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I have failed. I bought a paper planner calendar.

A few years ago, I jumped on the electronic bandwagon and ditched my Franklin Planner vowing to go paperless for my appointments. I got a sense of freedom knowing that my trusty smart phone would tell me where I need to be and when. It does that. I can write notes and keep my life organized in the cloud.

But I can’t plan there. I need a pen and paper. I need to draw. Make squiggly lines. Create lists.

Maybe there is something hard-coded in my brain about the tactile feeling of a writing instrument in my hand and thought generation. I always feel more creative with a pen or pencil in my hand. Even rolling a pen in the palm of my hand helps me problem solve.

I am not a Luddite. I have used project planning tools, idea generating software and mind mapping. I am a big Evernote fan. I have nested in the Google family of integrated products. So, why can’t I think there?

What is it about paper and a pen? Is my tactile need so embedded in my brain that I cannot lure my thoughts out unless my hand is firmly gripping a pen? Am I squeezing mental material from the pencil’s lead?

What I do know is that I haven’t enabled creative neural connections with digital planning. My (mental) connections to pen and paper are burned into my grey matter spanning a fifty plus year time frame. And, with that I am willing to concede defeat and stop forcing a unrewarding pattern on my creative juices.

I will embrace my pen. Pat my paper. And create.

 

View of a winter storm through the kitchen window

Winter 2013

Woke up this morning to a day scheduled as a blizzard aftermath. School cancelled last night. Predictions of snow accumulations greater than a foot. All creation coming to a full stop.

But, surprise … only a few inches of powdery fluff. How does that happen?

With all the weather models and historic data, can’t weather forecasting be more accurate?

Not really. Because you don’t know all the variables that can and may happen. A storm moves in a direction miles from the anticipated route and freezing rain is on the menu and not snow. It just happens. We have to deal with the different consequences.

We can grouse about plans gone askew. Another snow day this early in the season and we think when will the kids get out of school this year? It is easy to change the outcome of our day by the vagaries of nature. But what about other aspects in life … all the plans we made or maybe didn’t do?

Dwight D. Eisenhower summed it up brilliantly when he said “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” Prepare for the worst but accept the moment’s reality. Anticipate but act on the present condition.

You cannot do anything more. And, the “dealing” begins.

How ready are you when the plans are scrapped? A change in direction required? How do you deal?

I just stood up on my soap box and proclaimed that critical thinking skills are necessary. Why?

Because our educational systems no longer develop critical thinking skills in our young students. We no longer teach thinking.

We test. Pass or Fail. We aren’t nurturing well read, innovators or delighted students. We are manufacturing human cogs in the wheels of commercial profit. Nope. I am not a socialist. I am a realist and here are some thoughts to consider.

I learned about mortgages in the fourth grade. I had no idea what a mortgage meant but I could figure out the math.

I learned the fundamentals of measurement and division by creating block print lettering in art class.

Music and math held hands for tempo.

Stuff added up, subtracted, divided or multiplied based on a series of classes that involved art, music, science, math and reading.  All the concepts fed the next module in understanding how my world, culture and society functioned. Oddly, it made sense to me as a fourth grader.

Yes, there were tests but as a support system to ensure that I was getting the content.

Why do I remember this so vividly over fifty years later?

An interesting thing happened to me in the fourth grade. I got really sick and ended up being tutored at home. The teacher was a wonderful woman who encouraged thinking, mistakes and the option of REDO.

At the same time, NEW MATH was introduced into the curriculum. That meant I had to learn a new way of doing math instead of the old formulas I learned for the first three years in school. We used the alphabet instead of numbers. Here’s a sample of new math:

Commutative property of addition is a + b = b +a [ the numbers in any order will equal the same.]

I am at best an average math student and this still sticks with me. Why? Because it taught me about numbers in a new way – a relational way which was different from learning things by rote, like memorizing the multiplication table.

The learning held meaning, visually and conceptually.

Once I got that meaning, I could then apply it to other areas for development. Music for time signatures and tempo. Centering my block prints evenly in art class. Understanding the metric system in science.

It was learning how one thing could be applied to other aspects of my life.

So what do we have today? Tests. Tests that validate state mandated teacher performance as well as students (MCAS in Massachusetts). But when does the understanding of the context arrive? We have students and young people entering the workforce who cannot apply what they have learned in life situations.

A familiar refrain I hear is “Just tell me what to do.” And, that works okay for repetitive tasks but fails miserably when brainstorming is required. When problem solving techniques are needed.

Thinking as a skill must not be relegated to private schools. Teaching critical thinking skills must be incorporated into our educational systems to ensure not just a passing grade but skills for survival. Get involved with your child’s schooling and learn what the administration’s most important targets are for success measurement. You might be surprised.

It might be doing mortgage rates proficiently without knowing what a mortgage is.

OscarsI am impetuous about unusual things: buying a book, walking down the Bright Angel Trail at the Grand Canyon without any water, tearing into a snowfield with my new snowshoes and getting lost, or joining a chant group just because. You get the picture. I get carried away with enthusiasm for the experience.

Yet, when it comes to important decisions like buying a home, changing jobs, or leaving/entering new relationships, I am slower than a tortoise with gout.  I sometimes lose the decision option. It’s made for me. And … I hate that.

Indecision Decisions

Let me backtrack a little about these indecision decisions.  When there is a lot of emotional investment around the outcome, I tend to tread slowly. When I bought my first house, I was in denial about having to take on the responsibility. I liked living carefree in rentals. No grass to cut. No plumbing problems to resolve. You just call the manager and somebody shows up to fix whatever.

For the most part, I worked for good companies. I was well compensated and established long-lasting friendships. Money wasn’t the primary factor. Comfort reigned supreme. I worked on interesting projects and learned a lot about management hands on.

My relationships were similar. Lots of long time friends. New people could join my circle but there were always long-term friendships that weathered time and trouble. A lot of comfort and support. Rarely did people get booted off my island.

What’s the problem?

Yes, there is one. It’s called complacency.

All aspects of my job were not fabulous. Some of my relationships were one-sided. I wasn’t being challenged to grow and develop who I really was. I was coasting.

Here was my defining moment: I was washing dishes and I looked out my kitchen window into the backyard and I thought “Is this it?”

I felt empty. Other people would have thought, she’s got everything: a husband, family, home and good job. But I thought about the stillness of disquiet. The nagging feeling that I was short-changing myself.

Life started to shift gears. I made more decisions that affected my mental health, work enjoyment, and family life. I didn’t wait for things to change. I changed them. Some of the changes went terribly awry (and still do). Other changes developed an inner peace about my purpose in life (and still do).

In one aspect, a very important relationship, I waited too long to make a decision and gained a regret. Today, I am more discerning about who enters into my life and what are the boundaries. My heart and head collaborate. There is no perfect time. I have fewer surprises about my inner circle. And that’s a state I can abide.

What Is A Choice?

Waiting really isn’t making a choice; it’s a default. Taking action will probably get you what you need. If you want to win a personal award, take action.

Waiting wins no awards.

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Those three words can cast doubt. I dislike not knowing but there are many times when I just don’t know. Clueless.

Some people see that as weakness or just being plain stupid. According to some, smart people don’t say “I don’t know”.  Once, my intelligence was questioned because I told my boss I didn’t know the answer to his question. Ridiculed is a closer match to that particular situation. I didn’t want to make up some reply to satisfy his immediate need. I wanted to be thorough and thoughtful in my response.

The executive told me directly,” If you don’t tell me yes now you’re fired. And, I will keep asking people and firing people until I get a yes.” He just sat behind his desk, holding an unlit cigar between his left index and middle fingers while he pushed carrot sticks into his mouth (he said that the no smoking rule was causing him stress).

It was clear that he wanted someone to agree to a undoable task and possibly get fired trying. I was completely unmotivated … except I was young. And, this creepy guy was testing my mettle. I needed the job and I needed to be taken seriously.

I locked eyes with him and said “Then you’d better get your next candidate in here.” I stood up and started to leave the office when he said sit down. He asked, “Why won’t you say yes?” There were hundreds of reasons but insufficient data was top on the leaderboard. Not enough information. Lack of a context. Too many unknowns. Yet, he wanted a yes.

And thus began my journey into the land of fake it until you make it. He wanted a yes. I wanted time.  There was a compromise: a yes with caveats (a management technique to stall until all the facts are corralled).  You are still held accountable until overwhelming data proves the concept incorrect or unfeasible. Or death. Yours.

In this same time period, I discovered another management device I call “The Sin of Omission”. Not lying. Just certain pieces of information deliberately withheld. I have seen more careers derailed with this style of management. If it feels like a setup, it is.

Clearly not a healthy environment to learn business ropes which is why I am so pleased to see transparency taking a head chair at the table. Enough with the ego games and narcissist manipulation that kill good business initiatives and suck up valuable time. And, saying “I don’t know” won’t demean the person but rather call attention to a need for more thoughtful data mining. It feels more embracing that way.

With today’s access to information, saying “I don’t know” has never felt so right.

Left Turn Sign

 

I finally read the sign that has been in this spot for over forty years. And, I became alarmed. I was suddenly aware that I may have misinterpreted this sign for a significant part of my adult life.

I thought the sign meant that a left turn is permitted only between the hours of 7 to 9 AM Monday through Friday. You must turn right at all other times. Really, that is what is on the sign. However, my daughter had a different idea.

Turning in both directions, left and right, is permitted at all times except those listed on the sign.

Amazing. I had never thought of that option. In fact, I was silently berating myself for taking a left after 9 AM.

Her interpretation opens up my driving options. And, I realized my thinking was so narrow. I haven’t validated her opinion about the sign with the local police department but I discovered how my view expanded with her understanding.

How often does this happen in life? And with much more important decisions?

Where else am I interpreting life signs too narrowly? What if I opened up my understanding?

This example of misinterpretation also made me think about what kind of signs I tell. Am I ambiguous or narrowly defined? Do I force people to interpret what I say because I am not clear?

How about you? Do you have signs that aren’t clear?

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Just before some pending event or experience, something in the air or within is already primed. It’s those few minutes before the storm. It’s the moment your eyes meet and ready to acknowledge the connection. It’s the plan leading up to the delivery date of a project. Life crackles with the electricity of creation.

The time before builds anticipation. The possibility of something extraordinary, truly great. The months before you publish. The minutes before the buzzer signals the game’s end.

It also works with fear … the not knowing until something has manifested. Things can go awry or take an unwanted direction. The same look of anticipation can become skeptical.

In the moments before, what are you thinking? Is this a possible adventure or an event of dread? Does life present challenges of delight or remorse? Are you living a life with opportunity or just living?

View of a winter storm through the kitchen window

There is no other season that wears me down like winter. For some reason, the winter months feel like an eternity and the days meld into each other like a nightly frost.

This year has been particularly challenging as March fails to kickstart spring. Oppressed by three weekend storms in a row, low temps, and overcast skies, my internal clock is fouled by the persistence of winter.

Each morning, I wake to the dream of warmth and the smell of defrosting soil … but no. Not happening.

Environment makes a huge difference in my life. I begin to flourish when my world takes on the mantel of spring. Life cracks a new chapter of lush possibility. But for the present, I stay quasi dormant. Waiting.

Magdalen-College-courtyard

In my ill-spent youth, I tended to travel lightly (backpacking) and historically. I visited cathedrals, crypts and castles because of my genuine love of literature and western history. I admit to an abiding admiration of all that is Shakespeare and the British detective novel.

Coming to Oxford, England was an opportunity to view the well manicured lawns of centuries together with a certain culture of entitlement as only the British can serve up with cold enthusiasm. Punting, an exotic manner of boating, on the Cherwell spelled hours of enjoyment visiting the tableau of murder mysteries by Dorothy L. Sayers.

I was in heaven.

But, the lasting image I have is that of a well dressed elderly gentleman and a posh young woman. Both sat together upon narrow folding chairs in a Magdalen College courtyard. An open bottle of champagne in a silver wine server separated them. Small plates of strawberries balanced on their knees. They gazed serenely into the courtyard oblivious to the tourists (like me) who wandered through time along the ivy covered archways.

Time was held in check. A moment was forever etched in my memory.

I have no idea who these people were or their relationship to one another. Because of my Puritanical heritage here in New England, I thought “Hell, it’s only 10 AM and they are drinking already.”

But, I have come to discover through the years that the companionship of a kindred spirit transcends time and establishes bonds of experience. Maybe they were a grandfather and granddaughter coming together for the ritual of another summer through the quiet consumption of champagne and strawberries.

It doesn’t matter.

It was a time, in a place, in a moment.

Wall Street signI don’t often write about financial topics but last week something caught my attention. Brian Moynihan, Bank of America CEO, received his compensation reward for 2012. Does a 73% pay increase sound a trifle out of line?

Let’s look at some details.

It Was a Very Good Year

From a performance stand point, BAC shares doubled in value last year. That is mighty good news for the shareholders. And, good news for Mr. Moynihan. With a base salary of $950,000, he was granted $11.1 M  in restricted shares for 2012. Doing the arithmetic, that adds up to just over $12 M which places Mr. Moynihan somewhere in the middle of the pack for bank CEO compensation.

According to Forbes, the stocks granted to Mr. Moynihan shouldn’t be considered a pay increase because stock units vest over time, in this case, some starting in just one month from granting with an end date of 12/31/15. The real value of the stock remains to be determined. But what is interesting is that half of the stocks granted him vest by time only … without any performance goals.

Not exactly the formula for a long-term strategy. But, this seems to work in banking.

Apply This Reward System Elsewhere

What if a school superintendent doubled the number of students in their community who scored in the top 10% ranking of MCAS? Would you consider giving that person a 73% increase in compensation if that measurement was sustained over the course of three years?

How would you reward a chief of police who significantly reduced the number of violent crimes for three years? Does 73% feel like a good number for a pay raise?

Would you consider a 73% pay increase for an Executive Director who doubled donations and managed that growth over three years?

Unequal Comparison

Yes, I made the non-banking sectors responsible for sustained growth and that was not the case for one half of Mr. Moynihan’s stock award.

But seriously, as a tax payer, would you consider a 73% salary increase for an administrator in your city or town if he/she attained some highly measurable goal akin to doubling stock value?

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Looking at the compensation for our banking industry CEOs and then examining the compensation for our public servants, why do we create a different standard of reward?

You might argue that CEOs are responsible for a whole lot of money which is true.

And our educators are responsible for instilling critical thinking skills in the minds of the next generation. And our police are responsible for saving lives and property.

How valuable is a young mind? How valuable is a life?

Somehow, the arithmetic just doesn’t add up.

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