A Deontologist, a Consequentialist, and a Virtue Ethicist Walk Into a Bar…

One of my philosophy professors asked an interesting question today, and after giving it some amount of thought, I think I have an answer.

His question was this: Who do you think would win in a bar fight between a deontologist, a consequentialist, and a virtue ethicist?

First, a quick recap:

  1. Deontology – simply put, these are the rules guys (and gals). Deontologists purport that there are certain universal moral truths that should guide our behavior and how we interact with others.
  2. Consequentialism – when considering whether an action is right or moral, we have to consider the outcome(s) of our actions, both intended and unintended. All actions have consequences.
  3. Virtue Ethics – good and bad, right and wrong, ethical and unethical – these are determined largely by one’s character. Moral people engage in moral thoughts and activities, so it is incumbent upon each of us to be the best person we can possibly be.

Each of these schools of thought have their advantages and disadvantages, and when taken in concert, create a bit of circular logic.

Aristotle believed that since each person’s thoughts and actions were under their own control, an individual could learn to be a good (or better) person. However, the issue with this line of thinking is two-fold.

First, if the individual is left to decide what is moral, then it is in fact his or her cultural and environment that is coloring their decision. In an often-used example, 200 years ago it was viewed as morally acceptable to own slaves. So, by extension, it was possible to own slaves and still be considered a moral, upstanding individual. Obviously this is wrong, but I can only say “obviously” because our culture has changed to the degree that we now understand (but don’t yet fully embrace, apparently) the inherent worth of each individual, regardless of race (or gender or sexual orientation).

Second, we are using the term to define itself, i.e. “A moral act is one that a moral person would engage in.” This is akin to saying, “The sky is blue because it is blue.” We are not defining anything here, really.

One of the ways around this line of thinking is to impose certain qualifications, such as “lying is always wrong, unless it lessens someone’s pain.” However, as we do this, we move further and further away from character in an infinite regress of “except for this” and “not counting that.” We begin to dilute the original meaning behind virtue ethics, reducing it to a series of best-case scenarios that become increasingly difficult to keep track of.

This is where deontology enters the picture. By having a hard-and-fast set of rules to guide human behavior, we make value judgements concerning morality much easier to deal with. Or do we?

We again run into the problem of having to qualify each moral judgement with some sort of disclaimer. “You should never break a promise” is a moral way to act, but what if you promised your buddy that you’d golf with him, and then one of your kids is in an automobile accident. Do you skip golf to care for your injured child? Deontologically speaking, you couldn’t – you’d made a promise to go golfing, and to break that promise would be morally unacceptable.

This leads to another issue – namely, where do you draw the line when devising your qualifications to all of these moral behaviors? Do we make exceptions for family only? Close friends? Co-workers? People who are less fortunate than yourself? And on top of that, who exactly is responsible for making these qualifications? Is it the individual? That won’t work – we’d have different standards for each individual, thus defeating the original purpose of having a set of set-in-stone rules in the first place.

And this brings us to utilitarianism, and the idea that moral acts can only be judged moral based on their outcomes. Consequentialism deals with this aspect specifically – what are the consequences of my actions, how do they affect not only me but those around me?

The issue with this line of reasoning is that you very quickly run into situations where immoral acts can lead to moral outcomes. The infamous Trolley Problem is the most famous example of this – is it okay to take the life of one individual to save five others? What if you personally know the one person? Is it then right to sacrifice the five individuals on the other track to save the one person you know?

Recent years have witnessed a return to a form of Aristotle’s original value ethics as the predominant method of determining good versus bad, but in all truthfulness this just leads us back to the top of the circle, ready to start the cycle anew.

So, back to the question at hand – who would win in a bar fight between a deontologist, a consequentialist, and a virtue ethicist?

I know which horse I’m putting MY money on – what are your thoughts?

Acta non Verba

One of the coolest things about immersing myself in some subject with which I already have some passing familiarity is being able to see how my views have shifted over the years. Streaming all four seasons of The Good Place recently has led to a reignited interest in philosophy in general. Since it’s been a hot minute since I’ve given philosophy any real thought or consideration, I decided to start from the beginning. And by that, I mean literally the beginning of philosophical thought, with Thales and the other pre-Socratic philosophers, of which I knew very little.

Another cool feature of this is that, as each new idea is presented and explained and demonstrated as a step forward in the evolution of philosophical thinking, I find myself going through the usual three stages of learning something new:

  1. Oh, that’s cool! I never thought of that!
  2. Oh, this is actually bullshit. Why did I think that made sense?
  3. Oh, this new bit of information is cool! I never thought of that! (see step #1)

With the study of philosophy, this constant cycle is significantly heightened. What makes sense one minute is revealed to be limited and not very insightful in light of subsequent thoughts, findings, and techniques. I’ve spent the last week reading books, listening to podcasts, and watching YouTube videos that (more or less) follow the development of philosophical thoughts and ideas from roughly 650 BCE up through today.

I’m quickly finding that the philosophers I relate to most closely are the ones who took action. Whether it is Thales laying the groundwork for future philosophical thought, or Pythagoras starting a new cult to prove that math is the language of the kosmos, or Plato utilizing the Socratic method of constant, insightful questioning to arrive at a conclusion, or Karl Popper questioning the scientific methods of Freud (pseudo-science) in comparison to Einstein (actual science), the philosophers that resonate with me are the ones who not only thought of something, but also did something about it.

Acta non verba – action, not words.

I mentioned in my previous post all of the changes I’ve attempted to make in 2020. While nullius in verba has become the defining principle of my life now, coming in close second is acta non verba. I have wasted so much time waiting for something to drop into my lap – financial success, new jobs with better pay, new passions – and I have largely been lucky in the sense that I’ve lived a bit of a charmed life compared to most.

How much more happier would I be, then, if I’d actually expended more than just the minimal effort required to reach my goals – if the fruits of my labor were a direct result of the effort I’d put into a task or activity? This is the true nature of the experiment I’m engaged in now. I seek to answer the question: what if I actually took control of my life and went after the things I desire, rather than just sit back and hope they will drop into my lap somehow?

It may very well be that I’m setting myself up for misery, or disappointment, or a fate worse than death – third marriage, anyone? But I don’t believe that to be the case. If I were a betting man, I’d wager that in the long run, I’ll meet with more success than failure. And isn’t that really what we all desire? To be successful more often than we fail?

If the ultimate goal of life is to be happy while minimizing (or eliminating) the sadness and dissatisfaction of others, then how much sweeter would that taste if it was by my own design rather than the luck of the draw, or fate? That may come across as a bit selfish, but that certainly is not my intent. I say it in this sense: How much more satisfying is it to be the master of one’s own fate, rather than leaving it to chance or the gods or God (or whatever your particular belief system happens to be)?

So, these are the questions I seek to answer, and I will be doing it via concrete action instead of mere rhetoric – acta non verba.

Nullius in Verba

I got my fourth tattoo today from Niah and the fine folks at Black Gold Tattoo here in Tulsa, OK. It had been a number of years since I have gotten any new ink, and today seemed like just as good a day as any. It is my brother’s birthday as well, and he is a tattoo nut, so this is in part for him as well.

The reactions have run the gamut from “Wow, cool!” to “But why?”. To those on the lower, disapproving end of the spectrum, I played it off as just something I wanted to do, or simply replied, “Why not?”

But the truth is that this phrase is the most important thing I have learned thus far in 2020, which is saying a lot. So far this year, I have had to learn to live on my own again, I have taught myself ukulele, I have tried to learn Python, I have begun studying philosophy again. Yet all of these things pale in comparison to the effect these three simple Latin words have had on my life in 2020.

Nullius in verba is Latin for “on the word of no-one.” More loosely translated, it is taken to mean “think (or do) for yourself.”

I have spent much of my life doing was I was told to do, believing what I was told to believe. From my religious upbringing, through my military service, through my varied jobs in the private sector, and through two failed marriages, I have always tried to do what I thought the other party felt was right.

Perhaps I paint with too-broad strokes here – it is not like I was a robot following orders. I have had my fun, and made my share of stupid mistakes that were 100% my idea alone. However, there were definitely times where I felt like an automaton, and this characterization is probably pretty accurate more, often than not.

This year, one of my (many) foci has been to attempt to figure out where I belong, where I fit in to the grand scheme of things. Everything else – ukulele, coding, philosophy, etc. – has been window dressing for the real search, the search for personal meaning and validation.

What these three simple words remind me of is this: there is no better judge of things than myself.

Does this mean I completely dismiss the words of subject matter experts and authority figures? Absolutely not.

What it DOES mean is that everything that is meaningful is also independently verifiable. Am I going to run my own lab tests to ensure the eventual COVID-19 vaccination works? Of course not. But will I pay more attention to who it is that is telling me that it works? Absolutely.

Am I going to vote for someone simply because they are a registered Democrat, or against someone because they are a registered Republican? Nope, not anymore. I have taken the time to actually delve into what each individual candidate stands for, what each individual ballot measure means and what the pass/fail ramifications are.

Closer to home: am I going to stop forcing my will on others because it is what I think is best for them? Can I accept that others know what is in their best interest, just like I have some idea of what is in my best interest? Hopefully.

And these are just a few of a million little things that bears closer scrutiny, starting with myself. It will be the ultimate introspective exercise. Socrates (via Plato) once indicated that “the unexamined life is not worth living,” and this is precisely what he meant. I’ve wasted so much of my life believing one thing and disbelieving another, simply because it was easier to follow the crowd instead of expending a little extra time and effort to do the research myself.

On the word of no-one; think for yourself.

Working Mothers

I have many fond memories of my mother, both with my Dad and after they divorced when I was eight. This, however, isn’t one of them.

I was cleaning out a cabinet today and ran across a manila envelope. Within, I found two typewritten sheets of paper – it was undated, but it refers to an incident that occurred while driving with my younger brother Eric, and it (apparently) occurred before he was driving, so that places it somewhere between 1982 and 1991 or so. It has all the earmarks of being a letter to the editor, most likely to The Bakersfield Californian.

Here it is in its entirety – typos, bad grammar, and all:


“Get A Real Job – Be A Housewife”

Today my son and I was this really great license plate frame, it said, “Get A Real Job – Be A Housewife!”. I told my son, I would really like to have one. I made that choice back in 1963, rather than going to work in an office. I wanted to raise my own Children. I was a single parent for a while and it was not easy, but we survived.

Back at that time, late 60’s & 70’s, it was an acceptable choice, today it seems it is not. Today it is felt that if you stay at home you do nothing, but in fact it is a 24Hr. a day job, no salary, you work harder then most people in the working world, outside the home.

I really believe there would be less problems with our kids today if they had a stay at home Parent at least through their formative years. We need more stay at home parents to take care of their children. No guarantee. “But what do parents expect, when they are not at home, remember these kids need guidance and love from you, your values, not a stranger, they are your Responsibility! There is also nothing wrong with a stay at home Dad either in fact in some cases the Dad is the better choice.

If you were to ask inmates especially the younger ones why you are here, the majority said when I was growing up no-body was at home to care, so why should I. No Excuse!

The only draw back I have found is if you look for a job after “Just” being a housewife, they tell you that you are not qualified no work experience, no real skills. I have felt like taking my kids as refrences. We really have a wide range of skills, more then just your adverage worker.

Stay at home parents have to stand together with heads held high. We are doing an honest days work for no pay, no 1hr. lunch break, no dinner break, 7 days a week 24hrs. a day.

There are rewards too, like when for years you tell your kids something and you wonder if they hear you, but then the day comes you hear the same thing coming out of them and you realize, hey they really heard what I said, it’s a great feeling. There are a thousand rewards, each milestone, special achievements, graduations, weddings, just to mention a few. The kids are so proud to have you there, just the look on their faces when they see you. I wouldn’t change a thing I did.

These rewards are wonderful and worth more then mear money could buy! Your building Memories.

Please remember these children are our future, you need to Invest Now!

Marilyn Neufled

Bakersfield, CA

She makes some really good points (and thankfully, she called out stay-at-home dad’s, as well – something I did for a number of years with our twin boys). More than that, though, it was a surreal thrill, reading words I didn’t know existed from a mother that has been gone for nearly fourteen years.

The most fascinating thing to me, though, is that she perfectly captures exactly how I remember her – always there, always taking care of us, always caring about us.

She was a true working mother, in that she gave everything she could to my sister, my brother and I, working day and night to make sure we wanted for nothing. Not all of her decisions were the right ones, but she did the best she could with what she had, and no one can fault her for that.

Effectiveness vs. Efficiency

Is it better to be effective or efficient?

Many businesses wrestle with this question on a daily basis. When building marketing or business plans, when assigning duties, when filling orders, the question is always there. “What’s the best way to do this” is basically asking, “How do we find the correct balance of effectiveness versus efficiency when planning this project/duty/task?”

Sometimes these terms can even be mistaken for synonyms, but in truth they are polar opposites. Both are important considerations, but they indicate very different measures. The trick is striking the right balance between the two.

Effectiveness relates to how a given task performs against a set of standards, and is often expressed in terms of which goals are achieved and the extent to which the issues being addressed have been solved. For example, a certain brand of hand sanitizer may be marketed as killing 99.9% of germs, speaking directly to the effectiveness of the product against its perceived objective of providing a higher level of personal cleanliness.

Efficiency refers to how well a given task performs against a standard norm, and is often represented in terms of how much time, energy or investment has been reduced or eliminated. For instance, a refrigerator may be marketed as reducing energy consumption by up to 30%, resulting in energy efficiency savings for the purchaser of said refrigerator and, in theory, freeing up resources for others to consume.

In short, effectiveness is doing the right thing, and efficiency is doing the thing right.

So, how do we find the optimal middle ground, the happy medium that maximizes efficiency whilst solidifying effectiveness? Are there steps we can take that will tell us how to do this, and let us know when we’ve reached that goal?

We’re in luck – there are three simple steps we can take to ensure we’re striking the right balance between doing something correctly and doing it for the right reasons. By applying structure to a given process, planning and measuring activities and results, and delegating responsibilities and communicating changes, we can realize increased production that meets – and often exceeds – our goals and objectives.

Apply structure. The first step is to make sure all the pieces are in place – everyone is on the right bus, and in the right seat. Duties and responsibilities need to be clearly defined and communicated. Corporate goals are useless without buy-in from the entire staff, so be sure to allow for a means for everyone to have the opportunity to voice their ideas, concerns and opinions.

Once a basic structure is in place, it is imperative that it be followed. This structure will be what guides everyone through all phases of the current project and beyond – if it is initially created to be scalable, that’s all the better. It will be easier to disseminate this new structure up and down the organization, resulting in revenue gains across the board and increasing customer engagement and satisfaction.

There are many organizational operating systems out there to utilize as an example. Much like the operating system on your computer, an organizational operating system will assist you in ensuring all of the pieces are in place, that everyone’s strengths, weaknesses, likes, and dislikes are all being taken into consideration. It will be an indispensable tool in helping you to create a world-beating organization.

Plan and measure. Once you have the structure in place, begin planning for success. There are many business and marketing plan templates, but once you understand the basics, there’s no sin in developing your own. This will allow you to capture the essence of what your business is all about, and will also help you in determining what it is you need to measure.

The importance of data cannot be understated. Having goals and objectives that are forward-looking, attainable, and measurable are just as important to the long-term health of your business as anything else. Without the ability to measure exactly how well you’re doing, a company is flying blind. This is a dangerous situation for any organization that wishes to make a long-term, lasting impact on their industry or line of business.

Delegate and communicate. Now that you have all of the pieces for a successful venture in place, it’s time to get down to work. The old saying too many chefs spoil the broth applies here – it’s imperative that everyone knows, and is comfortable with, their role.

Delegating duties and responsibilities is how the actual work gets done. You’ve already determined where everyone best fits and what everyone’s strengths and weaknesses are; now it is time to put the plan into action.

Above all else, keeping the lines of communication open up and down the chain of command will ensure the ultimate success of your venture. By creating a workplace where all voices are heard, where every opinion is considered, and where employees at all levels feel that they are vitally important to the operation and not just another cog in the machine, you are setting yourself up for a successful venture.

The steps we take and decisions we make will ultimately decide how effective and efficient we are, and when made well, will keep us from going 100 miles an hour in the wrong direction.

Being a Team Player

Image courtesy Piktochart

There’s no ‘I’ in team. Tough times don’t last, tough team do. Together Everyone Achieves More.

All of these expressions (and so, so many more) tell you what a team is, but do very little to help you build a good team, or be a valuable, contributing member of one. What does it take to be a next-level team member? What separates the good teams from the great ones? And why should you care?

1. Be a next-level team member

There are three very straightforward, deceptively simple steps to building a great team, from converting a simply good team to a great one. These are in no particular order; each is as important as the other:

Hold yourself and your team members accountable. Open and honest communication is key to ensuring that all of the goals and objectives of the team are well-thought-out, germane to the purpose of the team, and agreed upon by all members. When another team member begins to diverge from the agreed-upon objectives of the group, it is incumbent upon the other members of the group to ensure that the issue is addressed and resolved in a way that is satisfying to all involved while staying true to the goals of the overall team.

Team first attitude. Abandoning the “I” and embracing the “we” work ethic ensures that everyone is on the same page as the entire group works towards the same goal(s). Don’t be afraid to share credit, and put your ego back in your pocket – the goal is not to become a star, it is to accomplish the objectives of the team. This may mean sometimes stepping up, and sometimes stepping back. Always remember: the success of the team is your success, too.

Stop, listen and learn. It is important to remember that no single person is a subject matter expert on everything – in the words of Simon Sinek, “No one knows everything, but together we know a lot.” Keep in mind that everyone’s contributions have value, and everyone has a unique perspective on each and every problem. There is always room for improvement, always an opportunity to gain knowledge and experience. It is always best to reserve judgement until everyone has had the opportunity to express their ideas.

2. Good teams vs. great ones

There are three key characteristics that separate a good team from a great one, characteristics that identify a given group of people as a cut above the norm and ready to face any challenge:

Strategy and purpose. This goes beyond having a yearly jam session where everyone gets an opportunity to express where they believe the team is headed in the next year, and what they expect to accomplish personally. It is imperative that the team has 1) clearly defined, well-reasoned goals and 2) an agreed upon path to reach those goals.

Conflict and decision-making. There must be sufficient trust and support within the group so that each individual feels they are able to express their thoughts and feelings on a given issue. There must also be a process in place where active discussion, without fearing of degradation or reprisals, can be carried out to the benefit of all. It is important to remember that each member is an individual with a unique and informed opinion on each subject, and everyone deserves to be treated with respect.

Right bus, right seat. In his outstanding book, Good to Great, author Jim Collins compares a company to a bus, and makes the case that who is on the bus is more important that where the bus is going. We can extend this metaphor to the team level as well – the objectives of the team, while very important (in fact, the reason for its existence), are secondary to ensure the right people are on the team, and are filling the roles that they are most qualified for.

3. Why you should care

Humans are social animals. They have a deeply held need to not only belong to a group, but to also be viewed as a successful, contributing member of the organization. The same holds true whether we’re talking about work or play – the same drive that makes someone want to root for (or play on) a winning sports is the same drive that gives us the desire to succeed at work. Teams are the ultimate expression of the social desire – it allows us a manageable situation where we feel we can make direct contributions to the success of the team, and of the company overall.

Regardless of your role on the team, just keeping these principles in mind will help you become a more valuable, more trusted, and definitely more successful contributor. The choice is up to you – are you content with being on a good team, or do you want to take your team to the next level and become a truly great team?

In the words of tennis great Arthur Ashe, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

The results may surprise you.

Continuous (Self-)Improvement

Image courtesy HealthCatalyst.com

What are you doing to continuously improve yourself personally and professionally?

In business, the activity of continuous improvement is known by many names – Kaizen, PDCA (plan-do-check-act), lean culture – and usually involves some variation of the act/analyze/improve model that you might expect.

Regardless of the approach, continuous improvement works towards streamlining processes, reducing costs, and preventing overages (where applicable). It can be an informal practice – everyone in the organization is charged with taking responsibility for the effectiveness and efficiency of their output, for example. Or it can be a more formalized process, with a specialized team of personnel assigned specifically to access, document, and make recommendations based on their findings.

In your own personal and professional life, however, this process becomes simultaneously more personalized and more difficult.

Continuous self-improvement is important to everyone in order to 1) grow as a person, and 2) adapt to new or changing environments. Do you feel stagnant, bored, like your life is going nowhere? Are you stuck in a rut and don’t know how to shake the lethargy of doing the same thing every day, day after day? It may be time to assess your priorities and learn something new, something meaningful to you, on either a personal or professional level. Or both.

I have identified four areas that are essential to effective and meaningful continuous self-improvement. These guidelines are not necessarily meant to be all-inclusive, but the exclusion of any one of them will severely hamper your attempts to effect positive change in your life. To broaden your horizons and develop new skills (or expand upon ones you already possess), follow these four simple rules:

Make time for yourself. This is the first building block in the process – you have to be willing and able to set aside sufficient time for yourself in order to begin your journey. Whether it’s taking a college class, learning an instrument, or learning to speak another language (all things I did in 2018), the first order of business is to prioritize your time such that you are able to accomplish what you set out to do. Every journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.

Get out of your comfort zone. Just as essential as starting your journey is doing something that will challenge your status quo, and the only way to do that is to step outside of your comfort zone. While you want to be careful not to overextend yourself too much initially – a series of discouragements is a good recipe for failure – you also want to chose something that will interest and excite you, and will hold your interest through the learning curve of frustration and failure. Life begins where your comfort zone ends.

Long-term commitment. Be prepared to devote a lot of your time to your new-found preoccupation. Don’t be afraid to immerse yourself in it, letting it become a part of who you are as a person. Tell yourself you’re in it for the long haul. Don’t be afraid to fail, and resolve to press on though the discouragements that are sure to come. If you don’t fail at least a few times, if you don’t find what you’re doing to be difficult at first, then you haven’t challenged yourself enough. Remember, even the smallest changes lead to the biggest improvement – from a small acorn a great oak grows.

Don’t stop. Once you’ve resolved to effect a change in your life, once you’ve begun the process of learning or doing something new, once you defeat the learning curve and start to become comfortable with your new found skill or interest – don’t stop. Make a conscious effort to avoid complacency, seeking to always grow and change. Be happy with yourself, but don’t become satisfied. Satisfaction leads to comfort, which leads to complacency. To paraphrase a Japanese proverb, at the moment you think you’ve arrived, you’ve already begun your descent.

On a personal level, there is nothing more important than continuous self-improvement. It is the hallmark of the human race, the desire to reach beyond the confines of our existence and experience something new. Sometimes it’s something huge and world-changing, but most often it’s the little things that we can change in our lives that make the biggest difference.

And as you begin your journey, keep this one last thing in mind – in the words of Vince Lombardi, “The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, nor a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will.”

So get out there and try something new, and don’t be afraid to make a fool of yourself. You’ll thank yourself for it later.

Business People vs. People People

Image: Shutterstock

Are you a business person or a people person?

Are you a take-charge, no-nonsense employee or manager? Do you believe that you (or your employees) are there to work, and that down-time or non-work related activities should be consigned to fifteen minute breaks every two hours? Or altogether eliminated until the whistle blows at five? Are you a proponent of the gospel of work hard and play harder, but play only comes after doing a solid eight hours of hard work?

Or are you a social butterfly, making sure to check in with everyone on your journey from the front door to your office or cubicle? Have you ever encountered a personal conversation at work that you didn’t have an opinion about? Are you sure to greet everyone who passes by, whether they’re engaged in conversation with someone else or not? Do you consider sitting at your desk for more than twenty minutes without any human interaction to be cruel and unusual punishment?

Of course, these two synopses are caricatures of the traditional business person and people person. No one wholly embodies one extreme to the exclusion of the other. If they did, they wouldn’t have a job for very long. The caricatured business person would soon lose the buy-in and respect of his or her employees, and the people person illustrated above would soon meet the business end of a poor performance review.

On the other hand, everyone leans in one direction or the other, favors one behavior above the other. There are business-minded people who recognize that they must interact with their co-workers in order to function properly within the workspace, just as there are people-minded managers and employees that have to constantly remind themselves that they have a job to do.

The trick is finding the happy medium between the two, and that is almost always only gained through experience. No one is born knowing when to work and when to play – it’s a learned response that is slightly different in every environment. This is why it is important to give new employees that much-needed time to acclimate to their new work regimen. They need to observe their co-workers in action to get a feel for “how things are done” in their new surroundings.

Possessing an appropriately proportionate balance between being a business person and being a people person often means the difference between success and failure in the workplace. As a manager, it’s knowing when to be part of the gang, and when to draw the line and mete out the praise or constructive criticism. As an employee, the same holds true – knowing where the line is, being aware of its constantly shifting nature, and being prepared to adapt when necessary is one of the hallmarks of a great employee.

Make no mistake, though – both characteristics are vitally important for all members of every organization, big and small. It is imperative in order to keep the workplace humming like a well-oiled machine for each individual to understand and accept their roles within the group, and live up to the expectations of the organization.

Leaving Your Comfort Zone

As I begin the journey of transitioning to a new position within my company, there are two quotes that keep running through my mind that I’d like to share them with you.

Henry Ford, the innovative business magnate and inventor of the assembly line, is credited with saying, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” This speaks to me on a visceral level, as it exemplifies the belief that you are the captain of your own destiny, that only you can determine your own fate.

While this viewpoint is a bit simplistic – there are obviously outside forces at work all of the time that affect who you are and what you are trying to do – it is true in that it all starts with you. Your attitude, and the actions that attitude leads to, dictates a great deal of your success…and your failures.

To steal from Norman Vincent Peale, the power of positive thinking cannot be understated. So much of life depends upon how you react in a given situation, and by maintaining a positive outlook and acting in a manner that is consistent with your most deeply held values and beliefs, you will succeed in whatever you set out to do in the long run.

The second of the quotes is by Virgin founder Richard Branson: “If someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you’re not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later.” This really goes against my nature, and human nature in general. As a civilized Society, we are hard-wired to find a situation in which we’re comfortable, and then do everything in our power to remain in that situation. Granted, there are those individuals who thrive on change and who live for the next challenge, but most of us just want to be content, to find what makes us happy and stay there.

I don’t remember much from the psychology class I took years ago, but Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs has always stuck with me, in much the same way that “the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell” has, and which I tend to throw into conversations at inappropriate times to show I paid attention in biology class.

It is significant that the need for safety and security is near the bottom of the pyramid, second only to our need for physiological satisfaction – food and water, warmth and sleep. The need for comfort and security is intrinsically basic to our survival and sense of well being, so much so that it often becomes the goal rather than the means to the end of advancing up the pyramid.

To journey outside my comfort zone – to move away from the job I’ve had for the past seven years and try something new, something I’ve never done before – is, frankly, quite scary. Don’t get me wrong – I have all the confidence in the world that I’ll succeed, based on my past experience of jumping into new things and doing well. But I also know that there’s no guarantee that I’ll do well. I know everyone in my new department will do everything they can to assist me, but in the end I’ll be depending on my own skill and ability to learn new things and succeed.

In the end, I believe the payoff is worth the risk.

The Ballad of Disgruntled Dan

Photo by In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images

In the deep recesses of an uncaring, cruel city
Lives a man whom many call Disgruntled Dan
No one takes notice, none show the slightest pity
They avoid him like a plague (as much as they can)

Disgruntled Dan works the eight-to-five dayshift
If he’s avoiding his spouse he might pull overtime
And if he’s out sick, all consider it a gift
Sadly, he hasn’t missed one since 2009

He leaves the house early and his coffee he gets
With a scowl to the barista, never bothers with words
Then proceeds to the office, to pay off his debts
He works for the money, passion’s for the birds

He sits at his desk and logs onto the network
To see which emails he’ll ignore first today
He couldn’t care less if they all think he’s a jerk
They can mock all they want, as long as he’s paid

When lunchtime rolls ’round and the whole office clears out
To their favorite restaurants go the various cliques
Ol’ Dan grabs his brown paper sack, rigid and stout
Downs his egg salad sandwich while the office clock ticks

The afternoon meetings are challenging for Dan
He’d much rather be left to his own devices
He wishes they were over before they even began
He could care less about their inventory prices

He never contributes to the roundtable discussions
Content to doodle on his yellow legal pad
He’s blissfully unaware of any repercussions
Of the staff’s business plan, good or bad

The clock strikes five and ol’ Disgruntled Dan
Is out the door as if shot from a rifle
He honks at the traffic that he cannot stand
The annoyance he feels is no trifle

By the light of the TV, Dan and the missus
Eat yesterday’s leftovers, then doze in the den
And when they retire, there are no good-night kisses
Goes to sleep preparing to do it all over again

The morale to Disgruntled Dan’s tortured existence
Escapes him on a daily basis
The root of it all is his very insistence
In how he deals daily with the problems he faces

His passion was lost far too long ago to remember
If it ever existed in his heart at all
He counts the years, January to December
He feels the end coming but can’t seem to stall

So don’t be like our ol’ friend Disgruntled Dan
Be thankful and pleasant and giving and kind
Let a passionate life be your guide and do all you can
Be positive of heart, and of soul, and of mind

And you’ll find that your happiness and goodwill
Becomes success in the blink of an eye
For what does it profit a man to tilt at the windmill
Wake up! Don’t let your life pass you by

The First Step

Image courtesy of shutterstock.com

If there’s one thing I can take away from the last two years of my life, it’s this lesson, embodied by quote by the great French painter Henri Matisse:

Image courtesy of brainyquote.com

Two years ago, after spending the first fifty-plus years of my life playing guitar to myself in my bedroom, I decided to screw up my courage and play for people. I joined a band, which led to playing solo in public, which led to a handful of paid gigs and a couple of albums. In the span of two years, I went from playing alone for myself to being paid to play in front of (mostly) strangers.

Initially, I had no idea what I was doing. Once I got out there and started playing in public, I made friends with a number of musicians who were more than happy to give me tips and show me the ropes, but when I was starting out, I had to make it up as I went along.

The learning curve was steep, and I often felt frustrated and lost. There’s no handbook on what equipment you really need, how to get gigs, how to market yourself, how to make it known to the world at large that you want to play in front of people.

I made more than my fair share of mistakes along the way – too many to go into much detail about them here. And truthfully, too many of my mistakes were stupid and embarrassing, the sort of errors of judgement where you ask yourself after the fact, “What the heck were you thinking out there?” and chalk up to inexperience.

The lesson I took from all of these character-building moments is this: when it comes to trying new things, to doing something different, to putting yourself out there to experience new experiences, the best guide is to follow the words of the great poet and shoemaker Nike:

Image courtesy adweek.com

Never played a guitar with a bunch of other guys? Just do it.

Never wrote a song before? Just do it.

Never sang and played in front of people? Just do it.

Never recorded an album of original songs before? Just do it.

Doing all of these things involved only two prerequisites on my part: the desire to do it, and the willingness to fail. And that is all that separates those who want to do something from those that do – the ability to stop worrying and start acting.

It’s pointless to sit around wishing that you could do something, idly daydreaming about it rather than actually making it happen. Regardless of what it is you wish to accomplish, the first step is to take that first step. The worse that could possibly happen is that you fail.

But failure is no reason to not try.

The fear of failure is a strong demotivater, and it takes courage to ignore that gut instinct of wanting to remain in the comfort zone we’ve created for ourselves and make a change. The easiest course of action is always to do nothing, to not affect the change in your life that will lead down new roads and open new opportunities to you. But the easiest course is rarely the best course. Comfort is the enemy of progress and change.

So, if you’ve ever wanted to do something creative – play an instrument, write a book, paint a picture, make a movie – but feel like you don’t know where to start, or how to start, or when to start, then stop over-thinking it.

Creativity takes courage. Just do it.