This is a personal post, but as the title of blog notes, I am not limited. On May 1, 2012, a Father, Friend and Grandfather to many was lost. Below are the words I shared at the memorial service.
Too often we wait to reflect upon something until after it is complete, done and the last chapter is written. I often wonder why that is the case. Is it because we need to evaluate an entire experience as one thing? It is important to remember that the perception of experiences is skewed by that which is most recent.
If we stop to consider the moment, is the moment gone? During the past few months I began to reflect upon on my dad. There were things I wanted to understand and a person I wanted to know better.
There is no one way to describe who Arthur was to me; Father, Fan, Friend, Critic, all of the above. My experiences with dad covered the spectrum, it was not one thing, they were lots of things. These experiences are mine, what I am left with. Many I will cherish, some I will consider for years to come. Near the end, dad and I came to an understanding – that we really did not totally understand each other – do not confuse that with our love, caring, nor mutual respect; just we are each complex. I am good with it, it was decided with a laugh and we moved on.
About the Man
If you really want to understand the man, look no further than a deck of cards. Arthur was a poker player – not a gambler, a poker player – there is a difference. There are some very interesting life lessons hidden inside the game of poker.
Poker requires focusing on making decisions based upon incomplete information. It is the quality of the decisions, not the outcome of the hand that matters. (In the year since I wrote this, I find this to be more and more true everyday)
Poker challenges you to deduce information and recognize patterns; peoples behaviors, habits, body language and tendencies, deducing what they want you NOT to know. The more complete the information, the better the decision making process.
Luck is part of the game, but out of your control. It is about the discipline that is required to ignore bad luck and move forward to the next hand and never to dwell on lucky or unlucky outcomes.
Finally, poker is fundamentally a social game, centered around group dynamics in a competitive situation; playing with a diverse group of people, some skilled, some not. Looking sometimes for the weakest at the table, exploiting the weakness, capitalizing on an opportunity – it is a metaphor for entrepreneurship.
Dad treated many facets of his life like a game of poker; no disrespect meant, quite the opposite. It worked to great effect in his ability to negotiate, litigate; and dare I say, intimidate. My memories of dad include riding the train from Westport to NYC, watching him play. It was never about the money, that just made it a bit more real and a bit more fun – it was about something else.
Poker was dad’s social network – no Facebook or Farmville for him. It is where he went to relax and learn. Looking back, there is no doubt in my mind that he took the lessons from the poker table to the board room, court room and living room (the original version had a few other rooms, but there were kids in the audience).
I began to write this many weeks ago, as I sat with my younger brother while he worked through the final months of law school. I have spent time with all of my siblings during the recent few months and given the distance of our homes, this in itself is a worthy feat, and worth every moment. We were united in the beautiful things, St. Maarten, Sam and Jeff’s wedding – as well as the not so fun, his illness and …. Other things.
A Contrast of Simple and Easy
The author Robert A. Heinlein stated: “Do not handicap your children by making their lives too easy”.
This is the balance that dad tried very hard to keep. As I parent, I can assure you that this not as ‘easy’ as it seems, it is different for each child and grandchild. His efforts to abide by this sometimes caused dad conflict; as he always wanted to provide, according to need, but the needs were not always clear. As a parent we always want things to be ‘equal’, but what if the needs are not equal? I am not talking about money, rather something much more valuable – time.
To his grandchildren, grandpa did not always have the time to let things take a natural course. Where he tried to lead and guide his children; your parents, aunts and uncles, he began to run short of time and took a much more direct approach with many of you. He wanted to, needed to, get his point across in a sometimes uncomfortable way. To extend the poker metaphor, he did not know you as well as he would have liked – another conflict. He loved each and every one of you, in a way only a grandpa could.
Albert Einstein is credited with saying “Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
What Einstein was getting at is that when describing something one should reduce it to the smallest ‘pieces parts’ required to make the point. Any less, and the point does not come across, any more and complexity is reintroduced. Few people can walk the fine line, Dad could.
Dad believed in both of these concepts, and could walk the line; but they are sometimes at odds, a paradox.
In this family simple is not always easy, and easy is not always simple.
Dad – these words are a reflection of you, for you, for me, my siblings and your grandkids. It would not be fair to stand here and say you were perfect; I might have a credibility issue if I did; that said perfection is not something you sought. What you wanted was to live life on your terms – it was a hard fought negotiation, the terms nebulous at times, but true to form, you won.
This is what I learned; some from you and some from the person you helped me to become. In more ways than one, physical and logical, you taught me how to put the pieces together:
Reflect upon the past in as much as it can help us to prepare for the future. Take from the past what we need to move forward. Dwell on the past, and it will be like a 4-wheeler tied to a tree.
Most important – I have a great family and when push comes to shove I know my back is covered, and my siblings know I have theirs.
Dad, this was simple to write, but it was not easy.
Setting the Stage
“Hi Mitch, I saw you were searching for sales organization and sales strategy information information on the web..…<insert 2 inane invented facts>… Are you available for a quick 5 minute chat today?” Yes, I received this in the body of an email. The email was from a person who works for one of the larger CRM vendors; I will leave it at that. Interestingly, the individual actually had my name and contact information from a recent conference and it had nothing to do with search.
A highly respected blogger and friend Brian Vellmure wrote an insightful post a few days ago titled “When our Neurons are Connected to the Net”. The full post is worth your time. Plan to read it twice, worth it each time. One point that struck me is the following:
“It is predicted that in just a few years, the processing power of IBM Watson will be contained in the size of a smartphone. We can and likely will have a super human intelligent friend with us.”
Brian does a great job circling some key points, touching on influence, friends, information and it is a bit a view towards the future. A key point here is that Brian accepts influence from friends and people he trusts. He has an expectation that his friends know him and are able to provide information in context, even add an emotional element, knowing Brian more than a machine could. If a computer made the some recommendation, would Brian listen?
Lessons from TV, Film and Video Games
The more human a robot acted or looked, the more endearing it would be to a human being. However, there is a point where the likeness would be too strong and acceptance would drop shifting to a powerful negative reaction. These are the thoughts of a Japanese roboticist, Masahiro Mori stated in 1970. When this happens the term created is “Uncanny valley” (which looks amazingly similar to the Gartner ‘trough of disillusionment’). The effect also goes beyond looks, but to extend to sounds as well. Therefore, it not much of a leap to suggest that the written word, or advice, influence given in the wrong way could easily cause discomfort as well.
My Own Perspective
I am a strong believer in proper context. I stated as much in a predictions post earlier this year, that 2013 is the year of context. If a person or company want to understand my needs at a particular point in time then relevance needs to considered. Amazon, please know that I just bought a 32inch monitor and stop sending the emails.
I am fickle and so are your customers. Present me with an accessory or add-on to my current online purchase and I might just go for it. However, if I think the suggestion is because of something I do not think you should know about it, I will leave without buying anything.
Make a person too robotic, and I will become annoyed, Make a robot too human and I will become annoyed. Is the line drawn in stone or in sand? Great question, it is not in stone, as it changes with the tide, sorry, I am just human. Where is that line for you?
In my weekly routine, I try to strike a balance between academic thinking, practical thinking and the balance between the two.
Living in northern Vermont gives me the opportunity to create fun metaphors to think through complex topics, allowing me to add a bit of local color. December is typically a cold, dark and ‘stay inside’ kind of month around here. Yes, there is a little bit of last minute shopping to be done, but often the keyboard and Amazon suffice. However, there is typically little snow in December, thus no real good reason to go outside. As luck would have it, this year has been a little different, with 30 inches (75cm) of snow directly before New Years, kids sledding on the hill, me able to hit the slopes with my boys. This December was indeed, different.
What is the Right Amount of Information?
I am driving my daughter to gymnastics and present to you the following: it is 25 degrees Fahrenheit, snowing and there is 3 inches (~7.5 cm) of snow covering the road. I am traveling a meager 20 miles per hour. I ask, via twitter of course, if my foot should be on the accelerator or the brake, how would you answer me? Skipping the obvious, a stop sign or a car stopped ahead (It was a voice activated Tweet). Is the simple Tweet enough for you to answer my question?
What I am getting at here is that their are a few parts, first we have the data (temperature for example). Information then comes from assembling and analyzing the data. In this case, we have temperature, precipitation and road conditions. Knowledge comes first from putting the information together and adding context. It is snowing, the roads are covered and the temperature is not going to melt the snow. There is probably hard pack snow, on the roadway, underneath the freshly fallen snow. Wisdom is then applying experience and acting accordingly. I will try hard not to drive off the road, remembering that four-wheel drive is great for going, it does nothing for stopping.
In this situation, I am actually traveling up a hill, one way, (and down a hill on the return). This is an important piece of information, without it, an answer should not be given. So, it does depends which direction I am driving. If I am trying to make it up the hill, I need a little more speed. If I am going down the hill, I am hoping that the breaks do their job.
Translation to the Digital World
In the digital age, the difference between information and knowledge is important and it is going to become even more important. This is in no way an academic debate that I am trying to jump into, 20 years late. Many people, smarter than me, have given this discussion much more thought. What I am trying to suggest is that context is a critical piece of information, and without context all you are giving back is data, information at best. In order to present knowledge, information, data, insights and experience need to be in a continuous loop. This is especially true in the digital age of rapid communications. Teams need to think through as many scenarios as possible and make sure the context is carefully considered.
Looking at a Tweet, a Post, a Blog, a Picture or a Status is only one bit of information, usually in isolation and not enough. Some would say it is only one bit of data not even information. The capability to respond, engage or communicate on social channels requires access to information (what is the right answer), but beyond that is ‘How’. It requires experience, insights and, yes, context. What has not changed is that answers, right or wrong, travel far and wide. Context is the idea that the information shared is relevant, in both time and situation to meet the needs of the person asking. In the scenario above, telling me that the car is certainly capable of 140 miles per hour is not an incorrect statement, but it does lack relevance.
The call to action is to make sure that your people, processes and technology are up to the task.