Sliding windows of opportunity

Author , who wrote “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products” published an article an Internet eon ago (roughly 10 days), titled, “What to Do When Someone ‘Steals’ Your Amazing Idea.” I came across it in my newsfeed from Observer.com.

Now that, thought I, as a self-identified (paranoid) entrepreneur and occasionally penitent bad sharer, looks like something I should read. Because while a mere idea is the 1% inspiration to the 99% perspiration required to breathe life into a new venture, that flash  of what often feels like original genius is the inciting element that starts every entrepreneurial snowball rolling down Mount Disruption. That lightning-like “Eureka!” moment strikes rarely and without warning, so it’s natural to adopt a Gollum-like protectionism over your conceptual Precious, less some sneaksy Bilbo-analog snatch away your visions of changing the world.

The hard truth, of course, as Nir writes, is that that attitude is the “Sign of a Novice.” He explains,

“People tend to believe ideas are rare things, gems to be collected and hoarded. But in fact the nature of creative work, be it corporate innovation, academic research, or artistic endeavor, tells us quite the opposite—that if a useful insight pops into your head, it’s most likely in other people’s minds as well.”

Well, that stings. I’m a serial entrepreneur and I still want to behave that way when I get speared by inspiration out of the blue.

Nir continues,

“It’s called the ‘multiple discovery theory,’ which, contrary to the ‘heroic theory of invention,’ posits that discoveries are most often made by multiple people, not by lone ‘geniuses.’ History is littered with examples: the formulation of calculus, the discovery of vitamin A, the development of the telephone, the light bulb, the jet engine, the atom bomb.

‘When the time is ripe for certain things,’ the mathematician Farkas Bolyai said, ‘these things appear in different places in the manner of violets coming to light in early spring.'”

Of course, most people who think they’ve stumbled onto some novel idea discover truly original insights are as rare as Astatine shortly after rushing off to uspto.gov (or Google) to execute a quickie patent search.

Mr. Eyal and Mr. Bolyai are inarguably correct. One’s idea is almost certainly not unique or novel to the world. But that doesn’t suggest that dismissing such shower thoughts, or approaching their development with slow deliberation, is the sane course of action. On the contrary, embracing the slavering enthusiasm that such ideas fire is what separates entrepreneurs from those preferring the path most trodden. The thing to recognize about such ideas is that they fuel the furnace that creates the steam it takes to start an entrepreneurial locomotive up Disruption Mountain.

But here’s the thing I would add to Nir’s article: That those flashes of inspiration are almost always shared by others does not mean they are not scarce. Nor does it imply that birthing an idea simultaneously with (or after!) some other inventor(s) dilutes one’s chances of fanning that baby into the kind of conflagration that burns yesterday’s paradigms down.

It’s an adage that while many people get ideas; few do anything with them. But that’s not entirely true and it’s a worldview that can be dangerous for the erstwhile entrepreneur. There are a lot more people that, once shown the path, can figure out the execution than there are those who can see the path to begin with.

Each of those ‘Amazing ideas’ (assuming you’re not delusional) may represent what I think of as a sliding window of opportunity. Once opened, they’re only going to remain that way for a short period before someone else will slam it shut. The risk that makes inventors averse to sharing should not stem from fear of theft. The greater danger is that sharing an idea beyond a select few known and trusted fellow visionaries wastes time that could be spent in research, refinement, and development. In the early stages of business conception, after commitment to the unicorn-like Golden Idea, sharing and the doubt that can introduce from people who don’t have time or interest in your vision can slow one enough that they never get out of the starting blocks.

Sometimes, that instinct to guard one’s embryonic inspiration with at least some level of discretion is the best way to convert innovative adrenaline into the most precious of all entrepreneurial elements: The will to begin the work of building a product. That protecting your Precious reduces the chance of theft and exploitation by a pent-up competitor is merely a bonus.

 

Friday Flections: “9 Rules For Building A Successful Business” (or life).

Today’s “Friday Flection” is from the blog of Tim Ferris and conveys some sagacity from Dr. Peter Diamandis (@PeterDiamandis), who has been named one of “The World’s 50 Greatest Leaders” by Fortune magazine. In the field of innovation, Diamandis is Chairman and CEO of the XPRIZE Foundation, best known for its $10 million Ansari XPRIZE for private spaceflight. Today the XPRIZE leads the world in designing and operating large-scale global competitions to solve market failures.

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Enjoy Peter’s Principles (which are very different from the “Peter Principle!”) at the below link:

http://fourhourworkweek.com/2016/09/22/peter-diamandiss-9-rules-for-building-a-successful-business/

Have a great Friday and remember — if you’re not chomping at the bit for Monday morning to roll around, your life’s parabola might need some flexing!

For Sale: 2014 Porsche 911 Turbo S …because it’s not self-driving.

The guy who built the house in which I live oversized the garage so he could store his (fairly sizeable) boat at home over the winter. So as garages go, it’s a bit ridiculous. Lots of empty space…and you know what happens when you apply Carlin’s Law of Stuff to empty garage space: Some of that cavernous emptiness fills with cars.

I have many character flaws and an enthusiastic addiction to sculptures you can drive is near the top of the list. I love the kind of four-wheeled, drivable plumage that turns a weekend at a grand-prix style road course into a rollicking, adrenaline-set life experience.

Putnam Park Hot PitThough it’s not my usual track car, I’ve created a few such memories with my 991-series Porsche 911 Turbo S. Until recently, its 560hp and all-wheel drive made it the fastest accelerating road car Porsche had ever put into wide production. But 0-60mph in as fast as 2.6 seconds, and 0-120mph in a hair over ten seconds is only half the story. The car’s torque-vectoring dynamics, electronically controlled limited-slip rear differential, single-rear-wheel brake application, and rear-wheel steering, give the car the cornering ability of a cheetah …or maybe a gazelle running from a cheetah.

But it’s a 2014 — a model year when even the most advanced production cars only sported “Level 1” autonomous capabilities. So it needs a new home, before it’s too late.

Level 1 autonomous operation? What’s that mean?

Oh, come on. Certainly, you know by now that cars come in five important classifications:

  • Level 0 autonomous: Complete human-piloting required. The current source of over 32,000 deaths in the US per year.
  • Level 1 autonomous: Some automatic oversight to decrease the severity of human failures in skill or judgment. The car has some nanny systems, like stability control or automatic braking (for when that idiot driver in front of you stops without first checking his rearview mirror to see if you’re busy texting or not). This is probably what you’re driving now, unless you’re still in a level 0 car.
  • Level 2 autonomous: Limited semi-automatic operation, like lane keeping (the car will stay between the lines on the highway and either go the speed limit or pace the car ahead of you, stopping if necessary). This is perhaps the most dangerous level, because the car can do a surprising number of things without needing a human much, for most scenarios. This prompts overly-trusting, underly-sentient drivers to stop paying attention to what they’re (or their car is) doing, despite manufacturers’ warnings that the driver is required to be in control of these cars, with their hands on the steering wheel, at all times.
  • Level 3 autonomous: The car can do everything without driver intervention for many circumstances, and is (theoretically) situationally aware enough to know when it can’t, in which case the mostly-autonomous car will give its passenger sufficient time to take over as driver without creating a laundry emergency. These aren’t out yet, and will probably quickly give way to…
  • Level 4 autonomous: The holy-shit, whiz-bang, be-all-end-all of self-driving evolution, where the car is expected and able to do everything, under (almost) any conditions, without any guidance (other than being told where to go). Most experts include vehicle operations without any requirement for a human to even be in the car in this level, while other hair-splitters consider that a level 5 classification.

This is important to you (and gets to the reason underlying the sale of the car featured in the article headline) because:

(1) your current car is at best a level 2 car (if it’s an appropriately-optioned Tesla model S), or a Flintstone’esque level 0 or level 1 (everything else, as of May, 2016); and

(2) level 3 cars will begin driving families around public roads in some countries in early 2017, with wider availability in 2018, and the first level 4 production cars from many manufacturers are scheduled for release into world-wide markets in 2019.

Joe and Jane Mainstream really aren’t paying much attention to this yet. But that’s going to change over the next year, and when it does, Joe and Jane will have no interest in your pain-in-the-ass, obsolete, level 0 or level 1 (or even level 2) car anymore. Not when level 3 or level 4 cars are affordable (and they will be) and will allow them to get from point A to point B — including handling their heretofore miserable daily commute — without interrupting their Netflix bingeing.

As a result, all those level 0 through level 3 cars will, over the course of a very short time, become 21st-century Edsels. And sure, those who own specialty cars (like this 911 Turbo!) may be insulated from the kind of demand vacuum that hyper-depreciates undesirable cars [<cough>Volkswagen diesels</cough>], but only for a time. Because sometimes even sports car drivers would rather chill on Instagram rather than inch agonizingly along in stop-and-go traffic jams.

Which brings us back around to the Porsche 911 in question. Which is truly and honestly for sale to a good home (ideally to someone not paying attention to the blistering pace of automotive technological change or the market changes they will bring). Normally, Porsches — especially high-performance Porsches — hold their value well. But with only level 1 autonomous capability, this car’s value will begin plummeting in two years or less.

Hey, you there — staring at your computer/mobile phone/tablet screen! Looking for a good deal on a really fun, late model 911 Turbo? It’s adaptive cruise control and automatic braking is the cat’s meow (…for now). And lemme tell ya: It’s a very high-tech car (for a 2014). You won’t want anything more (..for at least two years)! Autotrader will provide serious inquirers with the necessary contact information.


Kevin loves driving cars (whenever there’s no traffic). And he loves buying cars. And once upon a time, he sold cars for a living (although not very well, as you might have guessed). And he loves this one weird little three-dollar book that could save you or someone you know thousands of dollars in automotive expenses over the next few years!

Pushing boundaries …while keeping the shiny side up.

Hoosier competition slicks don’t squeal like street tires do when pushing the boundaries of lateral grip. The folks at Hoosier expect drivers to possess enough feel for their car’s departure characteristics to have abandoned reliance on audio cues when coaxing their cars to the ragged limits of applied physics.

That’s the sort of knowledge that’s best internalized long before attempting to blend high lateral Gs (or g-forces) with the tire-loosening throttle that carries a car from the curb-caressing apex of turn 10 at Putnam Park Road Course to the track’s outer edge. Try to coax more lateral grip than the car’s setup allows, or get too heavy-footed on the gas during turn exit, and Newton’s immutable 2nd law will introduce the car’s shiny paint to a ravaging barrier wall just waiting to penalize such seat-of-the-pants, F=ma, calculation errors.

On the other hand, take the turn too slowly or lay into the throttle either too gently or too late means giving up two, or four, or ten mph at the turn’s exit. That deficiency then haunts drivers throughout the full ten or eleven seconds of acceleration down the front straight. Every missed mile per hour robs long tenths of a second from lap times.

All this flicked through the thoughts of the 997-era Porsche 911 GT2  driver in the four-heartbeats between turn 9 and turn 10. That’s not a good time for concentration to lapse.

Putnam Park turn 10

He scowled as he left a frustrating amount of padding between his car’s capabilities and the risk of a graceless, spinning exit from the track’s asphalt surface. He’d been off in the grass, and into a tire wall, before. It was making him too cautious now.

Fuckin’ granny, he chided himself. Accepting risk was an inherent part of extending one’s limits. No one clinging safely to their comfort zone ever improved at anything.

But in the last year, his damned car had begun appreciating wildly in value, leaving him overly cautious about sliding his Hoosiers as close to the abyss as was required for fast laps. Shaking his head, he thrust smoothly down on the gas, searching for that maximum amount of acceleration lying just this side of breaking the tires loose and allowing the 911’s heavy rear end to whip around and into the lead.

The car surged forward. Rocket sled g-forces momentarily fused spines and helmets to the carbon-fiber seat backs, ensuring the GT2’s inhabitants became one with the car.

The GT2’s windows were down. That was required during high-performance driving exercises. So the 120mph, then 130mph, then 145mph, thirty-eight degree Fahrenheit, Indiana Spring slipstream buffeting the car’s cockpit grew chillier. Yet neither the driver nor passenger spared attention to miniscule sensations like bone-chilling cold. Small sensory discomforts went unnoticed before the dopamine-based joy this car’s ability to slingshot out of a corner created.

2008 911 GT2 Facebook cover

In the passenger seat, the Porsche’s master mechanic, riding along to experience the result of the modifications he’d made to the drivetrain and suspension, fought the acceleration and the six-point safety harness to get a glimpse of the car’s instrumentation. He might have yelled “Holy crap” at what he saw, but amidst wind noise and thunderous exhaust, it’s hard to tell. A rear-engine car under straight-line acceleration might be considered the epitome of traction; nevertheless, for much of the car’s pell-mell flight down front-straight, the dashboard’s traction and stability control lights flickered on and off, indicating the application of such power that even the Hoosiers’ relationship with the asphalt became alarmingly tenuous.

“See?” the driver yelled, ten time-dilated seconds later. “It’s freakin’ nuts with the new tune! The car goes like a raped ape!” Cackling like a madman, he abandoned the gas pedal and put the car into threshold braking, right at the limits of ABS, throwing both occupants forward in their restraints and slowing the suddenly nose-heavy vehicle just to the point where the turn 1’s cambered exit banking was the only reason the car remained on the track rather than sliding WAY off into the grass.

An engine blip and downshift later, the car leapt toward turn 2. There were eight more uniquely demanding turns to conquer before the driver’s next stab at that most dangerous, and rewarding, turn 10.

Putnam Park turn 10 (2)

This was just a little exercise in narrative point of view, perspective, tense, and accessibility. I wanted to flex mental muscles a little prior to getting back to work on my second book in the Michael Rader series. After taking a break from fiction to knock out “Self-Driving Steamrollers,” I needed some forced typing to get back into third-person-limited mode again. If you’re still reading, I hope you enjoyed the diversion, rough though it may have been.

Putting Off the Decision to Buy a New Car May Be the Smartest Decision You Make

Then again, used cars will soon begin losing value at an accelerating rate, too — what’s a person to do?

The US auto industry had a record year in 2015. After surviving the sales trough tied to the financial and housing market implosion of 2008, US auto sales have been steeply up and to the right since the middle of 2009. In fact, the skyrocketing growth in car sales over the last six years is the strongest recorded by the car industry since World War II.

Looks rosy, doesn’t it? Then again, so did the housing market in the years before 2008. That’s the nature of economic bubbles.

Looking under the covers, we see some dirty sheets. Analysts have discovered negative equity ratings in almost a full third of car owners. They’re “under water,” in the parlance of the auto industry. The number of car owners who owe more on their car than it’s worth has rapidly almost doubled. Meanwhile, during this last six years of “growth,” average loan lengths have increased by two months per year, allowing more people to finance cars that they might not have been able to afford under older, more conservative, financing guidelines.

And an almost record number of those loans are “subprime,” meaning at higher risk of default. So now the auto industry growth is beginning to look like something we might see in a sequel to the 2015 Oscar-nominated movie, “The Big Short.”

Adding risk is the fact that millennials are showing increased apathy toward the historical “thrill” of car ownership. Falling percentages of them are even bothering to get a driver’s license. On-demand ride sharing has already eroded many city dwellers’ interest in car ownership. That trend began causing used-car prices to fall in 2015 and is forecast to continue through 2016.

Now we introduce a new specter, the age of autonomous cars. Their revolutionary technology and ability to transform the transportation experience looms to begin pulling more blocks from the bottom of this financial Jenga tower. What does that mean to you?

google-car-otto (800x444)

Assuming you don’t live in one of the few cities in the US where it’s common for people not to own a car, you or your family probably owns at least one, and maybe multiple automobiles. Within a few years, the value of those cars — your ability to sell them when you no longer want them — will begin to fall through the floor.

Probably beginning around 2020, but perhaps as early as 2019 for some cities, great masses of people are going to collectively decide that not only would it be stupid to buy a new car, they no longer want the expense of owning their old one. They’re going to anticipate the leap to new autonomous, on-demand transportation services. For many, that buy-in will be lock, stock, and barrel.

Within a couple years, markets will be flooded with used cars, for which there are decreasing numbers of buyers. The rest is basic economics, supply and demand. Five years from now (2016’ish), if you’re still hanging lovingly onto your old family horse, you’ll be lucky not to have to pay someone to cart it away for scrap.

In some parts of some countries, in the next few years, if you buy a new car without the capability for fully autonomous operation, you’re setting yourself up for major losses. Unless that car appeals to some specialty market (perhaps well-to-do folks with a passion for driving a sports car, for example), you should expect that new car to depreciate at devastating speeds. If you finance much of your car’s purchase price, you may never get to the point where the car is worth more than your loan payoff.

This will be exacerbated by additional financial realities. Those in the lower income brackets, young people entering the labor force, and the semi-skilled laborers who create most of the market for used cars are: (1) certain to be hardest hit by the coming changes, because historically that is the population most impacted by times of technological and economic disruption; and (2) the demographic who will probably find the cost savings of on-demand transportation most compelling.

As the demographic who comprise most of the gently-used-car market’s buyers become early adopters of autonomous on-demand transportation, the demand for used cars will evaporate. There will suddenly be an overwhelmingly greater supply of used cars than demand. Prices will plummet.

Your non-autonomous trade-in’s value will plummet with it. Even in areas where on-demand transportation does not quickly reach critical mass, forcing you to own your own car, the financial and quality-of-life incentives for owning a new self-driving car will still dampen the demand for the obsolete car you’re driving today and will soon be anxious to sell.

The used-car market implosion will begin in the cities, where autonomous on-demand car services will first appear and gain adoption. As demand ramps and the number of self-driving cars increases to meet that demand, people in those areas will begin divesting themselves of (dumping!) their cars. That will cause local used car values (for non-autonomous cars) to plummet. At the same time (if not before), new car sales in those areas will slow as people realize they’re decreasingly interested in taking on that unnecessary expense.
For a time, there may be some business opportunity in moving cars from regions where the supply of used cars is ballooning (causing falling prices) to areas of the country (or neighboring countries) where on-demand transportation has yet to become available. But that will last no more than year or two.

That domino effect of a glut in the used car market and softening new car demand will ripple outward from cities, into the suburbs, and finally into the country. With the ripple, car dealerships will contract in volume. The number of people they employ will decrease. Then used-car dealerships will begin to fold up their tents.

As on-demand transportation becomes ubiquitous, the only people buying “old fashioned” human-driven cars will be those who’ve figured out a way to make money from disassembly or scrap, or by moving them to regions of the world where autonomous cars are unsupported or disallowed.

Or people who’ve taken up driving in demolition derbies…

Smart people need to begin watching the market and the developing autonomous technologies. Timing, or mistiming, when you ditch your non-autonomous car could save you, or lose you, thousands of dollars.

This article is an excerpt from the first edition of the book, “Self-Driving Steamrollers (Your Guide to a Future Featuring Autonomous Cars You May Never Buy)”. It’s available for Kindle on Amazon.com. “Self-Driving Steamrollers” is an example of “Book 2.0,” encouraging collaboration. If you have something to say on the subject, you can submit your suggested essay or additional chapter(s) for inclusion in the next edition of the book. Editions come out often!

If you like this article and/or agree that thriving in the future is more likely when you’re prepared for its possible differences, please recommend it to others. That will help others discover it — and maybe their future will be better for it!

Self-Driving Steamrollers (Your Guide to a Future Featuring Autonomous Cars You May Never Buy)

Laurence Peter once said, “There is only one thing more painful than learning from experience, and that is not learning from experience.” My second book, this one non-fiction, is now live on Amazon in ebook format. Time will tell where I as an author fall in L. Peter’s spectrum.

You can find it here: Self-Driving Steamrollers.

google-car-otto (800x444)

Don’t wait for our near future to hit you like a driverless truck with a faulty collision sensor. Your world will soon change and this book is an entertaining introduction to help you prepare.

Using easy narrative, humor, quotes, anecdotes, his business sense and Futurist’s vision, Higgins makes a compelling forecast that the age of driverless cars will be upon us and revolutionizing our world more rapidly and more drastically than most people realize. It’s not a future you should await passively! “Self-Driving Steamrollers” lays out the benefits people and companies stand to reap by planning for the sweeping changes to our environment these technologies will bring …and how much they could lose if they don’t.

“Self-Driving Steamrollers” is must read for teens, adults, and company executives, whether they’re small business owners or leading large corporations.

We Are Always Broadcasting (And It Affects Our Grades)

I’m privileged to be the parent of a great teen who’s normally a strong student and capable of pulling A’s when she applies herself. She is a sweet kid, good natured, motivated, and not prone to vitriol. But she is subject to our public school system and though her school ranks in the top 5% nationally and in the top 3% in our state, like all schools it sports its share of teachers who have, shall we say, seemingly lost their zeal for teaching.

Last semester she made the following comments about one of her classes:

I hate my Honors English teacher. Everyone else does, too.
Everyone’s trying to get out of her class (unsuccessfully).
She’s worthless. She’s lazy. All she does is…[insert criticism]. She never…[etc]…
When I ask my teacher a question, she’s so snotty to me.
If I have a question about something, I don’t feel like I can even ask because she’s just going to yell at me.
It’s not fair. My English teacher hates me.

I’m close to my child. I commiserated. We don’t often use the word “hate” in our house so clearly emotions were high. But we’ve all been there. We’ve all been frustrated by school experiences forced on us. And as students, we all blamed the teacher.

A teacher who engages you, whose teaching style you like, makes school more fun. It can make learning effortless. Or at least less tedious. Good teacher/student connections make earning A’s easier.

The converse is also true.

I was saddened by my teen’s statements. English is smack dab in my teen’s wheelhouse. She is an avid reader, well spoken, and a strong creative writer. Earning A’s in English is inarguably within her capability. Actively disliking an English course was a first.

She did poorly in that semester. Capable of getting straight A’s, she barely escaped getting a C in that class. Such GPA hits, unchecked, can become a problem for a student with their heart set on getting into the selective Big Ten University drawing many of her friends and classmates.

In commiserating with my child, being a good listener and leaving it at that, I failed my teen as a parent, as a mentor. I took the bonding opportunity but missed the opening for a teaching point.

I failed to point out that every one of my teen’s observations above were linked.

The great thing about failures is that they can be springboards to learning. Now she’s helping me with my failure and I’m helping her with hers (Yes, in this family, a low B is a failure to manage your future). So we wrote this together, hoping our experience and takeaways help others.

Here are the learning points for teens, by a teen (and her parent).

1) What you broadcast gets reflected.

Humans are social creatures. People in close proximity pick up on others’ vibes. We can tell when someone near us is bothered, sad, or angry. We can often sense honesty or its absence. We can sense respect. We can also sense disrespect or disregard. This is all because (most) humans are, by nature, empathetic.

Teens get this. They sense when someone likes or doesn’t like them, even among strangers and often without any words being spoken. The reason why might remain a puzzle, but the feeling comes through. We’re social. We’re tribal. Like pack animals of a sort. So we’re always broadcasting cues, always receiving them from others. That’s especially true when you’re a teenager in a socially dense environment, like school.

Teenagers are often only beginning to develop the experience, the skill (and for many the inclination) to conceal how they’re feeling. Their feelings and attitudes show in their faces, in their body language, in their eye contact, or lack thereof. It’s broadcast in their attentiveness, or lack thereof.

People choose how they will feel. They adopt an opinion. Then they broadcast. Everything.

That means others can read you, even if they don’t let on. You’re social. So are they. But adults have had the experience of long practice. So if you as a teen think you feel it when someone at school either likes you or not, imagine how well that sense works for someone who’s had longer than you to develop that skill at reading others, at sensing what they’re feeling.

That’s the case with teachers more than almost any other kind of adult.

Adults who spend lots of time with teens can become almost like mind readers, even if they don’t show it. They’ve seen it all. Reading students’ attitudes comes from experience. And even though a teacher may be adept at hiding what they pick up from students’ broadcasts, they’re human. It affects them.

They also have the experience to get that sense from every individual sitting in their class. Just because a student is one of thirty doesn’t mean they’re invisible, that the teacher is oblivious to their broadcasting.

Because they’re human, they are prone to reflect those broadcasts.

When we sense someone doesn’t like us or respect us, we’re likely to reflect that antipathy. It takes conscious effort not to. Teachers aren’t immune to that inclination.

Teen thought experiment: If your roles were reversed, how would you respond when someone came up to you with a question after broadcasting they thought you were worthless, that time listening to you was wasted, that you sucked at your profession? Think about that. Many people don’t, then go through life clueless about how and why others respond to them the way they do.

A smart guy named Rajiv Rohan wrote: “The moment we look at ourselves in the mirror and say – ‘I am responsible for my life experience’ – is the moment we grow up.”

We each bear responsibility for the way others respond to us. That is a tough truth.

So when the student approaches a disdained teacher, begrudged because they teach a course the student doesn’t value or for employing a teaching style the student abhors, there should be no wonder when the teacher responds with similar attitude before words are even spoken. It’s no coincidence the teacher acts like they know that student’s thoughts.

2) The attitudes you adopt, embrace, and broadcast affect your grades.

The teacher/student connection, good or bad, is a two-way street. The teacher has an obligation to impart knowledge. The student has an obligation to arrive prepared to absorb it.

But no teacher has an obligation to behave or teach their course exactly the way every student wants. That would be impossible. But every teacher will teach so that those who are willing to earn an A can do so. The proof is that some students invariably do.

The students who decide that knowledge isn’t being conveyed the way they want, expect, or demand, are making a conscious choice. It hurts only them. Students who adopt disdain for a teacher, regardless of whether that might be deserved, throw a barrier in front of their own learning. They make getting that A grade harder, perhaps impossible. That is not only because people tend to tune out things they don’t like or want to hear, but because most classes have subjective components incorporated in the final grade. So a teacher’s personal evaluation of the student comes into play when their grade is assigned.

When the student and teacher work to respect each other, when the student is attentive, engaged, and has made the effort to be interested (sometimes in spite of the teacher’s behavior), that better grade occurs naturally.

Humans are inclined to evaluate more favorably those who pay attention to what they’re saying.

Whether that seems fair does not matter. That’s how humans are. It’s true in school. It will be true when one begins a career. And it will be true for the way you evaluate the performance of those who work for you if you ever become a boss. Respect is the currency that buys productive relationships.

Colleges know this. No college admissions officer, reviewing applications, will know nor care that someone had a hard teacher, perhaps one they didn’t like, in tenth grade. Every student gets such teachers. Students with straight A’s don’t get those grades because they got lucky with easy classes and awesome teachers all the way through high school. And they don’t have them just because they’re smart.

That 3.8 or 4.0 GPA means purely that a student was observant enough to understand their one job as a student was to figure out what the teacher wanted. Then they manufactured the requisite interest, put in the required effort, and delivered it.

It bears repeating: They figured out what the teacher wanted and delivered it. That’s all one has to do.

3) A grade, a cumulative GPA, means either the student did their job or they didn’t. Nothing more.

Students with 4.0+ GPA’s earn them because they put in the work. They made the effort to invest in their own future — even when they didn’t like a course or a teacher. That’s why that GPA is a primary determinant for acceptance at many colleges. And why it’s considered important to many companies when evaluating entry-level job applicants. Not because it indicates intelligence — it doesn’t. But because it means a candidate chose to figure out what was asked, did the work, and overcame adversity instead of accepting excuses.

Conversely, lower GPA’s signal students who decided to let attitude and judgments get in the way of their own learning so often it became a pattern of behavior.

For young teens uncertain what career to pursue, applying oneself to all subjects (like ‘em or not!) is challenging. It’s hard. That’s precisely why evidence of success is valued by colleges and companies. And if you don’t know the direction your life will take — and almost no one does as a teen — you cannot yet say what you don’t need to know. So performing strongly in all subjects is the only way to keep your options open.

The good news is that people can hit reset on poor past choices.

4) Tomorrow is a new day.

Students can hit reset on their approach to classes. They can reset their regard for a teacher. It’s hard, even harder if the best way to do that is sit down with that teacher or, through actions, prove that they’ve managed that reset. But it’s doable. Best of all, it’s in their own interest.

Think ahead. Choose not to become that person who might one day realize at long last where their happiness lies, what their dream is, what they want to do with their life, only to realize they let past choices close off their options. Figure out how to respect your teachers. Try to understand their perspectives, even if you don’t know how to like them. Learning how to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is a valuable life skill. But it’s worthwhile.

Your future self will thank you for it. With due respect.

With The Dawn of the Era of Self-Driving Cars Comes…More Pitfalls For Seekers?

[Another whipped-out installment of my professional development, “Unpolished and Rambling Blog-A-Week Project”]
 
I’m not at all an anxious person by nature. But being a parent to teenagers, even (especially?) good kids earning strong grades, feels way too much like watching a slow motion train wreck. I think this may be more so if you’ve been successful at creating an environment where your kids needs have always been met, if you’ve been a “good parent” and sheltered them from adversity. Here, I explore why, through the context of my personal lenses of entrepreneurialism and having known too many people who’ve never been excited by the jobs in which they spent over a third of their lives.
 
Most people hate Mondays. That’s a problem, and it’s going to get worse. I think it’s solvable.
 
We all seek. What we seek, what accomplishments we chase, often morphs over time. In my first career, as a soldier, I pursued professional competence. It was a both point of pride and required to both save and potentially take lives. Later, after having squandered a few years in corporate cubicle life before curing myself of a compulsion to work for others, I busted my ass to convert a few meager business skills and an unusual breadth of background experience into a second career as a business founder. Among the plethora of other reasons that drives anyone to hazard the risks and hassles of building their own business, I was at that time a passionate Seeker of (a) freedom from the psychological oppression of working for others and (b) personal financial independence.
 
Then I retired for awhile. Now, at mid-life (unless I embrace newly available, outlaw life-extension technologies), I seek new achievements.
 
To me, apparently, seeking = life; living without Seeking is just waiting to die.
 
There’s a platitude that says: “Life’s about the journey, not the destination.” I interpret that to mean you should drive your life in a direction that thrills and challenges you with the day-in-and-day-out of that Journey, otherwise you’re either tracking on the wrong destination or you’ve passively elected to let others steer your boat toward their dreams at the cost of your own.
 
Why would someone do that with their one and only life? I couldn’t.
 
As a result I evolved into a compulsive entrepreneur. So even when it’s not my primary professional focus, I constantly conceptualize businesses that might change the world for the better in some small way. I’m obsessively attracted to the idea of blending social good with making money. So while I’ve come out of early retirement to pursue a third (!) career by working to develop the skills necessary to make professional writing pay, I’m easily distracted by crowd funding friends’ visions, angel investing, and thought experiments about tech startups.
 
As part of that latter preoccupation, and in the context of choosing a profession, I’ve been experimenting with a framework for helping people identify, choose, then realize their dreams, despite the risk that anything I do will result in a mass-market demonstration of the futility in leading a horse to water. But my conviction is that having concrete dreams fueling one’s day-to-day energy strengthens chances of success and increases happiness. And I wish more of the people I interacted with were happier, that more of the people I know were either living their dreams or at least making remarkable, excited progress in that direction.
 
But it’s not easy figuring out your dream life and then transitioning that into accomplishment. If it were, people would be defined more by their progress toward identity fulfillment than self-classified by an occupation, a job, they actually consider a dream-killing, energy-sucking distraction forced by the need for an income source.
 
Which one of those two opposites applies to any given individual? That’s easy: If you suddenly had all the money you’d ever need and could do whatever you wanted in life, would you choose to keep your current job (or other time sink taking most your waking hours) for the next five years, or would you give your two-week’s notice so you could devote your energy to something else? Way too few people have charted their lives so that they’d choose the former. Way too many people hate proverbial Mondays — one of the surest indications you’re not working in your dream profession doing something you love.
 
I think about that common condition. Because it’s a pain point. And where there’s pain, there’s opportunity. A pent-up demand whose satisfaction could create social good (and profit).
 
Bookmark that thought: Where there’s pain there’s opportunity.
 
Sometimes, when the direct route toward happiness is obscured by malaise or inexperience, you can at least begin tracking in the right general direction by identifying and avoiding the common ruts that entangle lives and strangle joy. With introspection and a modicum of  professional development, you can at least groom yourself away from having to take jobs that will predictably lead toward diminished satisfaction with one’s work life. At the entry level, and maybe beyond, ongoing development of core skills related to your passions becomes akin to positioning yourself to fail upward. In this manner, you increase your contentment by avoiding easy paths leading to discontentment. The earlier you takes these actions, the shallower the ruts from which you must climb before finding your own True Path.
 
Simple, in theory. But applying this blinding flash of the obvious to teens (and even boys in their early twenties), whose prefontal lobes are barely buds and thus almost physiologically incapable of envisioning, let along building, complex plans for the future is no small challenge. Hence teens’ stereotypical answer to questions like: “What excites you? What profession might you be passionate about? What do you want to do with your life?”
 
“Um, I dunno.”
 
So their first job usually ends up being doing something soul-crushingly boring to their young hearts, creating and cementing the expectation that work sucks and life is what you live outside of work. But you have to accept it because employment is one of life’s necessary evils. That belief becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, because entry into that environment encourages you to grow out of your dreams; you begin to accept pale substitutes and life goes by. Suddenly you’re old, and you wonder where you abandoned your dreams.
 
But that’s fixable, isn’t it?
 
I think so. Thus I contemplate the behaviors of young people who, through lack of any life-sustaining dream development, have either fallen, or are at risk of falling, into whatever poorly suited job their too often random, undirected searches turn up via quick trolling through parentally relayed news of help-wanted signs or path-of-least-resistance perusal of the classified help-wanted ads. That inserts kids and young adults into the teeming throngs of the discontented who, years down the line, realize they’re living for the weekend, hating Mondays, and trying to remember — or perhaps forget — once-cherished dreams. These are the myriads who default into that too common, life-interrupted fate of spending 40-50+ hours a week making a living but not a life. Because they wouldn’t or couldn’t summon the energy or hunt out the coaching to find, develop, and pursue a personal passion outside of play time.
 
Why is passion important? Because globalization, and the flattening of markets and the competition that brings. Without passions drive, mustering and sustaining the enthusiasm for the incessant skill development and its attendant competitive edge ensures mediocrity. To create stable income out of your dream, it takes passion to build your talent into top 5%…or 2%.. levels of performance. Passion is required to compete with people like you who want to live their dreams. Very, very few can do that with grinding self-discipline alone. If your energy levels aren’t passion-fueled, doing something that creates a life and not just a living becomes a bridge too far. Without the passion that ties happiness to excellence and as a result drives constant growth in expertise, you risk falling behind those with whom you must inevitably compete. It takes passion to become great, certainly the best, at something — even in niche or small markets (characteristics that are also becoming obsolete due to technology’s march).
 
Let’s bookmark that thought, too: If you’re not passionate about what you do, you’re at risk of falling behind those who are.
 
Pulling another thread into this, I think about professional options and career “opportunities” that lure the majority of people aging through their teens and twenties (or worse, their thirties). My premise is that time spent working at something that bores you, that you’re not passionate about, is lost time. So I contemplate the societal ruts whose siren songs pull those struggling under a dearth of internal motivation when it comes to identifying, developing, and pursuing a personal dream. That lack yields a low-energy approach toward charting one’s future. Then that too often creates a downward spiral which, over time, saps one’s ability to muster the kind of vigor and focus it takes to keep a dream alive long enough to fulfill. So dreams die, and people end up hating Mondays.
 
Then there’s this driver: I have teenagers, so I spend some of my idle time thinking about what kind of world my kids are going to enter once they’re booted lovingly out of the house, encouraged to seek (and hopefully complete) some amount of free (to them) higher education, and are forced to select a career — ideally one that will provide happiness and subsistence without private or public subsidy. A “failure to launch,” a growing societal trend, is not an option. It’s evidence I’ve not done my job as a parent.
 
Like most teens, mine are uninterested in such introspection. Historically, that’s par for the course for teens. I think that’s been true for ages. It was for me in my day and if you’re educated enough to accept nature being as great — or greater– influence than nurture, it’s clear that my kids are encumbered by my genes when it comes to their timely professional development. But I had workplace and environmental luxuries my kids won’t. I grew up in a less competitive labor market, in an age where tech and globalization were primitive. What’s maddening is that the Information Age, with its democratic access to the world’s information should off-set that, but rarely does. Perhaps growing up in today’s risk-averse, over-sheltering and incessantly nurturing environment makes the condition worse. Adversity and independence are the mothers of ambition and innovation, and I’m afraid I bought too far into society’s deleterious mores when it came to balancing between hover parenting and encouraging free range kids.
 
‘Nuther bookmark: Overly sheltered kids are more likely to grow up dependent on external guidance, if not outright pushing, when making early professional decisions. That guidance — especially if it’s coming from the public educational system, colleges selling their majors at a premium, or uninformed parents — is likely to be hopelessly out of date before it’s even given to the kids.
 
Want an example? How about Joe Average looking for that first job and falling into the insurance industry, or perhaps a retail position in an auto-parts store, or perhaps with a manufacturer in the auto or one of the supporting secondary parts industries. Historically, these have been stable, if not glorious jobs for those who (almost certainly) never mustered a passionate enthusiasm for something more emotionally rewarding. But, hey, it’s a living and a steady paycheck, right?
 
This is how lack of foresight like that unravels a life.
 

Here we are in Spring, 2015. Cars with increasing amounts of automation are entering the mainstream. On the mundane side, multiple manufacturers already offer cars with 360º obstruction and approaching vehicle warning, self-parking, and even collision avoidance systems that will literally take over from you and stop the car if you’re about to drive into something.

 
A recent software update for Tesla cars introduced features that enable your car to automatically change lanes for you with a simple flick of the signal stalk, automatically match the road’s speed limit based on either GPS (digitized road map data) or the car’s visual sighting of a speed limit sign as well as other self-driving functions. Autonomous cars will be here, soon.
 
Are you still thinking that sci-fi stuff is far in the future? Even now the number of states with legislation passed and on the books allowing the operation of autonomous  — another term for self-driving — cars is increasing. Google already has a car in production that has neither a steering wheel nor pedals and is testing it on public California roads. It’s been almost two years since Google reported having about a dozen cars on the road at any given time, and over 300,000 autonomous miles driven.
 
Conservative pessimists suggest that autonomous cars won’t be mainstream until 2030, but that by 2040 the concept of a driver’s license will be obsolete. Visionaries driving us into this future (heh — see what I did there?) free from idiot and distracted drivers screwing up our roadways, predict fully automated driving in five years! And by “visionaries,” we’re no longer talking futurist crackpots and starry-eyed pundits. Both Google co-founder Sergey Brin and Tesla owner Elon Musk are working aggressively toward this rapidly approaching time to market. Elon Musk, who I submit is a pretty savvy dude, has gone so far as to say that in 2015, a Tesla will be 90% capable of auto-pilot. Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn has predicted that they will begin selling self-driving vehicles by 2018! That’s just around the corner!
 
Coolio! It’s classic capitalism. We have sufficient infrastructure to handle the traffic, but it’s too frequently clogged by humans too lazy and ignorant to learn to drive properly, and too stupid to realize how much they endanger others with their frequent misprioritization of focus while piloting a 3500 lb, 250+ hp murder weapon. Those oblivious and unskilled people create over 11 million traffic accidents and kill 30,000 to 40,000 of their fellow countrymen a year in the US alone. It’s a pain point, and nothing creates commercial incentive (and profit) like addressing pain points, with convenience and better safety being the most low-hanging fruit!
 
So, autonomous cars are coming, and they’re going to get here fast.
 
So, I wondered, what does that mean for the heretofore mentioned young adult, who in the absence of a driving dream just sort of fell into a “stable,” if unfulfilling job in one of those previously mentioned industries?
 
Well, it’s a no-brainer that autonomous cars are going to be safer and the auto-insurance industry is looking with trepidation at the deleterious effect that self-driving cars could have on the insurance business. That’s a diplomatic way of saying parts of it are going to implode. Similarly, industries like manufacturing and retail — most notably in auto-parts — and collision repair, are all forecast to see reduced demand (read: business closures and unemployment) in an era when cars aren’t running into each other and other things willy nilly like they have for the last hundred years. So that’ll be another nail in the coffin of employment prospects for generally unskilled labor. And, poof, suddenly that young adult, who couldn’t be bothered to chart a more exciting course for his life, and obsolete job skills and is on unemployment.
 
Can he recover? Maybe. But he’s put himself, or he’s allowed well-meaning but misguided others to put him, behind the professional power curve. He’s moved out of the time of his life when that proper dream analysis and development could have given him an advantage.
 
With technology’s rate of change, an incredible number of the majors being sold by financially hungry colleges are going to be obsolete by the time gifted entries today work their way into middle management. So as a society we have to find a way to help our youth find their passion, develop their dream, and Seek a smarter, happier course through the disruption ahead.

Long-winded Review: “The Peripheral,” by William Gibson

Few things worth accomplishing can be achieved without working for them. This sentiment is rarely applied to works of fiction that don’t aspire toward classic literature, and when it is, it’s often in a derogatory sense. That is perhaps even more so for works of science or speculative fiction. But it is applicable to William Gibson’s 2014 novel, “The Peripheral,” in a good way, despite my sense that Gibson makes a conscious choice to be inaccessible to many readers, and perhaps even some of his long-time fans.

It’s an interesting artistic decision, at odds with commercial success. If you enjoy reading his prose, always tight, imaginative, and multi-sensory, you feel as if you’ve been admitted into a fairly exclusive club — not everyone will be able to share the experiences he constructs. If you’ve tried Gibson and found him wanting, you probably consider his stylistic decisions lazy, his prose opaque. After all, a few sentences here, a couple explanations there, and the worlds Gibson crafts in exquisite, layered detail would be so much more conducive to early immersion.

Rather, Gibson writes characters who, having lived in an environment, treat it as commonplace. They never stop to explain the mundane any more than you would in your day-to-day. Oddities, environmental warts, power struggles, economic and technological realities draw no special consideration, however alien they might be to our own frame of reference. So books like “The Peripheral” require the reader to throw themselves into a swollen river, too deep for footing. Like an inexorable flood, the narrative cares not whether you drown before your flailing for purchase evolves into thrill at such an unpredictable ride.

I apparently inhabit the low end of Gibson’s expectation of spec-tech cognition, barely clawing my way into the Venn Diagram intersection between voracious readers and relaxed-minded imagineers from which Gibson pulls his fans and for whom he writes his stories. It took me two tries to get far enough into this book for the narrative to sweep me away.

In my first attempt, I made the mistake of starting “The Peripheral” while still reading another work of science fiction and studying my way through an unrelated work of non-fiction, one such book of which I’m usually trying to absorb at any given time. I was also involved in flexing creative muscle, writing one story, plotting another, while straining toward struggling into developing a sustained pace of publishing a personal blog post per week. My aged, distraction-addled brain wasn’t up to meeting Gibson’s thrown gauntlet. I got 10% of the way (a measurement by which Kindle readers identify each other) into “The Peripheral” and found myself realizing I had almost no idea who the main, let along the secondary, character were, what they were doing, from where conflict might enter, or where the plot might go. I was constantly lost in the common jargon of the times. I  found myself in that weird Gibson’esque experience of loving every isolated paragraph of beautifully sculpted prose while being completely frickin’ lost in the narrative woods. My understanding was as lacking as my metaphors were mixed.

Accomplishment always stems from navigation of decision points. Anyone who’s ever achieved anything of merit has faced innumerable decisions, chose courses of action based on facts, their perceptions, their predictions, the market — whatever — and stuck with it with the tenacity to wrest success from the myriad inevitable forces working against. At that 10% mark, I put the book down, contemplated the possibility that I might have finally come to the Gibson book I couldn’t love, let alone finish. A sad first, I thought. Neal Stephenson did that to me years ago; I hated to lose another favorite author. They’re hard to come by and it hurts when they decide they don’t care about you anymore, because you’ve bored them and they want something new!

I’m perfectly capable of quitting, of adjusting, if not abandoning, a course of action that’s begun to prove unsuccessful, when conditions or the reason for continuing have shown to be illusory, or the environment has changed to the point where sunk costs will not provide ROI. I’m less accepting of quitting when the lack of success might in any way be due to lack of dedication on my part. So I finished the other books I was reading and started “The Peripheral” again, from the beginning, with more allocated focus this time. At the 10% mark, I was still struggling, but found I was glimpsing the unifying threads that wove the story, that would tie the narrative together, allowing me to relax a begin enjoying the rushing current.

Once I crossed that event horizon, there was no going back. Having worked hard enough to sort the characters, understand the interaction between near-future and far-future (only 70 years, given cataclysm and technological pace of change), the story, the characters, the conflict, just rocked.

I loved this book. It proved worth working for. I mark it as one of those works of fiction that vaults over the high walls separating pulp and commercial dross (which I admit to enjoying, probably too much), landing firmly in the fortress reserved for remarkable literature.

If you’ve not read Gibson, start with some of his less demanding work. If you’ve acquired a taste for Gibson, give this book the focus it demands, and you’ll be paid back in spades. Five stars.

Do People Change Their Minds? (Yes, more than most realize!)

In a guest post on Scott Adam’s Blog, Diana Wales poses the question: “Have You Ever Changed Your Mind?” She writes: “Humans are stubborn creatures. For most people, once they pick a side, their decision making is over – forever. Any evidence that might indicate that maybe there is a better option is ignored or derided, unless they perceive obvious and significant personal benefits for making a change. And even then they might hold fast. I used to live in Chicago, and I knew some Cubs fans that were more likely to change their gender than their allegiance to the Cubbies, despite a century of disappointment.”

And we all know people like this, so it’s an easy premise to accept. I think her observation is flawed, but it’s still a great post because, like so many that Scott writes, it encourages introspection and suggests spending some brain cycles on thought experiment, which can so often result in productive connections elsewhere in one’s life.  So when Diana asks, “…have you had some other epiphany that caused you to change your stance on a fundamental choice, like your political affiliations, religion, right to bear arms, or choice of smart phone, and if so, what was it? What does it take to change a mind?” I was compelled to answer.

While it may not constitute true “change,” in his book “How to Fail…” Scott influenced me to re-evaluate my view of goals vs. systems and how I use both. Am I more change-minded than most? Probably, but still…

Yes, humans are stubborn, often irrationally so, but contrary to her premise I believe that change is more the norm than the exception — unless one constrains their observation to the short term or limits their definition of change to full diametric shifts.

Certainly by the mid-twenties (if not the late teens) peoples’ beliefs and behavioral parabolas have solidified, often requiring external pressure or catastrophe to shift. But major changes can come over time, driven by a steady drumbeat of media, evolving social mores, economic incentives, or accumulating frustrations. Or, some might argue, aging. Not as dramatic as an epiphany, granted, but still substantive change, right?