Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Penelope has the Hunger

I must say I have been intrigued by Penelope Trunk's Brazen Careerist blog ... here exposed is exactly that craving for fame, fortune, happiness that I call the hunger.

I've been struggling to define it ..... but I can recognize it when I see it.

What is equally interesting is that her audience seem to fall into two categories - those that admire her drive and ambition, and those who see something desperate and even tragic in her.

I fall into the latter camp .... but I also recognize the same motivations in myself so I am not going to make any judgements.

People who live in glass houses .......

Happiness, flow and viewing telelvision

According to a recent report, to be happy just turn off the television ..... instead, go out and interact with people.

Advice that I do not take enough .... I think TV is a major distraction in our lives because it is an external stimulus. It's an example of really bad flow ... to just be frozen in front of a flickering screen, in a daze zombie-fashion .... but so absorbed in this externally provided stimulation.

I often start with the good intention of watching something important or informative but then get trapped watching stuff that, while interesting in some way, was not what I intended. So the TV takes control .... even as I sit with the remote in my hand.

So watching TV is a form of submissiveness where we give up on our own lives to be stimulated by someone, or something, external to our lives. I know when I am directionless I watch news (oh how we end up being just like our parents) bulletins .... secretly hoping for some major event to excuse my inaction .... so instead of admitting my lack of motivation (and sometimes mild depression) I can say: Did you see that on the news today ... what about Obama's economic team.

As I told my Dad in a moment of frustration as he surfed from one news channel to another: What can YOU do about it?

The truth is that being an "intimate observer" does not change the fact that you have NO CONTROL over what's happening. I guess the research suggests that we stand a chance for happiness and a positive flow experience when we put down the remote and get out and do something in the real world ..... that's the only place where we can take control of our lives.

, as

Monday, November 24, 2008

Differential Perception or Spot the Difference

Having worked in the area of "best practices" in IT management for a long time, I find it amazing that there are some key aspects of accepted wisdom (in IT as in most other areas) that run contrary to human behaviour.

I've talked a little about Front End Loading or FEL before, but there is another key trait that I find creates a conflict between what we know to be good (motherhood) advice and the reality of our action - and that is our attraction to change over constantancy.

I think we are hard wired to "spot the difference" in things rather than appreciate the whole. I imagine an ancient ancestor scanning the vast horizon, not recognizing or even aware of its beauty but searching for a change - some movement, some difference to the norm - which might identify where there may be danger, or the possibility of prey to hunt for survival.

I attribute this focus on change over constancy to what I call our Differential Perception. We know innately it is harder to absorb the whole than just changes. It takes less brain space and processing power simply because there is usually less changing than there is constant. So it seems a perfectly logical approach to managing what would otherwise be massive information overload.

I recognize this in IT where projects can get all the attention but initiatives to retain the knowledge of what was changed are fraught with difficulty. For those interested, one of the latest manifestations of knowledge retention is termed Enterprise Architecture - knowing and documenting how an enterprise operates - but there are many other related efforts like Six-Sigma, Total Quality Management, etc. that have their adherents.

But the ultimate problem for all these efforts (which face enormous implementation challenges in the enterprise) is really that most humans are not "wired" for the behaviour that is needed. I say most because obviously those of us who promote "best practices" are believers ..... and if I am correct, then Differential Perception is one way to explain our relatively dismal conversion rate.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The State of Modern Publishing: Blog vs Book

I just read that a major publication in my area of interest is going out of print ... and becoming a web-only magazine. Tragic!

What's a guy to do at the airport when you need something to read on the flight? Until they install Wi-Fi on the airplanes we just have the airline's own magazine to keep us occupied.

I guess that raises the bigger (?) question of whether books will survive in the long run run or whether blogging and online content will become the mainstay of publishing.

The Brazen Careerist, a blog I find intriguing for numerous reasons I'd like to explore more, gave five reasons why not to write a book. In summary, the reasons are:
1. People who have a lot of ideas need a blog, not a book
2. A book is an outdated way to gain authority
3. Books lead to speaking careers, but speaking careers often lead nowhere
4. You'll make more money per hour flipping burgers than writing a book
5. When you're feeling lost, a book won't save you

Interesting points but a number of visitors have commented that Penelope Trunk, the blogger behind the site, has written a book herself. I think that gives her more authority on the subject myself.

Anyway, I admit to not having a clue where the fl0w-wolf blog is heading .... but right now it is akin to a hobby for a guy who has bigger problems than figuring out where his blog is going!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Dissatisfaction and the Idealized Man

This interesting article appeared showing that men are increasingly dissatisfied with their bodies. The stated cause is the images of idealized bodies shown in ads and the media in general which was listed as the top worry of young men in Australia. I

guess they are only catching up to what their female counterparts have to put up with ... but both appear to me to be a troubling manipulation by marketeers. They will naturally offer all manner of cosmetic remedies so that young men can stop their worrying and have hair in the right places and be baby-smooth elsewhere.

I don't know how we can be happy when we have a Greek chorus of these mass media manipulators telling we should be worried about trivial and superficial matters.

How are young formative minds supposed to cope with this negativity?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Grey and Surprisingly Good Looking

I just was at a conference and one of the speakers was pictured in the program - grey-haired gentleman with a crew-cut. The guys was quite good looking but I would not have thought twice about it .... it only became relevant when I saw the man in the flesh.

After the introduction to his keynote address, a dark-haired man with a comb-over stepped up to the podium. Where was the guy in the picture? Maybe he thought a little hair colour would help give him a more youthful appearence.

He was wrong!

How sad that a naturally good looking, mature man had somehow thought that he looked better with dyed hair. In fact, he just looked a little pathetic .... I just wish he knew that.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Buddha in Our Midst?

There is news afoot of the return of the young buddha appearing out of the jungles near Nepal .... nice pictures too of a long-haired 18 yo.

What do you think? I understand this young man has been around awhile, making the news for this fasting and meditation. But what intrigues me is that, while some in the local region are complete believers, we in the West are more skeptical. Actually, that's probably an understatement - reading between the lines, I think there is the hint that this man might be a fraud.

I agree that the likelihood is that he is a fake .... which is sad. Sad that I am probably right, and sad that I don't have faith in miricles anymore.

It makes me wonder if we (a collective we here that can be interpreted as modern society) are not closing ourselves off to any divine revelations. If a new Messiah did appear, how would we ever recognize or trust him or her? Maybe we have had many such "visitations" and are just too sure of ourselves, too closed off to any hope to be enlightened.

Don't get me wrong .... I still think the new buddha is probably a sham .... and at best a wannabe. But it does worry me that I mightn't be able to recognize the real-thing even if I saw it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Flow & Alignment - Verging on the Obsessive

Here is a little game (I think) many of us play - lining up objects in our line of sight.

At least I think it is normal behaviour, but I also know that in the extreme it can be a sign of obessive-compulsive behaviour - the latter kicks in when you feel you have no choice but to create order out of what are random variables.

I sometimes catch myself tilting my head, or even moving objects, to position or frame things in my view. Examples that come to mind include lining up fence posts, moving the salt and pepper shakers to line-up neatly or centring an image in a window.

I know it seems unrelated, but I am sure that feedback and flow plays a major role in this. The desire to create some kind of order is triggered when we find we have some simple control over our surrounds - that by merely adjusting our perspective (tilt our head) creates some apparent order that is satisfying in some way. These are some of the key ingredients of flow .... which might explain why one does it.

If you are unconvinced, I give as an example a print advertisement I saw not long ago (must try and get an image to post). It was for the YellowPages and showed a guy doing hanging wallpaper. The key to the image used was that the two sheets of wallpaper shown were tantilizingly close to being aligned - just a fraction off. The image presented a dynamic (cognative) tension where 0rder was soooo close but had not yet been achieved.

Not sure how many of us experience the above .... maybe it is verging on the obsessive, but it is all a matter of degree. Someone in the marketing department thought the image of nearly aligned sheets of wallpaper had some interest .... I know I could find a similar dynamic in art.

So, hopefully I'm not in the minority with this compulsion for order. I'd rather think of it as exercising a simple feedback mechanism that provides a simple and innocent vehicle for internal order (given it is alignment only in one's own perspective) and flow.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Flow and the Doodle

Not sure if this is doodling or defacing? But since my earlier post on Doodling and Flow, I have become conscious of a rather annoying habit.

When I become a little distracted in meetings, I find that I start to deface any hardcopies I have in front of me by colouring in all the enclosed areas of letters with my pen. So the loop in the lower-case letter "e" gets inked-in. Likewise, the p's and d's are candidates. I basically go through all letters on the pages in front of me .... a, b, d, e, g, o, p, q .... lower-case or capitals .... until I get bored of that - or run out of ink (which has happened).

I found that R is quite special case, being the only letter that is open in lowercase but has a closed loop as a capital. Now isn't that a revelation!

Anyway, having done this for years, I'm not too worried this behaviour .... but it does leave my meeting notes a little messy. I think my doodling provides a clear indication that I was not completely engaged in a meeting. Not necessarily bored, because this little exercise does not consume a lot of mental energy - just having additional mental energy that pours out onto the page.

I do find this not very creative form of doodling quite pleasant though .... a simple little exercise in flow.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Blog Analytics a Real Flow Buster

So I mentioned how I was blogging in order to attain flow ... I have been getting some satisfaction from the blog which I am using as a means of working through some ideas in my head; sifting and ordering them as a means of developing some insights into flow and happiness.

Very idealistic ..... but to have flow one also need feedback.

To date I have been happy to see my posts appear on this blog and received some comfort from the fact that I have been blogging consistently for over a month now and becoming more comfortable with the idea ..... more efficient and confident too, as it is now less of a drama to write about any particular topic.

But is there anybody out there, I ask myself. Of course there does not need to be .... I'm doing this for myself .... an intrinsic goal to use the language of flow. I don't need any external substantiation for this activity, it is a purely personal goal.

So I wonder why then I setup Google Analytics so I could see if anyone was visiting this site ..... now I'm depressed. I know this is just my "secret diary" but hey, in the whole blog sphere I have had about four other random visitors.

On a brighter note, I now have another feedback mechanism .... but what a flow buster it has been to date! If I stop blogging it is because I have been fooling myself .... I really do want some form of recognition .... all that talk about blogging for my personal satisfaction is just a load of bullocks.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Slow Food and Flow

I have been wanting to look at the slow food movement for some time ..... I find the concept compelling and relevant to everyone seeking to control their inner-wolf.

Talking about the joys of cooking for family and friends (and of course yourself - more on that later) it seems obvious that we should look at the enjoyment of food ... which is of course where the slow food movement comes in - as a protest against fast-food.

There should be some law of proportionality that draws a relationship between the time it takes to prepare a meal and the time we should take to consume it. The next step after lovingly preparing a meal is to savour the result and make a ceremony of its consumption.

The ceremony is the respect that we pay for the gift of food .... like the old fashioned idea of saying "grace." While food is of course necessary for survival, how we feed ourselves .... whether we deavour our food or savour it ..... is the measure of civilized behaviour. But more importantly, it can be a measure of flow!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A New President .... be Happy!

Jessie Jackson is weeping on TV .... it's intense.

I hope and pray that the USA and the world comes together with the news of Obama winning the presidency.

This may really see us establishing a new world order.

Happiness in a Time of Recession (Part 2 - Cooking)

With the election results in the USA coming in live on TV it is difficult to concentrate .... but whatever happens today, there is no easy answer to the economic woes we are going to face across the globe - the recession, or at best an economic slowdown, is going to be with us for awhile.

That true of the economy ... but as individuals we do have things we can do to defend ourselves against bad news. We must find ways to maintain our ourselves and our sense of hope .... to pursue happiness!

A recession means that we all have to exercise personal economic restraint, which may ironically have a positive influence on our search for happiness. Many of the distractions and choices we face reduce drastically when we do not have as much money to spend. This takes us back to a simpler lifestyle in which we can rediscover, and take pleasure from, the simple things in life - those simple flow activities that we so often overlook.

Not surprisingly, a lot of these simple things go back to our basic human needs - the foundations of Maslow's Pyramid. Last time I blogged about gardening and the flow to be found in cultivating even the most modest plant. Something that is even more fundamental to our survival is of course preparing and cooking meals - for ourselves, our family or our friends.

In today's fast paced lifestyle we are so easily seduced by the quick meal, whether it is a take-away or cooked at home. Yet, almost paradoxically, there is a growing industry pumping out books and television programming that celebrates the joys of preparing food. I can see how these two things can actually go together - the less we cook everyday meals the more likely it is that we want to do something more exotic on the occasions that we do cook.

So I would suggest that now, when we need to control our spending on restaurant or take-away food, is the time to breakout the cookbooks and hit the kitchen. There is something therapeutic about having tears stream down your face as you slice onions .... as I did last night. Nothing like a good cry to purify one's soul.

It has been awhile since I did any serious cooking so I made a point of focusing on the activity itself .... be mindful as they say. Certainly makes it more likely the dishes work out and I think I really nailed the somewhat complex menu that I server the family. So I achieved some major personal satisfaction, especially as we all enjoyed the shared meal.

As a result, I think cooking is hard to beat as a simple, easy way of achieving flow .... and has the added benefit that you get to share the results with those you love.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Blogging for flow ....

I intimated to someone that I was so fixated on the concept of flow that I was blogging on the subject. I explained that I was working through the idea of flow and how one could make it a life-philosophy.

Ok, I didn't actually use those words .... but even as I was talking I realized that was not the whole story ..... it is in a sense the other way round.

I'm blogging to gain flow!

If these thoughts just rattled around in my head I'd become really frustrated. There is tremendous release in getting them down .... even as they are not fully formed ideas. Blogging for me is therefore a bit like solo-brainstorming.

Brainstorming as a group often follows a familiar pattern. The first step is usually just to collect all the ideas and write them down in little post-it notes. Then we step back and try to find some patterns that can be used to group the ideas until, finally, themes become apparent and we achieve order!

Sounds like a creative process to me .... and in a sense each blog entry is an idea that can be elaborated upon and sifted and sorted in the future. And see, right there in writing that down I have an insight.

I've been trying to understand our hunger for seeking flow at the top reaches of human achievement ..... and there I find in my rant one that certainly drive me .... ORDER!

So there it is .... something to blog about next time.
Why blog because you're interested in something ....

Monday, November 3, 2008

Happiness in a Time of Recession (Part 1 - Gardening)

Things have been taking a decided dark turn in my recent posts. Time to lighten-up and pull myself out of this nose dive into depression .... even with all the horrors in the world, not least of which is the financial crisis that promises to make us all that much poorer, there still is so much good in this world to celebrate.

So I have decided to write some notes about how we can regain some control and take on some simple activities that can lead us to appreciate the world more, and in the process, give us some happiness and flow.

For my first activity, I choose something that we can all engage in - gardening!

The best distraction I can think off from brooding over the diminishing value of your investment portfolio is to watch a plant, any plant, grow and thrive under our care.

Now if you already have one, then it is as easy as getting out there and watering and generally maintaining it. But I for one live in an apartment, so my gardening ambitions have to necessarily be very modest. Sure, one can jazz up this gardening project to be as complicated as one likes, but the aim is to grow something - anything. What it is you grow, and how you do it, is not the point .... the pleasure arises in putting some care and attention into our "garden" and gaining the satisfaction of seeing mother nature respond.

So get started asap as it is cheap, green (yes, in more ways than one) and rewarding.

Gardening really is one of the best flow activities that can give us plenty of feedback and a deep, primal satisfaction that I believe must have been programmed into humans over the millenia. Put in just a little of your time, energy and attention to nurture even a single pot plant, develop a daily ritual to tend to this simple life-form, and you will find happiness - I guarantee it!

At least while you are potting around doing what has to be done in your garden, you won't be thinking of the looming recession and losses you have already sustained.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Maslow and the Human Pyramid

I don't know if I even want to post this ..... I'm having second and third thoughts .... but who reads these posts anyway?

One highly disturbing parallel that came to me is that between Maslow’s hierarchy and the pyramid of bodies found in Nazi gas chambers when the doors were finally opened. In their desperation to survive, and in a futile attempt to reach fresh air at the roof, the fittest of those locked in the chamber were found to have climbed over the bodies of fellow victims who had already succumbed to the poisonous gases.

It's not what Maslow was really talking about but it somehow indicates the brutal power of our survival instinct. It conjures up in my mind the primal hunger I attribute to the flow-wolf, in its most base and horrifying form.

The full account of the Holocaust victims can be found in the film entitled Shoah by Claude Lanzmann and the above story is recounted in this review. The unbelievable suffering that we humans are capable of inflicting on each other is a sad indictment of humanity. But what is also sobering is what we will do in order to survive.