friction

Accidental Racism

I am a racist. You are a racist. We are all racists.

We all harbor covert thoughts about people, communities, religions, and disabilities.

  • So you are following a Hummer with a Scientology bumper sticker
  • Or a car full of dark complected youth who have a woofer which is vibrating your dental work
  • Men with turbans are boarding your plane
  • Or you see a gay couple publicly expressing their affections

Yeah, whatever pushes your buttons—you think bad thoughts—admit it!

You would never say anything, but “those people  should_________!” Apples and oranges

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the Ku Klux Klanner but the moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by the myth of time; and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection. Excerpts from MLK’s Birmingham Jail Letter

Please do not be one of those people who say they are colorblind. That all people are equal in your eyes. Even if that were true, your blindness would mean you do not care about difference. And difference is everything.

Our greatest vulnerability is that we do not see our fates tied to others. That we believe that our comfort, safety and success can be achieved independently from other people different from us and our families.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.

The brutal truth is we have minimized our direct experiences with difference. Economic diversity in our lives is from the news. We have little tolerance for difference. The last time we had truly diverse friends was in college.

The consequences of these subtle, multiplied, and layered decisions are the increasing inability to relate to the world outside of our bubbles. Our networks are sanitized, pasteurized and free of “unwanted” elements. 

We struggle with relating to the I Can’t Breathe campaigns, Immigration Reform, Muslim hate crimes, Minimum wage protests…... 

We don't discriminate.

We are not prejudiced.

We care about all of our fellow human beings.

We have lost touch with reality.

We are accidental racists.

There are so many studies that show how prevalent our discriminatory inclinations are. 

Step one is to own our racism.

Now before you launch into your well-rehearsed denial speeches, listen to yourself and look around yourself. “Some of your best friends…..Really! Now why is it that your church, your kids’ schools, your place of employment, your golf club, your circle of friends do not reflect the communities we live in?

Admit it we have not done enough.

Our kids grow up in segregation and despite our best intentions they become accidental racists.

Susan Fiske’s extensive research at Princeton shows that as income rises we see poor people as objects and not as humans—mostly because they are a foreign and unknown population.

We watch as the world turns on Muslims again. -Treating a giant diverse population as a monolithic group. A group we do not know. Racism at its best.

Conjures up Nazi Germany or WWII with the internment of Japanese Americans…

This has been going on for a long time--too long.

In 1946 (Martin Luther King Jr. was about 17 and 18 years before Civil Rights), Albert Einstein was frustrated and angry and gave a speech at Lincoln University called, The Negro Question-- Here are some excerpts:

Many a sincere person will answer: "Our attitude towards Negroes is the result of unfavorable experiences which we have had by living side by side with Negroes in this country. They are not our equals in intelligence, sense of responsibility, reliability."

The modern prejudice against Negroes is the result of the desire to maintain this unworthy condition.

What, however, can the man of good will do to combat this deeply rooted prejudice? He must have the courage to set an example by word and deed, and must watch lest his children become influenced by this racial bias.

I do not believe there is a way in which this deeply entrenched evil can be quickly healed. But until this goal is reached there is no greater satisfaction for a just and well-meaning person than the knowledge that he has devoted his best energies to the service of the good cause.

Sadly, these words ring true today. And “Negroes” could be replaced with many communities which combat our racism today.

It is well established that diversity is not a nice to have but a necessity to compete, survive, and evolve. Mother Nature knows this well! Investment portfolios require it. The American Medical Association studies prove that life expectancy is extended as much as 9 years for those that cultivate diverse social networks. But to attain and then maintain diversity professionally and socially takes courage, work, and vigilance.

Evaluate your network. Not talking just about ethnicity, but religious, economic, ability, sexual preference diversity. How will you reach out and build a diverse network?

What example by word and deed are we setting, for our children?

If the tables you sit at just look like you, I do not care how smart, witty you are, it is limited table of opportunities. 

So what are you going to do honor the legacy of Dr. King? More important, what are you going to do to make sure your kids and all of our kids don’t end up to be racists like us?

Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Einstein

 Thanks for reading. John

 


Our Philanthropic Journey

Most of us do not relate to the word philanthropy. It is Bill Gatesian, John Rockefelleresque, foreign word that is reserved for the Bentley crowd. Even wealthy donors do not use the "P" word. Yet the literal meaning of philanthropy is beautiful. From its Greek origins it translates to Love of Humanity. In other words giving is a way of expressing our love for one another. 

Regrettably only a few of us can be on the Forbes 400, but all of us give. We give as much as we can. Most of us could give more---time and money--but we all have a generous spirit.  Philanthropist

Yet giving away money is a mysterious business. To the uninformed, giving away a lot of money would be easy and fun. Like most things it is not what you think it is. I was with a nameless billionaire the other day (you are so important John!!) and he complained about the "burden" of his giving--that "there is no way I can give away all of my money before I die." I know some of you just want a name and and contact info :) But in all serious pursuits, in all careers--when you fully engage yourself in the art and science of something--challenges are revealed. You begin to realize how much you do not know. It can paralyze you or it can liberate you. To most it causes a brain freeze bigger than chugging a giant milkshake.

Funny thing, people with wealth or any extra money will tell you they love their philanthropy. They will tell you how fulfilling it is. Similar to any of us when asked about our computer skills--no one is not "proficient"! People who give away money who generally have been successful in life find it hard to admit that their philanthropy is transactional, random, and a "burden".

As I have said in this space for years, the key principle in life is to give without an expectation. Be ready to give first. Lead with your giving. Not just money, but with your attention, time, and expertise. When you are truly philanthropic with your life and have turned off WIIFM (what's in it for me), you benefit in ways that far exceed your giving. 

The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away. Picasso

All of our journeys are philanthropic. We do not have to be billionaires to make a difference. We forget how much we have when we focus on what we want. We love humanity but do not know where to begin. 

As you know I help people give their money away. But I have learned that if the giving is not tied to the donor's heart, passions, their authentic interests, their core values, then their philanthropy is limited and unfulfilling. Giving becomes a task even a source of stress (like with my new billionaire buddy:). That's how many people feel about networking and mentoring. We can view time as our greatest asset and we become time hoarders--or so we think. We view it as precious and hold it back from others on one hand and then just waste it like we have all of the time in the world.

I literally get sick when people say things like, "Can't wait until this day/month/year is over!" You never get the time back. You can get your money back! Time is irretrievable. 

Reminded of Seneca's incredible 2000 year old book On the Shortness of Life

It is not that we have a short time to live, but we make it short by wasting a lot of it. We are frugal in guarding our personal property, but as it comes to squandering time, we are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy.

Do I have to regale you with the physical, spiritual, intellectual benefits of giving? The increase in endorphins, oxytocin or just plain old satisfaction. Studies abound that show that generous people are happier, live longer and are healthier. In the newish book, The Paradox of Generosity, philanthropic families "had broader social circles, less self absorbed, and a greater sense of purpose." I had the great pleasure of interviewing Nicholas Kristof about his new book A Path Appears, perhaps the best book on philanthropy I have read. This is like 8 great books in one. And Nicholas and his partner Sheryl have done a wonderful job of making the case to give more and how to do it. 

It is also well known and verified through research that you give like your network. If you live in a gated community you give 40% less than the average American! Because wealthy people who live in wealthy communities are trying to keep up with the Joneses. If you hang out with people who are less generous, chances are you are too. And "live more cynical and narrow lives" according to the research. Giving broadens your network to new worlds. Worlds outside of our bubbles, "gated communities" of homogeneous people who reinforce each other's perspective disconnected from reality. Susan Fiske's research at Princeton is the most disheartening. The wealthier we are the more we view poor people as objects instead of people. In other words, when we reside in a biosphere protected from the harsh realities of the real world, poor people are things not human.

So reach out and connect. break your bubbles and break out of your biospheres. Seek people and charities you love and help them. Get the benefits of giving and giving more. 

So as we meander down our philanthropic paths, consider how much you have and start giving it away. Lead with your giving and it will take you to places that you want to go. Places that show you purpose, meaning, and why you are here.

I developed a special edition of my SWiVEL doc  Download SWIVEL Philanthropy_2014 for people to help one another with their philanthropy. Share it.

I get so much out of writing these posts--way more than you! Thank you for the gift of your readership. John

 


Our Barbellion Choices

Each of us must experience one of two pains - the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. Which pain will you choose?  Robin Crow

Everything we do is a choice. Either we proactively act or the absence of our actions chooses for us. We want so many things. We act only on a few of them. We think we are lucky and we are. Mostly because we have choices. :) More often than not the luck of great fortune does not drive up to our door, ring the doorbell and present itself on a silver platter. We also want conflicting things. Things which counteract each other. Things that are polar opposites.

A few examples of things I hear every week:

WANT                                                  DON'T WANT

Fast track to the top                                        No overtime or weekend work

Learn more                                                      No more formal education

Entreprenuerial opportunities                        Security of employment

Not stuck behind a desk                                  Hate networking

Wants a mentor                                               No time to mentor others

New adventure                                                Stability

I have hundreds of these pairs. I try not to laugh or make a face when I hear them. I really think I could be at the final table of the World Series of Poker. Funny thing, the people saying these oxymorinic aspirations can't hear the grinding of the goals that are slowing them down if not derailing their progress. They do not realize that they maintain this career dissonance to forestall decisions. Young and old use these competing weights to wittingly or unwittingly hold themselves back.

My absolute favorite: Start-up with a retirement plan. :)

I call this the barbellion syndrome. Heavy weighted goals at either end of a spectrum that make progress overwhelming. They get stuck in their indecisiveness, ambivalence and lack of clarity. Barbell control

We have the capacity to make every decision complex. We play what if scenarios, imagine disasters that await, or accumulate excuses to immobilize ourselves. A pervasive form of self-sabotage. In the end we do nothing.

Until we embrace what we really want, who we really are--we reside in the comfort of "going with the flow." Life happens to us.

Every choice has risk. The more you embrace the risk associated with what you want the sooner you will act. Otherwise live with the regrets and for all of our sake, don't talk about it!

Look you can achieve many things  in your life. You can design and engineer a career that is customized around your needs. You can reach out to others who have done it before and they can show you the ropes and the paths. It is so much easier to lift the weights with others.

There is no gain without pain. The pain of discipline. And the pleasure of defining who you are. The pleasure of minimizing regrets. Because the pain of regret is so much greater. 

Then you will see why helping others lift their weights and avoid the barbellion syndrome of inaction, of worrying, and of letting life pass them by--will help you. 

Defining what you want will give purpose to the weight and pain of the path you choose. But you must choose.

Thanks for reading. John

 


The Preference for Your Own Potential

Things that grow are generally better. Whether you are trending on twitter, the equity in your home, your GPA, or your sense of well-being.

Things with potential growth are considered the better investments. Every financial investment, every hire selected considers the upside of the candidate.

Think about the recruiter for your favorite NFL team in the Super Bowl. Consider the incredible track record of Kevin Rose, arguably the best picker of start-ups. Or the admissions offices of the top universities. They require evidence of past performance AND evaluate the future trajectory of the candidates. How do these experts balance the value of track record with the upside of potential?  Potential

Recent research out of Stanford and Harvard called: The Preference for Potential revealed:

When people seek to impress others, they often do so by highlighting their personal achievements.  Despite the intuitive appeal of this strategy, we demonstrate that people tend to prefer potential rather than achievement when evaluating others.  Indeed, compared to references to achievement (e.g., “this person has become a leader in the field”), references to potential (e.g., “this person could become a leader in the field”) appear to stimulate greater interest and excitement, which translates into more favorable reactions.

It makes sense that there is this preference and bias for potential, especially in hiring and promoting. In any investment of time and money you should expect growth and a greater return. Upside matters! The intangibles become very influential. Desire, passion, and character add credibility to potential. 

The fact that you have done it in the past is not enough to prove or demonstrate potential for the future. Competence is a starting point.

Some may say that this smacks of ageism. That younger candidates have an advantage in the race for  potential. Probably true. But if you need experience AND potential, then youthful enthusiasm is not enough. The question is how can you translate your achievements into an adaptable investment that is relevant now and into the future? How are you able to show that your skills, knowledge and abilities are in sync with the future needs of the organization and the industry?

The future is not what it used to be.  Yogi Berra

"What have you done for me lately?" is morphing into,"What will you be capable of doing later?"

We tend to over focus on our past achievements. We start to believe our own press releases, rest on our laurels  and forget our potential. We rarely talk about our own potential. We hesitate because of our humility and our uncertainty. Deep inside we know what we are capable of and what we want to do, but if no one knows but us, what good does that do?

Do you see the trajectory of your career? Can you describe it?

I meet many people who can not describe their potential at all. 

What is potential that is invisible? 

Untapped potential is a sin. I think the greatest indictment a person can hear is "you have so much potential" and not know what they are talking about.

Get to know your potential. Start by finding role models of people that are doing what you think you want to do. People who are doing what you want to do and doing it the way you want to do it. Connect with these people.

Continuous effort--not strength or intelligence--is the key to unlocking our potential. Winston Churchill

Dive deeply into your work and your field--even if you are uncertain if this is THE one. 

Then start to push yourself to gain more experience, confidence, and understanding of your potential. You will discover your strengths and your weaknesses. You will better define what you want and don't want. 

Other people want to be associated with people who are growing and knowledgeable about the trends, the field. People who are well connected, well-read, and well versed. In other words, people who take their careers seriously--people who want to be leaders in their field. 

Maybe you don't know exactly where you are going but you see yourself moving up the ladder. Then act like it! Read the trades. Follow the industry thought leaders. Join the industry associations. Take on visible roles at your employer, in the industry. 

Potential can't be a latent undefined blob within you. It is revealed by your actions and your words. You show it and people see it. If it is a genuine pursuit of your interest in the field, some may see you as a "climber", but if you are not showy and egotistical, then the preference for your potential will be realized.

You prefer potential in things and in others. Now hold yourself to the same standard! 

Thanks for reading. John

 


Sculpting your Career and your Purpose

Great art is mesmerizing. It boggles the mind how the artist converted the idea of the art into the physical manifestation. We can dream great thoughts and ideas, but it is not easy to make them happen. 

While I would never count myself amongst the artistic community, I believe I must create. My mother taught me that "art" is within me and that I must learn to free it from my own self imposed limitations--like a sculpture that needs to be freed from the granite. I have ideas and inner desires that I want to experience, express and execute. Not fantasies but thoughts about my life and how to give meaning to it. We all struggle with this pent up or hidden potential to contribute our uniqueness to our community and our worlds. Some may say we have little to give and others have a sea of molten potential that needs to be delivered to generate new islands of creativity. Some think this is the province of the young and the restless. Others believe they do not have the gene to express. That youth and the "talented" are the only harbors of inspiration and invention. But we know that neither age or stage have anything to do with inner potential. That each us has a unique set of gifts, that we know, secretly covet and or yearn to discover.

I always have to remind myself that my mom decided to "become" an artist at age 49! And the nearly 1400 originals that have flowed since are proof of the talent within.

In my encounters with many, very diverse people--current students to retirees. I see and hear about these dormant, latent, and subordinated ideas and desires. The unexpressed wishes of a person within a person. Sometimes this is a discovery of joy that liberates the person. And other times it is a confession of simmering regret. Not a fully formed regret but an emerging and growing regret. 

I see these shared ideas and desires as sculptures within the person. We all have a gallery of them. Sculptures that represent the person we want to be --the experiences we long for--things we have always wanted to express--creations we want to create. Some of these sculptures are fully formed, honed and smooth. They are completed and beautiful. Others are still locked inside of the stones. And some are half done works that continue to emerge through our work and inspiration.  Michelangelo

We learn that life, like this gallery, is never done. It is a labor of infinity. But our satisfaction, fulfillment, and ultimate sense of purpose is defined by the attention and work we put into each of these sculptures. How we tend to these sculptures and the concepts of these sculptures matters. Our habits and ability to overcome our excuses and internal resistance are the keys to advancing our works of art.

I love what Amy Hoy wrote about blacksmith students and startups:
 People are obsessed with “expressing themselves” instead of following the brief (the job specification). They waste precious time in “creative” noodling instead of actually getting shit done. Others indulge themselves in childish boredom and rebellion when it comes to the repetition of early stages of learning, instead of committing to the basics with all their hearts.
Several more wield perfectionism as a weapon against their own achievement… a weapon, and an excuse. Several show a great deal of self-importance, unwarranted — they talk themselves up, they expect they’ll win, they treat the advice of the master as irrelevant, or they crumble at the slightest criticism. Others engage in bitter self-denigration, unwarranted — fatalistically wailing, “I’ll never be able to do this,” when experiencing the simplest of setbacks. They want to throw in the towel at the first bump. And the second. And the third. Finally, and perhaps most fatally, many of the students seem to have zero patience whatsoever. They expect to jump straight to results, straight to the fun stuff — the creative stuff. They don’t want to put in their dues. They think they’re special. So they stamp their foot petulantly when their shortcuts fail. These people claim to want to master a craft, but they resist the very nature of “craftsmanship.

Sculpting is hard work that requires a chisel and hammer. It takes courage to swing the hammer. And lots of persistence. It is from this hard labor that you discover who you are and what you want. Yes you set a goal but the work defines where you are going. Sparks fly from the hammer and chisel. Sparks of passion where you lose yourself to find yourself. I have learned that when you surrender to the process, letting go of control, you gain a sense of yourself and more control of your life--and of your art.  Hammer-and-chisel

Let's sculpt more and dream less. Let's engage the mind and our heart in the work that interests us and care about. Let's engage the people around us in helping us sculpt and become. We can never do it alone. And it is never too late. Let's stop wasting time neglecting our art within us. Your gallery awaits.

You need the sculptures, we need your sculptures. 
Thanks for reading. John

 


Connecting the Dots

Steve Jobs lived a life of great trials and tribulations, great victories and achievements.

He pursued his passions and his curiosities, not because it was part of a plan. Because it fascinated him. He found work he loved which he never considered work. He met people, had ideas, and pursued thoughts, not in an effort to reach a goal. He connected dots that made sense only in hindsight.Dots

Here's what he said: "You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life."

  

Even if you have watched this before, watch it again! It is so inspirational particularly that we have lost him.

Steve Jobs has been likened to Thomas Edison, but I have always thought of him as a combination of Bill Gates and Steven Spielberg. He was no angel, few geniuses are. But a true visionary. Never had the opportunity to meet him but like most of us I admired his insatiable creativity and pursuit of excellence.

Think for a second that his seemingly innocuous logo symbol –Apple with a bite missing—is the forbidden fruit. He always pushed himself beyond the garden of eden. After all one of his daughters was named Eve!

His story is an American fairy tale of the emergence of greatness from humble and “average” beginnings. Those of us who have been around lots of kids, if you look carefully, you can see the genius in each one of them. The genius of uniqueness and of their unfettered spirit of the possibilities. The DNA cocktail is powerful and if it is allowed to take root and grow, amazing happens. But all too often we try to conform and guide our kids to follow a formula, often the parents vicarious recipe, for success. We want the kids to fit in. Yet we simultaneously hold a contradictory thought---we believe each individual is unique and special. Why then do we try and smooth out all of the wrinkles, remove all of the weird, and push and pull our young ones into a regimented line?

I contend we lose a Steve Jobs like kid everyday to our well intentioned desire to make all of the unique birds fly in formation.

I am an addict for vision. For the people who can lift their sights from their footsteps, up to the horizon and beyond. It is not that I do not value the past or the present, but I have long understood that being satisfied with the status quo is foolhardy. That life is an endless journey about improving our lot and the lots of those that follow. In that vein, people who are restless and unsettled about the current world, yearn for the next iterations. Steve Jobs was relentless and never satisfied—that’s the way visionaries are.

We each have visions for our future, for our families future and for our sociiety. We need those visions.

One of his greatest lessons is his view of life as connecting dots. Life is the pursuit of things and people that fascinate you, that capture your imagination, that drive your curiosity and passion--with no guarantees. These are the dots that you should connect. But instead of myopically accumulating dots with a plan. Like a bad scavenger hunt, you collect interesting dots that connect you to new ideas about yourself and the possibilities.

If you can not make sense of the people and experiences you encounter except through hindsight, then how do you know if you are doing it “right”? A better question is, how can you reject the opportunity to meet someone or to experience something if you won’t know the value until later?

Actually that is what this little blog is about. Trusting yourself to take chances and to make leaps of faith. A lifestyle of connections not driven by selfish needs but a lifestyle of making connections to help people and to discover the world. A world that will teach us about ourselves by trusting our guts and our hearts to become the best of who we were meant to be.

Thanks for reading. John

 


A network of friction: The human particle accelerator

Traction is gained when points of friction – even small ones – push off against one another and enable movement. Until there are two opposable surfaces, there will be no traction. Our goal in developing an action plan is to place strategic points of friction in our life so that we are gaining traction on a regular basis.  Todd Henry (Accidental Creative)

Traction comes from friction. And friction comes from differences. People talk about oil/water or black/white or positives/negatives. We all know you need to mix these ingredients in reality to produce necessary and important nuances, shades, and indeed solutions in our lives. This is the crucible of art and science. Of invention and true creativity. The collision of opposites in the super collider/particle accelerator of life generates new paradigms and ideas that advance our thinking and our perspectives. Without these collisions and encounters ideas become isolated and insulated. Cooking would be utterly boring. Art would be bland. We would all be clones. Life would be predictable and dull.Particle accelerator

Over the last 40 years, scientists have been accelerating atoms and atomic components at super high speeds to reveal new components, understand space and time dynamics, develop new sources of light and energy.

A particle accelerator[1] is a device that uses electromagnetic fields to propel charged particles to high speeds and to contain them in well-defined beams.

We all want to accelerate our goals into more well-defined beams, don't we?

I know some of you want predictability, at least you think you do. Others say they also want stability. You really don't, but you say you do. Besides being distracting and self deceptive, it delays reality--the reality of what you REALLY want. What you really want is an inner feeling of engagement of your talent and your potential. Challenges, chances and opportunities. A sense of purpose and meaning. These require changes and dare I say, instability and unpredictability.

Traction requires friction-- not controversy, anger, and animus, but tactile and intellectual differences to push up against one another. That creative tension between perspectives that yields a different thought or point of view to  advance. To move forward whatever that means to you. A feeling of uneasiness that makes you uncomfortable because it rings true. The truth about your deep dissatisfaction with the status quo. 

But what are the sources of productive and creative friction, besides our inner gnawing desire to reach our potential?

Isolation is your problem, not your lousy attitude.  Barbara Sher

It's time to question your network, your sources of support and inspiration. Often your current kitchen cabinet, also accepts you as you are. Apparently, many of them think the status quo is fine. Or maybe you are fortunate and you have a friction network that pushes and pulls you to be your best. Not dissatisfaction with who you are but who you could be--and want to be.

For me and my experiences, you have to seek differences, new ideas, and different points of view through the people you meet, confide in, and learn from. You build your own human particle accelerator/collider of friction that literally forces you to confront yourself in a collision of expectations and perceptions. Re-investing in your network, by assessing your current network, by going to people you know (but don't know), and by seeking new vantage points, will ultimately pay off in opportunity dividends. It will be people you know and meet who will help transform you and give you traction. You can not do it alone. If the status quo is satisfying, then enjoy it. If it isn't, then make a concerted effort to diversify and expand your portfolio of advisers.

Just learned from my cousin that this speech I gave was posted online. It describes part of my particle accelerator/collider network that created friction in my life that continues to propel me forward. The human source of the traction, chances and opportunities I have been fortunate to encounter and take.

 

John Kobara Honored by Coro from Edward Headington on Vimeo.

Thanks for reading. John