Sunk Costs are costs you’ve incurred in the past that can’t be recovered. There’s nothing you can do about them. Yet, they influence our decision making if we let them. “I spent money on law school so I have to be a lawyer even though it’s making me miserable.” You don’t. You don’t have to be a lawyer.
When we are making decisions, those decisions are about our future. Money, energy, time that we’ve spent in the past may distract us from making the right decision for our future selves. Be mindful of that.
It will be May 1st in two days. Where I live in the finger lakes region of New York State, this is the date that many seasonal businesses open: farmstands, ice cream shops, restaurants on the lake, the goat dairy up the road, and the little farmers market in my village. The state parks open up too.
Spring has been late to come this year in the way of blooms (there are hardly any yet). But now that I can stop at the farm stand and get some veg and eggs on the way home or sneak out before work for a bagel and coffee at that little deli on the lake, I’m happy.
My life here has a seasonality to it. In the winter I hunker down, I hibernate. I read a lot and usually make progress on an art project or two. But now that it’s spring, I’m shifting. I’m opening up, ready for spring and summer. I’ll be out a lot more, engaged with more people, and engaged more with nature.
I’m tired of orienting my computing toward a screen. I want to search the internet for recipes while I’m cooking and my voice-activated robot doesn’t accommodate that well. I want to write while I am taking a walk or in the shower–the best ideas come at those times. I want to watch a movie while stretching or lying flat on my back. I want to help my partner figure out how to do something online without having to look over his shoulder at his screen which is way too small for me to see clearly anyway. I’m ready.
I read this quote the other day and related to it:
“The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.”
Too much emphasis is put on confidence. We see confident people and we say, yep, that’s leadership material. But a lot of bad stuff comes with too much confidence: arrogance, lack of empathy, selfishness, rigidity.
Yes, you need just enough confidence to get up on the stage and make the pitch or enter the contest or publish the blog post or show the artwork. But you can still feel sick to your stomach about it. That’s completely normal. And we should celebrate people who have fear and push through it. Even if it makes us a little uncomfortable.
Having a new idea is both thrilling and overwhelming. It’s thrilling because you’ve finally found something that addresses a problem that you care deeply about. But it’s overwhelming because once you start to think about executing the idea, it’s hard to know where to begin. And that feeling of not knowing where to start can stop you from making any progress at all.
While your idea is big and has the potential to change the world, the best way to start is to start small. Find three people who care about the problem you are solving. Take them out for coffee. And rather than try to sell them your idea, ask them to complain. Ask them to complain about how the problem that you are exploring affects their life and the lives of people that they know. And don’t be satisfied with their first answer. Ask them to dig deep. Questions like, “Can you tell me more about that?” or “What makes you say that?” will give you answers that are chock full of useful information about your customers.
And when they are finally done complaining, ask them who else they know who you might talk to. And take those people out for coffee. And ask them to complain to you about the problem you are exploring. That’s how you find and build your tribe. One cup of coffee at a time.
Yesterday I had to do some troubleshooting with two pieces of art. With my cards, I had to figure out why the service bureau I’m using prints my images off-centered by 1/32 of an inch. Is it because of a mistake in my file or because of a mistake being made by them? The cards come off my printer at home perfectly centered. So I brought those test prints with me when I went to pick up the job. Hammering it out at the print shop isn’t what you think of when you think of an artist doing work. But it is, it’s part of the work.
My second piece of art is a kinetic sculpture. Yesterday I designed and fabricated a few more iterations of the control box to figure out the “best” way for the components to fit together. “Best” means a few things: how the arrangement of components affects the motion of the piece, the look of the piece, and the durability of the piece. The only way for me to figure that out is to make a bunch of different versions and test them.
This work isn’t glamorous. And 95% of people seeing the finished work won’t notice or appreciate that it’s been done, at least not consciously. But hopefully, it will elevate the work. One benefit I know for sure, it’ll help me sleep better!
Julie Taymor is a director of theater, opera, and film and known for her spectacular costume and stage design. Taymor became interested in theater at an early age. In high school, she traveled to Aisa. After high school, she studied mime and puppetry in Paris. After college, she visited Bali and founded her own theater company there. She came back to the states in 1980 and worked on many productions. Then in the mid-nineties created The Lion King, one of her best-known works. Taymor has directed incredible films like Frida and Across the Universe. Her work spans media and is multi-dimensional. It’s painterly, sculptural, high tech and low tech. What an inspiration.
I’m rereading “Getting the Love You Want” by Harville Hendrix. It’s a book about the theory and practice of working toward being in a conscious relationship with your partner. The theory asks you to become mindful of relationships that you had in your childhood, how those relationships formed what feels familiar to you, and how that gravitation toward the familiar plays out in adult relationships.
For example, if you felt ignored as a kid, you might seek out relationships as an adult in which you are ignored. Or if you felt criticised as a kid, you might seek out relationships in your adult life in which you are criticised. Not because that’s what’s good for you. But because that’s what feels familiar. There’s a strange comfort in it. But not a healthy one.
When you’re unconscious of how your early relationships affect your adult relationships, you can get into a lot of trouble. Being unaware of how these relationships have influenced your thinking and behavior can drive you to form habits of blaming other people, engaging in negativity, and acting out. But when you become conscious of how your early relationships affect your adult relationships, you are in a position to break those habits and make positive change.
This consciousness helps you look more closely at yourself instead of focusing on other people. It helps you wrestle with your own issues and have empathy for others in knowing that they are wrestling with theirs (consciously or not). This consciousness helps you be patient with your pain. And work through it. So that you can be more loving. And more connected.
There’s a lot of energy in this country put into creating and providing technical education for underserved students towards the end of increasing the chances that these students will find careers in STEM. I care deeply about how this is handled and sit on boards of multiple organizations that address this issue for a range of students from pre k-12 programs to workforce development initiatives for adults who want to move into technical careers.
We need more diversity in the technology industry for at least two reasons:
Technology Scales Really Well. This is important because when a technology is aimed to scale good things, it scales good things. And when it’s aimed to scale bad things, it scales bad things.
More Diversity = Better Solutions. We need a diverse set of brain power with multiple perspectives to understand complex problems we face today and then invent, implement, and scale appropriate solutions.
But there are a few gaps between technical education and the diverse and inclusive workplace that we imagine. A technical education might be enough to increase diversity – that’s a measurable number like, “How many of our new hires identity as female?” But it won’t be enough to foster inclusion which is less measurable. Inclusion is the creation and ongoing improvement of systems and environments that help diverse talent succeed.
So a good technology education will get someone’s foot in the door. But that won’t be enough to help them succeed in an environment where they may be the “first, only, different” person at the firm. There are a few ways to address this and there isn’t complete agreement on the best path. However, I’ll list some ideas here on some non-technical content that a technical education might include:
History of technology, industry, and economics to paint the big picture of how technology and industry became homogenous in the first place
Role Models and success stories. It’s important to show students examples of innovators that look like they look like. Include guest speakers or news stories that highlight diverse talent. When making images for public consumption, chose images carefully
Communication Skills. Being able to speak and write clearly is key. Bonus points for visual communication like sketching and diagramming
Employee training on how to navigate work situations in which it’s hard to be seen, heard, or taken seriously because you don’t fit the status quo image of an engineer or programmer
Manager training for industry managers who don’t yet have experience managing and supporting diverse talent
Technical Education isn’t enough. If the 21st century is going to be better and more equitable than the 2oth, we need to integrate history and social skills into the mix.