Monthly Archives: January 2014

Planning, Not Luck

So when re-reading my last post I think I came up much too well adjusted, which is definitely not an accurate picture. There were some things that happened while I wasn’t working that definitely pissed me off and still do to this day. I haven’t made peace with the world yet.

One such frustration was a common reaction I got to the fact that I wasn’t out scrambling to take a job and could afford to take some time to find the right opportunity. Upon hearing this, the common refrain was along the lines, “It’s lucky that you can afford to take your time.” Even typing it now makes my blood boil a bit.

Guess what, luck didn’t have much to do with it. I guess in the broader sense I’m lucky I was born in Canada to a good family, and have been lucky for the support and privilege I have received as a result of that. I don’t think that’s what people meant, though, because in that sense virtually all of them were on the same footing as me.

It could also be that they have misspoken. A commentary on the further degradation of the English language, where native speakers can’t discern between the words “lucky” and “beneficial” which has culminated with my insult.

Maybe.

However, I believe that most of the speakers thought of it as actual luck. As in, “Wow how lucky is it that Kevin accidently has some money in the bank when this happened?” This interpretation is where my frustration comes from.

This situation has nothing to do with luck. It comes from planning and execution. Don’t understand the difference? Perhaps an example would help:

Two people find themselves out of work at the same time. Both are able to spend a few months not looking while continuing to live their life and make ends meet. Person one has saved a portion of every pay cheque and resisted the temptation to spend. Person two wins the lottery. One of these people is lucky, can you determine which one?

Obviously real world situations aren’t laid out quite like this, but I hope you get where I’m coming from. Dismissing a tough, annoying and frustrating action that someone takes (saving) and dismissing any benefit they get from it as luck completely diminishes the accomplishment. I try not to be “braggy” on the blog, but in this case I’m going to go for it.

This is something I’m going to watch for. In all seriousness, it likely has something to do with speech patterns. Still is a little frustrating, though. So when it has nothing to do with luck, don’t call it that!

Learning From Unemployment

As I’m sure most of you reading this know, for pretty much what would be considered the fall months of 2013, I was unemployed. While I would never recommend an extended period of not having a job to anyone, per say, in a lot of ways I was very fortunate to go through it when I did.

Looking back on it now it was almost like going through the five stages of grief, but professionally. While there is no real comparison between the loss of a loved one and being out of work, I think the principles are applicable on this smaller scale.

I’m not going to bore you with the first four stages, which can basically be summarized with one word: Netflix. Instead I’m going to focus on what I came to accept, and have carried forward with me.

You can only control yourself.

While job searching it is easy to worry about what went wrong throughout the process. Not getting interviews, not getting called back and other let downs are the norm.

At first I spent a lot of energy trying to analyze exactly why these things happened, but then came to realize that I can never fully understand the other side of things. What’s more trying to change the outcome is likely not even in my best interest.

I have wasted far too much energy worry about, and trying to change, the actions of others. The few times that it has worked, it is never worth the cost. It’s not revolutionary, but what I’m now focusing on is my own actions and reactions.

If someone in my life isn’t treating me how I would like to be treated, there are two possibilities. That they are taking cues based on my past behavior and it’s my fault, in which case the only thing I can change is my actions and if they are reasonable they will come around. The other option is that they are not a reasonable person, in which they are predictable and there’s nothing I can do about it.

So at the end of the day it’s only worth putting effort into my actions, reactions and effort level. After that things are beyond my control.

It’s the thought that counts, so treat actions accordingly.

When I wasn’t working everyone had advice. It was usually the same as everyone else’s and somewhat lousy in my opinion, but there was advice none-the-less. At first I would get pissed and a “how dare you” attitude, but eventually I realized that I was getting pissed at people who cared about me and were trying to help.

So from now on I’m going to treat advice like gifts: Likely not what I would have given myself, and I may not ever use it, but it’s nice to know that someone is thinking of me. (I should say that I have received both good gifts and advice. It’s just a really good analogy.)

Asking for help is a good thing.

Lots of people were surprised when they found out I hadn’t been working for a month or two. I chalk it up to not really wanting to broadcast it and not being that gossip-worthy for those who did know.

Another aspect of this is that throughout my life I have found it very difficult to ask for help. Don’t know why, but that’s the way it is.

I am fortunate enough to have amazing friends, though. Throughout my unemployment more than one of them sat me down and essentially said, “You’re a f***ing moron, we want to help you, but you have to ask for it first. We’re not mind-readers.” Touching/mean/fair statement.

The best way it was put to me is that people like helping people. When you ask someone for help, they’re typically getting a lot more out of it than you realize. Thinking back to my personal experiences, the few times that I’ve been able to help out a friend in need I’ve genuinely enjoyed it. Lesson learned.

Nothing lasts (and my imagination is far worse than reality).

This one is simple, but something that I need a constant reminder of. I’m a perpetual worrier, despite the fact I’ve been told that I seem fairly easy-going. I’m going to steal my way of describing it from an old coworker: I’m like a duck swimming. From above the water it seems like they’re gliding through life, but if you look below their feet are kicking frantically.

In all seriousness, if given the time to think about any given situation I can concoct the worst case scenario with minimal effort. Nothing ever really ends up being that bad, though. Life moves forward and people constantly surprise me.

I think that this can all be summed up in a quote that I read recently:

Remember, today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.
― Dale Carnegie

And it didn’t last. I’m now working a job that I’m thoroughly enjoying and would likely not be here without that period of unemployment.

So while I’m in no rush to get back to it, there were definitely some positives that came out of being away from work for a number of months. Again, while I don’t wish it on anyone, in hindsight it was a good experience for me to go through when I did. More good came out of it than anything else.

Driving Offline Action

This is actually something that I’ve written about before and I’m still on board with what I said, more or less. My thoughts are now just a little more refined, especially since I’ve been having conversations / reading about this idea in different contexts pretty consistently the past little while.

I have said, and will continue to say, that start-ups that aim to rely on the “find a user-base and then advertise to them” revenue model have a very steep uphill battle ahead of them. I’m not saying that it doesn’t work for some companies, but being successful at it is definitely the exception, and not the norm.

By virtue of that, the business idea development process of “Here’s a cool app, we’ll get a lot of people using it then sell advertising,” should be dying much quicker than it is. It’s likely better to rethink your idea or come up with something better than chase that unicorn. To reiterate, I’m not saying that there isn’t success out there, but to paraphrase from He’s Just Not That Into You (great chick flick, def in my top 5) it’s a crime when people cling on to the hope of being like the exception and not the rule.

To put it a little less 17-year-old-girl, the premise of Blue Ocean Strategy is basically that instead of trying to enter the shark-infested “red oceans” where there is huge competition, go where there is no competition. A “blue ocean” if you will. Side note: I know that’s a huge simplification of what is actually going on in that book, but this isn’t an essay about why Blue Ocean Strategy is awesome. I would suggest picking up a copy.

Where I truly think that the opportunity lays with all the online connection tools that we have is the intersection between where social technology influences or even facilitates our future decision and actions. No longer will it be able documenting what we have done online, but meaningful interaction will be taken based on information that we didn’t have before.

It’s important not to confuse this with the internet as an advertising medium. I know that technically the marketing that we see on an every day basis has the opportunity to influence us, but that’s not what I’m referring to. I’m talking about meaningful, online interaction resulting in real-world outcomes that would not have happened otherwise.

When thinking of an example of what I mean, I am honestly hard-pressed to think of a better one than online dating.

Before the internet, dating was fairly limited to your immediate network and lucky timing. Either you met someone through someone else or you happened to be at the right place at the right time to meet someone.

With online dating those barriers are broken. You don’t need to know anyone in order to participate and since profiles are 24/7, you are literally actively dating in your sleep. And every other time of the day for that matter.

Not only that, but the level of online dating is growing in sophistication. If you can believe the ads you see, they have systems running that help match you to more comparable people. That sounds way more efficient than starting the relationship with, “You like this bar? I also like this bar!” or based on what shared interests your aunt thinks you have.

The genius of online dating is that it didn’t just take something existing in the offline world and move it to the internet. Rather, it uses the technology to expand and enhance the experience. That’s what companies should be aiming for when developing their products.

I don’t know what the specific applications are, but this is something that is always top of mind for me. I just hope that I can come up with a great idea before the next guy!

Always Practice

At what age do we decide to stop trying to be better? A recent experience got be thinking about this and I have a bit of a theory. Without getting too much ahead of myself, I would guess that it would depend on the action and future potential. First, though, the story.

A couple of weeks ago I was going to play some pick-up hockey with friends. I mentioned this to someone and then said that I likely even had the time to go a bit early to skate around on my own. I don’t recall the exact wording, but I said something along the lines that it would be good to work on a few things I wouldn’t get the chance to when playing with my buddies.

Again, without remembering the exact wording I was asked why I would bother wasting my time. At this age we’re basically as good as we’re going to get at something like hockey, so who cares? Then the conversation shifted and I didn’t put too much thought into the statement for a few days.

For whatever reason it popped into my head again and I gave some more thought to it. I guess at my age it is a little strange for someone to go and work on skills for something like a sport. The other teams that I’ve played on after high school all had a “show up and go” policy.

Not that there is anything wrong with that, but I’d like to think that I’m still improving as a player. If for no other reason that if this is the best I’m ever going to be at hockey (or soccer for that matter, which I also play) that’s pretty depressing. If anyone on either team is reading this you know what I’m saying.

So at what point do we decide to stop making an effort to get better? What I’ve come up with is a combination of when we hit the point where we will never perform at the peak level and when there are other things in our lives that are more important to improve. It definitely has to be a combination, though.

For something like sports it is easy to know when you’ve reached your personal pinnacle: When you stop making the best team for your age group. I know that there are exceptions. Michael Jordon was cut from his high school basketball team and Aaron Rogers has basically been underestimated his entire life.

Those two stories (especially the MJ one) get a lot of mileage when it comes to “beating the odds”. But for vast majority of the tens of thousands of other professional athletes, past and present, I would bet my bottom dollar they were always one of, if not the, best player on their team all the way until they went pro.

By that logic alone, though, I would have stopped trying a long time ago, along with every other kid who isn’t on the #1 team for their year. And for me I mean a loooooong time ago.

That doesn’t happen, though, and I think it’s because at that time you have less competing for your time. After school is done would you rather go practice a sport, an instrument or another hobby, or do homework?

As life progresses, though, there is more and more competing for our time. The one thing that I left out of my story is that I left the rink a little earlier than the other guys, because I had plans with my girlfriend. At this point in time I find that I receive greater dividends practicing being a better boyfriend than working on my wrist shot.

So while there is usually nothing we can do about life getting busy, I know that whatever I spend my time doing I’m going to keep trying to be better at. To quote my dad, “I don’t understand people who play sports ‘for fun.’ If you’re not winning or getting better, how is that fun at all?”

What Could Be Done Better

So like anyone who wrote something that received any higher-than-usual level of attention, I’m going to be riding on the coat-tails of last week’s post.

There were some comments on Facebook, which usually means it’s something that is top of mind for a lot of people. When it comes to winters, weather, driving conditions and government in Winnipeg, top of mind may be the largest understatement ever. Asking for an opinion on those is like shooting apples in a barrel (who would want to shoot fish?).

Being the narcissist that I am, I was thinking about my post over the weekend and got to thinking what could be done to better calm people down. Like it or not, even our mighty municipal government can’t control the weather and unfortunately that means it will likely snow again. And then the streets likely won’t be instantly cleared. And then citizens will get upset. And, more importantly, I’ll be reduced to yelling at my radio on the drive in again.

What it comes down to, as far as I can see, is nothing novel. In fact, I’ve been told this in essentially every job that I’ve held: Be proactive in communications, rather than reactive.

It’s simple. Imagine this scenario…

Mayor Katz calls a press conference. He says that the forecast is calling for extremely cold temperatures and a lot of snow. City crews are going to be out day and night clearing streets, but they can’t be all places at all times, so he and the rest of the City would appreciate citizen’s patience. In the mean-time, keep warm, stay safe and if you need to get somewhere give yourself a little extra time if possible.

How reasonable is all of that? Doesn’t happen, though.

What actually happens, as far as I can tell, City Hall gets the news that there’s going to be lots of snow and cold and then starts praying. Praying that the weather is wrong. That the snow clearing does happen instantly, regardless of what resources they have. That, and this is my favourite one, the people of Winnipeg will be reasonable, patient and forgiving.

Doesn’t happen though. The City instead sits on their hands waiting until Winnipeg has worked itself into a blind rage and then goes on the defensive. It’s plain to see at this point they have already lost.

So be a little more proactive next time. Worst case scenario is that things do work out perfectly and there was a little worrying about nothing. In that case, the City would be seen as the hero. Peoples’ expectations would have been brought down, only to be exceeded. Score one for the mayor’s popularity.

Hardy Winnipeggers

I’m starting to wonder if there is a point where being a “hardy Winnipegger” becomes too extreme? Is there a time where our attitude of being able to handle anything is too much? If there is, I would say that we may have gotten there. And of course, this is a post about the weather.

Not that I’m going to be complaining about the weather. While I haven’t loved it, I can’t say that it’s surprising. Now in my 28th winter in this city, I would have to be stupid if it came as a shock that it gets cold.

My motto has always been if you are able to change something, you don’t have a right to complain. Following that logic, I have the complete ability to move from Winnipeg to a better climate, but I don’t. Therefore I try not to complain too much.

That being said, this past little while has been a pretty extreme. Waking up to either -50 or a foot of snow every day isn’t awesome, but that’s the hand we’ve been dealt. No one’s fault.

It’s actually amazing how well we are able to function as a city in conditions like that. No rolling blackouts, no bans on driving, no forced work stoppages. Tough Winnipeg at its best. There’s also a level of comfort knowing that if I was kidnapped and dropped onto Mars, it would seem outright balmy compared to the last month. Yee haw!

What has me down, though, is the fact that it seems like all major news outlets are looking to place blame. Place blame that the roads aren’t cleared instantly. Place blame for the fact that some airlines have shut down service. Place blame for less-than-perfect sidewalks the day after a huge snow storm. It outright pisses me off.

While I don’t think that this, or any, government is perfect, I want to scream through the radio and TV whenever the person on the other side of it starts talking about how blame needs to be assigned for the conditions outside. While things haven’t been executed to perfection, I want to know what we can reasonably ask for?

If there is a typhoon is the local government blamed for lack of wind-blocking and water clearing? When a volcano erupts do we ask the question why there wasn’t a better lava-diversion program? Of course not. Why? Because those situations are out of the norm, just like the past month.

Between nature not cooperating, equipment not being manufactured to handle the extreme cold and our refusal to stop driving and compensating for the conditions, I’m honestly surprised that things weren’t worse. I seem to be fairly alone in that opinion, though.

I think that I’m alone, in part, because while the weather was extreme it wasn’t sudden.

We’re used to -30 or -40 degrees, so when the temperature dips below that we don’t think about how just a few degrees can have a profound impact on the ability for it to be handled.

We get snow throughout the winter, but we don’t really think about the volume mattering. Nor the timing. Nor the temperature before and following.

So while I’m extremely proud to see the citizens of Winnipeg demanding better, I think that in this case (and in the case of the Jets) our energy is misplaced. We need to realize that sometimes there is nothing more that can be done and while we can tough it out, machines and best lay plans sometimes can’t.

So maybe it IS a good thing that we’re so hardy, because even though there will never likely be a day where you wake up and every street and sidewalk is plowed from the night before, you will be able to live your life anyway.