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Opinion Editorials

It’s easy to change the world, just do it

In a recent TEDx talk, a respected innovator describes what separates those that change the world and those that don’t. We take a deeper look to add our own thoughts about accomplishing great things.

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byron reese change the world

Why some people change the world and others do not

At a recent TEDx talk in Austin, author and entrepreneur, Byron Reese spoke on the topic of accomplishments, challenging why some people change the world and others do not. Reese speaks of various accomplishments from small to large, pondering why Benjamin Franklin was able to invent so many things, and why Mother Teresa was able to touch so many lives. Were their circumstances because they were geniuses, or because they had money, or perhaps they were well connected? The two people serve as an example of extremely different circumstances, which Reese opines is an indicator that it is not actually a person’s circumstances that dictate whether they can change the world or not.

But let’s revisit that phrase, “change the world.” If someone tells you they’re going to change the world, we’ve been conditioned as a nation to have a cynical knee-jerk reaction, but changing the world doesn’t necessarily mean curing AIDS or inventing a psychic robot, no, it can be much more local and start with one deed.

My favorite part of Reese’s speech (featured at the bottom of this editorial) begins at 11:47, and while I encourage you to watch the whole video, at least watch at 11:47. “Greatness is not a destiny granted to a few, but a decision available to anyone,” Reese says, basing his opinion on lengthy research. “The main difference between people who change the world and people who don’t is whether or not they’ve made that decision.”

Just do it: change the world

I’m one of those people that is always busy. I was born busy. Some call it workaholism, but I call it keeping busy. Even when idle, I have to be doing something, it’s in my DNA. When I’m standing in line somewhere, I’m responding to emails from my phone. When I’m watching tv, I’m working on my laptop. I can’t sit still. I’m not only the Chief Operating Officer here, directing a digital newsroom, I run operations for Spark of Genius Business Camp, the Big Ass Social Happy Hour, I’m a family gal, I am a runner, I read endlessly, attend Mass every week and on Holy Days, and do as much charity work as we can cram in (to the free time we know we’ll never have, so we make it up).

Recently, we began the groundwork for the philanthropic arm of AGBeat, and are in the process of founding a charity, and a program for high school students. Both are very different, but both are programs we feel called to start because they just don’t exist. Like many inventors or entrepreneurs, we create products, content, events, charities and the like to suit our own needs.

Is this changing the world? I don’t know, probably not, but I’ve always thought on a more local scale. My grandmother quoted Mother Teresa to me when I was very young, saying “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” I’ve always understood the ripple effect of small changes.

How YOU can change the world

As Reese challenges people to consider the excuses they’re using for not just getting off of their butts and actually doing what they are capable of, I would add that changing the world doesn’t take much. Really. You can give away your entire company’s playbook, and you’re still likely the only one with the gumption or passion to actually do it.

There is a tired inspirational quote derived from the Pareto principal that you may be familiar with, that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes, or sometimes it is said that 80 percent of all business in [X industry] is done by 20 percent of [X professionals]. You’ve also heard the famous Edison quote on posters in offices across the globe that genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.

Take any combination of the two and you come up with the same conclusion that Reese has – you can’t change the world if you don’t do anything, so just do it. It’s seriously that simple.

When people ask me “how do you do it all, Lani?” it feels like a silly question to me because it’s just my nature to do. It’s hard to understand that it isn’t ingrained in all people, but my grandmother was right in indoctrinating me with Mother Teresa’s theory that changing the world is feeding one person. So how do I do it all? I stay focused on the one mouth, be it a literal charity case, or a small business sputtering along in a bad economy that reads just one story here and finds something actionable with which they will find success.

I’m not special, I’m not doing anything special, I’m just doing. Will I change the world? I don’t know, but honestly, I don’t really care – I can’t, because I can only worry about staying focused on feeding the one. Anyone can do. Just do it.

Byron Reese on Achieving:

[pl_video type=”youtube” id=”XfCaArxitpM”]

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius - she has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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Opinion Editorials

Struggle with procrastination? Check your energy, not time management

(EDITORIAL) Surprisingly, procrastination may not have anything to do with your lack of time management, but everything to do with mental energy.

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making lists in order to combat procrastination

Your author has a confession to make; as a “type B” personality who has always struggled with procrastination, I am endlessly fascinated by the topic of productivity and “hacking your time.”

I’ve tried most of the tricks you’ve read about, with varying degrees of success.

Recently, publishers like BBC have begun to approach productivity and procrastination from a different perspective; rather than packing days full of to-do items as a way to maximize time, the key is to maximize your mental energy through a different brand of time management.

So, why doesn’t time management work?

For starters, not all work time is quality time by nature. According to a study published at ScienceDirect, your average worker is interrupted 87 times a day on the job. For an 8-hour day, that’s almost 11 times per hour. No wonder it’s so hard to stay focused!

Second, time management implies a need to fill time in order to maximize it.

It’s the difference between “being busy” and “being productive.”

It also doesn’t impress your boss; a Boston University study concluded that “managers could not tell the difference between employees who actually worked 80 hours a week and those who just pretended to.” By contrast, managing your energy lets you maximize your time based on how it fits with your mental state.

Now, how do you manage your energy?

First, understand and protect the time that should actually go into deep, focused work. Studies continually show that just a few hours of focused worked yield the greatest results; try to put in longer hours behind that, and you’ll see diminishing returns. There’s a couple ways you can accomplish this.

You can block off time in your day dedicated to focused work, and guard the time as if it were a meeting. You could also physically retreat to a private space in order to work on a task.

Building in flexibility is another key to managing your energy. The BBC article references a 1980s study that divided students into two groups; one group planned out monthly goals, while the other group planned out daily goals and activities. The study found the monthly planners accomplished more of their goals, because the students focusing on detailed daily plans often found them foiled by the unexpected.

Moral of the story?

Don’t lock in your schedule too tightly; leave space for the unexpected.

Finally, you should consider making time for rest, a fact reiterated often by the BBC article. You’ve probably heard the advice before that taking 17-minute breaks for every 52 minutes worked is important, and studies continue to show that it is. However, rest also includes taking the time to turn your brain off of work mode entirely.

The BBC article quotes associated professor of psychiatry Srini Pillay as saying that, “[people] need to use both the focus ad unfocus circuits in the brain,” in order to be fully productive. High achievers like Serena Williams, Warren Buffet, and Bill Gates build this into their mentality and their practice.

Embracing rest and unfocused thinking may be key to “embracing the slumps,” as the BBC article puts it.

In conclusion, by leaving some flexibility in your schedule and listening to your body and mind, you can better tailor your day to your mental state and match your brainpower to the appropriate task. As someone who is tempted to keep a busy to-do list myself, I am excited to reevaluate and improve my own approach. Maybe you should revisit your own systems as well in order to combat procrastination and ensure you aren’t making detrimental last-minute decisions for waiting.

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Opinion Editorials

Follow these steps to change a negative mindset into something of value

(EDITORIAL) Once you’re an expert, it’s easy to get caught in the know-it-all-trap, but expertise and cynicism age like fine wine, and can actually benefit you/others if communicated effectively.

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Man on couch drawing on ipad representative of change to the negative mindset.

In conversation with our friend John Steinmetz, he shared some thoughts with me that have really stuck with us.

He has expanded on these thoughts for you below, in his own words, and we truly believe that any individual can benefit from this perspective:

Over the last few years I have realized a few things about myself. I used to be trouble, always the dissenting opinion, always had to be on the opposite side of everyone else.

Then, I started reading everything I could get my hands on dealing with “how to change your attitude,” “how to be a better team player,” etc.

Over the course of that time I realized something. I realized that there was nothing wrong with me, only something wrong with how I communicate.

Unfortunately, once someone sets the context of who you are, they will never see you as anything else. I was labeled a troublemaker by those who didn’t want to “rock the boat” and that was that.

In my readings of books and articles by some of the most prominent technical leaders, they all had something in common. Paraphrasing of course, they all said “you can’t innovate and change the world by doing the same thing as everyone else.” So, in actuality, it wasn’t me, it was my communication style. For that reason, you have to say it out loud – “I will make waves.”

Physics

There are two things I reference in physics about making waves.

  • “A ship moving over the surface of undisturbed water sets up waves emanating from the bow and stern of the ship.”
  • “The steady transmission of a localized disturbance through an elastic medium is common to many forms of wave motion.”

You need motion to create waves. How big were the waves when the internet was created? Facebook? Just think about the natural world and there are examples everywhere that follow the innovation pattern.

You see it in the slow evolution of DNA and then, BAM, mutations disrupt the natural order and profoundly impact that change.

Communication

Where I was going wrong was, ironically, the focus of my career which is now Data. For those who do not know me, I am a product director, primarily in the analytics and data space.

More simply: For the data generated or consumed by an organization, I build products and services that leverage that data to generate revenue, directly or indirectly through the effectiveness of the same.

I was making the mistake of arguing without data because “I knew everything.” Sound familiar?

Another ironic thing about what I do is that if you work with data long enough, you realize you know nothing. You have educated guesses based on data that, if applied, give you a greater chance of determining the next step in the path.

To bring this full circle, arguing without data is like not knowing how to swim. You make waves, go nowhere, and eventually sink. But add data to your arguments and you create inertia in some direction and you move forward (or backward, we will get to this in a min).

So, how do you argue effectively?

First, make sure that you actually care about the subject. Don’t get involved or create discussions if you don’t care about the impact or change.

As a product manager, when I speak to engineering, one of my favorite questions is “Why do I care?” That one question alone can have the most impact on an organization. If I am told there are business reasons for a certain decision and I don’t agree with the decision, let’s argue it out. Wait, what? You want to argue?

So, back to communication and understanding. “Argue” is one of those words with a negative connotation. When quite simply it could be defined as giving reasons or citing evidence in support of an idea, action, or theory, typically with the aim of persuading others to share one’s view.

Words matter

As many times as I have persuaded others to my point of view, I have been persuaded to change mine.

That is where my biggest change has occurred.

I now come into these situations with an open mind and data. If someone has a persuasive argument, I’m sold. It is now about the decision, not me. No pride.

Moving forward or backward is still progress (failure IS an option).

The common thought is that you have to always be perfect and always be moving forward. “Failure is not an option.”

When I hear that, I laugh inside because I consider myself a master of controlled failure. I have had the pleasure to work in some larger, more tech-savvy companies and they all used controlled experimentation to make better, faster decisions.

Making waves is a way of engaging the business to step out of their comfort zone and some of the most impactful decisions are born from dissenting opinions. There is nothing wrong with going with the flow but the occasional idea that goes against the mainstream opinion can be enough to create innovation and understand your business.

And it is okay to be wrong.

I am sure many of you have heard Thomas Edison’s take on the effort to create the first lightbulb. He learned so much more from the failures than he did from success.

”I didn’t fail. I just found 2,000 ways not to make a lightbulb; I only needed to find one way to make it work.” – Thomas Edison

It is important to test what you think will not work. Those small failures can be more insightful, especially when you are dealing with human behaviors. Humans are unpredictable at the individual level but groups of humans can be great tools for understanding.

Don’t be afraid

Turn your negative behavior into something of value. Follow these steps and you will benefit.

    1. Reset the context of your behavior (apologize for previous interactions, miscommunications) and for the love of all that is holy, be positive.
    2. State your intentions to move forward and turn interactions into safe places of discussion.
    3. Learn to communicate alternative opinions and engage in conversation.
    4. Listen to alternative opinions with an open mind.
    5. Always be sure to provide evidence to back up your thoughts and suggestions.
    6. Rock the boat. Talk to more people. Be happy.

A special thank you to John Steinmetz for sharing these thoughts with The American Genius audience.

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Opinion Editorials

Millennial jokes they let slide, but ‘Ok Boomer’ can get you fired

(EDITORIAL) The law says age-based clapbacks are illegal when aimed at some groups but not others. Pfft. Okay, Boomer.

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Boomer sad

A brand new meme is out and about, and it’s looking like it’ll have the staying power of ‘Fleek’ and ‘Yeet!’

Yessiree, ‘Okay, Boomer’ as related to exiting a go-nowhere conversation with out-of-pocket elders has legitimate sticky potential, but not everyone is as elated as I am. Yes, the Boomer generation themselves (and the pick-me’s in my age group who must have a CRAZY good Werther’s Original hookup), are pushing back against the latest multi-use hashtag, which was to be expected.

The same people happy to lump anyone born after 1975 in with kids born in 2005 as lazy, tech-obsessed, and entitled, were awfully quick to yell ‘SLUR’ at the latest turn of phrase, and I was happy to laugh at it.

But it turns out federal law is on their side when it comes to the workplace.

Because “Boomer” applies to folks now in their mid 50’s and up, workplace discrimination laws based on age can allow anyone feeling slighted by being referred to as such to retaliate with serious consequences.

However for “You Millenials…” no such protections exist. Age-based discrimination laws protect people over 40, not the other way around. That means all the ‘Whatever, kid’s a fresh 23-year-old graduate hire’ can expect from an office of folks in their 40s doesn’t carry any legal weight at the federal level.

And what’s really got my eyes rolling is the fact that the law here is so easy to skirt!

You’ve heard the sentiment behind #okayboomer before.

It’s the same one in: ‘Alright, sweetheart’ or ‘Okay hun’ or ‘Bless your heart.’

You could get across the same point by subbing in literally anything.

‘Okay, Boomer’ is now “Okay, Cheryl” or “Okay, khakis” or “Okay, Dad.”

You can’t do that with the n-word, the g-word (either of them), the c-word (any of them), and so on through the alphabet of horrible things you’re absolutely not to call people—despite the aunt you no longer speak to saying there’s a 1:1 comparison to be made.

Look, I’m not blind to age-based discrimination. It absolutely can be a problem on your team. Just because there aren’t a bunch of 30-somethings bullying a 65 year old in your immediate sphere doesn’t mean it isn’t happening somewhere, or that you can afford to discount it if that somewhere is right under your nose.

But dangit, if it’s between pulling out a PowerPoint to showcase how ‘pounding the pavement’ isn’t how you find digital jobs in large cities, dumping stacks of books showing how inflation, wages, and rents didn’t all rise at the same rate or defending not wanting or needing the latest Dr. Oz detox… don’t blame anyone for pulling a “classic lazy snowflake” move, dropping two words, and seeing their way out of being dumped on.

The short solution here is – don’t hire jerks – and it won’t be an issue. The longer-term solution is… just wait until we’re your age.

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