Memory and Ego

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One of my favorite podcasts right now is Revisionist History with Malcolm Gladwell. Although I have loved his takes on Wilt Chamberlain’s free throw style (Season 1) or why McDonalds fries just don’t taste as good as they used to (Season 2), two episodes of Season 3 (episodes #3 and #4) on memory have been the most substantially life altering.

Any summary will not do them justice (so go listen!), but the gist is that our memories are extremely unreliable. In his Free Brian Williams episode, Malcolm talks through the memory of his own experiences on 9/11 and how his story differed substantially from his neighbor who told him about the attack! After 9/11 took place, a number of researchers interviewed people on what they were doing at the time of the attack, and then followed up at 1, 3, and 10 year intervals. They picked 9/11 because it was a “flashbulb” event; where you were and what you were doing at that precise moment is seared in your brain (or is it?).

What they found was that the majority significantly changed their story after the first year and were extremely confident that their new story was actually what happened. Through a process of memory consolidation – moving from short to long term memory, we rehearse these memories and the memories become extremely vulnerable to change. What is crazy about this process is that we accept the new memories as truth even when confronted with evidence to the contrary (in the case of the 9/11 study, written evidence for what they said had happened at that time)!

These two episodes on memory share the incredible stories of the “world’s greatest harmonica player” and the Brian Williams story. Both stories feel like famous individuals grasping for further fame as they re-write their own history. Brian Williams’ story goes from riding in a helicopter in Iraq to taking fire and being shot down in a helicopter in Iraq. He eventually recants the embellishment (he only heard about another helicopter going down the same day), but even the helicopter pilot who did take him couldn’t remember if they took fire. The story feels wrong and self-promoting. But is it? Or is it just a fault of his mind consolidating multiple memories – the story of riding in a helicopter in Iraq, the story of taking fire and the story that he heard about a helicopter going down?

I consider myself to have a fairly good memory. Not infallible, but definitely better than most. I can recall events/dates, precise locations of objects in a room or on a page, and memorize things very easily. This over time has built up an Ego (yes, intentional capitalization) where I will pick my memory, my story over that of anyone else and immediately issue judgement if the other party disagrees with what I remember.

Because my memory is that good right?

Or what if it really isn’t?

What if all these memories – or at least the majority – are just stories that I have been telling myself? Maybe there are pieces of truth, but the events…in precisely the way that they have been laid out in my head…are just how my memory has consolidated over time?

Based on all of this, this is how I think I should show up differently. How will you?

  • Shut up my Ego. No, I am not perfect, so don’t act that way.
  • Listen first, speak second. If I jump immediately into my story, how do I give space to hear and understand others?)
  • Give others the benefit of the doubt What actually “happened” matters less than how I engage with my friends/family/coworkers in their own story

 

Read this First

I am a husband, a father, and a start-up business leader. This blog is a collection of my musings on things that I am reading and listening too, reflections on being a new parent and thoughts on how to be a better version of yourself.  My hope is for any of these random ideas and thoughts help spark new perspectives in your own life!

Latest Reflections:

The Goal – Review

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Business parables like The Goal are one of my favorite types of management books. Effective authors take a complex business concept/problem, create an imaginary business with relatable problems, and identify a protagonist to wrestle with the problem and eventually used the author’s management tactics to solve.

The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement does not disappoint. Although I disagree with the reviews stating that it is a “fast-paced thriller” and “gripping”, The Goal is an incredibly easy read and great way for a new manager to dip their toes into the concepts of process improvement which can take years to master through methodologies like Lean and Six Sigma.

The protagonist, Alex Rogo, is a newly promoted plant manager trying to turn his failing plant around. Throughout the story, he continues to optimize the metrics that he are told matter– and failing in the process. The protagonist’s has epiphanies along the way. On productivity – “Every action that brings a company closer to its goal is productive. Every action that does not bring a company closer to its goal is not productive.”

The big “ah-ha” is around the ultimate goal of business is to make money, and if you are measuring things that don’t get you closer to that goal, they don’t matter. Overall, recommend the book, but not all the ideas in it. Personally, I lean more towards the Simon Sinek way of thinking – why you are in business is much more important that the pure pursuit of profits, but there is still a lot of value to the ideas and simplicity of The Goal!

This is a mind expanding book that helps new managers question what they are doing and how it ties back to ultimate business results as well as lays out a clear framework for continuous improvement. Another great resource on the subject is Measure What Matters.

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Raising Daughters

Since Lucy was born, I have been trying to discover what my role as a Father is in raising a daughter in the world today to be the best version of whomever she wants to become.

As the husband to an amazing woman and as a feminist, I thought I had some perspective on where to start — I want to encourage Lucy to be strong, curious, and empowered girl who believes that she already is more than enough. Some inspiration for me comes from this awesome dad, and more inspiration from all the amazing women out there trailblazing and making the world a better place for Lucy to grow up.

I also am starting to be even more conscious of all the messages that our culture sends girls. This past week, I got the latest Surfer magazine titled Surfing, through Her. A full issue dedicated to woman that charge [if need some translation for “charge” here is a surf dictionary]. Lucy has been waking up at 6am lately, and I have been reading her books when she gets up…so figured — maybe I could read her the new Surfer? At the very least, I figured she would be very entertained by all the colorful photos! Let’s do this!

  • Spread 1 – Oneill Ad of Jordy Smith (male surfer) doing a huge cutback
  • Spread 2 – Billabong Ad of Shaun Manners and Creed McTaggart sharing a wave
  • Spread 3 – Rip Curl Ad of Bethany Hamilton deep in the tube
  • Spread 4 – Vans Ad of Wade Goodall walking with his board
  • Spread 5 – Editor’s note: “In surfing, we’ve historically judged the aquatic talents of a woman in terms of how they measure up to a man’s.”

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Two pages later, an ad for surfing in Puerto Rico titled, “Beautiful as ever”. Compared to any woman reading the magazine, I have zero right to be incensed by the first few pages, but I was. Lucy is still happy as a clam sitting on my lap as I quickly flip to more colorful pages and all I can think about is how in a magazine featuring awesome female surfers 3 of the 4 first advertisements are featuring guys (props to Rip Curl for paying attention in their ad placement!), then a reflection that the measuring stick for all female surfers is how well they surf in comparison to men fast followed by a surf ad featuring not an amazing female surfer in Puerto Rico but a model with a seashell tattoo.

The first interview with Layne Beachley, a 7 TIME WORLD CHAMPION, summed up this problem precisely “Most of the time, guys are celebrated for their ability and it doesn’t matter how they look while they’re doing it. They don’t have to have the perfect ass and the perfect abs and the hottest body and the prettiest face to be seen as deserving a good sponsorship.” Layne is talking about the problem that (a) female surfers get less sponsors [see above] and (b) they only get sponsored if they are hot.

I find myself back at my initial question. As a Father raising a daughter in today’s world, how do I best support/empower/encourage her as she continues to grow? What did your fathers do OR what do you wish they had? (seriously, please send me what you think!)

Ending with my favorite Layne quote from the same interview, “When you know who you are, external pressures, judgements and projected opinions don’t seem to matter as much.” In the words of a badass female charger (and Taylor Swift), when you know who you are…haters gonna hate.

Start With Why – Review

I loved the amazing Ted Talk that Simon Sinek did on this subject so finally read the book over the last few weeks! The book reviews his concept of the “golden circle” and includes a copious amount of examples from companies that both exemplify (Apple) and miss the mark on this concept.

The quick overview of the book: “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe”.

At the center of the circle is your why – “This is the core belief of the business. It’s why the business exists.” How you fulfill that core belief and what you do – the tangible products or services you deliver are secondary and in service to that core belief. The problem is that most companies have it backwards – they market what they do and miss that their customers are more loyal for why they do what they do.

Overall, skip the book, watch the Ted Talk. Although I love and agree with all of Simon Sinek’s points, his 18 min video covers the main concepts without any of the repetition of examples of companies that start with (or do not start with) their why.

Tools of Titans – Review

If you prefer not to read, I’d highly recommend the podcast where Tim Ferriss has most of the interviews in the book. The book is organized into three sections: healthy, wealthy and wise and Tim has managed to get the habits and perspectives from an absolutely incredible cast of people.

At first, I was super skeptical – Tim Ferriss is the guy that does the “4 hour” books (week, body, chef etc.) and just the title of those bothered me. Want to get rich, strong fast kids? Just be like me…

All that being said, the prior COO at Lyft (Rex Tibbens) recommended this to me a few years back so finally took the time to read it, and it did not disappoint! Highly Recommend. I think I annoyed Andi for weeks talking about the different interviews, habits and perspectives of all these amazing people as I was reading them.

Must read (or listen!) interviews:

  • Jocko Willink – Navy Seal, all around badass who when faced with adversity says “Good” and faces it head on.
  • Jamie Foxx – “What is on the other side of fear? Nothing…When we talk about fear or a lack of being aggressive, it’s in your head.”
  • Rainn Wilson – “I was cast in a Broadway show when I was 29 or 30 years old. It was my first Broadway show and I sucked….after I finished that show, I thought: ‘You know what, fuck it. I’m never doing that again….Life is too short. I’ve got to be me as an actor.”
  • Reid Hoffman – “I have come to learn that part of business strategy is to solve the simplest, easiest and most valuable problem”
  • Gabby Reece – “I always say that I’ll go first…That means if I’m checking out at the store, I’ll say hello first. If I’m coming across someboady and make eye contact, I’ll smile first. [I wish] people would experiment with that in their life a little bit: Be First, because–not at all times but most times– it comes in your favor.”

Finding Perspective

In a sleep deprived haze at 1am, I let @princejackpup out to use the bathroom. *Usually* he doesn’t need to go out in the middle of the night, but we had been traveling, Lucy had been crying, and the path of least resistance (and least mess) was to just let him out.

[Quick note on context: we live in an apartment on the first floor with access to a dirt patch that could pass as a backyard that we share with six other units in the building. The backyard is right below our property manager’s apartment. No one ever goes down there because you have to walk down at least two flights of stairs, down a creepy hallway with a low ceiling, and past some trash cans to get there. Jack knows where the backyard is and as long as the doors are open, he will run down, do his business and come back up saving us from going out in the cold, at 1am.]

I waited inside listening for him to sprint back up the stairs, but after 5 mins and then 10 mins, no Jack. Piercing the quiet – a loud growl, and then a series of barks. I rush downstairs to stop Jack from waking up our property manager to find him frozen in the center of the backyard with his lips snarled and body tense staring at the fence. I turn on the flashlight on my phone and I just see the fence. Confused, I try to calm him down, but he sprints away all the while barking and growling at the fence.

I walk closer to the fence with Jack following at my heels and finally see a small piece of ivy growing over the top of the fence and swaying in the wind. I pick Jack up and hold him closer to the ivy comforting him that it is OK and the little ivy is definitely not a threat that any of us need to be protected from. He cranes his neck out sniffing the air a few inches around the ivy and finally agrees – yes, this isn’t a threat and we can calm down.

So many times we get stuck in the middle of a terrible [insert relationship, situation, job, belief, etc] because we have only seen things from one perspective. We are Jack in the sense that we visit a place we have been to many times before and get scared and frustrated by the one thing that is uncomfortable or out of place.

It almost always something outside of ourselves to shift our perspective – to make the uncomfortable known, and help us to see that maybe the thing that we are so scared by is just ivy swaying in the wind.

“Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-two million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.” – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Most of the time, we get forced into these catalytic moments – we have a child, someone we love passes away, we get sick. In those moments, we will sometimes find new outlooks on life, but because the event “happened” to us (even planned), it takes us much longer – if ever – to learn whatever the universe is teaching us.

If we actively seek to open ourselves up to new experiences, we can also engineer these moments in our life, forcing ourselves into the process that I forced Jack into by picking him up and bringing him face to face with the scary piece of ivy growing on our backyard.

  1. Start by identifying where you might be stuck. Hint: it is almost always the thing that you talk about changing / doing but somehow never get around doing or a belief that you were taught and have never challenged. If you still don’t know what this could be, ask for feedback from close friends, family or coworkers – “what am I always talking about doing but never do?” or “what beliefs am I the most stubborn about?”
  2. Think of ways to get unstuck. Update your resume to find the job you have always talked about. Find a person that believes the opposite of what you believe and just become friends. Research books that expand your perspective – message me if you want some recommendations depending on the topic! Travel to a new country.
  3. Take one small step closer to the unknown. Book a flight, read the book or tell a friend what you are stuck on and how you are planning to get unstuck.
  4. Create a tipping point. Tell enough people what you are going to do or quit your job so that going forward into the unknown is easier than going back.

One of my own moments occurred when I was traveling during my study abroad program in Argentina. I didn’t know that I was “stuck” at the time, but knew that having only been out of the country once prior and never having traveled alone, I needed to expand my worldview. My decision to get unstuck was to stay in South America over the Christmas holidays and travel for two months alone. I talked about it with friends from school and finally by the time everyone was leaving to go be with their families, I started regretting my decision- did I really want to spend Christmas alone?

The beauty of engineering your own moments to get outside of your comfort zone is that you can create your own tipping points – tell so many people (for me it was everyone in the study abroad program) or quit your job so it becomes more difficult to go back than to move forward into the unknown.

Over the two months traveling, there was a lot of moments where I started to expand my perspective around the United States (read about my reflection a few years later on the banana republic in Guatemala here), religion, and what it might mean to live a fulfilled life (read here). A lot of the perspectives I gained stay with me today.

My two months traveling was like the fence getting torn down in the backyard revealing that the ivy growing over the fence was actually part of an amazing park beyond.

What fences are in your life? How can you engineer experiences to get to the amazing places outside of the fences in your way?