I vant to be alone… at work

Sorry to channel my inner Greta Garbo, but it’s true. At least it’s true for the office, most of the time.

Image result for i want to be alone greta garbo

I work in one of those “open office” environments that companies love to tout these days… even though they don’t work for things like, oh, doing actual work! They’re supposed to promote collaboration but really they just promote confabulation. They’re supposed to foster innovation but are better at creating interruption.

Last year, a survey by enterprise software strategist William Belk found that 58 percent of high-performance employees say they need more private spaces for problem solving, and 54 percent of HPEs say their office environment is “too distracting.” The survey netted 700 respondents from a broad swath of industries.

In 2013, researchers from the University of Sydney examined the “privacy-communication trade-off in open-plan offices” and found that the benefits of easy communication that are intended to go along with open-plan offices don’t outweigh the drawbacks, such as a huge lack of privacy.

And, psychologist Nick Perham found that office noise impairs workers’ ability to recall information and even do basic arithmetic.

Source: this Chicago Tribune article from 2018. You can also check out this Washington Post article, and this one from Inc.

I’m a music lover, so my headphones save the day nearly every day. But my company also has not one, but two forms of instant messaging apps active right now. And I despise them… they are the biggest interruptors of “flow” ever created, and I’m a flow guy to my core. (Learn more about flow, also known as being “in the zone” in the TED talk below.)

The book It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson (co-founders of Basecamp) , is my new bible. I love what they have to say about chat apps.

“Yet another thing that asks for your continuous partial attention all day on the premise that you can’t miss out.”

While they admit that there are times when chat is handy, overall it typically makes it way too easy for someone to interrupt a colleague:

“But it’s terrrible when that one expert is fielding their fifth random question of the day and suddenly the day is done.

The person with the question needed something and got it. The person with the answer was doing something else and had to stop. That’s rarely a fair trade.”

Amen, Brother Jason and Brother David! Finally someone who understands where I’m coming from on this topic, and doesn’t think that I’m just being a stubborn old man in the face of change. (I’m still a stubborn old man, but we all need alone time to do our best work.)

The entire book is great for:

A. pointing out the many reasons why the current norms for the “crazy” corporate world need a major overhaul AND

B. offering much calmer alternatives.

It’s highly recommended.

It doesn't have to be crazy at work

And since we started with a Greta Garbo reference, we should end with one… from The Kinks!

There are no second acts in American lives

I spent some time crate-digging over the weekend, looking through the albums at the thrift shops near my house. (Yes, thrift shops – plural – we live in a classy neighborhood!) Two albums from 70s pop idols caught my eye.

Donny Osmond and David Cassidy… it doesn’t get any more 70s than that. No, I did NOT purchase them! Mainly because I don’t care for bubblegum pop… and also because the Donny album cover seems a bit too, shall we say, pedophile?

But those album covers gave me a chance to contemplate a few things:

  1. Why am I spending weekends in thrift shops?
  2. Why is Donny’s album twice the price of David’s?
  3. What’s the price of fame?

Donny and David had a lot in common. Hit songs, hit TV shows, multiple TigerBeat covers, huge fan clubs… and amazing hairstyles. But they wound up on different paths. Donny fell off the pop culture radar for most of the 80s, but has had top 10 songs since then, done musical theater, hosted TV game shows and syndicated radio shows, won a season of Dancing with the Stars, and has been appearing in Vegas (where else?) with his sister Marie since 2008.

https://twitter.com/i/status/1088191265148006400

David Cassidy‘s post-teen-idol path was a bit rockier. He had modest Top 40 success after the Partridge Family, dabbled in musical theater and acting… and had the requisite reality TV appearance (Celebrity Apprentice, 2011). He also had multiple drunk driving charges from 2010 on, filed for bankruptcy in 2015, and died of liver failure (due to alcoholism) in 2017.

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote “there are no second acts in American lives.” In Donny’s case, he was wrong. In David’s, he was correct. Fame is fleeting, and it can extract a heavy toll from your life. Gaining fame is great fun… but losing it isn’t.

Some are born to move the world
To live their fantasies
But most of us just dream about
The things we’d like to be

Sadder still to watch it die
Than never to have known it
For you, the blind who once could see
The bell tolls for thee….

When it’s time to change…

Our youngest child is 13 and a half… and his voice is starting to crack. Of course, the first thought that springs to mind for someone my age is the Brady Bunch episode where Peter’s voice was changing.

But then when I clear the TV Land cobwebs from my puny brain (it takes roughly three hours to lose that stupid little Sha-na-na-n-na-na-n-na-na… sha-na-na-na-na! riff), I realize that our youngest child… our baby boy!… is leaving childhood behind.

That makes me sad, because if he’s moving to another phase, that means I am too. The phase where parents aren’t needed as much. We’re becoming accessories rather than necessities. Heck, we already have a kid in college (and another who will be there by August), two teenage drivers and another with her temps… They can fend for themselves. They’ve been off school for the past three days thanks to frigid temperatures and snow — and they probably didn’t even notice their old man was gone.

I’m not ready to be an empty nester just yet. In fact, the “failure to launch” concept is starting to sound appealing.

I know change is inevitable.

But that doesn’t make it enjoyable. At least not for parents.

Here’s to the misfits

We are not here to fit in, be well balanced, or provide exempla for others. We are here to be eccentric, different, perhaps strange, perhaps merely to add our small piece, our little clunky, chunky selves, to the great mosaic of being. As the gods intended, we are here to become more and more ourselves.

James Hollis, author and Jungian analyst

The cost of convenience

Earlier this week, we were running low on bath tissue.

(OK, OK, let’s just call it toilet paper because that’s what it is. “Bath tissue” is just a marketing ploy. Much like “Chilean sea bass” was invented to put a more palatable spin on the real name of that species: Patagonian toothfish.)

We’re always running low on peanut butter, too, thanks to our teenagers and their protein shakes.

So instead of driving the three measly blocks to the grocery store, I ordered a four large packages of both TP and PB online. Sounds great in theory – who really wants to go to the store to hand pick their TP? (Other than bogus 70s housewives and Mr. Whipple, of course.)

But then the packaging showed up on our doorstep. Two different shipments, on two different days, in giant cardboard boxes, and for some reason the packers felt it necessary to “cushion” the TP with a mile of those plastic air bubbles. Seriously, I thought it was a costume for a Chinese New Year parade:

Each giant plastic jar of peanut butter was also hermetically sealed in a plastic bag. I guess to prevent “leakage”… or “oozing” in the case of peanut butter. It seemed completely unnecessary. I’m sure anyone who orders online has also experienced the “giant box for one tiny item” phenomenon. That’s a lot of cardboard wasted. Delivery is usually by diesel trucks, which pollute more than passenger cars. My order came from a warehouse, which is certainly farther away than the three-block distance to my store. And the truck probably wasn’t completely full because of the haste required to meet the arbitrary two-day shipping deadline. Not to mention the fact that my home delivery won’t replace a trip to the store… it’s just in addition to those jaunts. That means more vehicles on the road spewing pollution.

Here’s a nice article that sums up the environmental challenges of home shipping. Here’s a video too:

Then there’s this article about how all this shipping can wreak havoc on the labor market and infrastructure.

So I’m going to choose “no hurry” shipping when I have to order online, and go back to the old-school way as much as possible – it feels more earth-friendly. Especially if I ride my bicycle.

A 10-second seminar on wealth management


True wealth is not measured in money or status or power. It is measured in the legacy we leave behind for those we love and those we inspire.

— César Chávez

Someone super behind the hoopsters

It’s been a tough season so far for Xavier basketball, but the fact that fans can be “disappointed” with a middling season in the Big East shows just how far the program has come over the past two decades. A lot of credit for that growth goes to a man who never played a minute for the team. Dr. Bill Daily was a Xavier grad who returned to teach, and he was passionate about hoops. The university had dropped football in the early 70s to cut costs, and in the late 70s the basketball program was in a similar predicament.

“(Daily) was the single voice to say that this basketball thing is really an important piece of what a University is really all about. He convinced them to make a commitment and spend the resources and he chaired the search committee to get Bob Staak.” 

Gary Massa, former XU basketball player (Class of ’81) and current VP of University Relations

Bob Staak helped turn the program around in the early 80s (which coincided with my time at Xavier, btw… merely a coincidence, of course). The teams got better, and the program got bigger – moving from the Midwestern City Conference to the Atlantic 10 to the Big East, and moving from the ancient fieldhouse to the Cincinnati Gardens to the state-of-the-art Cintas Center on campus.


“Dr. Daily was the beginning of an unprecedented run if you go back … he had the wherewithal and the vision to see what basketball could be.” 

Gary Massa

Dr. Daily passed away last month at the age of 83. If being a “founding father” of the Xavier basketball program were all that Dr. Daily accomplished, his life would be considered a rousing success. But that merely scratches the surface of his influence on lives. Dr. Daily had six kids, and I know his daughter Maria well from our days at Xavier.

 “He really felt his purpose in life was to make sure that everybody knew they were important and they were loved.” 

Maria Dickman, daughter

From this Cincinnati Enquirer article: He continued to learn and participate in a variety of adventures like the Urban Youth Academic Service Learning Experience in Over-the-Rhine, where he lived with and taught Xavier students in a house adjacent to Washington Park for multiple semesters. He started out teaching in the education department and eventually became chair of the communication arts department. 

He sought every opportunity to help people which led him to become co-founder of the E Pluribus Unum program at Xavier, which helped students learn about diversity in today’s society. 

He also received another degree in pastoral counseling from the Athenaeum of Ohio. He went on retreats to Gethsemani and was an associate at the Sisters of St. Francis convent in Oldenburg, Indiana. He took mission trips to Nicaragua, El Salvador and Ghana.

“That’s kind of what dad’s mission in life was. He wasn’t out to get the credit, he just wanted to make sure things got done.” 

Mary Beth Bruns, daughter

Nice job, Doc. The entire Xavier community owes you a deep debt of gratitude.

(Please read the entire article about Dr. Daily. This post doesn’t do him justice.)

Thought of the day… for every day

Or as the kids like to say: 

Have an eccentric, different, perhaps strange day! 

Love and loss… and more love

My friend Mike Argadine made me cry yesterday. (And today too, for that matter.) He sent me a link to the video below. It’s a song by the band Frightened Rabbit, as done by fans.

Frightened Rabbit wasn’t a global sensation, but they were big enough to have thousands of avid followers all over the world, and released several albums. They didn’t have any casual fans – if you were into them, you were cuckoo, head-over-heels, abso-tively posi-lutely in love with them. Their songs were burned into your brain, etched into your heart and seared into your soul. There was a lot of darkness in the music— with titles like “The Modern Leper” and “Swim Until You Can’t See Land” — but those songs resonated, they were cathartic, and they helped us make sense of an often-senseless world.

Frightened Rabbit’s lead singer and main songwriter Scott Hutchison took his own life in May, when the demons of depression and anxiety that he battled daily for 36 years overcame his better angels.

We mourn the loss. We miss Scott dearly. But his music will carry on… and carry us with it.

When it’s all gone
Something carries on
And it’s not morbid at all
Just that nature’s had enough of you

When my blood stops
Someone else’s will thaw
When my head rolls off
Someone else’s will turn
And while I’m alive, I’ll make tiny changes to earth

 

“Be so good to everyone you love” was one of Scott’s last tweets before he left us. It’s up to us to honor that request, and make tiny changes to Earth.

Batteries not included

Before you go out and buy that electronic doorbuster special for the wee ones on your holiday shopping list, you might want to consider these two posts:

First, there’s this old article from an ex-Googler, about how websites and apps are hijacking our minds:

…this is exactly what product designers do to your mind. They play your psychological vulnerabilities (consciously and unconsciously) against you in the race to grab your attention.

But here’s the unfortunate truth — several billion people have a slot machine their pocket:

  • When we pull our phone out of our pocket, we’re playing a slot machine to see what notifications we got.
  • When we pull to refresh our email, we’re playing a slot machine to see what new email we got.
  • When we swipe down our finger to scroll the Instagram feed, we’re playing a slot machine to see what photo comes next.
  • When we swipe faces left/right on dating apps like Tinder, we’re playing a slot machine to see if we got a match.
  • When we tap the # of red notifications, we’re playing a slot machine to what’s underneath.

Second, there’s this recent post from the always-brilliant Seth Godin:

If a parent uses a tablet or a smartphone as a babysitter, it’s a lot easier to get a kid to sit still. As a result, parents who are busy, distracted or can’t afford to spend as much 1:1 time as they’d like are unknowingly encouraging their kids to become digital zombies, with a constant need for stimulation, who are being manipulated by digital overlords to click and click some more.

If a kid can’t read, it’s not clear he should be surfing the web, watching TV or playing a video game for hours a day.

Boredom, daydreaming, a good book, building in three dimensions, interactivity with other humans–these are precious skills, skills that are being denied kids that are simply given a plate of chicken fingers and a tablet instead.

Tell the tablet and phone makers to take a hike. And take your kids on a hike instead!