What is America to me?

I apologize but I’m going off-script today. With the actions since the start of the year, numerous conversations and debates with friends, and much self-reflection I started writing about some thoughts that I’ve had. Surprisingly, I find myself consistently coming away feeling positive about the future even while feeling negative about today.

Ignore or read as you want, as always. This one is even more for me than the normal posts here. I just had to get this off my mind.


What’s going on?

With President Trump pulling the US out of the Paris Climate Agreement last week, I find myself torn over what it really means for me. I’ve been trying to keep an open mind throughout the year but it has become more and more challenging.

Like many others across the US, 2017 has been a bit of a strange year with a leader in charge who seems to be so completely opposite of trying to build any bridges. Say what you will about Obama, Bush, or Clinton, but all of them tried to strike a balance at times and not go out of their way to antagonize the party opposite them. Trump has often seemed to go out of his way to antagonize people that don’t completely agree with every action he makes.

Fundamentally, America is a place where people are allowed to disagree with each other. If nothing else, America has always been a place of change and transformation. Any idea is allowed to have an opportunity to thrive – even those that are fairly outrageous to the majority in charge. The biggest change over the last few years has been with people being less open to listening to opposing views.

Let’s take Climate Change as a good example for this discussion.

For awhile now, polls have shown the largest groups (and usually a significant majority) of Americans believe that humans have had a direct impact in causing global warming (1, 2, 3 sources for those that are going to want to argue). Separately, you will rarely find anyone in America who believes we should be polluting like China is currently where people in some of their major cities cannot even go outside without wearing masks. So even the people who may not believe that humans cause climate change at least believe that some level of pollution is bad.

However, online (where so many of the debates end up now) there is a seemingly black and white division between people who believe that climate change is a hoax and people who believe climate change could bring about the end of the world in a foreseeable and not so far off future. Add to this that somehow climate change has become a politically partisan issue tied to everything from macroeconomics, tax reform, job growth, “fairness”, and globalization.

In the past, progress on issues was made by finding some middle ground where everyone can agree. In this case, it could easily be: too much pollution is bad. Over the past decade plus this has been the government position. Let’s not make any wholesale changes at any one time, let’s just push for improvement with targets. Often the government actually lags behind many states in their targets which allow for a good check that it is in a good place.

With the withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement (a non-binding agreement with no legal or regulatory controls built in), the President of America is basically saying that all targets to keep us from having too much pollution are bad. It’s a step back in the discussions that had been moving us all forward.

What is America to Me?

To me, America should be a place where change is commonplace. I have no issue with the House and Senate going back and forth on whether to repeal/replace Obamacare or how to go about tax reform. At the end of the day, they will ultimately do what they have always done and compromise based on a desired to get reelected. If the debate doesn’t happen, then many of their constituents will question their leadership. Already we can see from the on-going debate that the general population better understands what Obamacare is and isn’t.

Already we can see from the on-going debate that the general population better understands what Obamacare is and isn’t. Has the approach been perfect? Of course not, the President has done everything that he can personally do to undermine the insurance marketplace to force an Obamacare collapse outside of legislative action. He’s rigging the game to his advantage but he’s still not getting his way.

America will survive because ultimately we have the opportunity every 2 years to change our government if we don’t like the direction things are going. I have faith that Americans, while stubborn and sometimes individually foolish, collectively come to good decisions when given time and opportunity.

Ultimately, withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement may actually work in the favor of those that believe human actions contribute to global warming because it will galvanize people to action. Already we can see cities and states stepping up to hold to the standards set in the Paris Agreement and sometimes even pushing further.

No single President or Congress can destroy this country. Some days it may seem or feel like they can, but they can’t. We’ve been through a lot since our founding. We will go through worse in the future.

An update on my level of contentedness with iPhone (4 month review).

Earlier this year I was forced onto the iPhone from several years with Android. At the end of January, I gave my thoughts at the nearly 2-week mark. I’m now past 4 months and able to give a more complete review.

Verdict: I’d really like my Android back but I can live with this until the next pure Android flagship comes along.

What’s the Same between Android and iPhone?

One- Apps. All apps basically function the same between Android and iPhone. Inside of any given app I can barely tell the difference in which OS I’m in. This made the switch process surprisingly pain free and simple.

Two- Unlocking. iOS fingerprint security vs. Android fingerprint security is virtually identical at this point. Really easy to securely get into your device.

Three- Cameras. This may cause debate but I’m not big into photography and the iPhone camera seems just as good as my most recent Android cameras. I don’t use this a lot so I may be missing something but it’s all the same to me.

Four- Messaging. iMessage seems to be really good but is it really all that different from any other SMS app (other than in making bubbles blue or green to differentiate between your friends)? I don’t seem enough difference here to call it a benefit or deficiency. I don’t use FaceTime so that doesn’t even matter.

Five- Design/Hardware. This may cause debate as well but I like the designs of the Nexus 6p or Pixel as much as the iPhone. I also can’t tell a significant operational difference between them in terms of performance. I’m sure there is a difference, I just can’t perceive it at this point.

What’s Better About iPhone?

One- Home Button. I got addicted to using this really early in the process. It’s really convenient to press or double-press this and go somewhere else. It basically combines the Android home and window buttons together to simplify things. Is it absolutely necessary for the real estate it takes up? No. But it’s easy and convenient.

Two- Corporate Email. My company has pretty stringent policies on email integration with mobile devices. It took more than a few steps to get things working on my previous Android device. On iOS everything was a snap and works through the default mail app.

Three- System Updates. Apple is much better at making their updates available because of the control they have over their hardware and software environments.

Four-iOS + OSX Integration. I don’t have a Mac but my wife does. It seems like magic to watch her get notifications on her computer and have the two devices work together fairly seamlessly. That’s something I would like to have.

Five- Encryption. Apple encrypting the hard drive by default is standout. This is a great move for users that most won’t really detect. I really appreciate Apple doing this and it goes hand-in-hand with their system update process. It’s possible to do this on Android but it’s opt-in instead of default.

What’s Worse About iPhone?

One- Charging Time/Apple Accessories. Apple accessories suck. Their out-of-the-box wall charger is horrific. It feels cheap and it works much more poorly than accessories you can get from Amazon. But I don’t want to have to purchase accessories just to reach a good operational level for my phone.

Two- Notifications. Seriously, Android has had a highly functional, very good notification bar system for a long time now. Just copy it. There’s nothing worse that non-intelligent notifications that you have to go into the app to use. Sure, maybe force touch can do something with it but that’s not the most intuitive system.

Three- Search. Most of what I do on my phone is search for things. Apple’s search functionality is the worst. It doesn’t search the web by default. WHY?

Four- No app drawer. If I have 100 apps, on iOS I have to remember exactly where I stashed it away to get to it (or search for it through Apple’s stupid search feature). In Android, you can do either of those plus have an app drawer listing them all in alphabetical order. My memory is not good enough to find where I stashed that app I use once every three months.

Five- Siri. Siri is not even in the same ballpark as Google Now. It’s not even close. They aren’t comparable. You can’t even pretend that Siri is anywhere near Google Now in capability. Google Now’s integration with Gmail makes quite a bit of magic happen that Apple cannot replicate at all.

Six- Back Button. Apple doesn’t have a back button other than it will let you go one step back at the top left of any given app if you got there from another app. This is because they only have the one home button at the bottom of the device whereas Android uses the three software buttons. That Android back button is pure gold and I miss it.

Seven- No Microphone Jack. This one is just silly. Basically, you can’t charge your phone plus listen to music on headphones at the same time without purchasing a surprisingly expensive dongle accessory. But none of the dongles look or function similarly so be careful which you get. Then you have to keep track of the headphone adapter because the Apple headphones are utter crap and why would you buy headphones that only work on your one phone and none of your other devices? It just makes no sense whatsoever.

Eight- Calendar/Default Apps. iOS is solid but it’s really frustrating that you don’t have many options for email and calendar outside of what they make available. Those options that do exist in these areas don’t have the ability to fully integrate into the OS the way they can with Android. This just makes each option subpar even when they have superior capability.

Nine- Keyboard. Apple’s keyboard is the absolute worst. This isn’t even debateable. No swipe capability. Common keys (comma) is hidden on the second level. Poor predictive capabilities. Even when you install a strong keyboard app like Gboard, iOS doesn’t let it work everywhere within the OS environment. It’s really frustrating to type on when you are used to a keyboard that actually works.

Ten- No Widgets. Android is focused on surfacing information quickly and cleanly with as few button pushes as possible. Apple seems more focused on getting you to go into apps as often as possible. That’s how I would summarize the operational concept difference between the two OS’s and also the best explanation I can think of for Apple not allowing widgets to be used. In Android, my calendar widget was probably my most used screen.

In Summary

In summary, if you started out using iOS you probably disagree with me on a lot of these as you have either built your processes around Apple’s way of doing things or found easier solutions than I’ve encountered over these past 5 months.

I simply find Apple’s approach to be overbearing and “father knows best.” They want you to do things their way which makes it easier to get started and establish a working rhythm but difficult to improve upon. Android is open to lots of ways of accomplishing the same things which makes getting started more difficult but makes you more productive and efficient in the long run.

That’s my 2 cents.

Workplace and its impact on operational tempo.

At the end of the day, workplace supports business operations. It’s the place where employees perform the tasks that keep the company operational and earn the company revenues. Done well and everything is a well-oiled machine, done poorly and activities can grind to a halt.

Operations that are running smoothly often perform like a well-practiced orchestra. Everyone knows their cues without needing to reference the conductor. One Action 1 happens, Action 2 immediately follows. When Action 2 is complete, Process 3 kicks in. From Process 3, Report A and B are immediately generated. There’s a tempo to everything that happens that allows for an expected outcome.

When everyone is not on the same page, Action 2 may complete without Process 3 kicking in. Only when a downstream manager yells loudly enough does that process kick in. That could be 30 mins, 2 days or 2 weeks later than it should have. That time delay is the proof of an organization out of sync.

Workplace plays a critical role in how all of this comes about. When people are comfortable in their environment they are more likely to be proactive. Discomfort leads people to worry about themselves and their personal situation ahead of other considerations. Similarly, a well-constructed workplace provides opportunities for people to more easily work together on getting to the outcomes of each step. Whether this is through an open-plan design or through a more traditional office is completely separate from everything else.

Whether this is through an open-plan design or through a more traditional office is completely separate from everything else. It’s simply that the workplace must support the operation. Some companies have built nimble operations that can adapt to any type of environment whereas other companies are much more structured to a single way of working.

Pareto was right. The world operates at 80/20.

Striving for perfection is the opposite of operating perfectly. Getting to 100% has a cost disproportionate to the added value – 80% is usually more than enough.

Look around at what you do. How often does something new get released that can answer every single question around it with perfection? There are always grey areas that can’t be known before you hit the start button. Trying to know everything before you hit go only adds time and doesn’t really reduce risk much.

Most people try to get to perfect in order to mitigate their concept of risk. Surely the more they know, the less risk they have. The problem is that this assumes you can know everything you need to know. It’s simply not possible. Experience in the real world always leads to new and unexpected knowledge.

The reality is, even Pareto saw this trend of 80/20 in populations, decisions, and groups of highly generalized things. 20% of your time generates 80% of your profits. 80% of your time is occupied by only 20% of the things you need to work on.

Are you spending your time right?

Very little is impossible to accomplish when you define the problem correctly.

So much of success comes down to how you define success. It’s a feat that is self-fulfilling if done right. One person’s success may be in completing a marathon while another’s may be walking around their block three weeks in a row. Success is what you need it to be at the moment of definition.

The same goes for business projects. If your definition of success is to be a billionaire by 30 or to create a billion dollar business, you will likely be disappointed. However, if your goal is to collect experiences that will allow you to be given more responsibility over some amount of time, you have a higher likelihood of success.

Similarly, if you update your definition of success every few months, years, and decades you will continually push the boundaries of what you expected to do. Success is not actually an event – it’s a habit. Success breeds success and is built from doing one thing at a time.

Failure is often a requirement for future success because only through failure can we understand where our problem definitions were out of alignment with what we were actually trying to accomplish.

Give yourself time to be creative today.

Art is the key to successful work. All great work contains the seeds of art. A well-structured email must be clear, concise, practiced and give meaning to a specific audience. This is not much different in concept than what a painter does on her canvas.

Art happens when we are inspired to do more than the minimum amount of work. It happens when we want to give context, meaning, and response together all while fitting into a form that may not seem conducive to these goals.

Today I created a two page PowerPoint file to more clearly describe a project we are trying to get consensus on. This project has had pages of emails sent back and forth describing it. There are more than a few detailed excel models showing how the numbers work. There have been conference calls to go through the nuance and detail. There have been face-to-face meetings to get approval and ensure we have our risks covered. Yet through it all, the team was struggling to agree on the path forward with conviction.

Often the answer in the face of detail is simplicity.

Often in the face of simplicity is to provide nuance.

Art is in understanding how to get people to shift from where they are today to a new way of thinking. My two page PowerPoint will never be in the MOMA and will likely be forgotten in two days. But for the moment it helps to move a group of people forward with a new way of seeing something.

Art isn’t just in museums.

Your mind’s clutter is nothing more than thoughts waiting to be let out.

I often find myself sitting at my desk, hands on my head, staring at the ceiling as I try and make sense of the many ideas floating around in my head at a given moment. Usually, it is right before I find the inspiration to put the finishing touches on some task at hand. It’s amazing how a little time for thinking can turn what seems like a 5-hour task into no more than 30 minutes. Or how taking the time to think can allow you to understand risks that you hadn’t yet considered.

It’s amazing how a little time for thinking can turn what seems like a 5-hour task into no more than 30 minutes. Or how taking the time to think can allow you to understand risks that you hadn’t yet considered.

Our minds are amazing tools. They are capable of taking many disconnected and seemingly unrelated pieces of information and joining them up into something new and different. How often has a TV show, book, movie or song suddenly given you the inspiration to solve a problem that had a moment before seemed insurmountable?

If we give our minds the time and opportunity to help us, they will. But it’s no different than anything else – you have to give it the opportunity. Usually that means stepping away from the computer, phone, and email for a bit.