Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Casualties of War

The only people who didn't come back home with us in 2012 were the ones who had discipline issues, family issues, "short tour" issues (i.e. special staff), or medical issues.

In other words, no one from our unit died in Afghanistan.

But that's not to say everyone came home the same way.

When something awful happened on October 29, 2011, no one from the Mass Guard was killed.  Some had been on that same bus, on that same morning, but had gotten off at the airport.  But none of us was on when the minivan turned it into a fireball.

However, some of the MPs from our unit were on scene shortly afterwards.  I am fortunate enough to be able to say that I don't know what that does to people.

This week, we lost one of those guys stateside.  He was one of the best people I knew in the Guard.  This guy used to bust my balls a lot, but it came from a place of respect for what I did, and for the way I approached my role.  And after a couple foot patrols and intra-theater movements, he offered me the tactical respect I had to earn, in his own sort of laconic way.  He didn't know where I'd been prior to joining the unit, and I never bothered to tell him.

I think a lot of things I don't say, but I don't say things that I don't think.  (If you'll overlook all the negatives in that sentence, you'll catch my drift).  This guy was the genuine article, or, as I might say, the Real Deal Holyfield.

I will miss him.  I will say what I'm sure everyone says when these things happen:  I wish I had known...if I did, I know I could have done something.  So it goes.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Three Things I've Been Wondering

Before I get going with a morning-long cold call marathon, there are three things I noticed this week that didn't quite look/seem/feel/smell right.  Here goes:

a) Why should a city government have ANY business poking around in the corporate governance affairs/decisions of a private Board of Directors?  

It shouldn't, of course.  This has already been said and explained far more eloquently, by Chris Hazel on a Facebook thread and by Jack Mitchell on a GN comment thread.  As Chris said, the Cupertino City Council doesn't admonish Apple because of its Board's decisions about who should be CEO.  

Whether someone is a "stand-up guy" or an all-around good citizen is completely beside the point.

b) Who on Earth thinks that a music festival during Folk Festival weekend detracts FROM, rather than adds TO, the overall LFF experience?  

Only a petty micro-king of a micro-bureaucracy, that's who.  My first thought was "this makes no sense," and then when I saw a Kad Barma post this week explaining it from the perspective of someone with first-hand knowledge of the Uptown event, my initial instinctual response was confirmed.  Someone should be THANKING Steve Perez.  

c) Who gets defensive about the pay-for-play discussion, and why?  

I'm pretty careful about when and how I use the word 'defensive' because I know it's a favorite tool of the 'Heads-I-Win-Tails-You-Lose' crowd, for whom I have very little intellectual respect.  However, much like other words I dislike (i.e. 'sorry' and 'deserve') I will break it out when needed.  Someone who throws out a 'Who you callin' a crook' when NO ONE has been called a crook is being defensive. 

When the SEC makes rules that demand complete disclosure to investors, it's not because they're calling ME a crook.  It's because they think the system would be better designed with those rules in place.  Seewhuddimsayin?  

Monday, July 15, 2013

Yup, This One Pretty Much Does It

I know op tempo here on this site has fallen off a bit lately.  To all dozen or so of the TNE faithful, thanks for reading, as always.

From here, I'll take another pause to focus on a very intense workweek and then a brief weekend trip to Maine (yes, I said it; yes, it's online; yes, my address is public; and no, I'm not worried but thx for asking).

One thing I've been up to is writing this online identity blog.  Besides that, I've been running a business, drilling once a month, and teaching twentysomethings about those oh-so-special properties of 30-60-90 triangles.  And the number of ways to arrange three-scoop ice cream cones when you're picking from 20 flavors.

If you want to know what I think about pretty much everything, read David Wong's Cracked article, titled, "The 6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person."

If you don't click on the link, you're forgiven.  There are lots of links on the Internet, and people are always trying to get you to click on one thing or another.

If you want to skip the entire article, what it's basically telling you to do is to constantly take cues from the world around you.

People who do this will succeed.  It doesn't matter where those people start.  It doesn't matter what their idea is.  Their sensors are constantly operating in "switched on" mode.  They have a high Conversational Quotient, as I might say.  They don't have "Laugh Ears," as the goofiest guy from Andover might say.

When the world criticizes you, you always have options.  You can internalize it and become sullen, you can ratchet up your narcissistic defense mechanisms, and reject it outright, or you can carefully weigh it to consider whether it's worth acting on.

Don't get me wrong -- there is TONS of bad advice and bad feedback out there.  Anyone without "skin in the game" is automatically suspect.  If you're running a business, always listen to Directors, customers, prospects, and investors -- everyone else gets the Big Filter.

If you need a role model, look to a not-so-goofy guy with Andover ties -- Bill Belichick.  That's a guy who gets pissed off a lot.  Show me a guy who's pissed off, and I'll show you a guy who cares.  

If your doctor tells you to shed a few, you can either think, "What an a-hole, that's none of his business!" or you can think, "Maybe it's time to buy that elliptical."  The difference in the reaction says everything I need to know about you.

As the Cracked article says, single guys would be far better off figuring out how to make themselves more appealing/interesting TO girls rather than trying to read up on tricks, stunts, and pick-up lines.

Job seekers would be better off using MOOCs to learn Python, Java, and basic crypto than just complaining that no one is looking for their amazing skill set.

If I've convinced you by now, read the David Wong article.  If I haven't convinced you, just remember that:

(1) Everyone wants to be famous...but no one wants to put in the work;
(2) It's a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll;
and (3) Coffee is for closers.  

Monday, July 8, 2013

Returning to "Cheating at Solitaire"

Could confidence be overrated?

Maybe.  I wrote back in October about the trouble that people face when they teach themselves something, as opposed to taking a formal course.  I used the expression "Cheating at Solitaire" to describe the phenomenon by which people can glaze over difficult information and just sort of tell themselves they know it (rather than face a contrary reality) or to look back at a diagnostic test they took and cleverly "re-interpret" the results.

Now that I've got a few months of experience under my belt as a GMAT tutor, I've had a chance to really see this up close.

I've seen students miss multiple math questions in a row, and either a) want to drill as deeply as they possibly can into the nuts and bolts of WHY they missed a particular problem; or b) just say to themselves "that's not really what I meant to put," or "that's just an easy one, let's not analyze it."  (Never mind the lay-up opportunity for the obvious retort, 'Well, if it was really so easy...')

In my role, I can give a slight nudge, or -- if the case merits it -- a strong push to try to snap someone out of this mentality.  Sometimes, though, the attempt is a bridge too far.

I'm not sure what causes this sort of cognitive dissonance, but it might be rooted in self-perception.  In other words, if you think of yourself as "a really good Math guy" you might not be willing to accept that your probability and combinatorics fundamentals aren't so hot.  If you could just shed that baggage, maybe you'd be willing to open up a bit, and come away with a higher score.

I'll come back to my comfort zone here with an NFL analogy.  Look at what Tom Brady does after he throws a pick.  He doesn't just deny that it happened.  He swears, he throws things, he sometimes even gets into shouting matches with coaches.  He doesn't want to do it again.  He'll watch hours of film to help reduce the likelihood that it will.

You could say he's a confident guy, or even that he's a cocky guy.  But that confidence is built on a very strong base.  Confidence in and of itself doesn't have that base.  Just saying 'I got it' over and over again isn't worth a half a percentage of what actually 'getting it' is worth.

As a teacher, I'd rather have a Tom Brady than a Ryan Leaf.  I'd rather have the guy (or girl) who gets the problem wrong, lets out a four-letter word or two, and says, "How do I fix this?"  

I've learned to worry, though, when I hear that "Cheating at Solitaire" style of cognitive dissonance coming through.  To the degree that I can, I'll fight it.  To the degree that I can nip it in the bud, I'll stomp it out early.  To the degree that it persists, though, I'll watch as someone spins his or her wheels towards a lukewarm result despite all the hours of preparation.  

Monday, July 1, 2013

What is the Yellow Ribbon Program?

I've written a few times here on the blog about the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

In addition to a book stipend, it pays an E-5 w/dependent housing allowance based on the ZIP code of the school.  If you are curious to know what that works out to for your ZIP code, check here. That's pro-rated for the months that you're in school, and then you can also get up to $18,700 for tuition.

Some schools voluntarily enter into a "Yellow Ribbon" program, through which the school and the VA each split the difference between the school's tuition cost and the 18.7k cap.  The number of Yellow Ribbon scholarships available per school depends on how much dough the school ponies up for the program.

When you hear people talk about "making the post-9/11 GI Bill a TRUE GI Bill" they are implying that fully-eligible veterans should not pay tuition.  Regardless of any normative opinions about what "should" or "shouldn't" be, it's an awesome thing for at least this one reason:  Political leaders love to talk these days about veteran entrepreneurship.  It's a great sound bite, and promoting it actually makes sense for a lot of reasons -- among them, people who have experience exercising leadership within organizations are well-poised to lead companies.

The Yellow Ribbon scholarships promote entrepreneurship indirectly, in the sense that they radically alter the debt load that a veteran faces after completing a degree.

So in my anything-but-neutral opinion, they are a great thing.  As former AIG CEO Hank Greenberg used to say, "All I want in life is an unfair advantage."