Blind Faith

It is the time of year when I need to (again) explain my broad pronouncement that the Yankees are winning the World Series.

You might see it in my Facebook status, or as a comment on someone else's post, or I might just look you right in the eye and say it - "The Yankees are winning the World Series this year."

And, of course, people will line up with all sorts of analysis, counter-arguments and whatnot - all researched at length - to support the idea that no, the Yankees are NOT winning the World Series this year.  To which I will respond "The Yankees are winning the World Series this year."

You see, I'm trolling you.  Not without good reason, mind you.  It's to show you how frustrating it is to argue with someone who takes things on blind faith.  You know, those people who will argue with you about God or politics or business, armed with nothing but gut feel.  Nothing you say will change their minds because they're not basing their conclusions on facts.

Blind faith is dangerous when we're talking about religious beliefs that influence laws or in unbending principles of government that are immune to compromise.  But if you want to have blind faith in a sports team, that's not going to do much except rub certain people the wrong way.  So I figure that if I'm going to have blind faith in something, it's going to be the New York Yankees, my favorite sports team of all time.  You can tell me that the Yankees have gaps in pitching, or in the infield, or that they're not going to be able to adapt to not having a dominant closer.  You can offer me whatever thought-out piece of baseball analysis you feel like offering up.  I don't care.  The Yankees are winning the World Series this year.

The Yankees could pull Oscar Gamble out of retirement to play center field and it won't matter. The Yankees are winning the World Series this year.

The entire roster could get busted for shooting horse tranquilizers, and I won't care.  The Yankees are winning the World Series this year.

They could sign Dave Mustaine to a $115M deal and give him the first spot in the rotation.  The Yankees are winning the World Series this year.

The Downside of Process

So I’ve been trying to get my head around something that’s been annoying me for quite some time, and it occurred to me that I hadn’t been able to articulate it properly.

How many of you have been annoyed by any of the following lately?

  1. Having to document comprehensive processes for things you do at work, either by management or by other companies considering hiring your company.  (e.g. – “How do you develop the right media plan?”)
  2. Being asked to boil down something you have a talent for into tiny incremental steps  (e.g. – “How do you plant a garden?”)
  3. Being asked to adhere to a process you’re uncomfortable with, and you’re uncomfortable because you do things differently (e.g. – Helping a child with Common Core math)
  4. Insistence on somebody’s part that when something goes wrong, it’s because of some sort of breakdown in a process and not because of a mistake (e.g. – “It’s not Fred’s fault he put the widget on backwards.  He wasn’t given enough time to do the job properly.”)

I think there may be a connection between many of these annoyances.  For now, because I lack a better label, I’m going to refer to the concept as “Process-Dominant Thinking.”

And here’s why I think Process-Dominant Thinking can be annoying in certain situations, staying with the examples above:

  1. Not everything can be accomplished by following a simple process.  Making that assumption is immensely disrespectful to people’s natural talents and abilities.  Being asked to develop a process for everything assumes that people are pretty much interchangeable and that if there’s a decent process for doing something, people with varying degrees of ability in a specific area can achieve similar results.  It’s doubly annoying because if I were asked to develop a comprehensive decision-making tree for developing a media plan, I’d never stop documenting it.
  2. People often years, decades, or entire lifetimes to acquire skills.  If I’m a good vegetable gardener, it’s somewhat rude for someone new to vegetable gardening to ask me to boil down decades’ worth of experience into a handful of easy-to-communicate steps and simply give it to them.
  3. Processes need to accommodate different ways of looking at things.  I think it’s why so many parents are having trouble helping their kids with Common Core math.  Some kids are perfectly okay with understanding subtraction by breaking numbers into tens and ones.  Others understand subtraction more intuitively.  Asking kids how they know that an answer is correct and then ‘correcting’ their understanding is quite simply wrong.  Not everybody who understands mathematics understands it in the same way.
  4. Blaming everything on process deficiencies removes accountability.  In the example I used, what if Fred consistently puts his widget on backwards and his co-workers keep trying to tweak the process to give him more time to get his widgets on properly, they’re rewarding behavior that slows them all down.

I’m usually very cautious about trying to connect dots between issues in my personal and business life, because many times I’m seeing things that aren’t there.  But I do feel there’s a connection between each of these annoyances.  And I think it has something to do with our busy culture and how we all have less time to devote to developing skills.  So we put our faith in process and assume that we can do pretty much anything as long as there’s a quality process we can follow.

I’ve never really bought into this, though.

I’ve never really been able to draw well.  My take on the problem is that other people who are more talented at drawing than I am have an easier time of understanding how objects express themselves in three dimensions.  I’ve left it at that, and I’ve never considered going up to a talented artist and asking “What are all the steps involved in making a really good drawing of a pear?”  “Okay, can you break down how to draw a good apple?”  “How about a banana?”  “Terrific, now I can draw a passable still life…”

To me, that would be insulting to the artist in many different ways.  First, there’s the suggestion that drawing talent isn’t talent at all, but merely an ability to follow steps.  Then there’s the supposition that the artist would willingly share those steps with me, merely because I asked.  Then there’s the hassle of putting the artist through the torture of having to comprehensively list every consideration that goes into a great drawing of a pear.  It’s insulting!

And I think it all comes from overreliance on process.  That comes from a combination of two things, in my estimation:

  1. Lack of time to investigate these things in depth for ourselves, and
  2. The cultural idea that almost everything can be automated.

And the first step in automating something is to break it down into discrete tasks.  Then you find a way to get a machine to handle each of the steps. 

See the connection?  When we try to make things more efficient in our business lives, we turn to process.  And when our personal lives get too complicated because we’ve run out of time to accomplish things we want to accomplish, we draw from our business lives and carry overreliance on process into our personal lives.

We Need a Bill of Digital Rights

The more personal technology evolves, seemingly the more intrusive it becomes.  If all of us had the time to read every EULA (End User Licensing Agreement) we signed in order to get access to technology - and if we all had the ability to fully understand them - we would be shocked at the rights we sign away and what we give the makers of our devices and the providers of our apps and content to right to do to us.

Pure capitalists respond to this notion in a very specific way.  Uncomfortable with the arrangement?  Don't sign it.  Don't use it.

Unfortunately, it's not that simple.  And I'm not talking about somebody's desire to experience the cool factor of Google Glass overriding their common sense.  I'm talking about technology's contribution to society and how society runs, and how indispensable it already is - and will continue to become.

Perhaps a hypothetical situation is in order.  Aaron and Fred are competitors.  Each needs to schedule a business lunch with a common business contact we'll call Malcom.  As Aaron walks down the street between meetings, he uses his gadget-du-jour to look up Malcom's customer profile, where he's annotated Malcom's business address and food preferences.  Without breaking stride, Aaron tentatively books reservations at three five-star restaurants in the vicinity of Malcom's office that serve the type of food he likes.  He also e-mails Malcom to tell him to take his pick.

Fred, on the other hand, doesn't want to sign away his rights.  He has to wait to get back to his office to get Malcom's number and tell him to hold a lunch appointment.  He'll have to make several other phone calls to book reservations and confirm.  It might take him 30 minutes to set up the same business lunch that Aaron set up in 5 while walking down the street between meetings.

Who wins when tasks that normally take 30 minutes instead take five minutes, and are checked off with minimal effort on the part of the technology user?

Over the long haul, how much more efficient and effective is Aaron as compared to Fred?  How long is it before Fred's resistance to signing away his digital rights begins to hurt his ability to compete?  To enjoy free time?  To function within society?

When we start to think about how technology advances grant us power within our society, at what point do we begin to think that avoiding the use of technology puts citizens at a material disadvantage as compared to everyone else?

To me, this is the most compelling argument for a digital Bill of Rights.  By that, I mean real amendments to the Constitution of the United States that give us certain rights of privacy, recourse and more.  In that fashion, these rights would be both natural and inalienable in the sense that they cannot be signed away.

Nobody should need to, as a precondition of their being able to function within a digital society, sign away their rights to seek recourse through the court system in favor of an arbitrator.  Or remove their right to band together and sue under class action status.  Nobody should sign away a reasonable expectation of privacy.  Nobody should be put in a situation where their own device can testify against them in a court proceeding.  Nobody should be in a position where the maker of their device can materially change the functionality of something they own on a whim.  We should live in a society where the response to even attempting to write something into a EULA that violates basic digital rights results in a nullification of that attempt - Sorry, it's unconstitutional.

The next big wave involves bridging the gap between digital technology and the physical world.  How long will it be before we're able to visualize objects using a smart device and replicate them with a physical model?  Given the advances in 3D printing recently, not long at all.  Now, what if in order to participate in that next big wave we need to sign away rights to corporations to get access to the technology?  

Whether or not we use technology to its fullest extent plays a big role in how employable we are, how our voices are heard and how much spare time we'll have with which to pursue happiness.  We shouldn't have to sacrifice basic rights to be on the same level playing field as a typical citizen within our society.

We need to think these things through, then draft and pass a Digital Bill of Rights.

The Wolf of Wall Street's Sprinklers

I just got an e-mail from my Dad after I had asked him whether the Jordan Belfort we had as a customer was the same guy the movie was written about.  And it is.  Dad and I each remember different things about putting in the Wolf of Wall Street's sprinkler system on Dune Road.  Sez Dad:

"Cash job...  [Jonah Hill] played the guy who paid me the $$$...  I recall when I went to hang the controller, the entire basement floor was littered with bottles of booze."

I remembered different things, having been a teenager at the time.  Chief among them, the unbelievable collection of cars in the driveway.  There was a Ferrari Testarossa and a Lamborghini Countach among a bunch of Benzes and Porsches.  Those two exotics would have made any teenager's list of Coolest Cars Ever at the time.  I also remember that the Testarossa's ground effects were all crushed one time when I went out to do a service stop.  It looked like an inexperienced driver tried to take it over a steep speed bump and failed.  But who knows what happened?

I also remember stopping by the house during the week in the summer on a service call and there was only one car in the driveway - a Shelby 427 Cobra.  I didn't know much about the car back then, but I came home from work and told Dan Losquadro about it.  I remember Dan freaking out because it was one of the fastest production cars at the time and he told me about how it could go 0 to 100 and back to 0 in 13 seconds flat.

Other than that, I don't remember much about the house itself.  Just that it had a circular driveway out front and that Belfort had twice the land that his typical neighbor did.  I recall hearing something about his having paid an obscene amount for the property, but I don't recall specific figures and it was probably just a rumor anyway.

So yeah, I've got a connection to the Wolf of Wall Street - I dug ditches in his yard.