GAO Reports of Interest (Oct 2011)

Through their goal of providing “timely information that is objective, fact-based, nonpartisan, nonideological, fair, and balanced”, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) is one of the most important offices in government. As such, here are some of the latest reports I find particularly relevant and interesting, and at least worth a skim of the highlights and recommendations.

Information Sharing: Progress Made and Challenges Remaining in Sharing Terrorism-Related Information
GAO-12-144T, October 12 (23 pages)
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-12-144T
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/highlights/d12144thigh.pdf
Tags: Homeland Security, Information Management

Federal Chief Information Officers: Opportunities Exist to Improve Role in Information Technology Management
GAO-11-634, September 15 (72 pages)
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-11-634
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/highlights/d11634high.pdf
Tags: Information Technology

Quadrennial Homeland Security Review: Enhanced Stakeholder Consultation and Use of Risk Information Could Strengthen Future Reviews
GAO-11-873, September 15 (69 pages)
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-11-873
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/highlights/d11873high.pdf
Tags: Homeland Security

Data Mining: DHS Needs to Improve Executive Oversight of Systems Supporting Counterterrorism
GAO-11-742, September 7 (75 pages)
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-11-742
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/highlights/d11742high.pdf
Tags: Information Management, Information Technology

Information Security: Additional Guidance Needed to Address Cloud Computing Concerns
GAO-12-130T, October 6 (17 pages)
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-12-130T
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/highlights/d12130thigh.pdf
Tags: Information Security

Information Security: Weaknesses Continue Amid New Federal Efforts to Implement Requirements
GAO-12-137, October 3 (49 pages)
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-12-137
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/highlights/d12137high.pdf
Tags: Information Security

Information Technology: OMB Needs to Improve Its Guidance on IT Investments
GAO-11-826, September 29 (58 pages)
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-11-826
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/highlights/d11826high.pdf
Tags: Information Technology

Aviation Safety: Enhanced Oversight and Improved Availability of Risk- Based Data Could Further Improve Safety
GAO-12-24, October 5 (65 pages)
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-12-24
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/highlights/d1224high.pdf
Tags: Transportation

Language and Culture Training: Opportunities Exist to Improve Visibility and Sustainment of Knowledge and Skills in Army and Marine Corps General Purpose Forces
GAO-12-50, October 31 (46 pages)
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-12-50
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/highlights/d1250high.pdf
Tags: National Defense

Warfighter Support: DOD Has Made Progress, but Supply and Distribution Challenges Remain in Afghanistan
GAO-12-138, October 7 (79 pages)
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-12-138
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/highlights/d12138high.pdf
Tags: National Defense

National Preparedness: Improvements Needed for Acquiring Medical Countermeasures to Threats from Terrorism and Other Sources
GAO-12-121, October 26 (58 pages)
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-12-121
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/highlights/d12121high.pdf
Tags: Health Care, Homeland Security

Income Security: The Effect of the 2007-2009 Recession on Older Adults
GAO-12-172T, October 18 (10 pages)
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-12-172T
Tags: Retirement Security

Federal Bureau of Investigation: Actions Taken to Address Most Procurement Recommendations
GAO-11-794, September 6 (39 pages)
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-11-794
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/highlights/d11794high.pdf
Tags: Government Operations, Information Technology

EPA Health Risk Assessments: Oversight and Sustained Management Key to Overcoming Challenges
GAO-12-148T, October 6 (12 pages)
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-12-148T
Tags: Health Care, Natural Resources and Environment

Health Care Price Transparency: Meaningful Price Information Is Difficult for Consumers to Obtain Prior to Receiving Care
GAO-11-791, September 23 (43 pages)
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-11-791
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/highlights/d11791high.pdf
Tags: Health Care

Federal Courthouses: Improved Collaboration Needed to Meet Demands of a Complex Security Environment
GAO-11-857, September 28 (51 pages)
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-11-857
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/highlights/d11857high.pdf
Tags: Homeland Security

Stochastic Shocks & Business Success Factors

Some events in this world are inherently unpredictable. While can hedge our bets against these events in an attempt to optimize our livelihood, sustainability, or survivability, the non-deterministic behavior of such events is a balancer of sorts – driving us to be on our toes, do good work, cherish our time, and value our lives.

In the business world, these events are often called “stochastic shocks” – events with non-deterministic behavior that affect some system, such as the economy, business growth, or personal well-being. While these do factor into business success, we can only control the risks associated with them and/or account for their potential occurrence with contingency plans and controlled reactions. We often cannot prevent them or even see them until the damage has already been realized.

Stochastic shocks aside, there are numerous controllable factors that directly contribute to the success of any business, corporation, or related organization. There must be 1,000,000,000,000,000 books and blog posts related to such “business success factors”, but through my professional experience I’d like define a few here.

Controllable Business Success Factors

  1. The Core – Feasibility, idea completeness, relevance
  2. Leadership – Personality, knowledge, network, approach
  3. Strategic Planning – Objectives, milestones, foresight
  4. Human Resources – Key performers, team dynamics, corporate culture
  5. Customer Base – Engagement, collaboration, feedback
  6. Market Space & Competition – Market research, competitor analysis, anticipation/reaction
  7. Extended Social Network – Partners, public engagement, connectedness
  8. Communication – Marketing/branding, value proposition, lexicon
  9. Growth & Sustainability Model – Targets, thresholds, reinvestment
  10. Corporate Posture – Adaptability, agility, dynamicity, transparency

In an effort to maximize understanding and applicability, I attempt to keep the above language and terminology as simple as possible. And while this list is neither comprehensive nor does it include evidence or examples, I’m quite sure both Google and Amazon will provide access to those 1,000,000,000,000,000 books and blog posts.

Ultimately, an optimal approach requires an organization to understand, evaluate, and measure both the stochastic shocks with non-deterministic behaviors as well as the controllable business success factors simultaneously. Understanding both sides can ensure survivability in a tumultuous world, balancing one versus the other given the available resources to do so.

Balanced, Contextual Approaches to Thought & Action

Whether it’s your professional or personal life, sports team, volunteer group, or dinner plate, humans tend to think big. We see ourselves as astronauts on the moon, living happily by the beach, winning the championship, eliminating poverty, and sitting in front of the most beautiful plate of oven-baked lasagna.

In such cases, our human instincts serve us well; thinking big provides the foundation from which our minds find motivation, our lives feel purposeful, and our networks and circles come together under common goals and desires. Thinking big is a critical aspect of maintaining a purposeful life, by seeing life as a journey and not as a big mess of disconnected days, actions, people, movements, and thoughts.

That being said, our goals, dreams, desires, and overall intrinsic value come not through thinking big, but by acting small. The actions we take at each step in life are the driving factors behind where we end up and the impact we make. Our actions give us shape, form, and direction to realize our big thoughts. Our actions carry us through each day to build a purposeful story.

But is this notion of “think big, act small” (TBAS) the optimal approach? Some considerations to make:

1. Flipping the Paradigm: TBAS vs TSAB Approaches

What happens if we flip this paradigm of thinking big and acting small (TBAS)? What if instead we focused on thinking small and acting big (TSAB)? How would our shape, form, and direction differ?

Thinking small may provide us with the ability to deal with manageable chunks, the ability to break down large problems into smaller intellectual divots that we fill through logic and reason. Inherently, thinking small allows us to make smaller decisions, minimize risk, and to tightly align plans with results.

On the other hand, acting big can provide great visibility, posture, control, and leadership. Sure the risks may be elevated, but so are the rewards. Despite human nature, it seems that taking a TSAB approach through life can surely provide the same foundation for success and happiness that a TBAS approach provides.

So when should we utilize a  TBAS approach and when should we utilize a TSAB approach?

2. Understanding Scope: Approaches for Individuals vs Groups

How do our approaches to thinking and acting change given the surrounding environment at any given time? Is one approach better for the professional setting? Is another better for the soccer field? How should our strategies differ when considering differing circumstances? Most importantly, does the presence of others directly influence the scope of our thinking, and if so, to what extent might this be within our control?

I find myself thinking big in the morning, thinking smaller throughout the day, then thinking big again at night. Both morning and night are when I see and am around the least amount of people, while during the day it’s a constant interaction of many different people through conversations, technology, and sense. So is the scope of my thoughts primarily dependent on the size of my immediate social environment?

My actions are tougher to characterize as the scope of them has no obvious correlation to any temporal component, physical surroundings, or social environment. So are actions less guided by our surroundings than our thoughts? How does the scope of our actions and/or the willingness to take big actions depend on the size of the acting body? Is the success rate higher for larger groups taking smaller actions, or smaller groups taking larger actions?

3. Independence: Decoupling Thoughts from Actions

The discussion of scope lends us the idea that thoughts and actions may be influenced by completely different elements, from the time of day to the size of our immediate social environment. So does it benefit us at any one time to decouple thoughts from actions, or is it in our best interest to bind the two so tightly that all our actions are driven by thought, and all our thoughts stem from actions? Is the strength of the bond unique for every individual, and again, is it within our control?

Concluding Thoughts

At the end of the day it is my belief that, given the events in our lives both within and beyond our control, we should be readied with TBAS and TSAB approaches, guided by an assumption that the strength of the bond between thoughts and actions as well as the scope of each is well within our control. Some days our best approach is to build visions and lend a hand, while other days require thoughtful prayers and leaps of faith. Realizing these differing approaches while beginning to analyze the interactions between thoughts and actions is critical to providing strategies for any situation. More importantly, it maximizes the chance for positive results and successful outcomes, for both the individual and the populations at large. Now that’s a pretty big thought.

Waves, Coherence, & the Origins of Inspiration

So I’ve taken a few months off from writing – not because I’ve been out of thoughts and ideas but because I’ve just wanted to take some time to reflect on my thoughts and ideas to date. I’ve wanted to somehow soak it all in and envision a larger realm of thoughts and ideas emerging in my life. I’ve wanted to ride a different psyche wave for a bit – one of absorption and reflection rather than construction and emission.

Waves, phases, and cycles are a major part of our lives. Some are natural, some controlled, and some just plain impossible to understand. Some can be calculated and predicted while others come completely unexpected. What drives these waves and cycles, and how does the combination (or interference) of multiple waves in our lives affect our overall well-being and happiness?

In the physical world, the relation (or correlation) between multiple waves can be described or denoted by something called coherence – how much their phases differ and, when combined, what the resulting wave might look like. Let’s think of coherence for our psyche wave as our level of well-being and happiness that results from the combination of all the waves in our life.

To look at this idea in more detail, we can identify several waves and cycles in our lives: seasons, weeks, days, running and working out, our diet, relationships, playing sports, volunteering and giving, sleep cycles, dreaming big, acting small, being social, feeling courageous, extreme happiness, comfort and security, professional experience, travel, spending and saving, learning and teaching, new thought, and well, on to infinity with this list.

Well, this is where it gets tough. Given the complexity and often complete unpredictability of these waves and cycles, how can we ever determine what our resulting psyche wave will look like, or at least what it should look like? How can we identify the properties of these waves – that is, how frequently they come around, how high they take us, how low they take us, how they change in time, what interactions they make with other waves, and what really drives them from the get go?

These may be questions for many millennia, but I want to look at the most general driver that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently: inspiration. The source of true inspiration is seemingly quite unpredictable yet it is the major driver of a peaking (or cresting) psyche wave of well-being and happiness.

From where does one find inspiration? Is it something to be harnessed and propagated, or is its movement about society entirely beyond our control? From where do we find the courage to venture and the fuel for adventure, the motivation to take on the world and the drive to motivate the world around us? Is inspiration in itself a natural cycle of crests and troughs or can we deconstruct it into its own understandable DNA? What drives the waves of inspiration?

In my search for the end of the internet, I found an interesting post on inspiration by “Duff McDuffee” on Precision Change, a personal development blog. Thank all Gods, earthlings, and minerals for the internet! Duff spends most of the time summarizing several unique realms of thought surrounding the origins of inspiration but most notably concludes with some very compelling ideas:

“Inspiration is the natural and automatic drawing in of spirited experience, just as inhalation is the natural drawing in of breath. You cannot force inspiration any more than you can force an inhale. Just as inhalation happens naturally as long as you don’t try to control it, inspiration also happens naturally and is just as near and easily available.

Inspiration comes from the same place that dreams come from. It is a place beyond understanding, knowing, and controlling. Inspiration is born of naturalness, of being, of attunement to spirit. When you stop controlling and start listening, inspiration naturally arises.

Inspiration is also wild, mysterious, and unknowable. Inspiration is the stuff of pure creativity. It cannot be measured, predicted, or controlled.”

So inspiration is natural like breathing, mysterious like dreams, and immeasurable like pure creativity? But what about sunsets, hymns, good naps, lasagna, beaches, speeches, births, deaths, memories, wins, losses, and the moments that take our breath away? What about the performances, trips, meetings, phone calls, churches, hikes, and wonders of the world?

To me, inspiration just comes in many forms, expected and unexpected, natural and brought forth by our own acts. Sometimes we can find it easily, and sometimes we can’t. But the key is that we can learn about it, and learn about it we do. As we grow older, see the world, and interact as a society, we can learn about the origins of inspiration. As we learn about it, we can harness it, maintain some coherence between multiple waves, maximize our collective peaks, and maintain the highest level of well-being and happiness. To me, that’s pretty inspiring.

Listening, Lighting Fires, and Laughing Uncontrollably

“It is the province of knowledge to speak, and it is the privilege of wisdom to listen.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes

Listening is an enabler, for love, learning, understanding, advising, taking action, and a whole lot more. Listening allows us to process speech, convert emotions, build thoughts, and plan reactions. Listening balances expression; if our speech, tone, and visible emotions lift us up, it’s our ability to subsequently listen that gets us back on the ground.

But a problem is that listening requires input – input that is not always there and is entirely dependent upon another party. It’s not entirely common that the speaker knows what to say or is able to sufficiently express the thoughts, ideas, and feelings that tread his or her mind.

Accordingly, the responsibility to effectively navigate this two-way street goes to both parties. As a listener, it’s important to enable effective input through a variety of measures, such as setting the tone, establishing trust, and asking the right question.

An additional tactic for effective two-way communication that enables the most intellectually profitable form of listening, is to light a fire that is easily put out. By lighting the light fire – an easily distinguishable one that gives the reader some initial motivation – more valuable data is exchanged between parties, fueled by more sincere emotion of those parties. As a result, our collective knowledge grows and wisdom prevails while the relationship still gets stronger.

Listening is not just sitting back and acting interested; listening is active participation in the conversation, and in particular, invoking in the speaker the right drivers for speech and expression. At the end of the day, we are all people, and all have things to say, opinions to share, and feelings to express. We should embrace each conversation as a two-way street and ensure we optimize the result of that conversation by using all tactics at hand. Let’s all be active listeners.

“To listen well, is as powerful a means of influence as to talk well, and is as essential to all true conversation.” – Chinese Proverb

Well my post is actually done, but as I was scanning the web for some good images that might be representative of the above, I somehow stumbled on this one below, and burst out laughing as a result. C’mon, that’s worth a good hearty chuckle!


Six Sigma, Switching Spices, and Embracing the Slight Deviations in Life

Although in many aspects of life we must minimize variation to obtain desirable outcomes, it’s when we embrace the slight deviations from normalcy that we obtain leverage, advancement, and enrichment.

Six Sigma

Six Sigma, developed by Motorola in 1981, is a “rigorous and disciplined methodology that uses data and statistical analysis to measure and improve a company’s operational performance by identifying and eliminating defects.” In other words, it’s a business management strategy that seeks to minimize variation in operational processes to obtain desirable results for that business/industry.

For manufacturing, production, risk management, supply chain management, accounting, customer service, and many other traditional business functions, minimizing variation is critical for ensuring sustainability, accountability, and efficiency. If the outputs of these functions deviated from what was to be expected, well, it could be expected that the people, the business, and the industry could all be severely impacted at some level.

But in order to spur innovation, create new channels for business, and adapt to markets and mediums that are constantly in flux, these businesses must foster and embrace the slight deviations from what is traditional or expected. There are incredible resources available to allow for these deviations to be leveraged without enormous risk to the bottom line, public image, or financial outlook:

  • The internet is an amazingly efficient platform to test new strategies, engage with the public, and collaborate with the universe.
  • Statistical methods supply new insight to what may have been and what might be, should this or that occur, with one thing or another considered.
  • Social networks can be easily tapped and leveraged for business insight. More is understood about behavioral patterns and social networks than ever before, allowing more direct correlation of business decisions to societal impact.

Business functions, organizations, and entire industries can be bettered by embracing and running with such deviations, even if the short-term prospect could be unknown and questionable. Balancing normalcy with cultured variations is a mixed business strategy that provides leverage within that market, advances industry, and enriches society.

Switching Spices

Let’s move from biz to grub. Think of cooking as a math problem. Ingredients are your variables/inputs, methods are your coefficients/operators, and your dish is the output. Given the huge number of ingredients and spices, cooking and plating techniques, and methods of consumption, the range of outputs is somewhere around or above infinity. But given that our options are so vast, it’s amazing how much the output might change if just one of our inputs is changed.

The dish is our dynamical system. Sometimes all it takes is turning up the temperature, or maybe adding more juice, or switching a spice, and the dish becomes entirely new. This is math and food in bed together – the application of chaos theory to culinary experience – making slight deviations from recipes and “comfort-zone” cooking to find new dishes worth trying, sharing, and bragging about.

As much as cooking is an experience, it’s also an experiment. There may be structure – in terms of baking methods and recipe books and kitchen etiquette – but in reality, the door is wide open. Ingredients are for the using, and recipes are for abusing. The best dishes are the unexpected ones, the ones that deviated from expectation, the ones that turned from trial and error to don’t-want-to-share. The mistakes are worth making, for it’s the hundreds of bad pasta dishes that lead to the thousands of great ones. Without embracing the variation in cooking, well, we mind as well hook up to the same gas pump each day.

And lastly, if the world of cooking was its own planet, every inch of it would be covered with a different species, color, scent, appearance, and shape. There is an infinite number of combinations of ingredients, quantities, temperatures, styles, and dishes to consume. Sometimes just switching one spice with another or stirring a little less makes all the difference in making your palate happy and opening a world of new potential dishes. Embracing slight variations in cooking will create new kitchen opportunities, expand your breadth of culinary knowledge and experience, and enrich your palate with a vast array of potential flavors.

Adaptive Normality

So what would our world look like if everything was constantly normal? Would we even have a concept of normality? With no variation from what has been done previously, we would essentially cease to learn, experiment, discover, and grow as a society and civilization.

What makes individuals unique makes many individuals stronger.

Our characteristics give us dimension. Our characteristics – from eye colors to expressions to birthmarks – give us each an identity that we own while making our society as a whole much stronger, multi-dimensional, and poised to grow.

Our choices give us direction. Our choices – from picking a college to financial spending habits to lending a hand – fuel and steer us down towards success and happiness, down roads that sometimes seem endless, foggy, and even non-existent.

Realizing that much good in our lives is based on slight deviations from normality, we must continue to pursue opportunities away from the norm. We must adapt our conceptualization of normality from a straight line to one that constantly moves and includes the variation in life. Our threshold for risk must include these slight deviations so we make them a part of our everyday life. Pushing the envelope in multiple ways brings advancement and enrichment. Divergent thinking, trying new dishes, and taking roads less traveled are all small deviations worth embracing. Although it’s normalcy that might keep us standing, its variation that moves us forward.

Knowns, Unknowns, and Aether Abound

Much of our lives is about problems and solutions. Faced with a barrier, we find a way to knock it down. Presented with a challenge, we work to overcome it. Our collective problems bring us together, and our collective solutions make us safer, stronger, and happier.

These problems come in many shapes and sizes: math problems, career problems, logistical problems, emotional problems, physical problems. Rather than maintain special problem solving techniques for individual problem types, we can expand our methods into a global group, and learn from one type what may be helpful for another. Sticking with math – a common language and underlying framework of nature and intellect – we can relate our methods for solving math problems to the rest of the world around (and above us).

There is an innate simplicity to many math problems: there are knowns and there are unknowns. The solutions often reside in the application of methods and operators to the knowns to determine one (or all) of the unknowns. Therefore, the first step is often determining what is known and what is unknown. Although, this notion has been most popularly  represented by set theory (a foundational system of mathematics that deals with collections of objects), this concept has been the spark for other applied methods and disciplines through which many more complex problems are tackled in today’s society.

In game theory, a player’s strategy can be represented by differentiating the sets of moves that could make positive gains versus those that could make negative gains, given the possible situations at each stage of the game. Closely related is decision theory, where we look for the pros and cons, uncertainties, and rationalities behind potential decisions to determine an optimal course of action. In chaos theory, we define initial conditions and explore how the behaviors of some dynamical systems change as those knowns vary or as unknowns are introduced into the system.

To delve deeper into the questions of known-unknown identification, set theory, and related applied methods, we can think about a problem that began on day one, has no end in sight, yet has made incredible progress over centuries in terms of approaching a solution: what’s above us? What’s with the sky, the planets, the stars, the universe – the aether that surrounds us?

Is the total set of knowns and unknowns about the universe infinite? Does a new known always present us with a new unknown? Is the same true for every problem, or just some? For which types of problems might this be true? Are we better at approaching a solution collectively or as individuals? How can this be determined at the onset of a problem? If the set of unknowns has no limit or boundary, is the solution intelligently impossible? Does a single element of randomness deny a complete solution from every being possible? Are we better off existing without a solution? Or would we be complete with a world of all knowns?

I fundamentally believe that we find meaning in life through the unknowns, not the knowns. The set of unknowns is infinite, and it is our drive to understand unknowns and, in general, the curiosity into the mysterious world that provides completeness. The knowns give safety, guidance, comfort, and pleasure.

For all problems we face, and as with the aether abound, we can continue to move forward, learn what we know, and question that which we don’t know. We can start with sets – knowns and unknowns – and move from there. Problem solving can be simple, if you start simple. As for the things we don’t know we don’t know – the unknown unknowns – well, we better stay curious with the mysterious, and just be happy for that.

Focus, Balance, and Strength

One is for focus, two for balance, and three for strength. From the most basic sequence of integers we can understand critical characteristics and qualities that, in a sense, provide a backbone by which we can be happy, learn, and grow.

One is one. There is nothing to surround it, there is nothing to be bent. It’s the focal point of many, and the starting spot for all. Above one comes everything else and into one everything comes.

Our society puts a lot of focus on one. We like to see a single result and hear a single voice. We want to find our soul mate and discover the holy grail. We seek to structure our world by its basic individual units, the atoms and nodes. We break down our problems into individually digestible chunks. One is the basic unit of math, the center of gravity, the perfect result. One is the focus and concentration of everything else.

But one stands alone. Where one is one, one is only one. One would be none if no two came from one.

Two is the balance of ones, the pairs of nature, the couplets of science, the squares of math, the rhythm and meter of poetry. Two is evenness and congruence. Two is good and evil, hot and cold, yes and no, high and low, winners and losers, protons and electrons, male and female, life and death. From two we can find harmony and bliss and make connections not previously seen by focusing on one. Two is love. Love is two. Two is the threading of life and the creator of balance within the cosmos. Two is the secret order within disorder, through connections and relationships that make us more than one.

But two still lacks shape. Where two is two, there is only one view of two. Two would be one if no three came from two.

Three is the unit of strength, the shape of our space. It represents our current (most common) perception of spatial dimensions. Three is triangulation, inflection, exponentiation, and curvature. Three is the operation and its result – a combination of the whole picture. Threes provide motion and non-linearity, a dynamic quality of life. Threes make twos unique and unbounded while making stronger our threads. Three is two and one together, forging balance and focus for strength.

Three is the strongest number. Geometrically, the triangle is the only shape that cannot be deformed without changing the length of one of its sides. Spatially, three provides dimension and perception. Three is our basic unit of existence and reality, and well, most of our buildings too.

Three also represents complexity in knowledge. If two is the threads, three is the knots. Three is multiple connections – knowledge with shape. Tie two threads together and you’re building new shapes, discovering new binds, making new questions for answers worth seeking.

And triplets are an optimization of our minds. Remember two things and you could have remembered a third. Try to remember four things and you are likely to leave one out. Triplets are an innate unit of the human mind, something by which we are all naturally bound.

Focus, balance, and strength. With three we find strength, and from three we derive balance and focus. Three qualities that make us better individuals, partners, and citizens. Three qualities that, if we learn to utilize and optimize through our life, will surely better our professional, personal, and spiritual lives.

And at the end of the day, numbers are an underlying language of life. We can look to numbers to represent many aspects of life – both physical and philosophical – to help understand how we interact, how we grow, and how to succeed. Looking at a simple sequence of numbers can provide insights that are easier to understand in a world of infinite space and color. Numbers help provide shape to our thoughts and can thread our understanding across cultures and generations. Now did somebody say math is boring? 🙂

String Theory, Email Threads, and Happiness

Our lives are made up of millions of threaded moments in numerous conscious and subconscious dimensions. Identifying these threads – from multiple emails to time volunteering to a loving relationship – and making them last, making them stronger, and weaving them through multiple life dimensions is a key to health and well-being.

String theory attempts to relate multiple disparate concepts about our universe into a more unifying framework. Specifically, it states that subatomic elements (electrons, quarks, bosons, etc) are not three-dimensional objects but rather are one-dimensional strings that vibrate to take on semi-measurable characteristics (mass, spin, flavor, charge). Additionally, string theory posits that our universe is made up of unobservable dimensions that, at the most basic level, provide some sort of logical consistency to the known laws and theories of the physical (and metaphysical) world.

Well on a more macro level, our lives are very much made up of strings and dimensions. For our purposes, let’s just call them threads. Threads are made up of several connected points spanning one to many dimensions of our lives. These threads are our conversations, our friendships, our good deeds, our actions, and our spontaneous thought streams – the basic units by which we live our life. Our life dimensions are our jobs, families, friends, teams, systems, cultures, and countries, as well as our core knowledge, ideas, and feelings  – the encompassing elements by which our lives fundamentally exist. And finally, our lives have outputs too! They are our health and our well-being, our happiness, our faith, our understanding, and the meaning we extract from the world.

Think about some threads of your life:

  • Email Threads – Maintain a steady stream of conversation to build new knowledge, ignite new thought, and establish a strong connection with someone.
  • Volunteering – Show up when you don’t feel like it, encourage others to work harder, and continually establish yourself as a reliable and dependable contributor to society.
  • Love & Relationships – Always give to, and never give up on, the ones you love most in this world.

So now to the crux of my point: these life threads are the critical inputs to ensure our happiness and well-being are properly sustained, cultivated, and shared. By identifying these basic units, making them stronger, tying them together, crossing them through multiple dimensions of our lives, and “vibrating” the heck out of them, we can collectively share happiness and good faith as a society through better relationships, systems, and mutual understandings. Seems chaotic, yes, but in chaos there is a natural simplicity. Said the great thinker and founder of analytical psychology, Carl Jung: “In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order.”

Thanks to Outpatient.com for use of the image.

Postulating Possible, Probable, and Preferable Futures

With regards to futurology and future studies, I’ve recently posted on the principles of forecasting as well as the origins of opportunity – two distant yet related topics that exemplify the breadth and depth of the field.

As my own futures research has progressed, I’ve found various sources that have proven to be quite valuable in guiding my curiosity and conjecturing. I think some of these are worth passing along:

  • Acceleration Studies Foundation (ASF) – ASF is an educational 501(c)(3) nonprofit engaged in outreach, education, research, and selective advocacy with respect to issues of accelerating change.
  • Futurology (Wikipedia)
  • Institute for Alternative Futures – The Institute for Alternative Futures (IAF) is a nonprofit research and educational organization founded in 1977. IAF and its for-profit subsidiary, Alternative Futures Associates (AFA), specialize in aiding organizations and individuals to more wisely choose and create their preferred futures. IAF works with clients to create forecasts, scenarios, goals and strategies that are the essential tools for transforming organizations to succeed in times of rapid change.
  • Institute For The Future (IFTF)
  • Principles of Forecasting (ForPrin)
  • Shaping Tomorrow – Online community of futurists and futures research
  • Shaping Tomorrow (Ning Network)
  • “The Time Lords” (Financial Times, 1/30/2007)
  • World Future Society (WFS) – The World Future Society is a nonprofit, nonpartisan scientific and educational association of people interested in how social and technological developments are shaping the future. The Society was founded in 1966 and is chartered as a nonprofit educational and scientific organization in Washington, D.C.
  • World Futures Studies Federation (WFSF) – The World Futures Studies Federation (WFSF) is a global NGO that was founded in the 1960s to encourage and promote the development of futures studies as a transdisciplinary academic and professional field in all parts of the world. WFSF operates as a global network of practicing futurists – researchers, teachers, scholars, policy analysts, activists and others from approximately 60 countries.

In a nutshell, futures studies is exactly that – studies of the future. It’s about the determining the total set of possibilities for tomorrow, finding the most probable of outcomes for tomorrow, and leveraging advanced knowledge to even shape the future.

Wikipedia, as spread across the spectrum of credibility as it may be, provides a pretty decent explanation of the mindset needed to be truly forward-looking. What qualities are required of a futurist, within any organization or for any requirement or need, to fully anticipate the unknown using the set of resources at his/her disposal (data, intuition, logic, technology, vision, science, etc.)?

  • Trend Assessment – The competency to understand trend directions, weak signals and wildcards, assess their likely impact and effect on one another and respond in a timely and appropriate manner
  • Pattern Recognition – The ability to see patterns rather than individual factors
  • System Perspective: The capability to envision the entire system rather than the isolated components
  • Anticipation: To anticipate short and long term consequences over time, novel situations and geography
  • Instinct & Logic: To rely on a combination of instincts and logic rather than purely rational analysis

Yes, there is a plethora of philosophical, political, religious, scientific, and even incomprehensible factors that may give shape to the future (or take that shape away). But that should not deter us from facing it head on. We all need to work smarter not harder, avoid surprises, exploit new opportunities, plug weaknesses, and (where possible) influence the future.