It’s not often that my mind is blown, but the week started off with quantum mechanics and then I was in recovery mode for the week! but I’ll get to that in a second. During the normal working-week I’ve been gliding to the office on the dulcet tones of the classic children’s book Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham, some of the most effusive, happy descriptions of nature I’ve ever heard in my life. What a wonderful, wonderful book, and a lovely narration from libravox (and free too!). To get the cognitive juices flowing (because quantum mechanics isn’t enough), I’ve picked up Edward DeBono’s Lateral Thinking which is, as you can imagine, a different approach: in modern terms it’s generating as many ideas as possible, something in the corporate world they refer to as ‘ideation’ – idea generation. As opposed to vertical thinking where one reasons a good idea, and methodically and systematically improves on said idea, lateral thinking doesn’t mind going down blind alleys, as that wrong turn could generate a better outcome than purely singular thinking. I’m only halfway through but enjoying it.
With my reading time a little limited as work has ramped up on the last week to Christmas – holy monkeys, it’s Christmas! – I listened to the excellent TED Talk on quantum computing by Craig Costello, a researcher in cryptography for Microsoft. And then things got complicated. The fundamentals I think are this: codebreaking at the moment basically tries every combination possible to find the one successful to allow access. It’s a problem of concurrency i.e. we need to tackle one problem at a time. This is the example that I’ve come up with that helps me: if you knew that knocking on a door required anything between one and a million knocks to gain access, you’d start with knocking once. No answer. Knock twice. No Answer. Knock three times . . . you get the picture. You’d be there for some time, but you’d get the right answer eventually along with some sore knuckles and annoyed neighbours.
And then quantum mechanics ‘arrived’, and things don’t quite work at the same level as the rest of the physical universe – The Avengers were right! Well, to a degree, anyway. In the quantum realm, two objects can influence each other instantaneously despite being apart, which is called quantum entanglement. Then there’s the idea of quantum superposition, where a particle can exist in two places at the same time. As Craig Costello pointed out, protons can spin clockwise and anti-clockwise at the same time. To explain further, there is an excellent article from the New Scientist from 2015. But the basics is the idea of instantaneous and multiple existences.
Apart from being odd, why does this matter? Well, it means that instead of tackling one problem at a time, you can tackle all problems at the same time. Take the knocking on the door analogy again. If you knew that one combination of that one to a million knocks would let you in, at the quantum level you could just knock with million hands super-fast. So, when you relate this back to code-breaking, all the things that currently protect your email accounts, bank details, companies and governments, could receive a battering ram of hackers trying to access information. You know in movies where the bad guys access personal accounts and it slowly disintegrates down to zero as the money is wired to Zurich? Yeah, think that. In the words of Russel Crowe in Gladiator, ‘are you not entertained?!
It’s rare that I consent to watching television but I was drawn recently to a Bill Gates documentary on Netflix, Inside Bill’s Brain. Note – I did wonder whether streaming is actually television per say, but since ‘tele’ come from being far or distant in Greek, transmitting from afar, such as telegraph, streaming is television after all! So yes, I watched television. Don’t judge me!
There were three outstanding items from the documentary: the first was Bill’s sanitation project, taking normal everyday poop and turning it into drinkable water and combustible fuel; the second was solving the world’s energy crises via redesigning nuclear reactors using spent nuclear waste as the powering source; and the final item was simply on his reading fanaticism. I try to read, God know I wear my finger out, but there are books that just take time. Having just finished Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything in about two weeks (not reading constantly, you understand – am not that slow!), I generally went though a few chapters an hour. Bill Gates reads at an alarming 150 pages an hour, and imbibes every ounce of it. Bastard!
My pettiness aside (really, one hundred and fifty pages, come on!!) those two pet-projects of his could save hundreds of millions of lives per year – this without going into the eradication of polio which he and his wife, Melinda, have championed for years. In air-lifting/building a communal toilet to the most impoverished parts of the world and providing clean water as a by-product is simply astounding, ironically vastly improving the odds of almost 2 billion people that use a drinking water source contaminated with faeces, leading to dysentery, cholera, typhoid et cetera. Dysentery alone kills 140m people a year! Chuck in a few bars of soap as per a previous post on the Checklist Manifesto, and The Gates’ are single-handedly saving the human race (for which the planet may not thank him). Nuclear power on the other hand is a heavy topic, primarily because so many people have seen the repercussions of when it goes wrong. There are 450 in operation worldwide, but a single error such as Chernobyl or Fukishima results in unmitigated disaster. Interestingly there are none in Australia. What Bill saw was the necessity for a design re-vamp, which he and his team duly undertook. The result, if it works, is something that could change the entire perception of nuclear power worldwide. Speaking to a friend about it, he referred to is as a thorium reactor, and you can read more about it here in the Business Insider. I’m not a guru in business enough to know if Bill and Melinda Gates back turkeys often, but if Bill believes in it, and the eminent Warren Buffet backs Bill, then it’s worth keeping an eye on TerraPower.
It's heartening that after conquering the technological world, having more wealth than Croesus and being able to achieve anything Melinda and Bill want to do, they choose philanthropy. Giving something back.
You can read more about Bill Gates and his many projects at his blog gatesnotes.com.
In the last few weeks I’ve been ruminating a lot on what makes a leader, what inspires people to come to work, why they do what they do. More and more I see managers around me, not leaders. There is only one way to lead, and it’s as simple and elegant, yet probably the hardest at the same time: you lead by example.
In my current team I have constantly seen team members leave the country to spend time with their family abroad, taking their laptop with them and worked remotely. Everyone has complete trust in that person to do their job wherever they may be. Whilst my company aren’t doing anything ground-breaking in my point of view, I know there are many, many companies (I think the technical term is a “fu**tonne” of companies) that do not have that trust. I find this bewildering. Additionally, a friend recently commented that in the numerous companies she has worked for, not once has she been told to go home and rest or work from home when she had a cold. This seems utterly non-sensical! Every doctor in the known universe, and a vast majority in the unknown universe, prescribes two things for a cold: rest and lots of fluids. None of them prescribe work or spreading your germs around the office.
I understand that sometimes work just needs to be completed. An imminent deadline, perhaps. Barring that, the only way that a person can return to their full, productive capacity is by resting. If they come to work, not only are they not resting (unless resting is their job, like a sloth, which sounds terrific!) but the are likely to spread their cold to other team members, meaning that more people will get sick, resulting in further loss of productivity. All of a sudden you have an epidemic, with no one being able to work at their full capacity. It makes human and business sense to send your sick home to recover. So, as winter approaches in the northern hemisphere, make sure those with colds and flu don’t spread their germs at the office - that’s not what the season of giving is about! Press your manager to adopt some flexibility . . . you know, make them spend time with their families, that’s the punishment they deserve!
Ever find yourself struggling with anxiety or depression? Try beyondblue, they're a charity that provide numerous links and resources, including forums where you can post to anonymously to ask questions fr others that have been through similar ordeals or simply chat.
Have an awesome week, take care of yourself!
Quote to think on . . .
“Our roles as leaders is to create cultures where people give all they have, simply for the reason that they love where they the work” Simon Sinek, Leaders Eat Last.
Book I'm reading . . .
God is Not Great (How religion Poisons Everything) by Christopher Hitchens
It’s been a long time (about eleven hours) during Richard Banson’s Business Stripped Bare audiobook that we hit on the good stuff. There was a lot of tawdry bits about cassette singles in the 80’s being £1.84 and the tactics of BA against Virgin Airways, but finally in Chapter 7 hit on philanthropy, battling for a cause greater than yourself. To quote a Greek proverb, a society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they will never see. In this final chapter Branson talks of his real passions: battling climate change; meeting Melinda and Bill Gates; stopping AIDS; his friendship with Madiba, Nelson Mandela; and the start of The Elders, a group of extraordinary independent global leaders working together for peace and human rights. You can find out more about them here but to quote the ex-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan:
On the weekend I read the inspiring story of Anh Do, an Australian comedian that escaped from the atrocities of Vietnam along with most of his family thanks to the bravery of his parents. Throughout the book there is reference to a simply terrific quotation by his father, ‘there’s only two times in life, there’s now, and there’s too late.’ With climate change looking to disrupt our way of life, with politicians actively already disrupting it, perhaps V for Vendetta is becoming more appealing.
To credit Branson, he introduced me to this lovely tale from Loren C Eisely which is setting off fireworks of thoughts, making a difference no matter how small. Have an amazing week!
One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a girl picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean. Approaching the girl, he asked, “What are you doing?” The youth replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.” The man said, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make a difference!”
After listening politely, the girl bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, she said… “I made a difference for that one.”
I love retreating to the country, a little solace, verdance and sunshine, yet there’s a special place in hell for Australia’s flies. I can understand one of these bastard insects searching for moisture from beads of sweat, snatching a cool libation, yet delving into the ears, really? Why are they so obsessed with ears? Not just near the ears, that annoying buzz flitting around and making the hair on your neck rise to attention and your spine squiggle like an eel, but deep into the ear canal. Last evening, one flew head on straight in and out again (the same ear, not out the other side), creating a god-awful din as it went, effectively playing the drums as it thrashed around in there. Then there’s the corner of the eyes, flies capitalising on the tears of frustration, and then there’s the nose! Not just under the nose, at the philtrum, or landing on the tip of the nose, but into the nose, searching right up in the naval cavity for entertainment. What can possibly be so enticing that any insect would think, ‘that looks interesting, gonna get my feet wet up there! Ohhhh yesss, here I come!’ And if it isn’t the flies . . .
A few weeks ago, my friend that owns the property where I’m currently staying sent me a picture of a snake. Now, I don’t know much about snakes, other than Australia has a significant number of nasties. This one in particular was curled around itself and looked all kinds of dangerous. It was in fact a red-bellied black. Although extremely venomous, this metre-long beastie endemic to Australia isn’t aggressive unless provoked, which to me pretty much describes anything in the universe. The gorilla was perfectly placid until he ripped the arm’s off the man for hiding a banana. In this case, they managed to relocate the snake, pacifying it with a broom and a pillowcase . . . I don’t know, I wasn’t there, but I’m assured by my friend this was standard protocol. Last time I’d stayed at the house, I woke up one morning to see a huntsman crawl out of the bed I was sleeping in. Now, these don’t bite humans, often – well, they don’t bite me, because I’m about ten feet away usually – but are scarily large enough to put one into a coma of fright. Call me crazy, but I think I’ll take the flies.
November has become quite an important month for two significant events: Remembrance Day, also known as Armistice Day; and secondly for Movember, growing a silly moustache for a very important cause. But I’ve probably been asked more this year than ever within this multi-cultural, youthful society in which we live, what the hell both are about.
This year my mum, in getting back into knitting after making a shit-tonne (think that’s the technical term) of small owls to help raise funds for the local owl sanctuary that they also sponsor, has also knitted a few poppies to raise money for the British Legion. For those that aren’t familiar with Remembrance Day, it takes place on 11th November each year, with two minutes of silence at 11am. In the UK, all radio programs stop and play nothing but air for the duration. The date signifies the signing of the armistice for the First World War, guns finally ceasing at the eleventh day on the eleventh month on the eleventh hour in 1918. As for the poppy, these are the flowers growing in Flanders Fields, Belgium, where some of the bloodiest battles took place. The slogan in Australia is, ‘Lest We Forget’, and the poppy is worn to honour those that gave their lives so that we can live. Fortunately for me, both my Grandfather and Great-Grandfather fought in and survived the second world war and first world war respectively.
As for Movember, this is the third year I’ve taken part. If you’re new to Movember, it’s a leading men’s health charity, funding more than 1,250 men’s health projects around the world, challenging the status quo, shaking up men’s health research and transforming the way health services reach and support men. Some knock your socks off statistics - globally, every minute, a man dies by suicide. Our fathers, brothers, sons and friends. In Australia, 75% of suicides are men. That’s balmy! We simply don’t speak about our problems enough. If you’d like to contribute to a great cause, it’ll only take a mo-ment, please check out the donation page here. It’s not all about the mo-ney, but any funds you choose to donate for Movember go towards research in prostate cancer, testicular cancer, mental health and suicide prevention.
What I’m reading: I’ve just finished Simon Sinek’s Leaders Eat Last, and have picked up God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens and The Rum Diary by Hunter S Thompson. I’m flirting with Dickens’ David Copperfield but just can’t quite muster the enthusiasm for Dickens!
What I’m listening to: Virgin’s Richard Branson’s Business Laid Bare on audiobook at 150% speed (hark at me!) and some Lamb of God to spice up my morning when I’m tired.
No one needs to feel like a blancmange in suit. Or just a blancmange, really (useless and wobbly - ask the English rugby team, arf!). Two half-hour sessions at the gym a week have done me the world of good – regardless of outward improvement, I feel better. It’s hard to lead by example when you don’t feel like you can, and this mental and physical strengthening has helped bring out my psychological sunshine. This week, I was even feeling positive about a two-day workshop.
There are few times I have been optimistic at workshops: organisers fail to prepare adequately; ideal outcomes are ethereal; and we fumble through presentations hoping for the apocalypse. Or a tea break. Post session, everyone agrees that the core message could have been attained in two hours. Oh, and if you can kindly catch up on two-days of missed work in your spare time, that’d be brilliant. Yet as I approached this session focusing on Culture Uplift, I was extremely positive: the company hired professionals to run it and hand-chose it’s attendees. Additionally, the people that opened the address had power within the organisation to effect changes. They had invested, and so had I.
So . . . what the hell is culture, anyway? In an indigenous awareness session years ago, we were asked exactly that: music; art; stories; history; language; food; family; customs; religion all came up. I think it’s what binds us together as social animals, which may relate to that basic hormonal needs of serotonin (well-being and happiness) and oxytocin (feeling of love or social bonding). We fundamentally need to form a cohesive bond of implicit trust and togetherness. Without that within your workplace or personal life, you’re dead in the water.
The workshop included knowledge from Carolyn Taylor, a new name to me, and her tome Walk The Talk (now added to the reading list) and referenced one of my favourite speakers, Simon Sinek. In this case, it prompted me to steal back a book I bought as a gift, Together is Better. A small book of optimism and leadership, it’s an absolute cracker. I also purchased another of his, Leaders Eat Last, and am half-way through. The trick to these books is that they are so accessible: nothing in them is new, per say. We’ve just become so estranged to what good looks like, we think being led by profit mongering bastards is the norm. It can be better.
It’s an extremely difficult task to improve culture when you’ve just let go of thousands of people in huge batches of redundancies, although a might bloody harder doing it before you let them go one would imagine. But I admire the effort and purpose. As with the gym, leadership and cultural muscles take time to build, so it will be an interesting journey. I got sunshine in my pocket, people!
There’s an advert currently that focuses on an every-day, good-looking, well-kempt man i.e. not you, walking in the busy yet silent streets. How can this be, when simple minded viewers (this is you) can see speeding cars and people talking all around him? Because this man, dear pleb, is wearing the new noise-cancelling X1860JFW6573829-P headphones. Imagine, listening to all that silence! However, for almost the same price as those headphones, you could fly to Japan and experience all that silence for yourself.
Tokyo, a vast metropolis of fourteen million peoples living in quiet process harmony, was for a long time an itch that needed a ruddy good seeing to. Flying there on my way to the UK from Australia may well have been a long route, but absolutely worth it, although perhaps for not all the usual reasons. You see, it’s not much of a seeing place. Sydney is blessed with a glorious harbour and Opera House, Paris has its Eiffel, Barcelona it’s Gaudi, New York it’s lady justice, Tokyo it’s . . . well, you see? It doesn’t have a single monument of intrigue, but it’s a joy by a thousand niceties.
There are of course shopping centres galore, the just-about-recognisable Tokyo Tower, the famous Shibuya Crossing (ok, ok, one icon!), gaming and gadget districts, monolithic government buildings, ancient wooden Buddhist temples, manicured beautiful gardens, and a plethora of bars and restaurants illuminated by all-action dancing neon. So far, so normal. Yet it’s the little things that bewitch into finding Tokyo truly fascinating. The tiny one-chef, one waiter restaurants that specialise in only a few outstanding dishes resulting in a steady stream of clientele; the humungous underground and overground train network spanning the city making London seem like child’s scribble; the constant cycling and walking by the older generation to keep themselves trim; the adherence to cleanliness and calmness like it’s a religion; the respect given to every other human being through kindness and a welcome greeting; the quietness of children (yes, you read that correctly) and adults alike; the sheer number of people that you can squeeze on a train carriage without even a murmur of alarm; the handing out of face-towels when riding the bullet-trains to ease you into your journey (first class, I’m posh!); the fact they even have bullet trains at all, and they run on time too. It’s not so much of a seeing city, but a doing city. A city what does.
To illustrate, here’s a quick list of Japanese tech and engineering companies: Toyota, Subaru, Suzuki, Honda, Kawasaki, Mazda, Hino, Yamaha, Mitsubishi, Lexus, Nissan, Daihatsu, Sanyo, Sony, Panasonic, Toshiba, Olympus, Nikon, Canon, Sharp, Kodak, Hitachi, Fuji, Fujitsu, Nintendo, Sega, Bridgestone and Yokohama. That’s . . . that’s a lot for several countries let alone one. There is an all-pervading confidence and calm about Japan, and the ability to simply get things done.
There’s an excellent line in the film Crocodile Dundee when the hero visits America and claims, ‘imagine all these people wanting to live together. . . New York must be the friendliest place on earth!’ Come to Tokyo, forget the headphones, and relax in a thriving, bustling city of quiet wonderfulness.
Every man and his dog know I love to read, and more often than not there is a continued theme of habits, routines or advice that authors impart. Logical advice such as working hard, incessant learning and improvement, self-awareness and not being a dickhead. But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. There is sometimes advice that makes you query if the author was smoking nail polish.
One of my recent favourites is the classic Think and Grow Rich by the slightly dubious Napoleon Hill, one of the biggest selling self-improvement books of all time. In this the protagonist lays out the successful methods of the successful, of definite goals, of desire, of positive thinking, of collaboration. All make perfect sense. There are other aspects however such as “wrong use of, and over-indulgence in sex.” What on earth is the wrong use of sex? Over-indulgence would be a fine thing, with slaps on backs all round (if you’re into that) but I cannot fathom the wrong use of sex. Bestiality? Maybe he’s referring to simply missing the hole you were aiming for, hitting a butt-cheek or a nose?
Then there’s the “inadequate supply of fresh air, due to improper breathing”. Is this related to the nose-sex? Because that would absolutely tally with the improper breathing, an unfortunate penis-lodged-in-nasal-cavity episode. And what about ‘improper breathing’? I only know one way: in; out. (Like sex, really). I breathe in, I breathe out. I can’t just breathe in; breathe in again; breathe in some more. I’ll blow a lung! Maybe he means the speed of the breathing, like an over-zealous wheezing bicycle pump? Napoleon goes on to talk about the control of “sex energy” . . . which, I don’t know, perhaps is referencing another energy bucket accessed after your usual energy reserves are depleted? Like a dessert stomach when you’ve already packed in a whole ham. Editor – you still talking about eating, right?
So, all in all dear reader, not everything I read is gold. But neither should it be. These are models and lessons from people offering advice which you can dispose of or adhere to at will. You cannot follow every golden rule. As with life, find something that works for you and be kind to yourself in doing so.
*Post-Post – Just did some googling, sex transmutation energy is apparently a thing. Who knew!?
I generally avoid chest-beating, die-for-the-jersey, more-than-a-game schtick that comes with patriotic books, odes to a sporting code, conduct or nation. I have an inherent distrust of fundamentalism, a thinly veiled mask of self-deceit. It’s with some hesitation then that I approached a book about the New Zealand rugby team, Legacy, by James Kerr. It’s first few pages talk of beating the Welsh rugby team. Its last few pages talk about beating the Welsh rugby team. Needless to say, I hate this bloody book. Which isn’t to say it’s not good. It is!
Kerr relates culture and leadership back into the corporate world where those two quintessential elements are often left wanting in my opinion. They become so diluted with growth (making money) or cost reduction (saving money) that culture can fuck right off. Whilst leadership obsession is quite rightly through continuous, incessant improvement, a leader works for the team not the other way around. Leaders take care of their team like they take care of their family. Culling one of your family to save costs is madness. You win together, you lose together. And to paraphrase the New Zealand Team, ‘no dickheads allowed.’
Culture in an organisation or a team can, to quote Kerr again, be summed up by the Greek proverb: “a society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they will never see”. You plant seeds for the fruit you may never eat, you make improvements today that you may never see the benefit of. But the next generation will. We make things better incrementally. Our actions today will echo beyond our time. Apparently women can also plant trees, but who knew?!
And by the way, this book costs nothing. Enter stage-left BorrowBox, an app that lets you borrow ebooks for free from your local library. I take it all back, there is a God!
Other nuggets for the week:
Writing and writing...