Friday, May 25, 2012

A Perplexing Problem...

"How often have I said to you, that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?"
~Sherlock Holmes to Dr. Watson

When I was a bit younger, our family would often go camping in the local mountains. At night, we’d sit around a smoky campfire drinking hot beverages, singing camp songs, and telling ghost stories. One of my favorite activities was asking a particularly difficult riddle to the group to see if they could formulate an answer.

One of my favorite riddles was the following:

A man goes home. There he finds two masked men. One of the masked men yells something at the top of his lungs. The man who just came home, smiles and walks away from both men, very happy. What just happened?

A riddle like this provides a person with a unique opportunity to practice lateral thinking as opposed to straight forward thinking.

There are many things that we do in life that don’t really require lateral thinking. These actions and decisions are relatively straight forward.

For example, if you have a leaky faucet, experience (or a handyman’s manual) will dictate that you should replace a washer to stop the leak. There isn’t much of a decision to make other than to perhaps consider installing a new faucet instead of repairing the old one.

However, there are many times in life, we face a difficult decision. It’s a decision that requires much thought and consideration before coming to a conclusion. This is when lateral thinking is best practiced.

Lateral thinking combines the collection of relevant facts with that of plausible alternatives to develop unique and creative solutions to seemingly very complex problems.

The first step in the decision making process is to examine all of the relevant facts. There are two important words to consider..."relevant" and "facts".

To be relevant, they must actually matter in this particular decision.

If you are considering purchasing a home in Los Angeles, then the weather in New York has no bearing on this decision. It isn’t relevant in this instance.

However if you are planning to purchase a vintage car in Los Angeles that originally was driven in New York, then consideration of the weather might actually be very relevant due to the potential of salt corrosion to the undercarriage of the car.

The second word "fact" is just that...a fact. It is not an opinion. It is not a hypothesis. It is not a theory, supposition, preconceived notion, bias, or guesswork. A fact is a fact.

The car is red. The car has a manual transmission. The car is equipped with power windows. These are all facts.

The car is quiet. The car is fuel efficient. The car is comfortable. These are all opinions and are relative to a predefined standard.

One might argue that the vintage car is quiet, fuel-efficient, and comfortable when compared to a diesel 18-wheel big-rig truck or a top-fuel dragster but it may not be quiet, fuel-efficient, and comfortable when compared to a modern hybrid luxury sedan.

Relevant facts help us to separate what is and what is not important in the decision process.

The second step in the decision making process is to examine all of the available alternatives before coming to a conclusion.

Some people find the first possible solution and begin to act using just that one alternative. However, sometimes the first alternative may not be the best solution to our problem.

Consider for a moment the following square:

If I ask you to divide the square into 4 equal parts in as many ways as possible, how many alternatives can you come up with?

If you are a member of the majority, you will immediately choose the most obvious method in which to divide the squares as shown in figures 1 & 2.

If you happen to be a bit more unconventional you may divide the squares into figures 3 & 4.

Finding additional alternatives now gets a bit more difficult, so you conclude that perhaps there may be only 4 ways to divide the square into 4 equal parts and no more.

However, I’m here to tell you that there are actually two methods that will result in an infinite amount of possible solutions not just the most obvious 4 as shown above.

The solution to finding the first set of alternatives is to consider figures 1 or 2 above. Simply rotate the two straight lines around the center intersection point you an infinite amount of alternative solutions (making each adjustment smaller and smaller).

Another method to create infinite solutions to the problem is to start with figure 3 and move points B and C equally from the respective top and bottom.

Better solutions are derived from having a larger pool of possible solutions in which to choose from.

Lateral thinking forces us to examine the relevant facts and create several plausible alternatives to find an uncommon solution to difficult problems.

Thinking about our riddle...

A man went home...was this a home as in a person’s house...or was it another type of home?

There were men there when the man arrived...who were they...and why were they there?

The men wore masks...what type of masks...were they rubber Halloween masks or a different type mask?

One of the men yelled something...what did he say...why did he say it...and why did it make the man arriving home smile and happily walk away?

The solution to the problem is simple once we examine all of the relevant facts and possible alternatives.

All of life’s problems are not necessarily riddles told around the campfire but they can cause one to take a moment to think a while.

The better we can train our minds to think laterally rather than to think just straight forward, the better we will become at solving complex problems that do matter greatly.  It will helps us in the creative process to develop new ideas and assist us create new, unthought of, alternatives in which to consider.

The man was actually on third base. When the ball was hit, he went home where he encountered two masked men...the catcher and the umpire. The umpire yelled "SAFE!!"...upon hearing this, the man who just scored, smiled and walked away...

Thank you for your unwavering support of OptiFuse where we encourage our team, our customers, and our friends to spend a little part of their day simply thinking.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Rest and Relaxation...

Over the course of the last several weeks, I’ve had the "opportunity" to travel to several locations around the country for various purposes. 

I was in Salt Lake City to attend a wedding, in Las Vegas to attend a tradeshow, in Ohio to attend a college graduation, and in several cities throughout the Ohio Valley to visit with distributors, reps, and end customers; all within a 9-day period.  This was travel with a purpose.  No sight-seeing or drinks at the pool.

Along the way, I did have the chance to converse with strangers, laugh with friends, and meet a variety of "friends of friends".

Somewhere during the course of the many conversations I found myself engaged in, the subject of travel often arose.  I listened to people exclaim that I was so lucky that I had the opportunity to travel about and how they wished that they had the opportunity one day to nomad about.

Now...myself, I like to travel.  I’ve been extremely fortunate to have visited some 58 countries throughout the world and 41 of the 50 states (including one new one just this past weekend...West Virginia).  Traveling gives me a different perspective as to how the world looks and how people in different places live.

My experiences traveling these days, is anything but glamorous in all but just a few instances.  There was a time when a traveler was treated with respect and some dignity, however those days are about as far gone as the hot airplane meal and personal travel agent.

I have found that there are generally three reasons most people travel.

Traveling for business

When we travel for business, we typically want to go, get our business done, and return back home as soon as possible.  Business travel is annoying, even to the veteran "road warriors" who may spend more time away from home than actually at home.  It is an obligation that comes with the job.  We need to do it, but we don’t like it.

Business travel is about packing in as much as you can due to the inefficiencies of getting to one place or another.  Inconveniences abound as we seem to spend just as much time waiting in seemingly endless lines as we do actually getting from one place to another.  There are the logistical problems of getting to and from the airport, checking luggage, airport security checkpoints, boarding planes by sections, lines at the rental car counter, and getting to and checking into hotels.  Hurry up and wait.

Days on the road (at least for me), typically start early and end late.  We end up eating unhealthy fast-food and/or large heavy meals while entertaining clients late into the evenings. 

Sleeping in strange and sometimes uncomfortable beds causes restless nights.  The climate controls in our rooms seldom operate correctly so it’s often too hot or too cold.

Our internal body clocks take a few days to adjust to the new time zones but we don’t have the time to acclimate ourselves due to our overscheduling and time demands. 

We do rack up the frequent flier miles and hotel points but actually redeeming our points mean even more nights away from home so we save them for that dream vacation that we often never take.

There was a time when people prognosticated that the days of business travel was coming to a close.  The efficiency of WebEx meetings and Skype would certainly replace onsite meetings.  While there are certainly more internet transactions, it is safe to say that personal face-to-face dialog will not become extinct anytime soon.

Personal Travel

Traveling for personal reasons is not unlike that of business travel except that there tends to be the additional stress of an event with a deadline.

No one will delay a wedding, graduation or Thanksgiving because your flight got canceled.  Additional time constraints just add to the stress levels as you navigate to a particular location at a particular time.

Vacation Travel

Q:  When is a vacation not a vacation? 
A:  When it is so tightly scheduled that you begin to think that you need a vacation after your vacation.

We spend months or years planning for the dream vacation to some far-off place that we’ve always wanted to go.

Once we get to our destination, we hurriedly move from place to place trying to see every site and every tourist attraction.  We tell ourselves that we may never return so we feel that we must experience all that a place has to offer...if for no other reason than to be able to tell our friends that "we’ve been there and done that".

Many times I’ve returned from such a trip only to lament that I’m so glad that I’m back at work so I can relax from my vacation.

A vacation should be just that...a vacation.  It’s a time to unplug, unwind, and relax.

This is the type of vacation where you stop working, stop sight-seeing, and stop moving.  You get to your destination, check-in and a week (or two) later you check out.

You sleep in each day...get a yoga on the beach...curl up with a good book while you work on your tan...and go to bed early each night.

Your days are filled with recreational sports such as golf, hiking or horseback riding and your nights are filled with long relaxing dinners with uninterrupted conversation.

You go to someplace where your cell phone is inoperable and internet access is unavailable.  Where no one from the office can contact you to ask you whereabouts of a client’s file or seek your advice regarding the next year’s budget. 

It’s a time to unplug...a time to let your mind wander...a time to be bored.  You have the time to become hypnotized by the crash of the surf on the sand or stillness of the majestic mountains and quietness of the desert.
This is the type of travel where you are still imagining yourself lazing in a hammock between two palm trees sipping on a blended exotic cocktail several days after returning to work.  It’s the type of vacation where you feel refreshed and ready to solve the multitude of problems that will be awaiting you upon your return.

This is the type of travel I truly pine for but alas never seem to do enough of.

The summer is almost here...perhaps now is the time to get away to refresh and recharge those batteries...

Thank you for your continued support of OptiFuse where we try to assist you in taking a vacation from your daily problems.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Life in the Big City...

After 18 school years, my daughter’s formal education is now over.  This weekend she’ll graduate with two university degrees neither of which will provide her with instant employability but do provide her with valuable concepts to lead a fulfilling and rich life.

To her credit and perhaps detriment, she decided that future employment was not the single-most important reason for learning.  Instead, she was enthralled with the idea of learning for learning sake and decided to study "thinking" instead of science, nursing, education or business. 

Over the course of 5 years, she has attempted to train her mind to think rather than do and although it may make her near-future employment somewhat questionable, I have no doubt that she will go on to do great things in the life that lies ahead of her.

A few years back, I was determined to have that dreaded parental heart-to-heart talk with my son and daughter.  Not the talk about the "birds and the bees"...but rather the talk about economic realities. 

Up until that point, our children had led a fairly economically sheltered life.  They always had what they needed without any great stress or worry about financial constraints.  They attended private schools, were given transportation, they were afforded camps, extra-circular activities, lessons, and memorable vacations.

Their mother and I had made a pact with them while they were young and attending school.  They would work hard to study, learn and earn good grades, and we would provide for them financially. 

Quid Pro Quo...something for something...

Now that the end of their academic careers is in plain sight, it was time for them to learn the harsh economic realities of the world that we live in.  There was no printing press in our basement, no geese laying golden eggs, nor money tree to pluck $100 bills from.

Plain and simple, they would soon need to be gainfully employed in order to earn money in which to live.  They also needed to learn that they must keep their expenses below that of their revenue; understand the valuable concept of investing in a portfolio of appreciating assets (real estate, stocks, bonds) rather than spending money on items that have no residual value (such as entertainment and transportation); and never using debt to fund expenses.

The first step in the new financial reality is acquiring gainful employment.  Although the eye-catching headlines in the newspaper report a national unemployment rate of approximately 10% (in some places it’s higher and in some places it’s lower), it still means that there are 9 people in 10 who are actually employed in some manner.

I have explained to my children that the key to becoming and staying employed is to demonstrate to an employer that you can and will perform three key functions at your perspective place of employment:
  • Earn or save the company money
  • Create solutions to problems and develop new ideas
  • Don’t create more problems than you solve
If an employer pays you for your time, then you need to, in turn, create a return-on-investment for that employer.  The more profits that you create for your employer; the more they are willing to pay you.  The way to create more profits is by having skills, experience, and efficiency to do something faster, better, and less expensive for your employer.

When a company hires a person in an "entry-level" position, they fully recognize that the person may have limited skills and experience and therefore pays this person accordingly.  As they garner additional skills and more experience then you will become more valuable.

One of the best ways to create a return-on-investment for the employer is to become a "problem-solver" not a "problem-maker" or simply a "problem-identifier".  When you demonstrate the skills to solve problems, both internally and externally... then you have become more valuable.  By taking on additional responsibility and/or projects that no one else wants to have become more valuable.  

By being observant and cognizant of what needs to be done...and then taking the initiative to do it (without needing to be asked) have become more valuable.

If you are reliable and get your job done on time and under budget...If you show up, on time and ready to work each day...If you are always friendly, have a positive attitude, add to the team and help to build consensus among your co-workers...If you are always thinking about how to add to the company rather than what you’re going to get...

Then you have become more valuable.

As you become more valuable...your wages and/or job security will increase.  You will be given new opportunities and new responsibilities.  Your reputation within the industry will grow and your talents will be highly sought after.

Sometimes, certain positions do not need additional skills and experience (perhaps such as a fast-food server or busboy).  Therefore, there may be the need to leave your current position and apply your talents and skills in a new position (perhaps with another company).

I’ve tried to explain these concepts to my children and hopefully they’ll pay heed.

In the end, we all need to earn a certain amount of money to live our lives but money and/or a career should never be our sole pursuit.  If our goal is to be wealthy in terms of dollars and cents, then we surely will lose our way.

A wise friend once told me that from 8 to 5 we make our living...but the rest of the time we make our lives.

Although my daughter studied the philosophy and thoughts of great men and fatherly advice to her upon graduation into the "real world" is relatively simple:
  • Work should always be in balance.
  • Make your foot print not in the sand but in concrete where it will hopefully last forever.  Be remembered for doing great things and touching the souls of people.
  • Continue to learn something new each day.
  • Never be afraid to love or be loved.
  • Respect your fears but always try to find the courage within you to overcome them.
  • Always dream.
  • No matter what happens...never give up or stop trying to be the best person you can be.
Congratulations Sarah on a job well-done!

Thank you for your support of OptiFuse where we hope to inspire young people to live a life worth living.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Quality not Quantity

A few years ago it became important for me to start giving back to my community. My children were quickly growing up and they no longer needed or wanted my full attention, so I had finally had a few "extra" hours each week to volunteer to a local non-profit organization.

My very good friend Maureen sits on the board of directors of a local charity called ElderHelp of San Diego. One day when I we were talking over lunch, I mentioned my dilemma about finding a quality non-profit organization to share time with.

She encouraged me to join her on the board of ElderHelp but I declined, explaining that, as a board member, I didn’t want to spend my time simply raising money for the organization but rather I was interested in volunteering my time visiting elderly clients who, for whatever reason were confined to their home.

I liked the idea of spending time with interesting people who were in the winter of their lives. Many of them had outlived their spouses, friends and peers and have now found themselves all alone. I felt that volunteering time in this manner would help those people who really needed friendship and help me to better understand a generation that seemed to be forgotten.

I have been involved with the program now for several years and I have had the opportunity to spend time with some really quality seniors who have taught me a few life lessons.

One of the greatest pieces of wisdom that is universally repeated by the seniors, whom I visit with, is that they all wished that they had taken better care of their health when they were younger. Many of the elderly that I come in contact with are now disabled, in daily pain, and/or have lost their ability to move about freely.

Being relatively young, many of us take our health for granted. We are only given one body yet sometimes we don’t treat it with the respect and reverence that it deserves.

There are many things that we can do to create a healthier lifestyle today ensuring that we are able to live an active and healthy lifestyle today as well later in life.

Here are 7 simple things that we can all do to improve our health:

You are what you ingest 

Many of us simply eat poorly. We ingest too many calories, too much fat, too many sweets, too much salt, too much caffeine, too much alcohol, and too much processed foods. We blame our poor nutrition choices on a lack of time, a lack of money, and/or a lack of quality tasty alternatives.

In order to eat healthy we do not need to become organic vegans (not that there is anything wrong with those wanting this dietary lifestyle).

There are two key elements in healthy eating:

- Maintain balance at all times. It’s absolutely fine to eat a rib-eye steak every once in a while but we need to balance it out by eating green vegetables, high fiber grains, and fish as well.

- Portion control. It’s one thing to have a Godiva bonbon and it’s another to eat the entire box in a day. We have bought into the "super-size" value meal programs where a larger quantity is offered at only a marginal cost. We shop at big-box stores because it offers us low-cost volume pricing. We need to learn to resist the temptation to eat more just because the cost is less.

In addition to the food we eat, we can also dramatically improve our health by eliminating smoking, heavy drinking and recreational drug use. I know it’s hard... really hard... to quit, however your health will improve dramatically by eliminating these elements from entering your body. Many of my senior friends were once smokers but have come to realize that smoking has robbed them of their vitality as they’ve aged and no longer smoke.

Get those muscles moving

As we age, we tend to exercise less. This is due to a variety of reasons such as time constraints, chronic and/or acute injuries, laziness, embarrassment and inertia. At one time in our lives we may have been star athletes but for whatever reason we stopped exercising on a regular basis. Now it is just too hard to start up again. If we don’t regularly perform some resistance training, our muscles will begin to lose function and we will age sooner. We must find the time and the motivation each day to do something to work our muscles and keep them in tip top shape.

Forget about the blood and tears...but do sweat a little

The most important muscle in our body is our heart. Not only do we need to work our body muscles, we need to work our heart. By building a strong heart, we will be able to better circulate our blood bringing oxygen and nutrients to our cells. Cardio activity also helps to increase lung capacity creating the ability to breathe in more oxygen giving us increased energy.

Reach for the stars

As we get older, our muscles begin to lose elasticity. I am a very active person for a man of 50 years however I have noticed that even with my high level of exercise my flexibility has diminished significantly over the past few years. It is extremely important that a stretching routine be incorporated into any exercise program. This will reduce injuries from occurring as well as help to relieve muscle and joint stiffness.

One of the best ways I have found to incorporate resistance training, cardio, and stretching is practicing yoga.  There are many different varieties and levels of yoga being taught in almost every small town and large city. There is certainly one right for each of us.

Exercise your brain

In addition to exercising your body, you should be stretching the limits of your brain. Perhaps you need to learn to play an instrument, learn a new language, start doing the daily Jumble, Sudoku, or cross word puzzle. Maybe you need to construct jigsaw puzzles, play scrabble or another type of word game. Maybe you need to start that book you’ve been meaning to write.

Keeping our brain active is just as important as keeping our body active. Use it or lose it.

Get some rest

A good night’s sleep is important to keep us fresh and alert. Rest helps our bodies to heal and recuperate. Sleep also helps our immune system fight off disease and illness.

It’s very okay to be active but we need our rest as well. Listen to your own body and if it needs to rest, allow it to rest.

Reduce your stress

We need to learn to take life as it comes to us rather than try and control things that are beyond our immediate control. Stress, anxiety and fear can cause our bodies to prematurely age.

There are many different methods to reduce stress in our lives but due to space constraints, it may be better to review a past blog covering that very subject.  (Click HERE to re-read a previous blog on stress reduction.)

I find great personal enrichment visiting with my senior friends. So many of them are incredibly wise and are willing to share to those willing to listen. Hopefully we can learn from their life experiences to enhance our own.

It’s never too late to take our health seriously and begin living a lifestyle that will help us to enjoy all of our days on earth.

Thank you for your support of OptiFuse where we sincerely hope that we all live healthy and enjoyable lives.