Archives for March 2018
When Bill Gates said it was his favorite book, I had to read it. “Enlightenment Now: the Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress” by Stephen Pinker provided some very interesting insights. He describes in concrete numbers how the world has improved. Yet, many people are not any happier than when the world was a much worse place to live.
100 years ago, the average man’s life expectancy was 51. The concept of retirement at 65 seemed very distant. 100 years ago, women were not allowed to vote. 100 years ago, people would die from a scratch that became infected. 100 years ago, a loved one moving to another state or country might mean never seeing or talking to them again. Written letters were the only way to bridge distance. During World War II, mail would commonly take three months to reach its destination.
Today many people are living beyond 100 years. Those being born today may be able to expect to live that long on a routine basis. Today women are an important part of our political world. Today a scratch can be easily addressed with an antibiotic. We have an amazing array of solutions to health challenges and ways to live productively as we age. The distance between loved ones is much shorter. We can drive or fly distances that were unimaginable 100 years ago. We can make long distance calls for almost nothing. We can use video calls to frequently engage distant loved ones visually. Even those in distant wars have immediate communication through email and Skype video calls.
My grandmother’s quote, “Those who talk about the good-old-days have bad memories,” is really verified by the data provided by Pinker.
Many people think they are very busy. They imagine the good-old-days were less busy. Compared to 1950, workers spend 25% less of their time working today. The percentage of working mothers who spend two hours per day with their children today is double the percentage of hours stay-at-home mothers spent in 1965.
On the world stage, there are significantly fewer wars, the poverty level has been dramatically reduced, health has dramatically improved, the number of mothers/babies who die in childbirth is a fraction of what it was not long ago, and the number of people dying from famine is enormously reduced. The well-being of the human race has dramatically improved. (I’ve missed hearing that in the daily news.)
We have lost track of the national jubilation. There was national celebration in 1955 when Jonas Salk proved to have a polio vaccine that came into wide commercial use in the 1960’s to eradicate that dreaded disease in much of the world. Today, spectacular advances go mostly unnoticed. Bill and Melinda Gates have contributed to the improved health in Africa and other locations. They are examples of many people who are choosing to help make the world a better place.
Why are we not walking around giving each other high fives for the wonderful progress in our lives and the lives of those around us? Two of the causes that Pinker would identify for this disharmony are:
- Broad ignorance of the progress we’ve made. Most people think the good-old-days were much better than they were. (Ask my grandmother.)
- Our tendency to measure our well-being compared to the perception we have of others. We tend to measure our well-being compared to others today rather than the world 50 or 100 years ago.
To exacerbate the issue, we are surrounded by the exaggerated stories of the extremes in well-being, as well as stories of destruction. It is human nature to pay attention to the instant success, or the headline catastrophe. For example, people fear terrorists even though the risk is hundreds of times higher that one will be hit by lighting, or win the lottery, than to be hurt by a terrorist.
Happiness is a choice
I had an uncle who lived a middle-class life. When his wife would get discouraged about life, my uncle would drive his wife to “poor side of town” to give her a different perspective. I cringe at the thought.
However, if we take an objective look at life 50 or 100 years ago (for the rich and the poor) we live much better lives today. We have much to be thankful for today. Thank you for the recommendation Mr. Gates!
We can choose to celebrate and be happy today. That is my choice.
Steve Jobs “flew very close to the sun” and succeeded after multiple failures, good luck and the repeated kindness of Bill Gates. His passion for quality finish and love of music came together at a just the right moment. He came close to being lost to history in his psychological disorders. The story ended quite differently.
The “Corner Office” column in the New York Times is back! Over the years, the column has provided valuable insight into the way key leaders think. The column was discontinued. It has now returned featuring a respected leader of one of our customer companies. The Questions/Answers are addressed to Kenneth Frazier, CEO at Merck. His answers are helpful for people at all levels in any organization. I quote (with my emphasis):
Q: “How do you prioritize your time?”
A: “There are three things that the CEO should be focused on. Number one is the sense of purpose and direction that the company needs, making sure that it’s always clear, and that people know what we’re all about. The second thing is capital allocation. We only have so many resources. Making sure that you’re putting those resources where you have the greatest opportunity. And the third, which I think by far is the most important, is to make sure that you have the right people in the most important jobs inside the company.”
I appreciate the clarity of his message and also see his advice being applicable for all leaders. Knowing the direction, and setting clear EXPECTATIONS, is key for ourselves personally and for those we lead. Resources will always be scarce. Properly allocating those resources, including your personal energy, is a key to success. Putting the right people in key positions is one of the most important roles we play as leaders. In addition, personally being in the right position to maximize your value is also a high priority.
Q: “What advice would you give to college graduates?”
A: “I think people should seek adventure in life, as opposed to just allowing their ambitions to drive where they want to end up. Lots of people say, ‘Tell me what are the steps to get from here to the CEO’s office?’ I can say honestly I never sought to be a CEO, but what I’ve always wanted was a new challenge, what I call an adventure. Seek adventure. Seek excitement in what you do.”
Being open to new challenges builds skill and experience. You can have ten years of experience, or one year of experience ten times over. Go for the new experiences. I have even seen assignments that looked like a high career risk turn into great opportunities. It is key to enjoying the journey. If you are not enjoying the journey, you will not enjoy the destination. Many people think happiness is arriving at some position in an organization (CEO or another position). It is a myth. Steven Covey refers to it as “Climbing the ladder and realizing the ladder is against the wrong wall.”
Frazier sees leaders as the keepers of the soul of the company, “The most important role of a leader is to safeguard the heritage and values of the company.”