Archive for June, 2011

3 days in.

Here’s a compendium of the first three days’ tweets (reverse order, obviously).  Analysis below.

CjLehi : Calling it a night. #blessing 9 is that it was a beautiful, beautiful day. Wrote some, played some, prayed some. I give it an 8.

CjLehi : #blessing 8: still have not been bitten by a single mosquito this summer.

CjLehi : #blessing 7: fruit season. Eating strawberries like Kaylie on Serenity. Man, I love this season.

2011-07-01 03:18:59 CjLehi: #blessing 6: my son Alexander has his papers in, at long, long last. If you’re LDS, you know what that’s code for. If not, well, sorry.
2011-07-01 02:26:19 CjLehi: #blessing 5 is a doozy. From White Collar, from “Where There’s a Will”, the excellent joke of the Ark in the Nazi sub relics. So shiny!
2011-06-30 21:47:34 CjLehi: #blessing 4: my laptop. Holy cats, I cannot remember what I used to do when I had to write on a typewriter.
2011-06-30 19:39:52 CjLehi: #blessing 2: that I have a temple close, and 3 that I have a beautiful wife that will go with me.
2011-06-30 19:38:57 CjLehi: #blessing 1: that my bike broke down on the way TO the office instead of on the way back home. Not nearly as heavy.
2011-06-30 14:56:10 CjLehi: Agreed. RT @simonsinek: Has Wal-Mart lost touch with its populist roots? I think so. http://t.co/5q5vuc8
2011-06-30 14:45:43 CjLehi: At his best! RT @cspenn: #the5: I got some stunning results using Facebook pre-filled forms in popups. See what I learned: http://ar.gy/ShG
2011-06-30 04:58:10 CjLehi: End of day 2 of the great #blessing experiment. I give this one a 5 out of 10. But I think I should get an 8.
2011-06-30 02:46:58 CjLehi: #blessing 11&12: my beautiful and very interesting daughters, Charlotte and Mira.
2011-06-29 23:56:48 CjLehi: #blessing 10: that I love what I do so much that even when I’m discouraged and defeated, I’m still at my desk working after 6.
2011-06-29 22:44:58 CjLehi: #blessing 9: enough wisdom to know when a “success” book is just flat wrong. This may also be a curse, or at least a scar.
2011-06-29 22:17:44 CjLehi: #blessing 8: www.staceykent.com Melt me down and use me for butter.
2011-06-29 21:42:36 CjLehi: #blessing 7: Sherri Russett’s sense of humor. @City1stMortgSvc is in good hands there.
2011-06-29 21:17:43 CjLehi: #blessing 6: or #miracle 1, Josh and Jenna Gubler had their baby today, 2 months after Josh’s mother’s death. And today is her birthday.
2011-06-29 21:09:00 CjLehi: #blessing 5: air conditioning. Actually two units thereof in my office.
2011-06-29 19:10:09 CjLehi: #blessing 4: a really excellent lunch from Anne Made. Custard to die for.
2011-06-29 18:03:14 CjLehi: #blessing 3: such a fantastically beautiful day. And a terrible speaker to get me to leave the conference room so I can enjoy it.
2011-06-29 16:29:00 CjLehi: #blessing 2: old friends like Jeremiah Maughan. Just showed up at a conference together.
2011-06-29 16:02:45 CjLehi: Numbers bleak but not quite pitch black at the UCAR housing summit. #UCARhs
2011-06-29 13:38:49 CjLehi: #blessing 1: I’m 43, and I can still play basketball three times a week. Occasionally without embarrassment.
2011-06-29 13:37:18 CjLehi: Day 2 of the #blessing experiment. Those unimpressed by positive tweets, beware.
2011-06-29 04:23:48 CjLehi: Day 1 down, and I give it a 4 out if 10. Very bad news late in the day. Inexplicable, pointless bad news.
2011-06-29 04:22:35 CjLehi: #blessing 12: saving the best for last, I’m grateful for my beautiful wife Jeanette.
2011-06-28 22:45:17 CjLehi: #blessing 11: two City Councilwomen that care enough to listen and think about how to help their city. From Provo, unbelievably.
2011-06-28 20:33:11 CjLehi: #blessing 10: a hard trial to see if I’m committed to this project. I am. But hard it is.
2011-06-28 20:27:14 CjLehi: #blessing 9: the DVR. I don’t think I need to elaborate on that, do I?
2011-06-28 17:59:21 CjLehi: #blessing 7: that little cloud that just passed in front of the sun.
2011-06-28 17:58:35 CjLehi: #blessing 6: a processor that can cover for me when I make an elementary, rookie mistake on a loan.
2011-06-28 17:30:12 CjLehi: #blessing 5: the inimitable @hawkpete, who doubles my effectiveness at networking events.
2011-06-28 16:58:54 CjLehi: #blessing 4: I have a son that is willing to watch soccer with me, and likes it as much as I do.
2011-06-28 16:27:23 CjLehi: Thought I’d Try Something: I’ve posted before on being positive, on being cheerful, even (although my tag cloud … http://bit.ly/mCodOw
2011-06-28 16:08:23 CjLehi: #blessing 3: my 5-year-old is vacuuming the tv room. Perhaps that should be #miracle instead.
2011-06-28 16:06:03 CjLehi: #blessing 2: I can ride my bike to work. And 2b, the weather is ridiculously great.
2011-06-28 15:41:11 CjLehi: #blessing 1: tack on my floor, right in front of my closet, for two weeks. Never saw it. Never stepped on it.
2011-06-28 15:40:10 CjLehi: Expect the volume of tweets to rise a bit over the next two weeks. In the interest of experimenting: http://t.co/yCF1tTT

The gaps are where I tweeted about something else non-germane.

Couple things are immediately obvious to me about the last three days.  First, my average tweet volume is up about 400%.  Really.  I love Twitter, but I’m more of a consumer than a producer, so I tweet about .4 times per day.  That’s up to 16x a day in the last three days.  The vast majority of those tweets are hashtagged #blessing, and are part of the project.  But my interaction with others increased as well, because…well, because.

Second, there is no correlation between the project and the things that happen to me.  Those are pretty randomly scattered and all over the map as to whether I wanted them or not.  Day 1 featured the death of a loan – the third consecutive loan that was approved and ready that was killed by events beyond any possibility of my control – and in our current financial situation that is really a nasty thing to have happen (blessing 10 from 6-28).  It threw me, but didn’t stop me, and there is the chance that part of the reason is that I was involved in this project.

Today there were a couple more things that didn’t go the way I’d want them to, but today I can definitely confirm that this project has had a positive effect on my thinking.  When my bike broke down as I was riding to work, I immediately reframed the event as a blessing.  I mean, it was hot, and I had to carry the bike three blocks in the summer sunshine to my office before I could fix it.  Not on my “want-to” list.  But I was already reframing the event as a good thing, as a blessing, before I got there (blessing 1, 6-30).  Under no circumstances would that have happened if I hadn’t been doing this.

My good friend Enoch (@dellojoio, and www.getenoch.com) has a system he calls Padiush, in which you measure your gratitude every day.  He swears it works.  I find it curious that the backbone of that system is 10 things every day that you’re grateful for, and I have averaged a bit over that, without having specific target, every day so far.

Noticing blessings, and reframing events so that they are seen as blessings, has not changed the bottom line of my bank account so far.  But it certainly hasn’t worsened it, and as you see from my end-of-day tweets, there has been a steady improvement in how I rate each day.  That might be a pattern, and it might be luck.  The sample size is small.  But it hasn’t hurt, and that’s not nothing.

One other thing.  I know that some people are actively following those tweets every day, and more are waiting for the Facebook/blog recap.  That also has a positive impact on my attitude.  Having to do this in public, because I said I would, has been reinforcing.  It’s increased the intensity of the project and made a difference for the better in my life.  If you don’t care, that doesn’t happen.  So thank you, all of you, for being today’s #blessing #10.

Thought I’d Try Something

I’ve posted before on being positive, on being cheerful, even (although my tag cloud doesn’t think so – I have stuff on work and discipline and perseverance, but the word “happiness” does not appear, which probably ought to tell me something), and controlling my responses to the daily load of crap that happens to me, just like it happens to everyone.  Over the past couple of years I’ve made a study of happiness and positivism, reading books and blogs that focus on the subject, of which there are many.  They’ve helped, but what they ultimately have in common is that the problem is me.  Either I change, or none of it will work.

Change takes work.  If you want to change yourself, you have to work at it.  You have to spend time with the books and the people that are in the place that you want to go.  If I want to be positive and cheerful, regardless of the interesting stuff going on around me (and really, when is there NO interesting stuff going on around us?), then I have to do the work to keep looking at the bright side of things.  Because there is always a bright side.

And that leads me to the next two weeks.  I’m trying an experiment.  Since I spend a lot of time on Twitter, I am going to use that to focus on blessings.  I will be tweeting every time I notice a blessing in my life, which is probably going to explode my volume of tweets, so you might want to put me on stun for a couple weeks.  Although, you know, it might be interesting for you, too.  I have some quirky blessings to mention already.

Because this is a research project, an experiment in raising my base level of happiness, I will be periodically reporting the results in this space.  My hypothesis is that it will do wonders for me psychically, but also that it will increase the success of my physical-world ventures, which could do with some increasing, let me tell you.

Let’s get started.

P.S. If you’re into that sort of thing, you can follow me on Twitter, @cjlehi.  My tweets do not cross-post to Facebook, in case you were wondering.

And the Beat Goes On, with a New Drummer

So a couple weeks ago my son Nicholas (the 17-year-old) started feeling a pain in his lower abdomen.  He ate a little, then felt woozy and went to lie down.  This was the same day City First decided to relieve me of my duties as the PR Director, in a move that surprised me and practically everyone at the company, and thereby left me without steady income and with nothing in the mortgage pipeline, having used up my last four months doing things for City First corporate instead of my clients.  So that night we had a few things going on, and just like when we had that last medical disaster, we were a bit distracted.

This time, though, we were smart enough that we left our charity meeting early, so we could get home and check on Nicholas, whom I was mortally certain was having an appendicitis, because sometimes you get in a groove (or in this case, a rut) and you know what’s coming, no matter how unlikely that particular event is.

Note: The other time in my life I felt like that was when I was a senior in high school in the lower deck of the Rome airport.  I heard a crash and a bang from the deck above me, and I turned to my father and said “that’s a terrorist attack”.  And it was.

When we got home, Nick was in a good deal more pain, and Jeanette called the InstaCare to ask a couple of questions.  The answers made her think I was probably right, and took him over.  They spent about ninety seconds with him and said “get over to the emergency room”.  Having had a fairly mixed experience with American Fork, we went instead to Timpanogos, the next hospital south.

And it was appendicitis.  It hadn’t burst yet, but it was in the neighborhood, so they doped him up on morphine and scheduled the surgery.  Another surgery.  We went 20 years without a single one of any kind for any thing, and then we have two of them in three months.

So they did the laparoscopic procedure, and Nick has a couple of cute scars.  It took a week for him to get even part of the way back, but he rallied thereafter and is doing fine now.  I can’t thank his friends enough.  There were a steady stream of them for days, and that meant a great deal to Nick, to know that they cared about him.

Not life-threatening, then.  But expensive.  Oh, this one is REALLY expensive.  We thought the Gabriel thing was bad.  This one makes that one look like a couple of bucks at the local lemonade stand.  We do not have the entire bill yet, and it’s already twice what Gabriel’s was.

Couple that with the loss of about $4000 a month of steady income, and things could be fairly dire.  But ‘cept, as my sisters used to say, Jeanette and I felt strongly last month that even though we had not paid off all the debt from Gabriel’s broken femur, we needed to get some defense in place in case something else happened.  We really couldn’t afford any sort of insurance, and believe me, we looked.  We still adamantly refuse to accept any federal or state assistance.  But there was one other option, brought to our attention by our good friends the Harmons, called Christian Healthcare Ministries.

Tomorrow, or possibly Wednesday, I’ll  discourse a bit on what insurance is and is not, but this group provides what I would call actual insurance, at a reasonable cost.  There are quite a few of these kinds of groups out there, but most of them will not take Mormons.  Really.  They’re born-again, evangelical groups that think Mormons are essentially worshipping a different God, and therefore exclude us from their cost-sharing program.  CHM thinks differently, Heaven bless them.

The way it works, we negotiate as hard as we can – and at this point, we are getting pretty good at it – and that discount becomes part of our “initial contribution” (for most people, that’s a “deductible”, but this isn’t “insurance”, so it’s called something else).  Then CHM pays the rest, up to a maximum per event per person of $250,000.  Nick is expensive, but not that expensive.  We’ve so far negotiated about $20k of cost reductions (it’s a BIG bill, people), which is way over our $5000 “contribution”, so if this works the way it’s supposed to, we’ll pay…nothing.  Really.

Our monthly cost for the program is $185.

Potentially, then, catastrophe averted.  It will still be hard, because that lost income isn’t coming back any time soon, but we lived pretty well on commissions from mortgages before, and we can do it again, I think, no matter what the market is like.  Thank goodness we didn’t close the Lehi office.

So many of you have written or called or posted to Facebook or what have you, and I’m grateful beyond words.  Thank you.  You make it a lot easier to keep my head up.

Further updates as events warrant.

***************

And because we get asked this about three times a day, let me say that Gabriel is doing really well.  He still refuses to use the potty, but in all other respects he’s just as he was before the accident.  He clearly – based on some of his acrobatics recently – has no memory of the event whatsoever.  That’s a great blessing and we are thankful.

Speaking of Harry Potter…

Weren’t we speaking of Harry Potter?  Well, we should have been.

I’m looking forward to the last of the eight movies coming out in a month (we’ve been watching the previous seven this last bit).  I have as long a relationship with Harry Potter as most people, and breathlessly waited for the seventh book, like most people who read good stuff.  I’ve enjoyed the movies and been impressed with the developing “replacement” Dumbledore and the terrific growth in Daniel Radcliffe as he learned how to act.  This is a harder thing than most people realize, for a twelve-year-old to essentially grow up on screen with his every move scrutinized by a few million people.  He’s done it with grace and charm and he’s now a pretty decent actor, as are most of those he’s grown up with.

A little bit ago, J.K. Rowling introduced a new website, called Pottermore, and there’s been a fair degree of buzz and speculation about what that site will become.  I’m with the smart money right now, and that it will become a MMORPG.

I’m in favor of it, though I think it will never become a gigantic success.  I’m mostly in favor of it because it will force Rowling to lay down, at long, long last, some actual rules for how magic is used in the Harry Potter universe.  Because let’s face it folks, that’s been a gigantic hole in the series.

NOTE: Wikipedia says that Rowling spent five years deciding on the rules for magic in the Potterverse.  Either Wikipedia is full of it, or Rowling is lying.  A competent creator could have come up with better and more consistent rules for magic in an afternoon than what we see in the Potter books.  There are attempts at explanations in the reference material, but those explanations are so convoluted that they couldn’t have been rules.  They are attempts to make it look like there were some rules in the first place.

ADDITIONAL NOTE: I should allow a caveat to the below, and that is that much of what I’m complaining about comes from the movies, and not the books, and I understand that Rowling, like all authors, is only somewhat responsible for what happens on screen.  However, given the authoritarian nature of Rowling’s interaction with the rest of the world in regard to how her characters are used, I’m inclined to blame her rather more than I blame, say, Stephen King, when the books and the movies obey completely different magical rules.

See, magic has rules.   When Rowling writes about it, unfortunately, the rules seem a bit arbitrary, capricious even, and worse, they’re occasionally nonexistent.  This problem is worse in the movies than in the books, because in the books you’re getting some shorthand about the action.  When Rowling says “Harry shot a spell at Draco”, you can fill in that he said something like “Stupefy!” at the time, to compensate for the lack of specificity.  In the movie, though, that often doesn’t happen.  Harry points the wand (or doesn’t, that part doesn’t seem relevant much, except when it’s necessary to advance the plot) and fires the bolt of whatever-it-is and blows up a vase or a bookshelf.  We don’t know what spell he uses.  That appears unimportant.

I could go on in this vein for some time.  Sometimes you need a wand, sometimes not.  Sometimes you have to say something, sometimes not.  Sometimes a spell can be blocked and sometimes not.  Sometimes spells can be cast, and sometimes not.  It’s all quite random.  For a practical example, Potterphiles, tell me what “Expelliarmus!” does.  Expelliarmus is the single most powerful spell in all wizard-dom, and the one we see used the most often, and what do we know about it?  Sometimes it gets rid of the wand, and sometimes it blows holes in things, and sometimes it kills Voldemort, and sometimes it tosses Malfoy around like a rag doll.  That’s some spell.

But the worst of it is that magic seems to come with no price.  This is silly.  What it leads to is everyone in creation being able to do any spell he or she likes whenever he or she wants.  This might be the rule for this magical universe, but if it is, what is Hogwarts for?  To teach you…what?  If you can do the unforgivable curse (for which, it seems, one can fairly easily be forgiven, except that nobody even cares that you used it in the first place) just by flicking your wand out there and saying “abracadabra”, then why not?

Oh, but some spells don’t work that way, I guess.  It takes forever and a day to learn to do “wingardium leviosa” (“swish and flick”) but you can do “crucio” as soon as you learn to speak.  Producing a patronus is really, really hard – even experienced wizards have trouble with it – but “imperius” can be done by students.  “Imperius” is one of the least-thought-out curses in the book, as well, producing effects so amazing that if they were replicable, they’d require that any evil wizard use that curse on everyone in sight.  But I guess Voldemort can’t do that.  No idea why.

The power of the wand matters, or else it doesn’t.  Speech impediments matter, or else they don’t.  Even really good wizards seems to have trouble casting spells without saying words – Harry never learns how – but once they HAVE learned how, they only sometimes do it, even when duelling, which is why you learn to do it in the first place.  What sense does this make?  Rowling seems not to have thought about any of this at all.  The MMORPG is going to make her make some decisions, and about time.

I know.  Most of you are saying, “dude, it’s a movie!  Just go with it!”  That’s the problem.  The rules are what make it so you CAN go with it.  If I have to stop myself every few seconds and say, “why doesn’t he just bat-bogey hex that guy?” then I’m out of the story, and I can’t go with it.  This isn’t Rowling’s exclusive problem.  Star Trek has had it forever (do the communicators require tuning or not?  Do they have channels?  When you tap your chest to talk to the Enterprise, do you have to say “Picard to Enterprise” or can you just start talking?  Can the Enterprise beam you point-to-point or not?  If it can, what’s the transporter room for?  What good are cloaking devices if Data can work out in half an hour how to track your enhanced tachyon emissions?  How come next episode he forgets that he could do that?  Why is it that space has only two dimensions?).  Superman suffers from the same malady.  If he can really do all those things he supposedly can do, there wouldn’t be any plot.  So sometimes he has to be able to do things that next time he can’t do, or forgets that he can do.

It’s bad writing.  It’s lazy and sloppy.  It shows a lack of forethought, and a writer more interested in money than craft.  It won’t work at all for gameplay.  In games, the rules are pretty clearly defined, or the games are hard to play and don’t do well.  I guarantee that you will not be able to hit someone with “crucio” the day Ollivander gives you your wand.  Those kinds of curses only come after a lot of study and experience, prices you have to pay to be able to cast those spells.  In real magical universes, magic costs.  Sometimes it costs blood (this is pretty common for dark magic), and sometimes it costs study, and sometimes it shortens your life, or sometimes the effort to cast the spell is so great that spells have to be rationed or they’ll kill the caster.  But there is a cost.  There is always a cost, otherwise – basic economics – there are too many wizards and they cast too many spells, and quickly everyone is dead.

I’ve always wanted to see what a Harry Potter universe would look like in the hands of someone that understood this.  Perhaps I will get the chance.

And I should add that I have enormous respect for Rowling and what she accomplished with Harry Potter.  Despite the problems I’ve outlined above, she hooked me thoroughly into the stories.  Her characters are supremely believable and interesting, she understands very well the struggle between good and evil, and when she’s not getting paid by the word, she’s good at pacing and plot.  She’s a good writer that sometimes writes sloppily.  True of all of us.

Of Course Talk, Don’t Everybody?

Without communication there is no organization.

If you think about this even for a couple of seconds, you see how clear this is.  If I want to work together with someone, I have to communicate with him.  This doesn’t mean I have to talk; study after study tells us that  a high percentage of our communication is non-verbal.  But messages get sent, and received, from nearly everything we do.  If we expect to work in connection with someone else, we had better communicate with that person, so we have a method of coordinating.  Otherwise, we have a large number of disparate parts, everyone doing his own thing, and no coordination except by accident.   This is massively inefficient and often destructive.

This seems so obvious that you’d expect every corporation, every company, every club, every group of whatever size, heck, every family, would know this.  You’d expect that everyone would make communication a high priority, and spend significant time on it every day.

And you’d be wrong.

I’m a member of a half-dozen organizations, some formal and some informal, some for-profit and some not.  They all do the communication thing with varying degrees of attention and success, but one of them is so abysmal at it that I have to use it as a case study in what not to do.  There are dozens of people at this organization, in various capacities, and the nature of what they do is highly technical, so that to do it correctly requires a great deal of coordination and cooperation.  One step outside the rules, and the whole thing could come crashing down and destroy the entire enterprise.  Add to that the fact that in the current economy, raising funds to continue operating is, to say the least, hard work.  It requires that the organization use all its personnel effectively, with minimum of duplication of effort, or very possibly the organization could cease to exist altogether.

And yet, with the exception of pockets here and there, certain groups and committees, the organization is unable to communicate at all.  I mean this in the most direct way possible: being a part of this organization is like getting a group-wide dose of the silent treatment.  Inter-departmental communication is practically non-existent.  Lines of authority are scratched in the dirt, then walked on until they become impossible to detect.  Even within the various committees of the organization it is routine for one person to say to another “do you know what we’re supposed to be doing?” or “I don’t know if we can carry out that initiative because I can’t get the other people to tell me whether it’s okay.”  Everyone is “busy”, and some people are even effective, but rarely is that effectiveness the product of a cohesive effort on the part of all the members of a team.  Through the main effort of certain key players, and the really excellent quality of the members of this group, the enterprise has not failed, and perhaps will not.  But the organization has big dreams, far above its current station.  I can make you this promise, having been a part of this group over a period of years in practically every capacity there is: the organization will never achieve anything of durable quality until it gets its communications fixed.

Is this true of your company?  Is it true of your church?  Is it true of your civic group, or your government, or your rec-league basketball team?  Think about it.  Even in my work work, in mortgages, the number one complaint from borrowers is the lack of communication from their loan officers.  This problem dwarfs all others, and also makes them worse.

When communication is bad:

  • people are hesitant, and do not take risks
  • they fail to get the help they need, or offer what they chould to advance the project
  • people refuse assignments that are not directly related to what they know they must do to remain employed
  • multiple individuals find themselves doing the same tasks
  • tasks are accomplished in a variety of different ways, to varying quality standards
  • higher-ups frequently have to re-do the work of subordinates
  • subordinates that take initiative get ahead of higher-ups
  • good people leave
  • work slows
  • money is lost
  • companies fail
  • clubs disband
  • governments fall

Sound familiar?  I bet it does.  We’ve all been part of some of this, even been a cause of some of it.  Authentic communication is the lifeblood of practically everything we do.  Look around you.  Is there a way you can tell someone what you’re doing, and what you need, in a way that allows her to help you?  Is there something you’ve accomplished that you should report to the person that requested the action?  Is there a way you can make it clearer to your employees what the company priorities are?  Can you accept responsibility for something that will give the team around you space to create something better?

What are you communicating right now?

P.S. For those of you ancient-movie-challenged, the headline for this article is…no.  You tell me.

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