Your life should be awesome…

Grace inspects a caterpillar

Tell your parents, tell your friends, tell your co-workers, tell your children: Your life should be awesome. It can be–it will be–and it’s all up to you. So says, Neil Pasricha, author of “The Book of Awesome” and the blog “1000 Awesome Things.” The key, he says, lies in three A’s: Attitude, Awareness, and Authenticity. (It’s like this guy climbed up inside my head and could see what I was thinking…)

This short video from his TED presentation provides the background on awesome, the three A’s, and leaves you with a parting thought for life. And it’s all right on the mark.

“Look,” says Pasricha, “we’re all gonna get lumps and we’re all going to get bumps. None of us can predict the future, but we do know one thing about it: and that’s that it ain’t going to go according to plan. There are times in your life when you will get tossed in the well, with twists in your stomach and holes in your heart. And when that bad news washes over you and that pain sponges and soaks in, I just really hope you feel like you’ve always got two choices.

“One, you can swirl and twirl and you can gloom and doom forever; or two, you can grieve and then face the future with newly sober eyes. Having a great attitude is about choosing option number two, and choosing, no matter how difficult it is, no matter what pain hits you, choosing to move forward and move on and take baby steps into the future.”

There are some great moments in this talk and it’s well worth the fifteen minutes you’ll spend watching. (His example of authenticity is simply too good to spoil; you’ll just have to watch for yourself.)

Share it with friends and co-workers, but more importantly, share it with your kids. Help fortify them and give them the skills and the tools they need to face their lives with optimism and deliberation. Help the create–and then live–an awesome life.

Bill Maher insults, well… everyone

Bill Maher’s appearance on the George Lopez show last night was interesting for two reasons:

  1. First, he called Republicans the “ignorant, hillbilly half of America” to the loud cheers of the audience
  2. Then, he basically insulted everyone in the audience by saying that American voters were “like dogs; too stupid to understand issues” and reacting only to “fear, dominance and inflection.”

And maybe he was right, because the audience cheered that, too, even though he was clearly including them in his opinion.

Here’s a brief transcript of this portion of the conversation:

Maher: “We have Democrats for one reason: to drag the ignorant, hillbilly half of this country into the next century. Which in their case is the nineteenth.”

Lopez: “Yes. Absolutely. I agree. How do you think that Barrack Obama is doing halfway through his term?”

Maher: “You know, I mean, look: Democrats are always a little disappointing, that’s why they’re democrats. Uh, but given the hand he was dealt, I give him an “A”.

“I’ll tell you this about Americans, about the American electorate, the voter: Um, they love a winner. You know as soon as he passed healthcare, it went up 15 points. They don’t understand the issues. They’re too stupid. They’re like a dog. They can understand inflection. They can understand fear. They can understand dominance. They don’t understand issues. But when he won on that issue, he went up.”

Lopez: “Right.”

Maher: “I’ll tell you something, if Tiger Woods had come back and won the Masters, he could have murdered all those girls he was f&#*ing. But he didn’t win, and therefore America turned on him. Because they were like, “We’re pissed off, it’s not right to try to f&#* every waitress in America… some of us are still waiting for bread.”

Obviously, that last bit was purely for comic benefit. But the overall message was one he clearly believes. Take a look and decide for yourself:

Be true to your principles, or solve the problem?

Malcolm GladwellI really enjoy reading Malcolm Gladwell‘s work. His approach to looking at problems is fresh and interesting, and he’s able to draw correlations that are not only unusual, but incredibly insightful. I find I’m often struck by the obvious relationship one thing has to another after he’s made it clear. This just happened to me as I was reading an article originally published in The New Yorker and republished in his book “What the Dog Saw.”

The article was about homelessness, specifically the cost of homelessness, both in the humanitarian sense and dollars-and-cents-sense. He explores the notion that many of us have about the homeless: that it’s a problem with a normal distribution (a bell curve) that represents a huge mass in the middle that accounts for most of the problems. Recent studies suggest, however, that homelessness is really what they call a power law distribution that is shaped more like a hockey stick, with a relatively small number of ‘hard core’ homeless that drive the cost. In fact, according to a study done by Dennis Culhane in the 1990’s, more than 80% of people in shelters are in and out very quickly. “In Philadelphia,” Culhane says, “we found that the most common length of time that someone is homeless is one day. The second most common is two days.”

Gladwell points out that when we perceive problems to have a normal distribution, the resulting impression is of something that is too big to fix, so we treat the symptoms instead. But if the problem has a power law distribution, then it’s possible that it’s a big problem caused by a relatively small number of people. In other words, the problem itself could be fixed.

In Denver, this is exactly what they’re trying to do about homelessness. Realizing that they need to get these chronically homeless off the streets (and, subsequently, out of the health care system, which is where they are really costing the rest of us the most), Denver officials have begun giving them apartments. And this approach makes perfect sense economically: it’s far cheaper to pay someone’s rent than to continually pay to for the health care costs associated with them being on the streets. In fact, the article was originally titled “Million Dollar Murray”, a reference to one chronically homeless man in Nevada who cost the state more than a million dollars over ten years of homelessness.

The problem with solving a power law distribution like this is that, while it makes sense economically, it doesn’t seem fair morally. Gladwell says:

“Thousands of people in the Denver area no doubt live day to day, work two or three jobs, and are eminently deserving of a helping hand – and no one offers them the key to a new apartment. When the welfare mom’s time on public assistance runs out, we cut her off. Social benefits are supposed to have some kind of moral justification. We give them to widows and disabled veterans and poor mothers with small children. Giving the homeless guy passed out on the sidewalk an apartment has a different rationale. It’s simply about efficiency.”

“There isn’t enough money to go around, and to try to help everyone a little bit – to observe the principle of universality – isn’t as cost-effective as helping a few people a lot. Being fair, in this case, means providing shelters and soup kitchens, and shelters and soup kitchens don’t solve the problem of homelessness. Our usual moral intuitions are of little use, then, when it comes to a few hard cases. Power-law problems leave us with an unpleasant choice.”

And then he followed up this argument with the sentence that still has me pondering this whole notion, more than two weeks later:

“We can be true to our principles or we can fix the problem. We cannot do both.”

Related articles of interest:

Good Design Makes Understanding Complex Data Simple

In the world we now live in, there’s no shortage of information. The problem is making sense of all the information we have. Everywhere you turn, you face datasets, ranging from simply complex to seriously complex. And the problem isn’t just the amount of information, it’s the kind as well.

Consider for a moment the complexity of things like worldwide military spending, media buzz, or what we might learn about human behavior from Facebook status updates… Is it possible to better understand this data by transforming it into simple, beautiful diagrams? David McCandless thinks so, and he believes that it allows him to tease out unseen patterns and connections.

Spend a few minutes watching this video and I think you’ll agree. Fascinating stuff…

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Steve Jobs tells “how to live before you die”

In June 2005, Steve Jobs delivered the commencement address at Stanford. It was a talk where he promised to tell “only three stories about my life. No big deal. Just three stories…” In these three stories, he encompasses formative moments that helped make him what he is and he outlines several notions these recent graduates would do well to remember. They include:

Find what you love.

“You’ve got to find what you love. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

Live each day as if it were your last.

“When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: ‘If you live each day as if it was you’re last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.’ It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I’ve looked in the mirror every day and asked myself, “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer is “no” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something. Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything, all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure, these things all fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

Stay hungry. Stay foolish.

“No one wants to die. And yet, death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It’s Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.”

“Right now, the new is you. But someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it’s quite true. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And, most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.”

It’s a very good speech, and I recommend you watch it: