Archive for the 'Philosophy' Category

Why good leaders make you feel safe — Simon Sinek’s TED Talk

I always love a good TED Talk, and although this one is a little short on enthusiasm and flare, the message here is worth hearing, especially if you work in a group environment or organization of any size. What makes a good leader is something that has interested me ever since I reported to leaders. One thing that is well pointed out in this speech is that leadership is not the same thing as authority. Simon Sinek states in this presentation that is is possible to be the highest rank of authority and not be a leader at all, and it’s also possible to be in the lowest ranks with no authority and be the true leader of the group.

A good leader makes you feel safe, and that doesn’t only make good logical sense, it is biological. It is in our cells.

The leader is key to a group because “the leader sets the tone.” Good leaders grow the group. They nurture, educate, encourage, and build confidence within the group’s individuals. I don’t know if I agree with the one organization that Simon Sinek uses as an example where the never fire anyone for performance because I’ve worked for an organization like that, but I guess this organization only hires people who are really passionate about the field. This was an enlightening presentation.

Life is Messy and the Timing of It

When I first heard the phrase “life is messy,” it didn’t sit well with me. Being a planner who tries to keep things structured and organized, the entire point of creating structure is to mitigate the mess, but I later learned that’s not the point of this phrase. As a leader, it’s also about how well and how quickly one can adjust course to the make the most of any given situation. A monkey can learn routine, but it takes higher intelligence to re-prioritize on the fly. It’s a real art of when to dive head down to execute a task list or when to come up to adjust a plan, and it takes real strength when the entire plan needs to be scrapped and a new one must be created just in time for the next transaction. Should a new plan be needed, keep in mind that no one else really knows how incomplete your plan may be, so your next transaction may look flawless while you can continue building your plan in preparation for the following step.

This perspective surrounds the ability of seizing windows of opportunity. Any good analyst can eventually finish his or her complete investigation of all of the variables and with some experience and a good imagination even make a tree of all possible outcomes, and that is probably the best way to do it. The problem is that takes time. Meanwhile the environment changes, and the windows of opportunity close or change to where a new analysis would have to be started.

So my point is that to make changes of this kind—the kind where you make things happen instead of letting things happen to you—you’ll never feel ready because it’s impossible to feel ready. Although luck favors the prepared, it usually requires a scramble to take off, and you will probably be landing in a storm, not even on an airstrip but somewhere in a cornfield or atop a mesa. You may break a few things, but you probably won’t die. Nevertheless, it’s anything but comfortable. Sure, you can mitigate risk like a novice scuba diver first trains in a tank before diving in the sea, but there’s still a first time for everything. Sometimes, for windows of opportunity as mentioned here, it will also the last time.

When you do that, there will be many naysayers, mostly because they don’t understand your priorities (which who cares because you should only share your priorities with the people you trust) but also because they’re jealous of the strength you exhume during those events, or that they have missed the window for themselves. On the other hand, mass in motion acquires more mass as it travels, so it gains gravity. When you move forward like that, you will attract. These particles may be part of other humans in your life. It’s ok if you kill a few of these particles because you’re not killing the whole human, and it’s ok as long as you don’t enjoy the killing.

The point is to know what you want, and when the opportunity presents itself as a window to pass through towards the goal, not necessarily access to the goal in a single step, then take the window because those windows don’t come around very often. A good planner isn’t someone who can plan every step but is someone who knows how to adapt his or her plan based on the stability of the previous step. Imagine stepping on some stepping stones over a brook. The rocks look sturdy but still require focus and balance; however, one of the stones may wobble and may require a quick change of course to ultimately reach the other side without falling into the water. Think of ninjas or the main character in the video game Prince of Persia and how these characters interact with the environments, and it’s that quick skill to adapt that is their strength that is valid of envy.

This concept of timing I first learned from a leader in the workplace with whom I no longer work. His goal was essentially to talk me out of thinking that skill in details leads to overall success, which I naturally thought that probably due to my Polish upbringing. He described how imperfect his attempt appeared, but I observed the outcome of his stories and the massive cultural changes in the workplace that were created as a result of such forceful and critical starts. Being able to alter culture in a group has always intrigued me ever since I would try to reconcile why a body of people may not follow a process when the details clearly exemplify that following that process was to their benefit. I realized this leader was correct because the results in the end spoke for themselves. That is how “life is messy” ties into “timing.”


This is a quote I received in a letter many years ago from an old friend.

Relationship is in many ways a simplification of life, and it naturally combines the strengths and wills of two people so that together, they seem to reach further into the future then they did before. Above all, relationship is a new task and a new seriousness, a new demand on the strength and generosity of each partner, and a great new danger for both.

The point of relationship is not to create a quick commonality by tearing down all boundaries; on the contrary, a good relationship is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his/her solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust. A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development. But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side by side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.

That is why this too must be the criterion for rejection or choice: whether you are willing to stand guard over someone else’s solitude, and whether you are able to set this same person at the gate of your own depths, which they learn of only through what steps forth, in holiday clothing, out of the great darkness.

Life is self transformation, and human relationships, which are an extract of life, are the most changeable of all, they rise and fall from minute to minute, and lovers are those whom no moment is like any other. People between whom nothing habitual ever takes place, nothing that has already existed, but just what is new, unexpected, unprecedented. There are such connections, which must be a very great, an almost unbearable happiness, but they can occur only between very rich beings, between those who have become, each for their own sake, rich, calm, and concentrated; only if two worlds are wide and deep and individual can be combined…young people, it is obvious, can’t achieve a connection like this, but if they understand their lives correctly, they can slowly grow up to such happiness and prepare themselves for it. When they love, they must not forget that they are beginners, bunglers of life, apprentices in love..they must learn love, and that, like all learning, takes calm, patience and composure.

To take love seriously and to undergo it and learn it like a profession,…that is what young people need to do. Like so many other things, people have misunderstood the position love has in life; they have made it into play and pleasure and pleasure because they thought that play and pleasure are more blissful than work; but there is nothing happier than work, and love, precisely because it is the supreme happiness, can be noting other than work…So those who love must try to act as if they had a great work to accomplish: they must alone go into themselves, they must work, they must become something.

For the more we are, the richer everything we experience is. And those who want to have deep love in their lives must collect and save for it, and gather honey.

– F.R. Rilke

A Fascinatingly Disturbing Thought by Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson

A few times a year, I come across a deep thought that makes me think, “Hmm. I’ve never thought of that, but I sure will think about it some more,” and then it becomes part of my philosophical and mental vocabulary of thoughts. I thoroughly enjoy moments like that.

Here is a question and answer session Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, a great mind, where he discusses an enigma that keeps him awake at night. It’s about a 12 minutes monolog that ties the fabric of the cosmos to the fabric of intelligence.

TED Talk: Larry Smith on why we fail to have a great career

This is a great 15 minute speech from TEDxUW by Larry Smith, a professor of Economics at the University of Waterloo in Canada, who calls out the absurd excuses people invent when they fail to pursue their passions. Larry Smith coaches his students to find the careers that they will truly love.

Link to TEDxUW page:

The Scale of the Universe

I like looking at this interactive Flash presentation The Scale of the Universe 2 because it really helps me keep everything in perspective. It spans from the fabric of space-time to the entire universe.

You use your scroll wheel or the scroll bar to zoom. You can also click on objects to learn more about each one.

screenshot of website

Screenshot of The Scale of the Universe 2, Copyright (c) 2012 Cary and Michael Haung (

It just goes, and goes, and goes.

Benefits of being an outsider

There was a very interesting articled in Wired Magazine a few years ago Accept Defeat: The Neuroscience of Screwing Up, and it helped me understand why some of my points of view were different from my peers. I used to think that just because I had a different cultural background was the cause of my difference, but apparently there is a whole reason why I grew apart from the rest and continue on that vector.

This article brings up the concept of curiosity in a new light for me in the method that asks whether one is interested in a new result that is discovered while searching for a different set of results. Because we are wired not only to ignore results for which we were not looking, but our memory is capable of deleting them immediately if we don’t have a mental cubby hole in which to store the new information.

The article continues that outsiders are very good at discovering the new because outsiders question the status quo, which sometimes is misinformation that hides the truth and even causes our minds to “delete” observations. One doesn’t have to be a social reject to become an outsider; one just needs to be from another group of specialists who speak different jargon. Then, as the various groups attempt to translate their own jargon to one another, status quo is put under a microscope, which gives way to questioning it.

I once brought this up to a friend of mine who is a CFO of a hospital, and asked me, “Why aren’t you a CEO already?” which made me feel special and that maybe I have something in me to be a great transcendental leader