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!


A World Of Readers, Thinkers, And Sleuths

“Let your mind wander through time and space, and follow its trail with curious grace.”

With regards to reading books, I’ve gone through several phases in my life. I enjoyed them as a young kid, then hated them in middle school, and was swamped by them in high school. I read mostly magazines and equations in college. But in grad school, I learned to find time for books outside of class and homework, and began understanding them more clearly. And now, well, I don’t really have a definition for it… but I’ll try.

I love books. I absolutely love books and I think they love me. Old books, new books, bright books, dusty books, hardcovers, paperbacks, biographies, picture books, ones with funky-looking text, ones with big characters, cookbooks, humorous musings, philosophical contemplations, new takes on old theories, old takes on novel wonders, manuscripts, adventures, essays, creative ramblings, confessions, ones with good names, and especially the nameless ones. There are so many books to love, and I love them all. I love that I can love them all. They are there for me when I want them and there for me when I don’t want them. I can read when I’m happy, read when I’m sad, read when I’m puzzled, or read when I’m mad. I don’t have a deadline for a book and I’m not tested when I’m done with it. I can pick it up when I want, and can forget about it if I want to do that too.

The book store is one of my favorite places. I really can’t believe how many books have been written. These are the words and thoughts of people from all over the world, on all types of topics, in a sometimes-organized-often-disorganized effort to better understand our world. These are the words of the millions of deceased – those that saw what I could not see – and willingly tried to explain it to a world of readers with whom they have no acquaintance.

It’s also funny that book stores are categorized, because the case can be made to fit any book under a thousand headings. That being said, I’m always surprised at how well most authors can maintain the scope and focus of a single book. I find my mind wandering constantly and, as a result, feel that this is the natural way for me to write and express my thoughts and feelings. Scope and focus are nice if and only if scope and focus are how you feel you can best express your thoughts and feelings to the world.

With that in mind, let me express a small array of thoughts:

1. Books, and literacy in general, provide a channel through which we all can better understand the world in which we live.

2. Reading and embracing books at a young age (including picture books) fosters creativity, analytical thinking, and a drive for discovery and understanding.

3. No book is a bad book, and everyone is an author. We all have something to say, and everything said is worth a read.

4. Writing and reading enables self-realization coupled with the ability to wear other people’s shoes. Books connect and network our planet – the living, the dead, and the unborn.

Lastly, I want to quickly describe a couple web resources that help organize that which we read while making it a most economical endeavor. Aside from all the free content I can get from the web, these are a few of the mechanisms I use to discover, monitor, research, and purchase books:

  • Amazon – I use the built-in “Wish List” feature to maintain a collection of every book in which I’ve had some interest in purchasing or researching more. The Amazon iPhone app is also great – for adding books to the wish list and even purchasing books within a few clicks. I’ll usually walk around the book store, find a title I like, read the front/back covers, flip through a few pages, then look it up right away on the Amazon iPhone app, read some reviews, and either add it to my wish list or immediately purchase a used copy (for around 1-50% of the in-store/new price). Amazon itself is also a fantastic place to find similar books, related but higher-rated books, or books on any other random topic in which you might have a short- or long-term interest.
  • Google Books – I use a lot of Google products because I like having many dimensions of my life synced in the cloud under my one Google profile. Google Books is another one of these and is where I keep track of what I’ve read, what I’m reading, and what I want to read. I can read reviews (including those from Amazon), write reviews, add personal notes, and even read excerpts (if not all) of the book online. A very nice online, personal library.

That’s about it for now. Love books. Read books. Write in your books. Share them with others. Talk about your books. Recommend your favorites. Have fun with them!

The Personal Finance System and Reasonable Economic Fasting

Understanding personal finance requires more than a regular checking of balances and a paying of bills. It requires:

  1. Conscientious recognition of all inputs and outputs of your personal financial system
  2. Analytical recognition of the internal and external factors that contribute to changes in your personal finance system
  3. Deliberate manipulation of the controllable factors when your short and long-term financial strategies dictate necessary change(s)
  4. Careful planning for and reaction to the uncontrollable factors in order to mitigate risks to your system and strategy

Personal finance can be depicted as a system because, well, it’s a system. There are inputs and outputs to your system. You make and you spend. You gain and you lose. There are internal and external factors that can change its overall state. Markets fluctuate. Rates change. Job success merits a wage increase. A loss of a job diminishes income. A health problem or car accident can lead to unintended expenses. The state of your system is directly affected by the collective impact of both controllable and uncontrollable factors.

Fortunately, this system is quantifiable and is readily measured. Through various ways and means, you can determine the state of your system at any present moment. For the oh-so-organized, you can determine the state of your system at any moment in the past. And for the oh-so-very enabled (I think you know where I’m going with this), you can peer into the state of your system for any multitude of moments in the future.

With this notion, there should be an overall strategy to your system – a place where you want to be financially and how you aim to get there. Your aim will be based on the financial knowledge you have built over time, with regards to the controllable and uncontrollable factors contributing to your system. And to your benefit, your knowledge will only increase over time, making your strategy more targeted and the desired future state that much more accurate and achievable.

So you recognize that there’s more to understanding your finances than the ATM and your wallet. Where should you start? Perhaps with what I call “reasonable economic fasting”.

What is your financial baseline? In other words, how can you determine the bottom line steady state of your system? Without needless purchases and expenditures, how much do you have, how much comes in, and how much goes out? Spend as little as possible, and organize your bottom line financial system.

For a specified period of time (a week, two weeks, one month, etc), don’t make those needless purchases. Do carry on with your basic grocery, health care, and sufficient living expenses. But don’t get those Don Mattingly rookie cards off eBay (although I would call them a basic need), trade a book with someone rather than buy a new one, and cook your own steak and potatoes rather than dish out $35 for a nice plating. Find your financial baseline, and I guarantee you’ll gain some new knowledge with regards to your personal finance system:

  • The Value of Money – How much is a dollar worth to you? How much is a dollar worth to you compared to yesterday?
  • The Value of Saving – How much is a dollar saved worth to you? Given your baseline, what is your maximum savable amount per pay period (the least hopefully not being less than $0.00)? A dollar can go a long way if it goes away for a long time.
  • The Value of Spending – How much is a dollar spent worth to you? Do all your baseline expenses amount to what you pay for them?
  • Controllable & Uncontrollable Factors – At your financial baseline, you should be able to determine which fluctuations in your bottom line are a result of uncontrollable factors versus controllable ones. Which expenses sustain your desired lifestyle, and which are a result of it?

In the end, it comes down to simple recognition and organization. Take the time to understand what goes in and comes out of your personal finance system, and try to analyze the impact of key controllable and uncontrollable factors affecting that system. If needed, find your financial baseline as a starting spot, and use some intuitive planning to craft your strategy. After all, thought planning is free.

The Intersection Of Expertise

As I begin my job search (25 applications in 2 days so far!) I keep asking myself how to describe what I’m looking for in a job and in what realm do I wish to work? There is no specific job title that describes my experience and education (e.g. “doctor” or “software engineer”) and there is no one department in which I’ve worked or wish to work (e.g. “Operations” or “Logistics” ). Yes, I have an academic background in mathematics & statistics yet it’s difficult to communicate why I have that academic background. I do not necessarily want to become a statistician but rather I fully understand the quantitative nature of things and the power that numbers, math, and quantitative methods have in all aspects of business, government, and life.

So where does this leave me? Well, unemployed and confused, for one. But that’s okay with me. I’m confident that with my capabilities, no matter how hard they may be to communicate in an application or even to a recruiter, I’ll find the position that leverages my abilities and motivation.

That being said, I think I’m at least getting close to describing where I stand, and in real-world terms. It’s at an intersection of sorts – between quantitative methods, scientific and technological realms, and the human element. It’s interdisciplinary – can fit within any group or team or stand alone as an independent researcher or consultant. It’s also dynamic – parallels the speed with which modern business operates and the flexibility required to optimally support the needs and requirements of many types of personnel.

I’ve used a similar image a few times, in posts on knowledge innovation and math in 2010 and beyond. Here I’ve intersected three main topics while including some of my strengths in the middle. Now if I could only match those to a job title…

At what intersection do you operate?

People Studying People

Society is people. Whether it’s business growth, intellectual advancement, government, mass media, artistic culture, knowledge transfer, sports successes, health care, economic development, or charity, it all starts with people. Therefore, in order to learn about how society is shaped and how it can change, it’s imperative that we learn as much as we can about the people who have come before us.

One purpose of my blog is to organize information about influential people of the past and present to try and pass this information on to others. Adsideology very much follows this notion – that life is about people, and we should study people to become people. I do recognize that the more diverse the people, the more wholesome the information gained. However, I’ll probably start with some mathematicians as I’ve recently bought a few books on the great ones in history.

As a start, let’s think of some numbers. Solely focusing on Earth, how many people have ever lived? Most estimates fall around 100 billion total. The interesting note about this number is that with a current population of over 6.7 billion, this means that almost 7% of people ever born in the history of Earth are living today. In other words, only 93% of people ever born have ever died! Pretty wild to think about, right?

On Knowledge Innovation

I want to quickly mention a correlating note regarding knowledge innovation for the future – how new thought can best be stimulated given the current state of society. It is clear that one pillar of innovation will always be people – the human component. Even in a world growing in reliance on information services, the human component will always remain. I’ve posted previously on the need for the human component in future mathematics initiatives as well as the need for expanded human intervention for optimized search technologies. The fact is, the human component will always be there. Common sense, yes, but commonly understood, maybe not.

Links

Future Search Requires Human Intervention

The business of organizing information is a tricky one in that it’s a moving target. It’s hard to tell what will be the next hot topic or consumer need, and the contribution of digital information is not necessarily bound by the structure and rules of those needing that information. Second, the mechanisms by which we wish to access and use information are constantly changing. The world in 2050 won’t be PowerPoint presentations, heat maps and csv exports, just as 1950’s world wasn’t all emails, tweets, and search engines. Lastly, with the emergence and growth of social media and networking, information contribution has dramatically increased. Without providing the statistics, it’s well known that more people are online, and more people are hitting a “Submit”, “Post”, “Send”, or “Tweet” button than ever before. As a result, there are more pieces of information, more individual topics, more ways to categorize information, more uses for information, more ways to see information, and more unknowns about that information than ever before.

That being said, it’s important to not be unnerved by this. Collectively, we are smart enough to guide search technology in the right direction, or at least put it in the right place so that its path is optimized for future generations. And collectively, we are smart enough to ensure that the ways we use information will publicly provide guidance to the development of a optimal suite of available tools for effective visualization and communication. That being said, by focusing on the relative near-term, emerging trends can be detected, understood, and leveraged for advancement in the business of organizing information. Gaining an edge on future trends brings tremendous value and exactly that – edge. Among other methods, the detection of such trends requires quantitative analysis mixed with psychology, history, and good ol’ intuition.

In terms of finding information (and more importantly, relevant information), most people think simple search. Or maybe more specifically, they think Boolean search with some available advanced search options. It’s Google, Bing, Wolfram|Alpha, or some other engine – typing in some logical query, occasionally setting some supporting filters, scrolling through the first ten results, and settling on what looks best by some meta data. This certainly works today, and these search engines may be sufficiently wrapping their arms around the influx of new and changing information. But soon technology reaches a limit. The responsibility must shift back to the human. As the informational requirements become more complex and the underlying data become more specialized, relevancy must become more human-driven. We can’t rely completely on technology to provide us with answers.

This notion is two-fold:

  1. Future queries needs more human input. This means “advanced search” needs to become part of “normal search”. Spending 3 seconds to check a box could save 3 minutes in scanning results. You can obviously set defaults for your regular search, but I’d be interested to see stats on the use of type of search vs time spent scanning results. The distance between the two will only grow with the ever-accelerating growth of internet content.
  2. Future content needs more human organization. About.com, Wikipedia.org, and howstuffworks.com are great examples of this. They are sites that show up in search results that organize information. Wired Magazine had a good article last month on About.com as an “answer factory” (in fact, their motto is “Guidance. Not Guesswork” – I love that). These sites organize thought and mimic the human mind looking for an answer to a question, not a query. Websites and blogs need to organize information about information, and as a result we can increase transferable knowledge and decrease search time.

It’s obvious but important to note that people collectively drive relevancy through thought. Trend topics in Twitter, News Feed on Facebook, Google Hot Trends, etc. are driven by fingers on a keyboard, which are driven by synapses in the brain, which are driven by actions and observations, which are driven by circumstance – and maybe even fate. Technology should not drift too far away or we’ll lose access to the very knowledge we create.