The Best of the Internet 5-13-07

Beyond OpenCourseWare, or: when the library is done, can we start building the university? – Is the internet going to revolutionize education?

How to Become a Creative Genius – Is it innate or can you learn to be a creative genius?

The Powers of Ten – This video brilliantly illustrates the power of distance and numbers. I watched it with my son and he has been talking about it ever since.

Dying from Microwave Popcorn – Take a look at this tragedy. I’m considering boycotting Microwave popcorn. Does anyone have any new information?

29 Happiness Hacks to Feel Better Now – Scott helps us be happy… now!

Lucy the Girl in the Window – David Raho writes a splendid and emotional story.

How Could That Happen to Me? – Charles H. Green gives us great advice on acceptance.

Dreaming While Awake – Ed Snyder writes a powerful post… I’ll give you a sample – Imagine what could be accomplished if we rediscover the ability to dream while we are awake.

Ending the Cycle of Abusive Corporate Management

When I got my first corporate job at McDonalds shortly after I turned 14, my manager was a thirty something with a molester mustache who abused his “power” by trying to nail the underage female employees. Sometimes the slimy bastard succeeded.

My second corporate manager was a cocaine addicted, mullet headed, verbally abusive, statutory rapist. When I quit, this guy actually told me that “I couldn’t quit” because it was illegal for someone under 21 to quit a job without management’s permission. Huh? I walked out anyway and then he held my paycheck.

My third corporate manager was powermad. While standing right next to you, she’d drop a piece of paper on the floor and say, “Steve, will you pick that up?” I did it a few times, but after that, I avoided her because she disciplined anyone who refused her commands. Strange woman.

I know, I know… You’d think I would have learned by this point. But I didn’t. Most of us don’t.

My fourth corporate manager was a bald guy who always wore a baseball cap, even indoors. He managed truck drivers who made $15-20 per hour but never gave them an annual increase over 25 cents per hour. He justified his stinginess saying, “10 cents an hour was a great raise when I drove truck.” I assume senior management enjoyed the reduced labor costs, but they still fired him when the drivers nearly unionized.

When I got my foot into cubicle land as a customer service rep my new manager was no better; she threw angry tantrums firing people for delusional paranoid reasons. Several months later, after firing her, senior management asked me to manage the customer service group.

I was facing a classic working class dilemma. Do I sell-out my “people” and become “the man” like all the slimy middle managers before me or do I keep my paltry working class income and retain the righteousness of poverty?

I sold-out. I wanted to be a different kind of manager, but I still suffered from the delusion that good management was about fear, power, control, and discipline. Why wouldn’t I? That’s how authorities managed us in school. That’s how I was managed in each working class position leading up to my promotion. I had no real-world examples of good management.

Maybe abusive management is cyclical like spousal and alcohol abuse. We learn it from those that come before us and the real question is how to break the cycle.

My current boss helped me break the cycle. He was my first real-world example of a great manager. I am grateful to have him as a mentor.

When people think of corporate management, they tend to think about the managers in Office Space or the corrupt executives at Enron or Tyco. But if you’ve ever worked under great management, you know that these stereotypes are the worst kind of management. They are bad for employees, bad for business, and bad for shareholders.

Through mentorship and reading books like The Essential Drucker, I’ve learned a few of the values that are critical to successful business management, whether it is a large enterprise or a home based micro-business. You can use these values not only to achieve success in business and management but also to achieve success in life.

The first thing a new manager should understand is – great management is not about you or your career. It’s about serving other people.

Great management is about:

People – A great manager will form groups that perform well together, leveraging each member’s strengths while minimizing weaknesses. If you work for a managed institution, which most people do, your quality of life and your contribution to society are greatly dependent on the quality of your managers. Great managers will have high expectations combined with compassion and understanding for people’s personal or family lives.

Culture – Does your management style create a culture of fear, mistrust, and greed, or does it create a culture of courage, trust, and generosity? Status Quo or innovation? Protectionism or openness? But this isn’t just about corporate culture; it’s also about world cultures. Are you open to the ideas and strengths of other cultures? Ideas and strengths that are proven or are you closed to ideas from other cultures and myopically chained to your own culture? Every culture has strengths and weaknesses; do your best to adopt the strengths and abandon the weaknesses.

Commitment to Common Goals and Common Values – Does your organization have clear goals and share common values? Have you clearly and consistently communicated these values and goals? Goals and values that unify and provide common vision? Do you as a manager exemplify the goals and values of the organization or are they hollow words?

Training and Development – To succeed every organization/business must foster training and development – Training and development that does not stop. All great managers strive to increase the human potential around them.

Communication – A great manager once told me that he could trace each of his management failures back to a poor communication and each of his successes to clear communication. In management, it is better to over communicate – even to the point of absurdity – than it is to fail to communicate. The most common communication failures are a failure to listen and failure to admit that you don’t understand. Failing to listen or faking understanding, is failing to communicate.

Individual Responsibility – Individual responsibility is not only taking responsibility for your own work but also a clearly communicating your expectation that others also accept responsibility for their work. Micromanagers fail to expect people to be responsible for their own work, so if you must micromanage you’ve hired the wrong people, failed to train them, or set expectations too low.

Satisfying Customers – The ultimate goal of any organization is to satisfy someone outside the organization. A hospital should heal the sick, a business should provide a good or service that people want at a price they will pay, a school should provide a student with knowledge they can put to work later. A police force should provide people security. A publication/website should provide content people want. Inside an organization, there are only costs, and the money to pay for those costs always comes from outside the organization from satisfied customers.

About steve-olson.com, the Personal MBA, and Spirituality Applied to Life

I’d like to update you with a few things that are going on here at steve-olson.com:

I updated the about steve-olson.com page. I mixed the old about me page with some information from a recent post and added some profile links. If you are interested, check it out.

* * *

As an autodidact committed to lifelong self-directed education, I am working on my Personal MBA. If you are unfamiliar with the Personal MBA, jump over to Josh Kaufman’s PMBA blog and read the manifesto. Josh was also kind enough to interview me as a PMBA participant. As part of my PMBA work, I will be posting any valuable information I learn while working on it, so look for the blog to take a turn from politics and Zen and include more business, entrepreneurship, and economics over the next few months.

* * *

As part of an interview a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity talk on the phone with Nneka from the Balanced Life Center – Spirituality Applied to Life. It isn’t often that you get to hear the voice of one of your blogging friends. We had a frank and candid discussion about race, politics, religion, blogging, parenting, and business. One of the reasons I blog is to learn from other people and connect with them in a way that goes deeper than just chatting about the weather. Nneka and I made that connection. We were able to discuss controversial issues with openness and directness. Nneka is an insightful spiritual blogger and I am grateful to know her. Click over and read her blog about Spirituality Applied to Life.

Hardcore Zen and The Truth About Reality

Are you curious about the truth? The truth about reality? What this really is? So am I.

Are you an armchair philosopher? Are the answers your parents gave to you when you were a child… well… a little simplistic?

I have spent most of my adult life with a narrow mind that I closed to certain ideas. But now, after deciding to explore new ideas (new to me anyway), like Zen Buddhism, I understand how important it is to keep asking questions. I began to think differently about everything: me, you, education, sports, parenting, government, the earth, and the universe. This doesn’t mean I believe I’ve found some perfect answer for everything, far from it. It doesn’t mean I’m a Buddhist; I’m not. It’s just given me another way of looking at reality and I want to share it with you.

If you want a quick, straight, honest, introduction to Zen, read Hardcore Zen. Tony Clark over at Success From the Nest, told me most people either love it or hate it.

I love it, but I can see why some people hate it. Some of it isn’t about Zen at all; it’s about Brad. But that doesn’t bother me, because I want to learn about a Zen Master who plays Hardcore Punk, loves Black Sabbath, and makes “B” monster movies.

On the back of Brad Warner’s book, he writes:

Question Authority. Question Society. Question Reality. Question Yourself. Question your conclusions, your judgments, your answers. Question this. If you question everything thoroughly enough, the truth will eventually hit you upside the head and you will know. But here’s a warning: It won’t be what you imagined. It won’t be even close.

Brad Warner does not sugar coat anything and his style is fun, irreverent, but at times a bit cynical.
Brad opens with this:

Nothing is sacred. Doubt – in everything – is absolutely essential. Everything, no matter how great, how fundamental, how beautiful, or important it is, must be questioned.

It’s only when people believe that their beliefs are above questioning, that their beliefs alone are beyond all doubt, that they can be as truly horrible as we all know they can be. Belief is the force behind every evil mankind has ever done. You can’t find one truly evil act in human history that was not based on belief – and the stronger their belief, the more evil human beings can be.

Later, Brad goes on to share two of his beliefs:

Everything is sacred. Every blade of grass, every cockroach, every speck of dust, every flower, every pool of mud outside a graffiti-splattered warehouse is God.

Everything is profane. “Saving the planet” is a waste of time and preserving the environment is a waste of energy. Flowers stink and birdsong is irritating noise.

Hmmm…does that pique your curiosity?

Brad on enlightenment:

Some people think enlightenment is some kind of superspecial state without questions or doubts, some kind of absolute faith in your beliefs and the rightness of your perceptions. That’s not enlightenment. In fact, that’s the very worst kind of delusion.

On religious conflict:

Killing someone in God’s name is ridiculous. If we do that, we are killing God and killing the truth.

On the current state of the world:

The world is in deep shit right now. The only thing that can save us from our own self-induced destruction is direct knowledge of the truth. And I say that without any reservation at all. Mankind cannot survive unless the truth dawns – from within – in each and every one of us. No political solution, bellicose or peaceful, will ever save us. No law. No pact. No treaty. No war.

On happiness:

Every single human being in the world at some time thinks that “if only” this or that one of our conditions could be met then we’d be happy… Think again.

On drugs:

Drugs are extremely destructive to your physical body, and they can leave emotional psychic wounds that can form permanent scars. They do not aid you in usefully discovering the truth in the least. I’m amazed I even survived my experimentation with that poison. My advice to you: Don’t bother.

You can communicate with Brad on his blog at http://hardcorezen.blogspot.com/.

If you are interested or curious about Zen, try these books:

The above blockquotes were granted by:
(c) Brad Warner, 2003. Excerpted from Hardcore Zen: Punk Rock, Moster Movies, and the Truth About Reality with permission from Wisdom Publications * http://wisdompubs.org

If You Love America – Question Its Institutions

A recent reader comment provided an opportunity to share a few thoughts that have been bouncing around my head:

If you hate America and everything it stands for, shown by half your blogs, why don’t you just move to another country? It’s that freaking simple. I despise nothing more than people who complain about everything in America, yet refuse to do anything about it but complain on a blog. – Alex

Alex, I love America and that is why I question our leaders, institutions, and policies, because I believe in constant and never-ending improvement. America is far from perfect.

In regards to doing something… blogging, writing, questioning, and provoking thought is doing something. Change happens one person at a time. If you have an unpopular opinion, it is a good sign you are thinking for yourself and expressing that opinion is the epitome of what America stands for (well… should stand for).

I am assuming you will delete this comment as soon as you find it, but that’s fine with me. I just want to get my message across to you: If you don’t like America, that’s fine. But how about instead of bitching about it, just leave. That’s easy enough, isn’t it? Just leave. – Alex

I never delete comments because a commenter disagrees. Check out the atheists blasting me for this post. I only delete comments that are offensive or threatening.

Do I point out flaws? Sure, that’s how you improve something, be it a product, service, a system, or ourselves. For example, I am grateful to work for the company I work for, but I constantly look for opportunities to improve the company. In order to improve we must identify opportunities for improvement, which manifest themselves as problems. Free and open criticism is critical to healthy growth. In America, most of our problems are not due to hyper-criticism but due to myopia. If we stop questioning authority, we stop improving. America’s founders created this country by questioning and rebelling against authority.

Can you please explain to me how schools teach us to think destructive thoughts? I’m currently in school, and that is most definitely not the case. – Alex

Schools teach us to fear authority, which leads to authoritarian mindsets, loss of personal resposibility, and loss of self-control.

Mass compulsory schooling instills group think, cliquing, blind obedience, racism, and the emotional destruction of those that don’t or won’t fit in. If you want to understand what our school system teaches, read the Seven Lesson School Teacher and if that piques your interest read the Underground History of American Education.

Billionaires like Bill Gates are trying reform education by calling for stricter standardized curriculum, longer schooldays, longer school years, and merit pay for teachers. But this is just more “one-size-fits-all” thinking. Instead, we need the freedom to choose our own curriculum, the length of our school day, the length of our school year, and the teachers we want teaching our children. We don’t need dictates from Bill Gates or anyone else via government proxy.

In regards to Mr. Gates’ ideas…Why did we decide to emulate the Japanese model of education instead of the Swedish model? Why can’t we be free to choose? Why all or nothing?

So basically, because you were a failure in school as a teenager your (sic) blaming the whole public school system? You blame the public school system because you were a burned-out druggie and your wife had no friends? It’s not the schools responsibility to get you friends, I’m sorry. – Alex

Alex, I’m sorry to tell you that our stories are mild. For some students the results are far worse. And yes, I do think the institution is to blame. These problems are non-existent in homeschooled teenagers.

The problem with mass compulsory schooling is not the students, parents, administration, or teachers. The problem is the institution itself – it drives people crazy. Mass government mandated institutionalization always leads to abuse. Some people believe that we can just tweak a rule, increase funding, or change the standards and make the existing system work. I used to be one of those people, but today I don’t believe we can reform it. We must revolutionize it. And the best way to revolutionize education is to drop out of the existing system and create a new one. That’s what I have chosen to do. (I want to be very clear here… I am not advocating that kids drop out of school. I am advocating that their parents pull them out of government schools and in the process revolutionize education.)

I know dozens of people that were bright, happy, inquisitive children full of potential and were emotionally, physically, and mentally destroyed by mass schooling and they’ve spent decades rebuilding themselves. I’m one of them.

There are powerful people, who believe that success in school should be required for success in life, so they deny poor students opportunities. This exclusion is simple prejudice and like all prejudice, it damages everyone. But what is even more destructive is the millions of young people that believe (the lie) that they are doomed to “shit jobs” because school wasn’t a good fit for them.

Alex, it saddens me to see such a young man adopt the “love it or leave it” mind set that was so prominent in older authoritarians during the 1960s. But, regardless, I wish you the best in all that you do and I hope you realize your dreams.

On a positive note… many young people visit this site and are doing well in government school, but they see how the institution damages many of their fellow students. This comment from Kristin reminded me why I need to keep blogging.

I want to say thank you.

As a public high school student (soon to be a public high school graduate), I was first drawn to your post on America’s school system. Even though I am (apparently) one of those who excel in such a setting, everything you said is so true that I have passed many of your posts on my friends who have been encouraged by your words.

I am a regular reader even though this is the first time I have commented. You blog about both the way I live my life and the way I wish to live my life. I am strengthened and inspired by your knowledge and insight.

I know that my peers and I are disillusioned about the state of our country and hope that we can be the generation that changes things. We are sick of hearing from our parents and “authority figures” that we are being too idealistic when we express a desire for change and fuller lives. And we are tired of being told that we are “the most depraved generation to date” while nobody mentions our potential to be the most expressive generation or the most influential.

I know some very talented and motivated people with the ability and drive to change this country and this world. And my peers and I as a whole are disgusted with this country and lack the blind patriotism that has been the downfall of so many empires throughout history.

Thank you for being someone who is willing to write about the things nobody else will admit. And thank you for having more faith in my generation than the entire sum of our parents and teachers.

Kristin

Krisitn,

Thank you for the comment. I can’t express in words how good your comment made me feel. To have faith in young people is to have faith in our future, so I believe it would be foolish to have anything but faith in you. You will create the future no matter what you believe, so why not believe you can create the greatest future possible.