Category: Lifestyle (page 1 of 2)

On the Shortness of Life

I was doing some cleaning today and stumbled across a piece of paper with a quote I had scribbled down awhile back. The quote was from Seneca’s On the Shortness of Life:

Indeed the state of all who are preoccupied is wretched, but the most wretched are those who are toiling not even at their own preoccupations, but must regulate their sleep by another’s, and their walk by another’s pace… If such people want to know how short their lives are, let them reflect how small a portion is their own.

On the Shortness of Life

This quote really struck a chord with me when I first read it in early 2011. At the time, I had a stable job with a great benefits package in a Fortune 500 company. But I was stuck in a cubicle all day—bearing unnecessary amounts of stress—to try to essentially make the company’s wealthy shareholders even wealthier. Re-reading the quote, I came to the harsh realization that my job situation was forcing me to “regulate [my] sleep by another’s.”

Seneca’s essay definitely influenced my decision to take the leap into entrepreneurship, which I ended up doing within six months, and—despite many difficulties along the way—I haven’t looked back. Thanks, Seneca!

Conscious Capitalism

A couple weeks ago, I went to hear John Mackey, the founder and CEO of Whole Foods, discuss his new book. I’ve followed Mackey’s philosophies for a while now, as I think he’s got the right idea. Here’s a blurb about the book from his blog:

“Free enterprise capitalism has been the most powerful creative system of social cooperation and human progress ever conceived, but its perception and its role in society have been distorted. Now is the time to demonstrate to a skeptical world the truth, goodness and heroism of capitalism rather than perpetuate the false stigmas of selfishness, greed and profit maximization. We must revolutionize capitalism and show that businesses are the greatest value creators of all, with the power to push humanity upward for continuous improvement. Here, John talks about the unique opportunity businesses have to unleash creativity.”

I get saddened at times thinking about the problems that humans have caused for our planet and for future generations of humans. Despite there being great non-profits and other organizations out there doing wonderful things, it sometimes feels like the problems we’re facing are just too big to overcome with those measures.

The one area of hope I see in possibly overcoming some of the issues we’re facing as a species is in what Mackey calls Conscious Capitalism. I’d argue that for-profit businesses have the power to reach and activate more people and spur more effective change than other organizations, including activist groups, non-profits and governments. A big reason behind this is the power of brands. People love their favorite brands – staunchly defending them against naysayers and unsolicitedly promoting them in interesting ways.

Occasionally, I’ll see people with real tattoos (the permanent kind) of a consumer brand. That’s how you know you’ve built a strong brand: someone freely chose to undergo thousands of stabs from a sharp needle to inject some sort of permanent inky substance into the beautiful, living, breathing organ that is his or her epidermis in order to wear your brand with pride. Give yourself a pat on the back, Marketing team. You deserve a bonus.

So I think building a movement that sparks purpose-driven and “conscious” businesses, with strong brands, is the most realistic way of making real, positive change. I’m hoping that the Conscious Capitalism movement gains some steam.

The Most Direct Way to Get ‘In The Zone’: Ping Pong

According to Wikipedia, “flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.”

If you’ve experienced ‘flow’, or being ‘in the zone’, you know that it is a heightened state of consciousness. It’s almost a meditational or spiritual experience. While in the zone, you execute at an amazingly high level, doing things you didn’t think you were capable of.

I’ve played many sports over the years, and in my experience, the sport that is the most direct conduit for achieving flow is ping pong.  I would argue that ping pong provides the most optimal combination of certain factors that help you get in the zone: frequency of reps, size of the playing space, and number of participants.

Frequency of reps

I’ll define a ‘rep’ as the main action that a participant takes in a particular sport. For example, in golf a rep would be the act of striking the ball with your club (not a practice swing). In basketball it would be taking a shot at the basket. In tennis it would be hitting the ball with your racquet. Reps help you get in a rhythm, so the higher the frequency of reps, the easier it is to get in a rhythm. Admittedly, the beauty of certain sports is that there is so much going on outside of a main ‘rep’, that flow can be achieved by doing other things. Soccer and baseball come to mind here. However, I would argue that it is much harder to achieve flow doing non-rep activities.

At the moment, I cannot think of a sport with a higher frequency of reps per participant than ping pong.

Size of the playing space

Ping pong and tennis are very similar, but the smaller playing space of ping pong makes it easier to get in the zone. The smaller space means more reps and less room for variables to come into play. In tennis, your opponent could hit the ball 10 feet to your right or lob it over your head, making it difficult to get into the type of rhythm that you could quickly get into with ping pong, which has more limited shot variation. Golf has a much bigger playing space than tennis and brings in additional variables that make it difficult to get into a rhythm. Along with having to walk (or drive) 200  yards to get to your next shot, you have to deal with wind, water hazards, and difficult lies.

Number of participants

The one-on-one nature of (singles) ping pong obviously adds to your frequency of reps, since the reps are not shared among teammates. But the reason that I’m not grouping this section under the ‘frequency of reps’ section is that the one-on-one aspect of ping pong has an additional contributor to flow: understanding your opponent better. Since you are playing against one person in ping pong, you get a quicker feel for anticipating their next shot. When you can visualize your opponents next shot, this has a compounding effect for building on your rhythm.

A big part of achieving flow is the ability to get into a rhythm, and ping pong has a great combination of characteristics to allow its participants to get into a rhythm and eventually get in the zone quickly. When my company has a space that can fit one, I will definitely invest in an office ping pong table. Giving employees easy opportunities to get in the zone (by playing ping pong) goes a long way for productivity and happiness in the workplace.

Keeping in Touch More Regularly in the New Year

One of my New Year’s resolutions this year will be to do a better job of keeping in touch with friends and to do so on a more regular basis.

I just spent twenty minutes implementing a system that will send me regular reminders to keep in touch with specific friends. Here’s what I did:

1) In a word processor, I put together a list of the friends I want to do a better job of keeping up with.
2) I split those into three groups: ping every month, ping every 6 weeks, and ping every 2 months.
3) In my google calendar, I created a new event for each person on the list, with each occurring on a different day in January. I titled the event ‘KIT: [friend’s name]’ (KIT = Keep in Touch) and I positioned the event at the top of the given day (i.e. not at a specific time).
4) For each calendar event:

a) Make it repeat either every month, every six weeks, or every nine weeks, depending on where the person fell on your original list.
b) Set a reminder to receive an email 0 minutes ahead of time. This will mean I’ll receive the email at midnight each day.

The important step going forward will be to not disregard these emails that will start coming in very regularly in January. I’ll report back on my progress.

Songs that are meaningful for entrepreneurs, part 2: Spoon’s “The Underdog”

I don’t know much at all about Spoon or what their inspiration was for writing ‘The Underdog’, but whenever the song plays in my iTunes library, I think of The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen. If books had a soundtrack, ‘The Underdog’ would definitely be on it.

The catchy song acts as a warning for a stodgy incumbant / market leader / favorite that they will eventually fall to an underdog. Similarly, The Innovator’s Dilemma points out that market leading companies begin to focus too much on the current needs of existing customers rather than on their future, unstated needs. This failure to innovate becomes the company’s downfall when disruptive technologies emerge from upstart competitors.

Here are some lyrics for the song, which could have easily come out of the book:

But you won’t hear from the messenger
Don’t wanna know ’bout something that you don’t understand
You got no fear of the underdog
That’s why you will not survive, right!

And the video: