I Forgot I Was Gifted. You Probably Have, Too

For the longest time I have tried to meditate. My monkey mind is an entire menagerie!

I watched my breathing. I sat still and sensed my body. I mantra'd. I laid still and sensed my body.

If I lasted 2 minutes without a thought, I was lucky. Usually it was much less. I kept trying for months, without success. I grew disheartened.

Today I remembered how - for me.

How could I have missed what was hiding in plain sight?

It's 1981. Boston, Massachusetts. A student at M.I.T. faces 6-10 hours of homework a day. How do you maintain focus for those stretches?

For me, it was two things. When I started to work I popped Cheap Trick's 'At Budokan' into the cassette player. After the first bar I was in the zone. Yes, the place Mihály Csíkszentmihályi called flow. And the world outside my desk disappeared. After two plays of the cassette I'd break and gather my roommates and go to the Pizza Pad to play Frogger. Then back to the desk for another double play of Budokan. Sometimes it took 3 or 4 cycles to get the homework done, but the routine didn't vary. The music allowed me to use 100% of my mind to solve the problem at hand without fatigue.

Okay, maybe the effectiveness decayed a bit after 2 a.m...

Sometimes we rotated music, but the cycle was the same. By the most conservative estimate, I listened to that tape over a thousand times in my time at M.I.T.

Recently I mentioned on Liz's blog that Umphrey's McGee's podcast #39 had the same flow-inducing effect. My creative writing ablity soared when I listened to it. I'm guessing that I've listened to that recording nearly 200 times.

Are you seeing a pattern here?

Let me add one more illustration. In high school I was a pole vaulter. It's as much a mental challenge as a physical one. There you stand at the end of the runway, staring at a bar floating above the clouds behind it. Your job is to run as hard as you can at the bar, stick a fiberglass stick in the ground and wait for the stick to flick you over the bar. Assuming you jammed the stick into the ground at the proper angle and rate of speed. If you don't, bad things happen - I have two concussions and innumerable ankle sprains to show for it.

I know what you're thinking. Mike - after all those ankle sprains and two concussions, didn't you LEARN anything?

Yes. I did. I learned to fly.

And that's why I kept vaulting. It's hard to describe that moment you go over the bar. You see it below you. Time stands still. Then, after that blissful moment in which you are aware of the bar, the crowd, and the air beneath you, gravity returns and pulls you to the ground in a great rush of wind!

That may sound zen-ish, but that's not my revelation.

As I said, standing at the end of the runway can be very intimidating. But I learned a way to beat it. It started with the opening chords of Grand Funk Railroad's Shinin' On (the live version, not the studio version). Then I saw myself hurtling down the runway and vaulting over the bar. Then I hit the pit shouting "YES".

Neurolinguistic programming (NLP) afficianados would recognize this sequence immediately, but Bandler and Grinder were still grad students in those days. I had no idea what I was doing; I just knew it worked.

Fast forward to this afternoon. It's a hundred and farkin' fifteen degrees outside! And it doesn't feel like a dry heat. Did I mention the A/C on my van is acting up? I'm reflecting on Eckhart Tolle's 'The Power of Now' and thinking "how can I be present if my face is melting?" I flipped on ol' podcast 39 and started trying to concentrate on the now. And it worked! I drove home in presence. I walked down the driveway and gazed at the evening sky with total amazement and no mental chatter. And then I turned off the music and used my mind to continue the soundtrack, with no mental chatter.

And then it hit me like a freight train running over my foot. If I'd looked within for my ability to meditate instead of looking for external guidance, I'd have saved myself a great deal of frustration.

What have you been looking for externally that you already know internally?

Please consider that question carefully if you're not totally satisfied with your life. You already have the answer. You just need to be willing to acknowledge it. Don't be a dumbass and turn a blind eye to it for 30 years like I did! Ask yourself: was there ever a time when you succeeded in anything closely resembling what you want to do? If yes, what went through your head? If you can't remember such a time, is there another frame of reference that gets you to yes? Because you have surprised yourself at least once. I know it.

And you know it too.

More on this subject when the experience design site explodes on the scene next week!

posted by Mike at 5:51 PM 14 comments


Five Curious Experiments at Spooky Action Labs

Yesterday I posted five original must-read articles from this blog in response to a challenge from Liz Strauss. In the comments to her post I joked that it might be fun to create a list of the five most regrettable posts on a blog. She suggested some more creative list topics, and so here are five curiosities that never caught on as I hoped. But they were all fun experiments and contributed to the posts that folks do come here to read.

Narcissistic Public Service Announcement Okay, so it's not Conjunction Junction, but the abuse of the pronoun myself is reaching pandemic proportions! Where else can you find Ron Popiel, Billy Idol, James Taylor, and Cowboy Curtis in one post?

Four Jokes to Live By My first foray into the era of 'talkies'. I got the basic idea for this podcast several years ago, and finally got around to pulling it together at the start of this year. Response was underwhelming, but I learned a lot from doing it.

Top 5 Faces NOT to Make During an Audit I am a wordsmith. Can I do a top five list just by mugging for the camera?

Mini Confectioner's Haggis A real-live experiment in experience design. Can I concoct an ethnically-themed dessert for a pot luck for less than $5 and less than 5 minutes prep time? I suppose my success should serve as evidence for the power of the Law of Attraction...

Crash Course in Learning from Harry Potter I can't read music; I don't play an instrument, but this is a symphony of words, pictures, and ideas! Okay, maybe not a symphony; more like "Variations on a Theme by Kathy Sierra and John Salt".

Are you wondering about those M&Ms at the top of the post? Apparently Mars is experimenting with custom M&Ms sporting logos and slogans. Will it be wildly popular? Who knows, but they'll never know unless they run a few experiments!

posted by Mike at 6:31 AM 2 comments


Twelve Steps for Personal Development Addicts

Lyman Reed has created an instant classic with his post Twelve Steps for Personal Development Addicts. It's hilarious and scary all at once in that I-resemble-that-remark way. Excerpt:
2. Came to believe that if the book we read last week wasn’t working, maybe if I buy another one, it will!

5. Humbly admitted to no one, especially not ourselves, that we weren’t really working on any of this stuff, just thinking about it and not taking any action.
I point out this post for two reasons. I've already stated the first, but the second is that I think I may be in recovery from this addiction. I didn't fully realize this fact until last week. In case you missed it, Kevin Eikenberry, author of Remarkable Leadership has waged a remarkable (well, duh!) campaign to catapult his book to the top of the Amazon charts. One of the ways authors will do this is to have a blitz of free bonuses for people who order on the first day (or soon after publishing). If you click on Kevin's link, you will see that he is offering not two bonuses, not ten bonuses, not fifty bonuses, but a mind-boggling 71 free bonuses!! Bravo, Kevin; that must have taken a monumental effort to assemble!

But I didn't order the book, even though I could get all that for about twenty bucks. I love free stuff as much as anyone, but about halfway down the list I realized that I would never get through even a fraction of the material, and then I'd wonder what I'd missed in the unstudied items.

I also got to thinking about Wallace Wattles and the Science of Getting Rich, and how faith, focus, perseverance, and gratitude were all I needed to succeed. I felt like the Grinch on top of Mt. Crumpit as I realized that personal development isn't about any specific system, program, or guru. They may provide useful tools I can use in my development program, but the spirit of personal development is the four items mentioned above. And I thought that perhaps creatively focusing only on them was what I should be doing. Perhaps there's hope for me yet...

posted by Mike at 4:28 PM 2 comments

Five Original Must-Read Articles by Mike DeWitt

Liz Strauss at Successful Blog recently challenged me to "select five original must-read articles that I wrote throughout history (so to speak)."

Normally this would be a time-consuming, but pleasurable stroll down memory lane, and I would do it for Liz because she is such a good friend. But it's my lucky day, because I went through a similar exercise only a month ago! So instead of reviewing all my posts, I just need to winnow down that top ten and see if I can't drop in a recent one.

So here is the list of five must-read posts here at Spooky Action. They also define the kinds of content you'll get on this blog.

Spooky Action Predicts: Nick Carr Has Your Number (.8 Probability) The first post; sort of like a debut album, it has the accumulated ideas of several years, and you'll find an awful lot of my philosophy there. Yeah, it took a while to shake the sophomore blues, until I wrote:

When Bad Things Happen to Good Concepts is the embodiment of the Product Irreverence ethos. You'll never see a pencil sharpener the same again. This piece is now part of MBA By Blog!

Categories of Fun and Experience Design I've written a book-length treatise on Experience Design based on the concepts here, and you'll be seeing more of that material coming soon. This one has been linked quite a bit by people who know more than me on the subject!

How to Make Important Decisions This one spent nine months at number one when you Google the title. Alas, I have dipped to number 3 (we're more entertaining)! My take on how the mind works.

What I Learned from an Unscheduled Trip to the Bottom of the Grand Canyon. I've really enjoyed Robert Hruzek's "What I've Learned From..." group writing project. This is one of my favorites, because it tells a story (with incredible pictures) and has a good actual lesson, too.

So there you have it! If you haven't joined in this exercise, give it a try; you'll be glad you did. And thanks Liz for inviting me to play!

posted by Mike at 12:15 PM 5 comments


My Virtual Brush With Fame - The Glenda Watson Hyatt Book Tour

Another 110 degree day here in the Valley of the Sun, which means it's 47 degrees in my office. I step outside for a few minutes to thaw out, and I imagine myself driving along the Apache Trail on the way to Lake Roosevelt.

This is my favorite stretch: Fish Creek Hill. If you look closely, you'll see that here the Trail is a one-lane dirt road with plywood guard rails. What you can't tell from the picture is that it drops at a 10 degree grade. That might not seem like a big number, but picture in your mind the steepest road you've ever driven on. Now make it 40% steeper! That's a ten degree grade.

Did I mention that traffic flows in both directions on the one lane dirt plume of terror? There are occasional places to pull over and let oncoming traffic pass, and it's always exciting getting close to that guard rail to squeeze by...

In one of those alcoves I notice a red Ferrari convertible with a flat tire. I stop and ask the woman in the driver's seat "would you like some help with that flat, ma'am?"

"I'll do it myself", she answers with a smile.

Wow! She's got moxey. I know I've seen that smile before, but where?

"Hey, are you Glenda Watson Hyatt?" I call out.

"Ta!Da! In person," she exclaims.

I'd met Glenda several months before via the blogosphere. She was wickedly funny, and only after I'd gotten to know her delightful personality did I learn that she has cerebral palsy and communicates with the world through her left thumb. But that hasn't stopped her from living an amzaing life, which she has chronicled in an equally amazing book entitled I'll Do It Myself (click the link to learn more).

"May I ask you a few questions about your book, Glenda?" I inquired.

"Of course", she replied.

Everyone writes a book with someone in mind. Sometimes we write for ourselves, and sometimes we write with a specific person in mind. Who did you write your book for?

First, and foremost, I wrote the book for youth and young adults with cerebral palsy and other disabilities to motivate, to inspire and to share how I have navigated life.

Secondly, I wrote it for parents, who, after having their bundle of joy gently placed in their awaiting arms, are given the devastating news their baby has cerebral palsy. In an instant, their hopes and dreams for their child, as well as for their family, are smashed. I hope this book offers a glimmer of hope for these parents, as well as for the siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles. I want to show that life can still be meaningful, despite cerebral palsy.

Lastly, I hope the book will enable doctors and medical professionals to see beyond the diagnosis, the prognosis and the can’ts, and see the patient as a person filled with capabilities, potential and desires. However, that may be expecting far too much from only one book!

I know that this is an autobiography, but were there any surprises or revelations for you during the writing process?

Yes, there were a few surprises and some parts were hard to write. One was surprise was regarding my Grade 7 teacher. He had some unusual teaching methods; let's simply say his contract was not renewed. However, despite him not being my favourite teacher, while I was writing the book, I found myself owing him some gratitude because he encouraged my writing. Perhaps he saw potential and knew that writing would have to play an important part in my life.

If you could pick any actress in film history to play you in the movie version of the book, who would it be, and why?

This is a question I've actually discussed with my good friend Penny (www.1stpod.com); adapting my book into a screen play is part of my long-term vision. In fact, it has just become my next big dream as I am writing this!

Julia Roberts is my first choice. Her fun-loving, bubbly personality is a perfect match. And she already has the red hair!

However, it really annoys me when people with disabilities typically aren't played by actors and actresses with disabilities. It reminds me of Shakespearean times when female roles were played by boys and young men. For this reason, I'd be honoured to have Geri Jewell (http://www.gerijewell.com/), the first actress with a disability to land a recurring role on a prime time series, play me.

[I was thinking a young Lucille Ball, but Geri works for me!]

What surprises people most about your story?

I think most people are surprised by how much I have done, even though I have a physical disability. [For me it was her incredible resilience!]

You are participating in the Blog for a Year contest, trying to win a salary to blog for a year. How can people help you, and what is the best reason to do so?

People can offer their support by voting daily (http://blogforayear.com/profiles/glenda-watson-hyatt); from home and work or school would be awesome. They can also spread the word by posting a badge on their site or blog and blogging about it. If they are on Facebook, they are welcome to join my fan club (http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2378349797). If they twitter, please tweet often. Your support in spreading the word is much appreciated.

Winning, particularly if the contributions reach the full amount of $160,000 (http://blogforayear.com/), means I could focus on blogging (www.doitmyselfblog.com), which has opened a whole new world to me, and enables me to communicate and share my story with people from around the world. Winning would also enable me to get off social assistance, which is my goal. Thanks so much. Together I know I can climb to #1(http://blogforayear.com/profiles)!

Suddenly my Blackberry started vibrating and I was once again back at work, reading an important message from a colleague [Did I want to grab lunch at Chotchkie's?]. I really wanted to ask Glenda how she got all the way from Saskatchewan to Arizona in one day, but then I figured it was Glenda and it was a Ferrari 360 Spyder. What more explanation was needed?

You can follow the rest of Glenda's Summer Sojourn Virtual Book tour at her blog. And don't forget to vote for Glenda in the Blog for a Year contest!

Enjoy the rest of your sojourn, Glenda!

Photo from Risk's Ultralight Hiking Page, where you can see many breathtaking photos from the trail.

Bonus: video of the first part of the downhill run.

posted by Mike at 12:47 PM 7 comments


The Fat Smoker and the Black Swan

The Great Oracle of Professional Services, David Maister, writes:
"The parallel between the market for business advice and the weight-loss industry fascinates me. We have in most countries a huge industry which basically doesn't have much to say except "eat less exercize more." Is there really any difference between Jennie Craig and Weight Watchers except the psychology of the process you voluntarily put yourself in, in order to provide structure to what you know you should be doing anyaway. Why do weight loss books sell so well? Why is everyone looking for the latest fad diet?"
I asked a similar question about self-help books in general a couple of years ago, and came up with a strong opinion. For those of you looking for a quick read, I'll net out the posts. The reason there are a zillion self-help books saying the same thing has little to do with the books themselves and everything to do with the individual reader experience.

Since I wrote those posts I stumbled onto an additional nuance. Earlier this year Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote a book entitled The Black Swan [link takes you to the corresponding ChangeThis manifesto]. His basic thesis is that our lives are heavily influenced by Black Swans, which he characterizes thusly:
"First it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point out its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme impact. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable."
For the fat smoker, the experience of losing the weight / stopping smoking fits the description. And the fat smoker's mind goes into concoction mode. While the reality is that the conditions just happened to be right for him or her to "eat less and exercise more", they're more likely to glom onto the book or program that got them going in the right direction. And so they tell their friends about this wonderful program, some of whom may also be just on the edge of a mental state that will allow them to "eat less and exercise more". They'll have success, too. If this happens to enough people, the book becomes a runaway best seller! Of course, for reasons discussed in the previous posts, not everyone is going to be able to use the book/program to keep them in the proper mental state. But the Black Swan of the "ultimate diet book" keeps them looking for one of their own.

In business, as in self-improvement, the key is not some new recipe, it's the motivation an organization or individual brings to the effort. Wally Bock notes in the comments section of David's post that the key to success in major initiatives, from losing weight to learning to golf or implementing Six Sigma, is in keeping motivated when the you hit the inevitable plateau or dip. And here's where the mental concoction apparatus does its finest work. After all, "I just bit the bullet and kept plugging away" doesn't have much story value.

What is the moral for managers and consultants?
  1. As we discussed in When Bad Things Happen to Good Concepts, it's vitally important to understand the difference between concept and context.
  2. Success ultimately boils down to motivation, and not everyone is motivated by the same things. You need to know what really motivates your employees/customers.
  3. Plan for, and watch for, the plateau or dip. When it happens, be ready to inject experiences that will bolster the motivation of the dipees.

What do you think? Did I miss anything? How would you answer David's question?

posted by Mike at 12:58 PM 4 comments


Carnival of the Capitalists for August 13, 2007

Welcome to this week's Carnival of the Capitalists. I should have known when I signed up to host on the 13th to plan for the unexpected. Who knew it would be the Blue Screen of Death? And then the dreaded sound of scraping from the hard drive. Followed by air conditioner problems; never good in the middle of August in Arizona. And the first day of school is today (I guess every cloud DOES have a silver lining!).

Over 50 submissions this week, too! I guess everyone is blogging on summer vacation this year. And since you have extra time on your hands, I'm giving everyone link love this week. I also have a list of the top picks (in my personal opinion - no offense to anyone who isn't a top pick; I'm just as capricious as the host who didn't top pick my submission last week!) Please note that CotC only allows one post per author and one post per blog.

Top Picks for the Time-Challenged

Sagar Satapathy presents All You Need is Love and a Good Financial Plan: 17 Finance Tips from the Beatles posted at Credit Card Lowdown. I'm not a big Beatles fan, but he gets high marks for creativity!

Charles Green posits that We've All Caught the Detroit Disease. Money quote: "We’ve learned well from Detroit—the wrong lessons." Ouch!

Benjamin Kepple presents Moneyball posted at Ben Kepple, in which he discusses quandary of the value of the yuan (and the problems both the Chinese and American governments face in dealing with the issue).

Bob Vineyard explains some interesting facts about health care spending. Interesting in that pending disaster sort of way...

James Hamilton of Econbrowser discusses last week's interventions by central banks in What is a liquidity event?. So that's what the Fed is doing...

Michael K. Dawson presents Leave Buy and Hold to the Billionaires posted at Breaking the Shackles of the 9 to 5 | by The Time & Money Group. Money quote of the week: "One of the most expensive lessons that I have ever learned is that it is much better to sell a stock and buy it back higher than to suffer through a draw down."

Rob presents Rupert Murdoch Would Be a Fruitcake To Make the WSJ Free posted at Businesspundit. I liked Rob's analysis very much. Then I read Jon Strande's smackdown rebuttal, which brought up some interesting ideas of how to make it work.

"Last Friday when I found myself agreeing with Jim Cramer, I felt very uncomfortable for obvious reasons." Babak presents Financial Liquidity Injection: Better Late Than Never posted at Trader's Narrative.

"YouTubes database of iPhone-related videos reached for more than 15,000. The most popular of them was viewed 4 million times." Wow. Michael Ferrerya presents From iPhone to YouTube - The Viral Marketing Method.

Christine Kane presents What's Easy. What's Not. posted at Christine Kane's Blog. Okay, so this isn't exactly standard CotC fare, but it's so beautifully written I had to include it in the faves.


Wilson Ng presents the perfect post for Monday the 13th: Going to the Top too fast posted at Reflections of a BizDrivenLife. Alas, he's probably right.


Aundi presents Economics of Burning Man posted at Queercents. Note: language is not G rated on this post.

Jay Deragon presents Get S.E.T. for Change, in which he discusses the convergence of Sociology, Economics and Technology.

Adam presents The Knowledge Economy Hypothesis posted at Sophistpundit. I feel like I should get college credits for finishing that one, but very well written.

David Tufte discusses 'Why Is Macroeconomics So Hard - "Balanced" Journalism"' at voluntaryXchange. Money quote: "Is it any wonder than a nation full of leisurely people who can afford to pay to have someone to redo their closets to hold more stuff have unfounded angst about the economy?"

CA presents Manufacturing moving back to the US? - Part 1 : Atlantic Canada’s Small Business Blog - IQI Strategic Management Inc. posted at Atlantic Canada's Small Business Blog. As Wolfgang used to say on Laugh In: "Very interesting..."


Edith Yeung lists 13 Things a Successful Entrepreneur Must Know & Take Action On posted at Edith Yeung.Com: Dream. Think. Act.. I liked the Just Do This at the end!

Wayne Hurlbert presents Connections: Bloggers plus dots equal business : Blog Business World posted at Blog Business World. There do seem to be a lot of new businesses coming out of blogging relationships these days.

Christopher Anderson presents Planning an Business Trip. Good advice for maximizing deductions!

Crystal Cohen presents Leveling the Playing Fields.


Rachel Langston says OSAs are MVPs over at My Money Thinks. OSAs are Online Savings Accounts.

Andy presents How to Determine Financial Success posted at moneywalks. Two words: net worth!

DR presents 5 Steps to Achieving the 24-hour Work Week (Which Beats The 4-Hour Work Week) posted at The Dough Roller. No Mondays...hmm...Step 5 is important for everyone these days...

Matthew Paulson presents How to Make a Guaranteed 14.57% Rate of Return on Your Money. posted at FinanceIsPersonal.com. Another spoonful of castor oil, but it's good advice.

FMF presents Disney Money Saving Tips: Avoid Crowds, Be Flexible, Shop Around posted at Free Money Finance. Non-financial tip: bring a baby!

Martin Bosworth presents "Faith-based investing" and total economic collapse posted at Scholars and Rogues. It's not that kind of "faith-based".

Silicon Valley Blogger presents How Are You Building Your Net Worth? posted at The Digerati Life. Two words: pie charts!

Shannon Christman presents Why Getting a Degree Isn’t Always a Sound Financial Decision posted at Saving Advice Blog. Good questions and solid analysis.

George presents Buybacks vs. Dividends posted at Fat Pitch Financials, which presents the results of a reader poll.


Carmen Van Kerckhove presents How to respond to a racist joke posted at Race in the Workplace - how race and racism influence our working lives. Very well written piece. I wish all training of this type were this cogent.

Alvaro Fernandez presents Training the Aging Workforce posted at Brain Fitness Blog. It's never too early to set your baby boomer exit strategy!

Wally Bock at Three Star Leadership Blog discusses Engagement: Seven Ways to Increase It. I can provide apocryphal evidence for this: "If you have a bad boss, you will have a terrible workplace. If you have a great boss you can have a great workplace in the most awful and dysfunctional of companies."

Leon Gettler presents Interview with Boyden World Corporation president Christopher J Clarke posted at Sox First. I'm not sold on the concept of "short term CFOs".

Louise Manning presents Are You A Good Facilitator? posted at The Human Imprint. Nice distinction between leadership and facilitation!

Bridgette Boudreaux presents The Money Is In The Service posted at Your Time 2 Soar. A birthday cake for a copier?

Sales and Marketing

David Kam discusses ADcraft, marketing in the World of Warcraft. Any group of 9 million people is a market too ripe to ignore.

The Markets

Matthew Ash says The Long Term is Still As Bright As Ever, and he has a chart to prove it. He also says the short and intermediate don't look so rosy.

Warren Wong admonishes you to Stop Checking That Stock at INTJ Personal Development. If you're not going to act, why look?

nickel presents The Dow Jones Industrial Average: Then and Now posted at fivecentnickel.com. I think my grandfather had a few shares of Distilling and Cattle Feeding.


Jimmy Liberty presents Thom Hartmann?s Faulty Attack On Capitalism? Part I posted at Jimmy Liberty's Blog, wherein he discusses current events from the 1700's. And I agree with him.

Vihar Sheth presents Sustainable Sports posted at green | rising, and includes a list of the Top Ten Vegetarian-Friendly Ballparks.

Dan Melson presents San Diego Real Estate Market Prognosis August 2007 posted at Searchlight Crusade. He points out that San Diego has been on the leading edge of real estate trends, both good and bad, so you may want to check this out.

Mark at SportsBiz - The Business of Sports Illuminated discusses GM's severance of it's 23 year relationship with the U.S. Olympic Committee.

What to do with $80 Million worth of stock certificates sent to you by mistake? Shivering Timbers presents Stock Certificates posted at Dispatches from the Frozen North.

FitBuff presents Free Water, What a Novel Idea! | FitBuff.com's Total Mind and Body Fitness Blog posted at FitBuff.com's Total Mind and Body Fitness Blog. Well, not exactly free...

And there you have it! Next week's edition will be at Revenue River. You can visit him before then if you like. Check out his Penn and Teller post! Or you can stay here and look at more irreverently productive stuff. You can start with this list of defining posts, or anything in the sidebar.

Drat! I just noticed that next week's host was also last week's host. What do you think the probability of me getting a "top" listing next week is?

posted by Mike at 1:23 AM 7 comments


What I Learned From an Unscheduled Trip to the Bottom of the Grand Canyon

Have you ever been to the Grand Canyon? Do pictures, or even video, do justice to it? To me, they can't capture the sense of awe you feel standing on the rim in person. Go ahead and click the picture below to expand it to full size. It's incredible, but not like the real thing.

I first visited the Grand Canyon when I was 13 years old. For years I had hiked the mountains of the western U.S. and Canada with my grandparents, but had never done any serious canyon hiking. We planned to spend a week at Grand Canyon National Park, with the goal of working our way up to an overnight trip to the bottom of the canyon and back.

The distance from rim to river is about 7.8 miles. That's not too daunting; it's the 4300 ft altitude change that can kill you, literally: [You can click any picture to enlarge]

So our plan for the first day was to spend the morning getting our "trail legs" by hiking down to the 1.5 mile mark and coming back. From mountain hiking I knew that going up took about three times as long as going down the same path.

My grandfather, mother, brother and I set out early in the morning, and in no time we were at the 1.5 mile mark. The scenery was breathtaking, and since we were making better time than expected, we decided we could go a little further.

The trail was great, and the views became more fascinating as we proceeded into the canyon.

Remember that little patch of green in the center of the first picture? It's called Indian Garden, and we made it there without breaking a sweat. We stopped with the intent of turning around BUT...

...of that 4300 ft vertical drop, we'd already completed almost 3000. Why not go just a little farther to see what the inner canyon looks like?

Below the plateau, most of the rock is black schist, a volcanic rock. And what happens when black rock is exposed to intense sunlight over a period of time? That's right; it turns the sunlight into radiated heat. It got progressively hotter as we went down. Of course, once we got into the lower canyon, the lure of getting to the river became a siren song. It was hot, and the thought of putting our feet in cool water before turning around was too much to resist!

And there it is! Yee ha!

But wait. What's wrong with this picture?

I remember running to the beach, tossing off my shoes and socks and jumping into the water - only to be involuntarily flung backward onto the sand by the shock of how freezing cold the water was!! The water flowing through the canyon has spent months, maybe years chilling at the very bottom of Lake Powell, and felt as cold as Lake Superior on that hot June day. But we made it!

Now for the fun part; turning around and returning to the top. Here's a stretch of the trail through the lower canyon. They don't call the the Devil's Corkscrew for nothing! [Reminder: all of these pictures can be clicked to view and zoom. This one in particular will put you in the mood of the trip.]

Here is a more panoramic view. Where we're going is way up in the right hand corner. Can you see why they post those warning signs? *gulp*

As we worked our way up the Devil's Corkscrew, I began to notice a fine white powder on my arms. Can you guess what it was?

Salt. The dry heat wicked all the moisture I was sweating off of me instantly, leaving only a salty residue. Good thing we brought salt pills with us! But we were going through the water pretty quickly. (I ended up drinking the better part of a gallon of water without ever having to visit the facilities)

Indian Gardens from the other direction! Shade never looked so sweet, and we could refill our canteens.

Only another 2908' straight up to go! At this point we'd already hiked over 11 miles, but still had four and change left. Our pace had slacked considerably, but my grandfather admonished us that he didn't have the money for a helicopter rescue, so we trudged on. That which doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right?

A couple of hours into the next stretch something wonderful happens. Your consciousness focuses down to a small space a couple paces in front of you. You're not aware of your body, or the canyon. Just the trail rolling along, changing color as you slowly ascend through the rock strata. I imagine this is how zombies feel.

Even a dry heat will bake you to a crisp! I don't feel so good.

Finally, the rim is within attainable reach! Where's that fourth wind when I really need it?

Oh yes, right here! (It's great to be a kid)

We reach the top twelve hours after we started, and now that the adrenaline is gone I'm a limp bag of very sore bones. 15.8 miles and over 400 stories of elevation change (actually, 400 down and then another 400 back up)!

The end of quite a day, but a view like this can make you forget the pain of the preceding hours.

So what exactly did I learn from that day?

Henry Kissinger once said: "The absence of alternatives clears the mind marvelously." It's surprising what we can do when we absolutely have to. We spend most of our lives in a gear much lower than our true peak capability. Often our heroic potential is only used in times of duress; but it's always there for those bold enough to use it.

This post was written as part of the "What I Learned from Vacation" group writing project.

Note: The pictures in this post came from HikeArizona.com, an invaluable source of information for people hiking in this great state. Thanks to all the fabulous members who contribute trip photos to the site!

posted by Mike at 7:37 AM 10 comments


August 6 Carnival of the Capitalists

This week's Carnival of the Capitalists is up at Linked Intelligence. Check out some great posts; the Sales and Marketing section is especially good this week!

Next week's Carnival will be right here. I look forward to reading each and every submission!

posted by Mike at 7:04 AM 0 comments


Shared Answers - Here's How You Get Them To Believe Your ROI Projections?

In my previous post, I posed the question:
Have you ever come up with a great idea and pitched it to customers and/or investors, only to have your financial justification picked apart like a carcass on the savanna?

Me, too!

And worse yet, if I was pitching to a group of people, they would each attack different assumptions or, worse still, they would propose conflicting values for the same variable!

And sometimes, what I was proposing was unprecedented, and no one could really say what the right numbers were.

This problem vexed me for years, until I came up with the perfect solution! Want to know what it is?

What I am about to tell you is a multimillion dollar secret!

How do I know that?

Because the first time I used it, my client decided to spend four times their entire IT budget on a single project, when I offered two lower-cost alternatives to them.

So I tried it again on something smaller, and that client loved it.

I tried it on entire business plans, too. In each case, the client thanked me for giving them insight where there had only been rancor. (okay, rancor may be a bit of an exaggeration).

Did you notice the spoiler in the previous post? If I hadn't put that link in the question, this is where I'd make the first ask for $79.95 for the "Secret of ROI" eBook. What I am about to tell you is one of the most valuable lessons (in dollar terms) I've ever learned.

The human brain is the most sophisticated pattern matcher and synthesizer ever created, but it's not perfect. I can't simply state a point of fact and know for certain that you will internalize it, even if I believe with all my heart and soul and have mountains of data to back it up. You will only believe the new fact to the extent that you can rationalize it with the entire set of existing beliefs/patterns in your head. [As proof, did you take that last sentence on faith to be true? Did you question it? But I digress...]

My ROI problem was an example of this phenomenon. I would present a perfectly rational model of the economics of a new system - one that I had internalized while creating it - and expect the customer to immediately "get it". Their natural reaction was to poke at it based on their prior experience, which usually included unrealistic ROI scenarios. Can you guess the solution yet?

Let's take a concrete example. A friend of mine wanted to get approval for a project to improve the usability of a some IT applications. How do you justify a project like that? By calculating the cost savings of the improved productivity. (Normally I'd prefer something more tangible, but this is a simple example) The number of effected employees is known, as is Accounting's cost for the current tasks. But what about the improvement in productivity? No matter what number you pick, somebody is going to have a problem with it, even if you pick something way below the expected return.

The solution. Don't pick one. Let your audience pick it. By building a simple model and letting them play with the assumptions, you provide a tool to help them internalize the dynamics of the decision. Here's the one we built for our example:

[Note: These numbers are smaller than the real-world ones]

Now, in the presentation to the approvers, my friend could ask them what they thought the percentage should be, and let the audience see what effect changing that parameter had on the total return. Want to pick a pessimistic number? How about an optimistic one? In my experience, audiences invariably settle on a number bigger than the one I would have proposed if I had to give one number. But the real value of the tool is that it allows the group to interact and discuss scenarios and the internal assumptions they each have, and that interaction allows group members to internalize the ROI of the system.

The example is a very simple one. Typically there is more than one variable involved, but the concept scales nicely. The key is to have one page that shows the key variables/assumptions as well as the bottom line effect. This allows people to immediately see the effects of changing the value of any variable. They see which ones have big effects and which ones have small effects. Each change helps them to build a new pattern of understanding of the ROI.

There are a few other nuances I've learned along the way, and those you will have to pay me for. But you can succeed brilliantly with what you already know. Give it a try; you'll be glad you did!

This post is an entry in the group writing project SharedAnswers07, hosted by Grow Your Writing Business and WritingThoughts. Click on either link to learn more or to participate yourself!

posted by Mike at 8:41 AM 10 comments


The Science of Getting Rich - Audio Version

Did this genial-looking fellow write the most valuable self-improvement book of the twentieth century?

I think there is a case to be made that he did.

For those of you who don't know him, let me introduce you to Wallace D. Wattles, and the book I refer to is The Science of Getting Rich, which he published in 1910.

The gist of the book is this:
"THERE is a Science of getting rich, and it is an exact science, like algebra or arithmetic. There are certain laws which govern the process of acquiring riches; once these laws are learned and obeyed by any man, he will get rich with mathematical certainty.

The ownership of money and property comes as a result of doing things in a certain way; those who do things in this Certain Way, whether on purpose or accidentally, get rich; while those who do not do things in this Certain Way, no matter how hard they work or how able they are, remain poor.

It is a natural law that like causes always produce like effects; and, therefore, any man or woman who learns to do things in this certain way will infallibly get rich."

And in roughly 60 pages he lays out the Certain Way, which begins with the concept of the Law of Attraction (though that term wouldn't be coined for some time), and describes a full program for getting rich. It's clearly written, and applicable by anyone, anywhere. It's complete, and unadorned with unnecessary extras. It eliminates any excuses for not following the program, but doesn't sugar coat the discipline required to succeed. Here is the entire program in a nutshell (also known as Chapter 17):
"THERE is a thinking stuff from which all things are made, and which, in its original state, permeates, penetrates, and fills the interspaces of the universe.

A thought in this substance produces the thing that is imaged by the thought.

Man can form things in his thought, and by impressing his thought upon formless substance can cause the thing he thinks about to be created.

In order to do this, man must pass from the competitive to the creative mind; otherwise he cannot be in harmony with the Formless Intelligence, which is always creative and never competitive in spirit.

Man may come into full harmony with the Formless Substance by entertaining a lively and sincere gratitude for the blessings it bestows upon him. Gratitude unifies the mind of man with the intelligence of Substance, so that man's thoughts are received by the Formless. Man can remain upon the creative plane only by uniting himself with the Formless Intelligence through a deep and continuous feeling of gratitude.

Man must form a clear and definite mental image of the things he wishes to have, to do, or to become; and he must hold this mental image in his thoughts, while being deeply grateful to the Supreme that all his desires are granted to him. The man who wishes to get rich must spend his leisure hours in contemplating his Vision, and in earnest thanksgiving that the reality is being given to him. Too much stress cannot be laid on the importance of frequent contemplation of the mental image, coupled with unwavering faith and devout gratitude. This is the process by which the impression is given to the Formless, and the creative forces set in motion.

The creative energy works through the established channels of natural growth, and of the industrial and social order. All that is included in his mental image will surely be brought to the man who follows the instructions given above, and whose faith does not waver. What he wants will come to him through the ways of established trade and commerce.

In order to receive his own when it shall come to him, man must be active; and this activity can only consist in more than filling his present place. He must keep in mind the Purpose to get rich through the realization of his mental image. And he must do, every day, all that can be done that day, taking care to do each act in a successful manner. He must give to every man a use value in excess of the cash value he receives, so that each transaction makes for more life; and he must so hold the Advancing Thought that the impression of increase will be communicated to all with whom he comes in contact.

The men and women who practice the foregoing instructions will certainly get rich; and the riches they receive will be in exact proportion to the definiteness of their vision, the fixity of their purpose, the steadiness of their faith, and the depth of their gratitude."

There are several online texts of the book (such as the linked one from Rick Cockrum at Shards of Consciousness), since the copyright has now expired in the United States and the book is in the public domain. I like to use my commuting time to listen to audiobooks, but didn't find a corresponding free audio version. So I created one. Now anyone with an internet connection and a set of speakers (or an MP3 player) can listen to the book. Have a listen, and I hope you enjoy and learn from this great book!

Table of Contents


Chapter 1: The Right to Be Rich

Chapter 2: There Is a Science of Getting Rich

Chapter 3: Is Opportunity Monopolized?

Chapter 4: The First Principle in the Science of Getting Rich

Chapter 5: Increasing Life

Chapter 6: How Riches Come to You

Chapter 7: Gratitude

Chapter 8: Thinking in the Certain Way

Chapter 9: How to Use the Will

Chapter 10: Further Uses of the Will

Chapter 11: Acting in the Certain Way

Chapter 12: Efficient Action

Chapter 13: Getting Into the Right Business

Chapter 14: The Impression of Increase

Chapter 15: The Advancing Man

Chapter 16: Some Cautions, and Concluding Observations

Chapter 17: Summary of the Science of Getting Rich

Note: Any comments or suggestions are always appreciated!

posted by Mike at 12:57 PM 55 comments


Shared Answers - How Do You Get Them To Believe Your ROI Projections?

Have you ever come up with a great idea and pitched it to customers and/or investors, only to have your financial justification picked apart like a carcass on the savanna?

Me, too!

And worse yet, if I was pitching to a group of people, they would each attack different assumptions or, worse, they would propose conflicting values for the same variable!

And sometimes, what I was proposing was unprecedented, and no one could really say what the right numbers were.

This problem vexed me for years, until I came up with the perfect solution! Want to know what it is?

Sorry, the rules of the contest say I have to answer the question in a different post. Check back later for the answer.

This post is an entry in the group writing project SharedAnswers07, hosted by Grow Your Writing Business and WritingThoughts. Click on either link to learn more or to participate yourself!


posted by Mike at 7:29 PM 3 comments


"Warm and squishy, Puke-a-Pet is your perfect flight companion"

From my friend Steve's Airsickness Bag Collection. Choose Virgin Atlantic "Design for Chunks" to see the rest of the "designer" bags in this series. I'm still laughing at "do not fill above this line".

posted by Mike at 5:15 PM 0 comments