bonobos the ability to decide whether they would share their apples, bananas, papayas, and peanuts by giving them control over doors in a room. (See how the researchers did it in this video.)

In the first experiment, the scientists created a setup where one bonobo was put in a room with food. That bonobo could choose to open two doors leading to two other rooms – one housing a friend, the other, a stranger.

All of the bonobos opened a door to let in another, rather than dine alone. And nine of the 14 animals chose dining with the stranger over the familiar face – the ape equivalent of a restaurant's communal table.

What's more, when the familiar bonobo was invited to join the feast, it was almost always by the stranger, who would have considered that bonobo a new face. None of the animals fought over the food, and there was quite a bit of the friendly genital rubbing that's made bonobos renowned in animal behavior-land.

Then the scientists tweaked the layout. In another experiment, the bonobos were isolated in separate cages, with food in a compartment in between. Offered the option of sharing the food without physical contact, not one of the seven bonobos tested pulled a rope that would have let another reach through to the food. The results were published online in the journal PLoS One.

So it looks like if you're a bonobo, sharing food is only worth it if it's a social event. Bonus points if you're meeting someone new. It's fascinating behavior, but the researchers say it's not clear that this is altruism. "If you're being nice to a stranger, it's not necessarily unselfish," Tan told The Salt. It's easy to see the benefits to humans in sharing a meal with a stranger, even in modern times. Good conversation, future business partners, a broader social network – maybe even romance. Perhaps bonobos see those potential payoffs in a meal shared, too.