Making Less Than You’re Worth and Value Creation

“And so then Skeletor told Terminator he wanted a divorce, and apparently it’s all going to be finalized soon!” – South Park

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As it’s a short post, here’s a link to the story about the vole above.

“No, John Wilder, I said I want to make less thank I’m worth,” said my friend, who I will call Spock.

I was surprised.  I took it as an axiom, a truthticle (John Wilder Definition:  A quantum truth particle), that the old adage was right – you want to get paid what you’re worth.

Spock continued, “Yeah, if I’m worth what I’m paid, I’m not a bargain.  If I’m worth more than I’m paid?  That’s the guy you keep around – he makes you money.”

And Spock was right, his argument as logical as his Vulcan blood is green.

If I go to work and don’t create more value than the amount I’m paid, unless I work at the Department of Motor Vehicles in the Customer Hostility Division, I’m going to get fired.  This isn’t a moral judgement, it’s just that companies can’t survive hauling around with comatose employees that don’t make it money.

To put it simply:  If I don’t make (much) more money for the company than they pay me?  They’ll find a way to make sure I work for the competition.  And if someone (or a cool robot) can do the job for less than they’re paying me?  I’m probably going to be doing a lot more blogging in all the free time that I’ll have.  I will have been Terminated.

Not killed, though at one company I worked at:

HR told the story of a gentleman that worked there who was fired.  The HR Personbot2000™ told them that they were going to be terminated.  Having been a recent transplant (with correspondingly iffy English skills) from a country where the voters regularly re-elected the dictator with a 99.9% majority, the employee panicked, and barricaded himself in his office.  The standoff lasted until the Personbot2000® got another employee to translate to the fired employee that he wasn’t going to be killed, he just didn’t have a job there anymore.

No one in the world has been happier to find out he was “only” fired.

I digress.

One way to make sure that you’re creating value is to be where the value is created.  I know that sounds circular, but understand that more than just working hard is required to create value.  Another example:

I was living in Alaska, and loving it.  I had a great job, loved the weather, friends, and the family loved the place.  One day the phone at work rang.  It was an old boss.  Come to Houston, he said.  He wanted me to work on a project that would impact the lives of (literally) millions of consumers, and be the biggest project of my life so far.  We didn’t want to move, really, but the opportunity to work in the hottest (at the time) sector of the economy on a huge project was too much to turn down.  Plus it was hard to breathe with all the money they were forcing down my throat.  So we went.

In this instance, a small team was working on an investment of billions of dollars.  The revenue per employee was massive.  The team worked unconscionably long hours for years to put the project together and bring it to completion.  I can count multiple days where my savings to the company was over a million dollars.  And multiple days where I had to ignore huge problems to go work on even bigger problems.

Creating value was easy in such a target-rich environment, as was working 14 hour days and not exercising.  But the food was awesome and the houses were cheap because Houston is as hot as the surface of the Sun.

In the end?  The projects were finished.  And me, too.  I moved on to another economic sector, but my big lesson was:  If you want to find an easy way create value, go to where the big money is changing hands.

Makes logical sense, as Spock might have said . . .

Another short post – the notes for the second half of this post will show up in Monday’s post, since they are broader in nature, and provide a better understanding of the workings of the world economy and didn’t really fit well with the above stuff. But enough shop talk . . .

Seneca’s Cliff and You

My heart attack didn’t kill me, so why act like it did? See, Tim, it was the Roman philosopher Seneca who said “if we let things terrify us, then life is not worth living.” – Home Improvement

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There is nothing that says “I’m never giving up” like a stop sign duct taped to a lamp post.

Back in 2011, I was reading Italian chemistry professor Ugo Bardi’s blog (LINK) and was struck by his quoting of the dead Roman, Seneca, who wrote that “increases are of sluggish growth, but the way to ruin is rapid.”  I know it sounds like he’s writing about Adam Sandler’s acting career, but in reality, Seneca’s talking about everything, and it struck me as a universally applicable truth:

Everything that can be built, is built relatively slowly fighting entropy all the way.

And when it’s built?

The greater the effort, the higher it has risen, the faster it falls.

This is especially true when it comes to organizations – large companies that have been in business for decades close up in an afternoon.  Sears was founded in 1893, 114 years ago.  It became larger and larger over time until in the 1980’s it encompassed not only its department store business (the last remaining bits today) but also the Discover Card, Allstate Insurance, Land’s End, among other brands.

Today?  It’s (possibly) worth less than a handful of magic beans.  Nearly certainly by 2020 Sears will be just an answer to a trivia question.

And if you look at life, you see the same pattern again and again, that progress in your own life is built up only slowly, mainly over the course of years.  And losing it?  It’s a precarious balance, and (sadly) in the end all of our Jenga™ blocks fall down.

That was one of Seneca’s other lessons – you absolutely know that your blocks are going to fall over, and, most importantly, the blocks don’t care.  There will be a time when you will lose.  A business venture might fail, a book might not end well, or a blog post might be much shorter than you’d usually expect (this is foreshadowing).

In my personal life, I’ve seen this happen again and again – when I was first out of college and working for a big company, I put in 80 hour weeks for nine months to build a project – the biggest that company had ever built up to that time.  They bulldozed it fifteen years later – and I assure you it was done in a month and a half – it came down a lot quicker than it went up.

After I got my Master’s I put all the notes, all the disks, and everything associated with my thesis in the fireplace.  It was May, but I still put a match to it, willing to pay for the air conditioning just to give my academic career a Viking funeral.  It was over.  The months of research, the months of writing, all up in a matter of 20 minutes.

But, perhaps, Seneca might have been a bit wrong.  He spent his life building his ideas.  And we’re still talking about them today.  Perhaps there is a force that defies entropy – that can withstand ages.

Perhaps it is those very ideas.

And Adam Sandler’s hair.

Paleo vs. Primal vs. Atkins, Thermodynamics and A Calorie Is Not a Calorie

“In this house, we obey the laws of thermodynamics!” – The Simpsons

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The Boy during a Primal phase.  Brains are Primal, right?

What does a diet do?  There are thousands (if not millions) of different diet books in print, each with a new diet, and they appear nearly hourly.  Diet books, perhaps, due to sheer number density, might form an information black hole that sucks in all other books.  Even Dilbert (LINK).  Then I would be sad.

The purpose of a diet should be twofold – to produce optimal nutrition at a healthy weight.  And make no mistake, those shiftless British (LINK) have done a study of British medical records and determined that . . . it sucks for your health to be overweight.  Being fit and fat?  Probably (according to the Portuguese guy I accosted on the street while yelling about these results in a threatening monotone) a pretty little lie we tell ourselves.

Out of this vast galaxy of diets, I’m picking out five for further discussion and follow up with a description of what thermodynamics says about them.  I pick these because they seem to be the main pattern of diets today:

  1. Vegetarian/Vegan: No one actually does this, but there are millions of people professing to like tofu instead of ribeye, and wanting you to have a meat-substitute brisket in the smoker.  And a vegan?  They will change any discussion that’s occurring in order to bring up the fact that they’re a vegan.

John Wilder:  “I hear that there might be life on Mars.”

Vegan:  “I hope it’s a vegetable, because I’m a vegan.”

It is my prediction that veganism/vegetarianism will catch on like wildfire when rare filet mignon and bratwurst are declared vegetables.  Sweet, meaty, fatty vegetables.

 

  1. Low Fat: Very popular in 1977 when your Mom took up smoking to impress that guy who had the cool Camaro®.  Still popular with the makers of sugar!, high-fructose corn syrup©, breakfast cereal®, and Pop Tarts™.

 

Oh, and turkeys!  Turkey bacon, turkey burgers, turkey cheese, turkey sour cream, and turkey mint julips.  Everything that’s come in about this diet indicates that it’s wrong on every possible level, including being responsible for Angela Merkel’s haircut.

 

  1. Paleo: The basic theory is that the human digestive system has simply not caught up to agricultural life, unlimited Twinkies®, unlimited couch time with Halo 47©, and unlimited calories.  Since our digestive system hasn’t come under significant evolutionary pressure, we’d be better off drinking elk blood in the forest.

The Paleo diet allows no: grains, sugar, beans, dairy, potatoes, processed food (I’ll miss you, dear bacon), refined vegetable oils, salt, alcohol, and good heavens, coffee.

That’s unnecessarily cruel!  No coffee?  What would I do for a personality?

A good website on Paleo is here (LINK).

Real short version?

2-0-1-7 tomorrow, out of time, so tonight we’re going to eat like it’s 10,099.

BC.

  1. Primal: A lot like Paleo, but recognizes the central role of coffee to my central nervous system.  Additionally, in comparison to Paleo, it’s more of a complete lifestyle, including exercising and having relationships like a Neolithic tribal dude.

The Primal diet is a lot like the Paleo diet, but you can have dairy, coffee, some potato, coffee, beans are okay-ish, coffee, and wisely chosen dietary supplements.  Did I mention coffee is okay?

The definitive website for Primal is here.  (This is also the definitive post.)

  1. Atkins® (or “keto”): Nuke the carbs from orbit, it’s the only way to be sure.  Lifestyle?  Who cares.    THE.  CARBS.  20 grams or less of carbohydrates in some phases of the diet.  Bonus?  Eat all the bacon.  And drink all the coffee.

How does a diet work to help attain or maintain a healthy weight?

First:  What’s a Calorie?

In nutrition, a Calorie is a measure of the chemical energy stored in food.  It has a specific scientific definition as being “the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by 1˚Centigrade.”  So, if you weighed 750 kilograms (more than 1,500 pounds), you just have to walk into a fridge and reduce your body temperature by one degree, and when you warm yourself up, presto, a cheeseburger vanishes from your thigh!

In reality, there’s enough thermal energy in 10 plain chocolate M&M’s® to raise a big cup of coffee from room temperature to a pleasantly hot 130˚F.  When I tried this experiment at home, the coffee stayed cold, but got chocolatey after a day or so.  Then moldy.  Then The Mrs. yelled at The Boy and blamed him for the mess.  Whew!  It’s great having folks who’ll take the fall for a fiver.

The way they determine the Calorie content of your food is (I’m not making this up) by burning it in a really sensitive oven and measuring how much heat it gives off.

But your body doesn’t spontaneously combust, no matter how many pancakes you eat, so I’m thinking that the body may have a tiny lit furnace someplace south of your stomach, except for Pugsley, since sometimes he smells like burning tires.

So, food is used differently than that, as I started to discuss in a previous (LINK) post.

One rule of thermodynamics (thermo, from the Greek, meaning “a class in college” and dynamics, also from the Greek, meaning “that came from Hell”) is that you lose efficiency every time you convert energy from one form to another.  In the conversion of food from chemical energy to useful human energy, fat (as in yum!) and carbohydrates (as in sugar, also, yum!) are about the same, requiring about 5% to 15% of the energy consumed to digest and use.  In the world outside of squishy human bodies, that’s exceptional!  A human body is 85% efficient when running on Ding-Dongs®.  A car is only 20% efficient when running on gasoline.  You’re super efficient!

That’s also why you’re fat.  I’m willing to bet the human body developed a craving for sugar and fat because it was so efficiently converted to “keeping you alive” that when you could expect to find very little food, you were drawn to the best stuff.

When you convert protein (also yum, as in the rest of the steak!) to energy, the pathway is much less efficient, converting 65% of the energy to useful activities, like typing and drinking scotch.  Still this is three times better than a typical gasoline powered car.

Like Justin Beiber, sugar has a much darker side – it spikes insulin output, which is required to get sugar into cells so it can get to work.   But insulin is also the hormone that, in abundance, tells your body, “Hey, back up the truck with all the energy you can’t use right now.  We’ll just turn it into fat.”

A recent JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association, or Jamaican Ancestral Music Annual, I forget which) article says that people on ultra-low carbohydrate diets burn 100-300 more Calories per day than those same people on other diets.

I think Dr. Atkins just dropped his microphone and walked off the stage.

My conclusion is this:  The Paleo and Primal diets both restrict carbohydrates very effectively, but not as well as the Atkins diet, which is as single minded as a puppy on a pork roast in elimination of carbohydrates.

A potential optimum?  Use Akins to get to a healthy weight, then transition to Primal as a lifestyle.  Atkins is the journey, but Primal is the habit, and, of course, the lovely, lovely coffee.

Comments?  Your mileage?

Reminder:  JOHN WILDER IS NOT A DOCTOR.  Consult yours before following the patently absurd advice offered above.

AI and Future of Work

“Since when did AI Stand for artificial insanity?” – Andromeda

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A machine for making Pez!  Or the back side of an Airline Departure board.  I forget.

The Middle Class Apocalypse is Coming!  The Middle Class Apocalypse is Coming!

Today is Wealthy Wednesday, so this post is about Wealth, and the future patterns associated with wealth and work based on the trends we can all see today.  On Monday, the Weekly Wisdom post talked about significance and the importance of work, and that post is here.

I’ll give you the TL;DR version – Work is important for health and well-being.  A great job has certain attributes that tie to the significance of the work, which lead directly to health and well-being.  Humans were made to work.  We actually like working when it makes a difference, when we make a difference to the world.

But what about that Apocalypse thing you mentioned up above?  It seems like that just might be important?

The economy is changing now at the most rapid pace, well, ever.  What we’ve seen over the past few years has been an economic recovery that’s been rough, especially for the middle class.  Most jobs that have been created appear to not be as good, not pay as much as the ones that have disappeared.

This trend is not over.  It’s actually just starting.

And, like Star Wars: The Force Awakens®, it has all happened before, though Han Solo didn’t die the first time they blew up the Death Star.  Or the second time.  Third time was the charm.

Four hundred years ago on the planet Earth, workers who felt their livelihood threatened by automation flung their wooden shoes called sabots into the machines to stop them.
Hence the word sabotage. – Star Trek, The Undiscovered Country

Not the last use of Sabotage in Star Trek

The Last Time We Were Here

The industrial revolution was an extraordinary dislocation among the working class in the Western world.  Extraordinary advances in power (steam engines) and mechanical devices (looms, tools) made standardized manufacturing of a consistent product on a grand scale possible.  Spoiler alert!  In the long run, this led to much greater prosperity and a constantly rising standard of living that created the greatest wealth machine in the history of mankind – Europe and the USA.

But along the way?  Lots of people were displaced.  If you were a knitter, you now no longer need knit knickers neatly, because a machine was massively manufacturing many muumuus.  To put it gently, you no longer had a knitting job.  Take your needles and shove off.  And the machine is better at knitting than you.  And you suck at running knitting machines because you have ADHD.

Being faced with this type of situation, the average person in at the time reacted calmly and happily watched as the trade or craft that they had engaged in their entire lives was extinguished like M&Ms® at a Weight Watcher® relapse?  No.  Inspired by (potentially fictional) leader Ned Ludd (the origin of the term “Luddite”) they rioted.  They raided the countryside, molested the cattle, and inspired really bad art:

Ned Ludd

Via Wikipedia – This image is in the public domain in the United States. 

Oh, my!  When I go down in history, I’d like to have a much better picture of me, not one where I’m wearing a polka-dotted Muumuu while my gigantic form looms over my tiny minions as the Alamo burns in the background.  And what AM I wearing on my head.  Is that a beaver??

I guess it’s an understatement to say that the change was difficult, but it did lead to mass producing important things, like nails, sewing machines, scarves, and, eventually, Pez®.

And it led, finally, to the creation of the middle class.  The factories had to have managers.  Engineers.  Equipment manufacturers.  HR.  Accountants.  Payroll clerks . . . and these factories finally allowed the concentrated application of experience and knowledge to the problems of industry.  Some owners of factories became extraordinarily wealthy.  Some geniuses, like Lord Kelvin?  He basically invented thermodynamics and spent his summers on his massive yacht wandering around the Mediterranean with the Kardashians.  Not the ancestors of the Kardashians, but the same ones we see on magazines all of the time.  I am convinced that the Kardashians are:

  1. Evil, and
  2. Immortal.

But I digress.  The middle class is stunningly important to economic and governmental stability.  It’s a place for middling to high IQ people to go and strive, to go and find meaning in their work and in creating civic organizations and clubs and golf.  All that brainpower tends to go toward helping people in all of society get wealthier over time, and makes society better as they get wealthier – a truly virtuous cycle.

If they weren’t doing this?

Well, if smart, capable people aren’t doing great stuff to make society better?  They get all Emo and Occupy.

Imagine if Rage Against The Machine actually had a job down at Dad’s hardware store? Would they be singing barbershop quartet instead?

Michael Lewis has written several books, like Liar’s Poker and Moneyball.  He’s talented.  But his first degree was in Art History.  Admittedly it was from Princeton, but it was . . . ART . . . HISTORY.  He ended up being a bond trader after getting a degree in economics from the London School of Economics before landing the bond trading gig, but, really, these sorts of opportunities don’t exist for current liberal arts grads.  And, like Ned Ludd, current liberal arts majors all dress up in polka-dotted muumuus and put a beaver in their dreadlocks and protest.

They’re protesting against a global labor market.  They might have the best degree that you can get, but legal aides are now competing against actual lawyers (and smart ones, too) in India who’ll do 250 hours of legal and case research for some pita bread and half of a Coke®.  The first part of this wave of globalization was the outsourcing of labor that went into manufacturing.  For the last 15-20 years mid-level engineering and legal research has joined the globalization push.  It’s had the effect of making the world more average, and if you’re talking pay, I assure you that you don’t want to work for the world’s average wage, which for some types of work is a cot and a promise not to play any music by Bob Segar®.  If you’re bad?  You have to listen to “Turn the Page.” Again and again.

A significant trend in jobs is to make them so anyone can do them.  If you’re reading this blog, I’m certain that your IQ is much higher than the average, and you’ve probably got bones made out of titanium, and might be able to bend steel bars with your mind.  Many jobs that remain are standardized by procedures to the point that very little IQ is needed.  The job is made to suit the lowest common denominator that might show up to be hired.  And these jobs will actively discriminate against your middle class employee template – they don’t want smart people in these jobs.  Smart people think, and if you think?  You might be wrong.  And in this world of hyper litigation?  They might have to settle a lawsuit because you started thinking that cooking oil was a lot like floor wax, and fifty old people slipped and fell on Crisco© oil in the produce section.  Many employers don’t want thinking.  Bad for business.

New forms of work are showing up as well – the “Gig” economy, where people get paid for doing things like hanging your pictures or walking your dog or by driving you around in their own car for Uber©.  The job market is fundamentally changing now, and we all can’t support ourselves by just Ubering® each other around.  Nor will we be able to – Artificialish Intelligence will eventually replace all the Uber™ drivers.

And that’s the big kahuna.  The large enchilada.  The massive Pez®.  Global low wages, procedural jobs that kill the soul?  Those are nothing compared to Artificialish Intelligence.

(According to Google, I, John Wilder, am the one who has coined this term!  Huzzah, me!)

What is Artificialish Intelligence?  My definition is that, really you don’t need a full-blown sentient intelligence for the vast majority of tasks you’ll automate, you just need the bare minimum of subroutines, rules, and algorithms to get the job done.  For most things, that isn’t really all that much.  We’ve had cars that can drive themselves for a while.  And soon, they’ll be everywhere.  Who needs truck drivers when the trucks drive themselves?  Who needs Uber© drivers when Uber™ has a fleet of cars that don’t complain, and, more importantly, don’t get paid?  As soon as competent Artificialish Intelligence appears in a field, there’s no point in a human ever doing that task again, unless they like doing it.  Unfortunately, if you’re one of the 1,500,000 to 3,000,000 people who drive for a living?  Yeah, 90% of them will lose their jobs.  Not an if.  A “will.”

If you count the sheer number of accountants and tax preparers that have lost work due to TurboTax®?  Yeah, lots, and TurboTax™ probably does a better job than many tax preparers, with a lower error rate.  This trend of Artificialish Intelligence destroying jobs is not new.

Ever feel like your job is to pass the butter?  And it’s actually not at all required to add too much intelligence to most of our devices.  Who needs an automatic vacuum or smart cell phone that has a mood?

I’m not sure of the new jobs that will be created due to the changes I’ve noted above, but I do have suggestions if you’re starting out in your career that might help . . .

  1. Be born rich.
  2. Be a friend to billionaires.

Really, the jobs that are very hard to automate or turn global are things that have a barrier, like the following categories:

  1. Government Jobs. The barrier is pretty obvious to this one – Congressmen don’t have to go home to their constituents and explain that they’ve outsourced the Department of Commerce to Uzbekistan.
  2. Distance Barriers. Some things have to be done locally – most construction, plumbing, tree services, and these are jobs that will be a bit harder to automate, though they will change significantly.
  3. Regulatory Barriers. Plumber, Electrician, Pharmacist, Doctor, Lawyer . . . each of these have barriers that are require credentials and licensing.  I would add Teacher to this list, but distance learning won’t be kind to that profession after a decade or so.
  4. Extreme Knowledge. It can be done, being a specialist in a very narrow field.
  5. Be a Creator. You can’t outsource a Steve Jobs from Sebastopol, nor a Bill Gates from Bratislava.  Nor a Scott Adams from Albania.  These are unique talents due to their ability to create.  Can everyone be a Creator?    But the good news is that there are still Government Jobs!

I have only a limited understanding of what the world of work will look like in twenty years, but the changes will be very drastic, and I’ll be posting more about this in the future.  In the past, if you were making copper pots by hand, when the machine took your job and started pressing them out of sheet copper, you had no real way to see that a world of thermodynamics, engineering, and advanced wealthy complex society could form out that stupid job-stealing machine.

But you could see the beaver clearly.  That’s why you kept it in your hair.

Good Work, Significance, and First Break All the Rules

“We’re put on this earth to do a job.  And each of us gets the time we get to do it.  And when this life is over and you stand in front of the Lord . . . well, you try tellin’ him it was all some Frenchman’s joke.” – Fargo (Series) 

DSC03481The Boy on his day job, attacking dragons, lions, and the French.  He’s pretty good with that, since we haven’t seen any of those around here recently.

Nothing has a greater influence on the well-being of a man than the work he does and how significant it is.  Studies have shown that doing good, significant work increases testosterone levels, decreases anxiety, decreases depression, and increases the likelihood of developing super powers, like fingernails that grow on command, or advanced control of nostril hair.  I’m just kidding – decreased anxiety, how ludicrous!

I know you’re thinking, “John Wilder, how can you make such an outrageous claim!” but I assure you, thousands of scientists have been working for decades just to prove me right.  Oh, and Gallup, Incorporated® did an actual study that proved exactly what I’m saying.

Their study came out in the book, First Break All The Rules.  You can buy it (and I do recommend this book) here .  (Full disclosure, at some point I might get around to monetizing these links, but as of the date of this posting, not yet.)

The authors, Buckingham and Coffman (like many business book authors) manage to pack a decent five pages worth of material into the current edition’s 368 pages.  Also, other folks (consultants) glom on to it with, I’m sure, tests, powerpoints, websites, charts, and four day training courses in Orlando in the off season, complete with a coffee bar and a buffet lunch with an added spousal event where the spouses go and tour Epcot, get to take a photo with Walt Disney’s frozen corpse, and drink mojitos all day long.

But back to the book . . .

The book is based on 1.5+ million hours of interviews with over 80,000 managers over the span of years.  Gallup then looked at which of these businesses were highly productive and profitable, and, rather than come up with a theory, just looked at what the data said about these high-performing organizations.  What came out of it were 12 questions that determined employee engagement.  Crazy idea – if employees are engaged at work, the place gets profitable?

What sort of sorcery is this?

Here are the 12 questions, and it’s important to note that they are in order.  The first question matters more than question 12.  I know that there are those of you who say all questions should be equal, and they are.  Some are just more equal than others.

  1. Do I know what is expected of me at work? This one is top of the list. 

I’ve had managers who give you a desk and say, go do it.  What is “it”?  Nope, the only thing you see is a contrail as they head away from your desk at nearly lightspeed.  Then you’re left guessing at what “it” is.  This turns work into an eternal game of “warmer”/”colder”, assuming that your boss even gives you that kind of feedback.

I’ve also had bosses who say – “go fix the thing – I don’t care what you do, just don’t break the law or spend more than $10,000,000.”  Those are actually really clear expectations.  I like bosses like that.  And they like me.

  1. Do I have the material and equipment to do my work right?

If you know that you’re in charge of the Canadian space program (Is it called CASA?) and they expect you to create a manned space expedition to Mars within ten years, eh, you certainly have clear expectations.  But if they only give you two dog teams, some moosehides, and the retired Mounties from Saskatchewan, well, you’re going to be as frustrated and conflicted as a vegan poodle in a butcher shop.

  1. Do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?

 I can recall finishing a project (it took 45 straight 12 to 16 hour days) and watching as the last piece went into place.  What I did in those 45 days was what I do best – and it was wonderful, and I was in the zone.  I saved my company tens of millions of dollars.

But I’ve also been in the job where I was tasked with correctly folding up manufacturing drawings.  Yay!  More folding!  But, within two months I was doing research for the company (and, accidently recreated Soviet research into the perfect railroad tie).  It got better.

However, there are places where you’ll never get to do what you do best.  Imagine Seth Rogan teaching physics to high school students?  Yeah, that probably isn’t where he’d be best used, unless the class was really titled: “The Physics of Marijuana, Dude.”  At some point, if the company can’t use what you do best, you’ve gotta hit the rip cord and bail out of there (the preceding does not constitute parachuting advice nor parachute training).

These first three form a triad – they speak to having clear purpose, tools, talent and using them all to create value.  This is food for the soul of the deepest level.  If you have these three elements at work, you are happy at work, and generally also happy at home.

The other elements are also important, but decrease in importance as we go:

  1. In the last seven days, have I received praise or recognition for good work?

Most of us are people (technically The Boy isn’t, since he is an android sent from the future to destroy the popularity of Justin Beiber by bombarding Beiber’s brain with dank Twitter memes) and people like to have their good points brought up.  Funny, huh?

  1. Does my supervisor or someone at work care about me as a person?

Ditto.  I like to work with people that want me to keep breathing.  It’s nice when you walk in and have a cup of coffee with a coworker and they genuinely pretend to being interested in my boring life.  Your mileage may vary, but still not as important as doing important work well, though it can be a partial substitute if your employer is slowly eating your soul.

  1. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?

I think that no matter our age, we all want to improve, do better, and want the advice of people we respect to help us grow, because those are people that can become our mentors.  Not Mentos™.  Mentors.  They are different things, though both can be minty.

  1. At work, do my opinions count?

I’m sorry – I wasn’t listening?  Did you say something?

  1. Does the mission or purpose of my company make me feel that my job is important?

Let’s pretend that all the questions above this are answered with YES!  In that case, you’re probably happy, unless your job requires you to grind kittens into Kitten Chow™.

That’s how it’s made, right?

  1. Are my coworkers committed to quality work?

If the people you work with do bad work, goof off, or are in some other way not contributing, I know you don’t like it, because if you’re reading this, you’re smarter and have great character and probably don’t need deodorant because your body gives off a faint scent of sandlewood whenever you sweat.  But if your coworkers are trolls from the reject pile that do work like poo flinging monkeys?  Yeah, takes a bit out of your pride of doing work.

On the plus side?  You’d think you’d get a good performance review, unless your boss is threatened by you and your genius and natural sandlewood smell.  Then you’ll get a review that says you don’t fling enough poo.

An aside at an appropriate place:  Pugsley just told me, “For a writer, you’re a pretty good typist.”  Thanks, pal.

  1. Do I have a best friend at work?

Not a killer if you don’t, but really nice if you do.  When you go home, explaining to your spouse the poo flinging monkeys that you have to deal with at work is like explaining to Albanian lawyers (who have offices in a strip mall) how a photocopier works.  Frustrating at best.  Amusing when the Albanian Strip Mall Lawyers go at the copier with pliers and some Allen wrenches left over from an Ikea© bookcase assembly.  (Spoiler alert: the NEVER ACTUALLY FIX it, but they go at it with gusto!)

Is it just me, or did anyone else ever assemble an Ikea bookcase and end up with a functional hovercraft?

Oops – big digression.  Having a friend at work makes you want to stay there.  Duh.

  1. In the last six months, has someone talked to me about my progress?

Getting toward the end (keep in mind, less important as we go down) – this is a variation on point 6 – the concept that humans want to be more effective and to have someone they respect tell them how well they’re doing.  Honestly, that’s what we want – someone to tell us how awesome we are.  It is a rare person who wants actual truth.

And, as a manager, after a long time doing it?  I gave ‘em both barrels in annual reviews.  Full on truth.  But HR was getting none of that truth – HR exists to justify why you fire employees and reduce their benefits to those of a typical Botswanan goatherd, so when you ding an employee on a review, they start circling like high school students around a dank meme.

Don’t give them that dank meme!  (Also, would someone please tell me what a dank meme is?)

Urban Dictionary says:

“Dank Memes” is an ironic expression used to mock online viral media and in-jokes that have exhausted their comedic value to the point of being trite or cliché. In this context, the word “dank,” originally coined as a term for high quality marijuana, is satirically used as a synonym for “cool.”

So, now you know.

  1. In the last year, have I had the opportunity to work and grow?

I have had that opportunity!  Most of the growth, unfortunately, was due to Pop Tarts©.  So, Pop Tarts™ were introduced in 1964.  Winston Churchill® died in 1965.  Coincidence?  No.  The carby goodness of Pop Tarts© was created to kill world leaders.  Avoid the trap!  Especially the strawberry ones.

As a set of questions for leaders to gauge the environment they create?  Priceless.  These 12 questions are wonderful in that respect.  Every leader should strive to create an environment where they get the most out of their employees, not only because it benefits the business, it also benefits the employee.

Whew.

I have at least two more topics that are directly related to this, and I’m over 1900 words on this post right now.

Okay.  I give up.

This is my first unanticipated two or more part post.  In the near future?  IQ and the workplace of the future.  Not that this will be an important topic to anyone.  Or, really, everyone.

Okay, really, it is everyone who will be impacted by this, we’re on to a trend that will determine all of future life for humans in Western civilization for at least the next 80 years.  But that’s too scary to think about right now.

So now?  I’m just going to make my fingernails grow like crazy!

 

You Can’t Cheat the Scale

“Dad, before you blame the dryer, have you ever considered stepping on the bathroom scale?” – Frasier

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Pugsley, after a particularly bad binge a decade or so ago . . .

One of the things that I do to keep myself motivated while exercising is to watch Youtube videos about people who’ve done amazing things.  I do this while I climb endless stairs to nowhere at the gym while the sweat runs down me like money through a government agency.

Now, keep in mind, there’s a component of survivor bias associated with these videos.  I have yet to see a video put together by someone who said:

“I started this diet at 245 pounds, and finished at 260 pounds plus now Nutrasystem® owns my spleen and just sold it to a Chinese billionaire to pay for all of the food I ate – I’m an utter failure.  Oh, and my wife left me for Mickey Rourke.”

No, those videos don’t get made.  And is it just me that I think that Mickey Rourke might smell like dried leather and day-old potato salad?  Unrefrigerated potato salad.

So, I watch these videos.  At ten weeks in, sometimes motivation is about as high as a Baptist teetotaler on temperance Tuesday, especially after having climbed over nine vertical miles.  A quote from one of the videos struck me – it was Penn Jillette (I’ve talked about him earlier, here) talking about his weight loss.  And his comment wasn’t the point he was trying to make, it was just an aside:  “I don’t know how much I weighed.  No one weighs themselves at their heaviest.”  This really made me pay attention.  And think.  Wow.  That is a really profound truth.

Why is that so profound?

My theory is that our brains create reality distortion fields that allow us to ignore certain things, or mark them as insignificant.  Then it hit me.  I can ignore or get used to the way I might look in a mirror, but I cannot ignore the actual weight shown on the scale.  I can’t hide from it, I can’t explain it away.

The second data point was that Penn posted his weight to his friends as he, quite single mindedly, proceeded to lose the weight equivalent of a fifth grader.  Penn posts to his friends, I post to Batman.

I wrestled when I was in high school, and one of the rituals was weighing in.  To be able to compete, you have to be at or under the weight that you’re planning on wrestling at.  They weighed us in on a balance scale, like you used to see in the doctor’s office.  If the weights balanced, you passed.  One of the junior varsity wrestlers (I’ll call him “Steve,” because his name is “Steve”) was just barely over on the weight, as close as I’d ever seen.  One of the other wrestlers noticed that Steve was chewing gum (helps you spit, so you can lose weight that way, too).

“Hey, Steve, take out your gum.”  Steve took out his gum and stepped back on the scale.  With the gum still in his hand.

Some kind soul convinced Steve that perhaps the gum weighed just as much in his hand as in his mouth, and he threw it away . . . and made weight.

Numbers on a scale can’t be cheated.  They’re objective.  They’re real.  And saying “The extra weight is really muscle” only works if you’re Vin Diesel.  Or Chad Kerosene.

My weight is a fact, and as a fact, it’s the number one way to destroy the pretty little lies that my brain cooks up to tell me everything’s fine the way it is.  John Wilder’s Brain:  “You don’t want to be hungry.  You don’t want to work hard.  You like pie.”  Mostly true.  I rather enjoy working hard, but really do like pie.

Eliminating Variation

I’ve tried to pick a day and time to minimize fluctuations and also the opportunity for me to tell myself more lies.  In past weight loss iterations, I’ve picked the low weight of the week, and just recorded that in my spreadsheet, but now, I’m all about first thing Friday morning.

I’ve noticed the following things make my weight vary.  By vary, of course, I mean be higher:

  1. Carb Intake. I’ve noticed that the amount of carbohydrates that I eat impact how much I weigh.  I’m certain that ties back directly to the amount of water my body can get rid of if I’m not trying to digest carbohydrates.
  2. Work Outs. If I’ve not been able to work out, again, there’s a lot of water that remains in the system.
  3. Recent Food Intake.  Duh.
  4. Phase of the Moon. Sometimes you step up on the scale and . . . huh?  How did that happen?  This (for me) is a pleasant surprise about half the time.

And how are things going?  Pretty well.  I’ve (consciously) varied from diet and exercise during Spring Break (wooo, party!) and for Pugsley’s birthday party.  That really points out the impact of carbs on my system.  They have no real positive effect, and I find my energy, motivation, and even mood are better when I’ve been avoiding carbs.  As part of a systems approach (more on that soon!) carbs are something I’m leaving out.

Every Thursday, I have the folks at the gym take a picture.  I’m planning on having The Boy stitch them together to a time-lapse when I’m where I want to be.  As it is, the improvement is noticeable.  And it has to be.

I’m thinking that Mickey Rourke is sniffing around The Mrs.

But she’s sure to smell him first.

The Shape of Your Money

“I’m quite good at spending money, but a lifetime of outrageous wealth hasn’t taught me much about managing it.” – Game of Thrones

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I need a better picture for this, but I give up.  Here’s a dolphin.

I was talking with a friend the other day about personal finances, and we were discussing how we were both in pretty good financial shape, but we were (yet) in very different places.

Most of my money is ludicrously liquid, in fact, when I grab a quarter, it turns into a wet, squishy mess.  But by liquid, I really mean that have the ability to use it, right now, right here for anything from purchasing a prodigious plethora of Pez® and pantyhose to just letting it sit and rot.  Mainly my money has just been sitting and rotting slowly due to inflation.

As I’ve discussed before, most of my time (day and night, sometimes) had been spent out of the house actually earning the money, and I’d given very little thought to actively managing it and the best way to do that.  I’ve missed some great deals, but I’ve also missed plenty of bad ones, like that Shetland pony farm.  Never could get those seeds to sprout.

My friend, however, has a great financial structure going forward, but he’s fairly illiquid – he can’t really touch vast chunks of that money, in some cases he can’t touch it for 20 years into the future, or it would require severe penalties (like losing a kidney, or paying massive taxes – but I repeat myself) in order to get at it.  I think his setup has him set up far better than me, 20 years from now.

In the conversation we were having, I came up with the epiphany – our money has different shape.  Shape, like a fine pair of pantyhose, has two sides.  Money shape has at least two – liquidity and risk.

Liquidity

Liquidity is when your money is available.  The greater the liquidity, the more available your asset is.  So, if I have $10 in my hand, I can use it immediately if I so chose.  Or I can do like government and just light fire to it and watch the pretty flames.  But let’s look at liquidity from liquid to solid of assets we own.

Money

  • Cash – As above. You can do anything you want with it.  Well, most things.  It can’t help you go faster than the speed of light.
  • Checking Accounts/(Debit Cards) – Either way, the money is immediately and totally available, as long as you have money in your account or have recently paid your credit card bill. Many places still checks, which are becoming an obscure throwback to another age when men could actually sign their name.  I pay bills with checks.  I have never owned a debit card, but I hear they go great with fish.
  • (Credit Card would go here if Credit Cards were an asset – they’re not, they’re a loan)
  • Things – Some things are almost as good as cash, but they’re not cash. Silver coins, gold bars, Pez®.  This could go nearly anywhere, depending upon the thing, the time of the day, and the tide.  Beanie Babies® probably are about as liquid as land near a former Soviet nuclear/biological warfare testing site.  Sorry if you thought those would pay for college.
  • Stocks/Bonds – These are pretty liquid, it will still take a day or two to get a check and get paid.
  • Savings Account – Different than checking – they can hold your deposit for a period of time if they want to after you ask for it, generally no more than 30 days. It’s actually a loan to the bank.  Do you really trust those guys?
  • 401k/IRA – The money is yours, but you get hit with a huge penalty for breaking that piggy bank, takes weeks to get a check. I think it’s just a plan for you to save your money and put it all in the same place so the government can find it easily and use it to buy Carmex™.
  • Home – Generally takes more than a month to sell/close. Might take a year.  Might take longer.
  • Land – See above, but . . . location, location, location.
  • 401K/IRA (no penalty) – Become 59 and ½ years old. So, if you’re 59.49999, pretty liquid.  But easy to calculate how much time until you are liquid.
  • Pension – Get it at a predetermined age, generally 65.
  • Social Security – Can start drawing early, but you get less over time. If you die early, that’s a good deal.  Wait, did I just really type that?

My issue is that I’ve been living too far up the liquidity tree.  I’ve been serially under-invested, and have been for years. As I mentioned above, another dimension to money is risk of loss:

  • Cash – 100% risk of loss. Inflation, over time will destroy cash purchasing power.  It’s the way that government keeps promises – it taxes those who save and are responsible!
  • Gold/Silver/Pez® – Only lost if you don’t know where you buried it, but values may vary greatly even during a year.
  • Stock Market – Inflation adjusted, it’s probably one of the best defenses against the tide of inflation. Individual stocks are much more risky than index funds, but have the potential for much greater gain.  Probably the best long term choice, but I hate to buy now, when the market is at an all-time high.
  • House – Even if it blows up, you still own the crater. If only there were a market for craters.
  • Pension – Generally, these are horribly underfunded. Good luck, especially if you’re a California government employee!
  • Social Security – I’ve always felt that I’d never get any money back on this scheme. Still betting that.

The impacts of the shape of your money are significant.  I have more choices now than my friend, and unless I do a good job managing those choices, I’ll have many fewer as I get older.  The nice part of this, however, is the choices are mine, and I’ll live with the outcomes.

Now, to invest in an S&P index fund?  Or maybe horde Pez® for the apocalypse?

Choices, choices.