5 years, 2 months, and 4 days. Arrogance prohibits you from being the best you can be, so don’t be arrogant.

https://i.pinimg.com/736x/47/69/4e/47694e4319ae46dbc7d552528137541f.jpgMy dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

Because of the ubiquity of the problems of, relating to, and caused by arrogance, allow me to expand upon it a bit more before we move on.  Before we get into the nitty-gritty of that conversation, I’d like to share with you one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite shows, “The Newsroom”.  https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1870479/.

In one episode, MacKenzie, who is the executive producer in that newsroom, said of Will, the star anchor of the newsroom:

You know what I like about Will? He’s not absolutely sure about anything. He struggles with things. He’s never certain he’s right and sometimes he’s not. But he tries hard to be. He struggles with things.

https://www.quotes.net/show-quote/60552 (emphasis added)

I love those lines because they put into practice another teaching to which I aspire to live by:

https://i2.wp.com/m.likesuccess.com/quotes/31/1508084.png

Stated differently,

https://i0.wp.com/img.picturequotes.com/2/21/20093/a-wise-man-never-knows-all-only-fools-know-everything-quote-1.jpg

Perfect knowledge rarely, if ever, exists.  Life and circumstances will always dictate how much time and resources you can devote to any given decision.  Thus, all you can do is make the best decision you could under the circumstances — given the time and resource constraints.

Absolute knowledge is an illusion most often grasped by self-delusional fools.  Thus, I love that Will struggles with decisions.  Getting it right is hard!  Making the right decision is a struggle if you really cared about the outcome of that decision.  It is a challenge to identify all the appropriate and relevant stakeholders, the appropriate and relevant data points on which your decision should rest, and the appropriate analytical strategies and processes that should be brought to bear in making your decision. Only fools claim otherwise or think otherwise.

As an aside, this reminds me of a great advice that originated from Dartmouth College on how to organize and structure your paper when writing: once you’ve finished brainstorming and data-gathering,

Keep working [your outline] until … [it] fits your idea like a glove.  When you think you have an outline that works, challenge it. I’ve found when I write that the first outline never holds up to a good interrogation. When you start asking questions of your outline, you will begin to see where the plan holds, and where it falls apart. Here are some questions that you might ask:

  • Does my thesis control the direction of my outline?
  • Are all of my main points relevant to my thesis?
  • Can any of these points be moved around without changing something important about my thesis?
  • Does the outline seem logical?
  • Does my argument progress, or does it stall?
  • If my argument seems to take a turn, mid-stream, does my thesis anticipate that turn?
  • Do I have sufficient support for each of my points?
  • Have I made room in my outline for other points of view about my topic?
  • Does this outline reflect a thorough, thoughtful argument? Have I covered the ground?
 https://rosenenglish.weebly.com/uploads/1/4/1/4/14147635/how_to_structure_and_organize_your_paper.pdf (emphasis in the original)

Planning your decision-making strategies is not that different from outlining your paper.  Both require you to ensure you have the most relevant and appropriate data points, that the process and logic of getting from where you start to where you hope to end are sound, and that your arguments are coherent and cohesive.  If you replaced the words “goal” for “thesis” and “decision-making process” for “outline”, then you may find useful the above-listed questions in your decision-making process.

With that background, we now turn to our original point: the arrogant thinks he know all, and this delusion inhibits his motivation to reexamine his data or analyses.  Thus, he fails.  Thus, he can never be the best he could be.  As my mother always said, “Even a dog can catch a fly every once in a while when he yawns.”  Luck may intervene and produce a good outcome from a bad decision-making process, but Lady Luck is fickle.  It is best to not leave in her hands the outcome you hope to achieve.

Think critically and plan your decision-making process carefully.  Don’t let pride, arrogance, etc., interfere with critical, clear, and appropriately expansive thinking.  If you do this, success will find you.

Critical thinking is necessary to problem solving, and the world always needs problem-solvers.  What does it take to solve problems?  You must

  1. identify with clarity and precision what is the problem you’re tying to solve — in graduate school at Duke University, we spent a significant amount of time on this step for each project;
  2. know intimately the stakeholders involved and what their objectives, interests, needs, and fears are — without the support of stakeholders, your strategy will likely fail (even if it were the best and most appropriate strategy) because the key players will not help you and may even work against you;
  3. find a pathway that achieves your goal and gets the relevant and critical stakeholders on board — you can’t please everyone, but you must gain the support of the most critical players;
  4. execute according to your plan — too many fail this step; and
  5. continue to revisit and update your data and strategies as necessary during the execution stage to ensure you remain on track to achieving your goal and are using the latest and most relevant information available — don’t forget: it’s a reiterative process.

(If you think about it, the above problem-solving/decision-making process is not unlike the writing process where you must identify the purpose of and audience for your writing, brainstorm for ideas, outline your arguments, write, and rewrite.  Thus, the above-reference to the Dartmouth method of outlining is not wholly inappropriate.)

Anyway, I digressed.  My sons, always think critically.  Don’t allow pride or arrogance to interfere with your critical thinking process.

Too often, people fail because they think they know it all (i.e., they are arrogant) and fail to understand their audience, markets, or stakeholders.  As a result, they fail to gather all the necessary and relevant data point in order to devise the best strategy for outcomes which would meet the needs of their audience, markets, or stakeholders.

Be not like them.

All my love, always,

Dad

 

Advertisements

5 years and 30 days… an eternity. No matter how successful, be true to yourself.

https://shoshandjaialai.files.wordpress.com/2018/02/c5b32-kurtvonnegutquotes.jpg?w=656

https://i1.wp.com/www.rugusavay.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Kurt-Vonnegut-Quotes-4.jpg

My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

I’m a fan of good literature and of Kurt Vonnegut.  Maybe one day, you will get to know him and his colleagues, and befriend him and his friends as well.

One of my favorite essays by Kurt Vonnegut is entitled, “How to Write With Style.”  It is a refreshing, light-hearted, and insightful analysis by one of the masters.  His advice is simple, understandable, relatable, and straightforward.

But, what I really like about his essay is that, maybe with the exception of Advice #8, his nuggets of wisdom apply to life in general, not just to writing. By this, I mean the following:

  1. “Find a subject you care about” — this is true about writing, but about life as well.  Find and pursue your passion.  Without passion, life is flat and stale.
  2. “Do not ramble, though” — pursue your passion, but over-indulge.  Too much of a good thing renders it undesirable.  Practice self-discipline.
  3. “Keep it simple” — keep your life and your passions simple.  Learn to appreciate the small miracles of life — smile on your loved one’s face, a great smelling rose, a sunrise, for example — instead of focusing only on the grand moments, such as our vacations in Kauai, Okinawa, etc.
  4. “Have the guts to cut” — if something or someone is not working for you, e.g., they are bringing you more negativity than joy or beauty, then let them go.  Be okay with it.  Thank them for being a part of your life, but don’t carry their burden.  Some people never have a chance to grow because others around them enable them to be their worse selves.
  5. “Sound like yourself” — be you.  Who else can you be but you? Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not.  Posers are a dime a dozen.  They are everywhere.  People see through them.  Don’t be like them.
  6. “Say what you mean to say” — this is my favorite.  Call a horse a horse.  Say what you mean, and mean what you say.  Be honest with yourself and with others.  Life and time (the currency of life) are too precious to waste on falsehood.  Just be honest.  If someone is not going to like you, then they won’t like you.  So what?  What do you buy with falsehood other than a little time?  When the real you is revealed, if they would have liked you in the first place, they would continue to like you; if they wouldn’t have liked you in the first place, they wouldn’t after the reveal.  So, what have you gained?  Nothing, but a little time, operating under false pretense.  Why waste that time?  Who cares if they like you or not?  You are still you no matter their opinions.  Not one molecule of your being had changed, not one moment of your history had been rewritten.  Move on.  Also, be true to your words.  A gentleman is only as good as his word.  Keep your word.  I raised you boys to be gentlemen.  Remember that.  You can always be gentlemen regardless of your career choices.
  7. “Pity the readers” — here, I would modify that to say pity your audience, whoever he or she may be.  You never know what crosses the person you encounter bears.  Go easy on him/her.  Give him/her a break.  Grace him/her with a smile and with your full attention.  You’ll be surprise at how many friends will find their way to you if only you’d listen and give them the gift of being present.
  8. Read The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White.  It will help improve your life by helping improve your writing.  Successful people tend to be good communicators.  Learn to write well and write clearly.  Those skills will serve you well.  I was introduced to it at Duke and am forever grateful for that introduction.

Now, without further ado, I give you Mr. Kurt Vonnegut:

Newspaper reporters and technical writers are trained to reveal almost nothing about themselves in their writing. This makes them freaks in the world of writers, since almost all of the other ink-stained wretches in that world reveal a lot about themselves to readers. We call these revelations, accidental and intentional, elements of style.

These revelations tell us as readers what sort of person it is with whom we are spending time. Does the writer sound ignorant or informed, stupid or bright, crooked or honest, humorless or playful–? And on and on.

Why should you examine your writing style with the idea of improving it? Do so as a mark of respect for your readers, whatever you’re writing. If you scribble your thoughts any which way, your reader will surely feel that you care nothing about them. They will mark you down as an ego maniac or a chowderhead — or, worse, they will stop reading you.

The most damning revelation you can make about yourself is that you do not know what is interesting and what is not. Don’t you yourself like or dislike writers mainly for what they choose to show or make you think about? Did you ever admire an empty-headed writer for his or her mastery of the language? No.

So your own winning style must begin with ideas in your head.

Vonnegut goes on to outline eight rules for great writing

  1. Find a Subject You Care About

Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style.

I am not urging you to write a novel, by the way — although I would not be sorry if you wrote one, provided you genuinely cared about something. A petition to the mayor about a pothole in front of your house or a love letter to the girl next door will do.

2. Do Not Ramble, Though

I won’t ramble on about that.

3. Keep It Simple

As for your use of language: Remember that two great masters of language, William Shakespeare and James Joyce, wrote sentences which were almost childlike when their subjects were most profound. ‘To be or not to be?’ asks Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The longest word is three letters long. Joyce, when he was frisky, could put together a sentence as intricate and as glittering as a necklace for Cleopatra, but my favorite sentence in his short story ‘Eveline’ is just this one: ‘She was tired.’ At that point in the story, no other words could break the heart of a reader as those three words do.

Simplicity of language is not only reputable, but perhaps even sacred. The Bible opens with a sentence well within the writing skills of a lively fourteen-year-old: ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and earth.’

4. Have the Guts to Cut

It may be that you, too, are capable of making necklaces for Cleopatra, so to speak. But your eloquence should be the servant of the ideas in your head. Your rule might be this: If a sentence, no matter how excellent, does not illuminate your subject in some new and useful way, scratch it out.

5. Sound like Yourself

The writing style which is most natural for you is bound to echo the speech you heard when a child. English was the novelist Joseph Conrad’s third language, and much that seems piquant in his use of English was no doubt colored by his first language, which was Polish. And lucky indeed is the writer who has grown up in Ireland, for the English spoken there is so amusing and musical. I myself grew up in Indianapolis, where common speech sounds like a band saw cutting galvanized tin, and employs a vocabulary as unornamental as a monkey wrench.

[…]

I myself find that I trust my own writing most, and others seem to trust it most, too, when I sound most like a person from Indianapolis, which is what I am. What alternatives do I have? The one most vehemently recommended by teachers has no doubt been pressed on you, as well: to write like cultivated Englishmen of a century or more ago.

6. Say What You Mean to Say

I used to be exasperated by such teachers, but am no more. I understand now that all those antique essays and stories with which I was to compare my own work were not magnificent for their datedness or foreignness, but for saying precisely what their authors meant them to say. My teachers wished me to write accurately, always selecting the most effective words, and relating the words to one another unambiguously, rigidly, like parts of a machine. The teachers did not want to turn me into an Englishman after all. They hoped that I would become understandable — and therefore understood. And there went my dream of doing with words what Pablo Picasso did with paint or what any number of jazz idols did with music. If I broke all the rules of punctuation, had words mean whatever I wanted them to mean, and strung them together higgledly-piggledy, I would simply not be understood. So you, too, had better avoid Picasso-style or jazz-style writing if you have something worth saying and wish to be understood.

Readers want our pages to look very much like pages they have seen before. Why? This is because they themselves have a tough job to do, and they need all the help they can get from us.

7. Pity the Readers

Readers have to identify thousands of little marks on paper, and make sense of them immediately. They have to read, an art so difficult that most people don’t really master it even after having studied it all through grade school and high school — twelve long years.

So this discussion must finally acknowledge that our stylistic options as writers are neither numerous nor glamorous, since our readers are bound to be such imperfect artists. Our audience requires us to be sympathetic and patient teachers, ever willing to simplify and clarify, whereas we would rather soar high above the crowd, singing like nightingales.

That is the bad news. The good news is that we Americans are governed under a unique constitution, which allows us to write whatever we please without fear of punishment. So the most meaningful aspect of our styles, which is what we choose to write about, is utterly unlimited.

8. For Really Detailed Advice

For a discussion of literary style in a narrower sense, a more technical sense, I commend to your attention The Elements of Style, by Strunk, Jr., and E. B. White. E. B. White is, of course, one of the most admirable literary stylists this country has so far produced.

You should realize, too, that no one would care how well or badly Mr. White expressed himself if he did not have perfectly enchanting things to say.

All my love, always,

Dad

 

 

4 years, 6 months, and 5 days. Work on writing clearly.

https://i2.wp.com/qqq.quotepixel.com/images/quotes/inspirational/quote-about-inspirational_15789-3.png

My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

Critical thinking is for naught if you are unable to give voice to your inner thoughts.  But, beware, you communicate something about yourself by everything you do: your words, your writings, your actions, and your attire.  Here, let’s talk about written communication;  I fear it may be a dying art in this age of Twitter, texts, and emoticons.

You cannot afford to allow your writing skills to be under-developed or weak.  Good writing is critical to academic and professional success.  In my days, I always gave a writing test to narrow down the number of job applicants I would interview.  From the hundreds of applications, I chose the top 10 and tested their writing skills.  Based on the results of their writing test, I would interview the top 3 and offer the job to one.  Writing is that important.

In school, teachers often use your written responses to gauge (1) how much you understand the course material, (2) your ability to analyze and synthesize what you learned, and (3) your ability to effectively communicate your thoughts.  Thus, your writing is the vehicle through which your teacher gauges your comprehension and analysis.  If you cannot write well, that may obscure how well you understood or analyzed class material.

The good news is that writing is a skill.  You can master it with time and effort.  Practice the art.  Keep at it. You’ll get better with practice.

Read books like Strunk and White’s The Element of Style, and William Zinsser’s On Writing Well.  In fact, read voraciously.  Good writers are also voracious readers.  You can no more be a great chef without tasting fine food than be a great writer without sampling the fine writings of the masters.

All my love, always,

Dad

 

 

 

4 years, 5 months, and 21 days. Strive to be good writers.

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/6c/c9/8f/6cc98f36c47f1b5e133e1f73ba6f213d.jpg

https://i1.wp.com/i.quoteaddicts.com/media/q1/866973.png

https://i2.wp.com/quotes.lifehack.org/media/quotes/quote-E.-L.-Doctorow-good-writing-is-supposed-to-evoke-sensation-155670.png

Writing is talking to someone else on paper.  Anyone who can think clearly can write clearly, about any subject at all.

On Writing Well, William Zinsser (2001).

My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

“Time and tide wait for no man.”  Chaucer.  If only time were more kind and not so cruel, he would have made every day with you last an eternity, and every day without you a mere second.  Unfortunately, time flies regardless of your presence and I can but helplessly count the moments I’ve missed.

Live well, my sons.  Live a life for which you’d be proud to recount in your old age.

Keep a journal if you’ve not been doing so.  It memorializes the moments I’ve missed, but also helps you write better.  In addition, writing is therapeutic.  It is for me.

Writing is also critical to your future success.  Good writers excel in school and in life.  I used to require a writing test to narrow down the list of candidates I choose to interview.  Regardless of the strength of their resumes, if an applicant wrote poorly, I wouldn’t bother to even interview him or her.

Just write. At first, don’t worry whether you are writing well.  The trick is to edit and rewrite.  As John Irving once said, “More than a half, maybe as much as two-thirds of my life as a writer is rewriting.”  So, don’t give yourself excuses for not writing by trying to find the best ways to express yourself.  Just write.  Then, edit and rewrite until what you wrote expresses exactly what you wish.

All my love, always,

Dad