Tinkering in America

Observing the unique American life in his book, On Paradise Drive, author David Brooks says, “In America we have space-saving pop-up disk racks, prewaxed home dusters, turkey-and bacon-flavored dog biscuits, and self-propelled vacuums…built-in compass cuff links, and antibacterial toothbrush purifiers.  Behind each of these ingenious and highly unnecessary items there is some inventor, some tinkerer, some junior Thomas Edison dreaming of his patent-protected millions and his contribution to humanity.”

Brooks was echoing what Italian journalist, Luigi Barzini (1908-1984) said in the middle part of the last century.  Barzina said that upon arriving in the United States that he was struck with “our compulsion to tirelessly tinker, improve everything and everybody, never leave anything alone.”

Our nation has long been a collection of dreamers and tinkerers, optimists, and tireless workers.  Compared to our European counterparts, we work longer hours, get less vacation, and even when we are on vacation we are constantly monitoring our emails and responding to those important queries.  We just can’t leave work behind.  And regardless of pleas to work less and relax more…we’re not changing.  We are who we are; we are a nation that believes we can fix it – whatever it is.

We will fix the car, the bike, the company, the economy…it’s in our eclectic, mongrel DNA…but we should be careful that we don’t scrub this tinkering DNA out of our future generations.  Parents need to allow children to struggle, tinker, and find their own solutions.  And just as a child’s discovery of their God-given talents can be thwarted by well-meaning parents who don’t allow them to struggle, easy government handout programs for every malady or misfortune can also be an impediment to discovery.

So in the spirit of Luigi Barzina, tinker in your garage, tinker with your craft, tinker with some writing, tinker with other volunteers to find solutions, tinker with that new business idea, tinker and be satisfied that in the end, you may not find a solution but what you may find is your thought process is expanding…and then…who knows you may find some real “luck” and tinker yourself into some good old fashion, well-earned success.

You should…

…worry more, trust less, find the worst in others, assume the most dire, focus on your failures, doubt yourself more, aim lower, be less enthused, try nothing new, believe you are destined for failure, and when all else fails – give up.

Sounds ridiculous when you put it that way – is there a way to put it where it sounds less ridiculous?

Be an idiot – it’s the only way to succeed

I had the great pleasure to hear Carla Bailo, Senior Vice President of Research and Development, Nissan Americas, speak recently.

Listening to her reminded me that great leaders, regardless of whom they may be leading, have some common attributes.   In particular, I’ve noticed that great leaders make a point of learning from everyone they encounter.  They ask a lot of questions…and really listen…learn…and…apply.

In discussing her five year stint in Japan, Ms. Bailo said when you are in such a new environment; it’s your opportunity to “be an idiot.”  You aren’t expected to know anything, so you can safely ask a lot of questions.  In essence a license to be an idiot.

Ms. Bailo is anything but… In fact, as she provided some of the rules by which she lives, in the recent presentation, her wisdom was evident.   Here is my best attempt to recreate a few of them based on my chicken scratch notes.

Optimism finds a solution, negative is useless

Debate leads to the best decision

Promise and deliver – without fail

Fear and resistance are to be overcome

Failure breads success

Challenge the accepted way

Never forget to have fun

Don’t take everything personally, avoid getting a chip on your shoulder

Don’t regret mistakes, fix them

Treat others as you would want to be treated

Be open to criticism and be willing to change and improve

Listen. Listen. Listen.

It’s easy to see why Ms. Bailo is in the position she is – she is a humble, lifelong learner.   I hope to learn and apply some of her wisdom in my life.  Indeed, we should all feel empowered to be an idiot; it’s the only way to avoid really being one.

Blinded by the light

Dr. Orin Gelderloos would remind us (students) in his field biology course to keep the sun to our back when identifying birds in the field.  Looking toward the sun would distort the image and lead us to an improper conclusion.

Facing the sun in business or in life may result in a distorted image as well.

  • Get blinded by your most recent win, and you might start to believe your own hype.
  • Get blinded by the most recent defeat, and you might just believe that you are a failure.

Balance, perspective, and don’t take yourself too seriously.

Quit

Tired of trying?  Tired of digging deeper…yet again?

Have no more tenacity of purpose, no more sticktoitiveness, no more “one more tries” left in you?

Can’t even consider another class, one more counseling session, one more revised business plan?

The answer is easy – quit.

That’s right, quit.  No more disappointments, no more frustrations, no more trying to find the right formula, the right words, the just-right solution.

Total surrender to the inevitable; mind, body, and spirit.

There is a reason we struggle with quitting and why it doesn’t settle well with us – it may be that “still small voice” reminding us we are not designed for quitting.   It goes against our very nature.

As difficult as “it,” whatever it may be, is…quitting isn’t the answer.  Quitting can be damaging and even damning to our soul.  As Douglas MacArthur said, “Age wrinkles the body.  Quitting wrinkles the soul.”

One more try…till we take our last breath.

 

 

Your New Year Blueprint

Where did the year go?  It is the same sentiment every late December; twelve months have passed and we are left to wonder, did I do all that I should have or could have this past year?

As we consider the new year, and before we start with grandiose dreaming, perhaps a better starting point is to take an inventory of what matters most to us.

For me, faith and family are the most important things in my life.  So if I am considering new career or other personal goals, I should consider these goals through the lens of my primary values.  Sacrificing my faith or my relationship with my wife or that of my adult children to achieve a personal goal, is not a goal worth considering.

By all means, dream big, try something new, and paint the palette of the new year with with outrageous plans.  But do so honoring your values, and I believe you will have a year without regrets.

Choosing Wisely

We have a choice, I think.

Either the events that unfold in our life can teach us, change us, shape us, and make us better than we are…

Or we can (wrongly) assume that we have already arrived at perfection and it’s everyone else that needs to change.

One leads to frustration and regret, the other leads to growth and a life more fulfilled.

Character

Who would have thought this kind of exceptional character from an attorney, a physician, a business owner, a salesman…

Long before we assumed our various titles…

The respectful attorney, was a respectful spouse.

The caring physician, was a caring daughter.

The honest business owner, was an honest employee.

The ethical salesman, was an ethical student.

Our titles don’t create our character, they just amplify it.

Five years ago I wish I would have…

Most of us have a few regrets in our life, things we wished we would have done.  Sometimes they are big regrets or events that we passed on (usually for lame reasons).  But many times it’s the little regrets that pile up that lead to a life unexamined.

There are some classes at the local university that look interesting.

Maybe next semester…next semester never comes and you miss an experience that could have changed your career and your path in life.

How would you like to meet a new group of people at this event?

No, I have to get up early…lifelong friendships are never forged.

Join us for worship?

No, I’m just too tired…self-pity, rather than soul searching, begins to define your life.

I would like you to meet someone!

I’m pretty introverted and quiet…and a relationship that could have been…never is.

Consider those seemingly small decisions, those “no thanks, not this time” in the context of tomorrow.   What will you be glad you didn’t pass up in November 2012?

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” – Helen Keller

Work is Good

Long hours, dealing with adversity, overcoming challenges, the project that had everything go wrong, the project where disaster was averted because we figured “it” out.

We recall with fondness the times of hard work, perseverance and overcoming challenges.

Not so much the times when our talents were not being used.  Not so much when we were not part of the team.  Not so much when perhaps we faced a time of no work.

Work is good.  We are hard wired to be challenged and it violates our nature not to work and use our skills.

The lack of work and lack of purpose may help explain problems from inner-city crime and decay to fading focus in retirement.

The first thing God does after the creation of mankind was not to create the list of laws and rules, He said, here is a garden, tend to it.

Tend to your garden…joyfully.