Article Link: Scientists spot oldest ever object in universe
Source: CNN.com

Wait, I don’t mean to say that our lives are insignificant.  However, when you account for how old the Universe really is, our lifespans are so miniscule that we round off to a big fat 0.

Last week, scientists detected a gamma ray burst (fancy language for the rays of energy coming from the explosion of a star) that dates back 13 billion years.  Yes, that’s 13 BILLION years!

When we put our lives, our actions, our goals, and our existence into perspective,  we don’t matter all that much to the history of the Universe.  So, just relax when you come across challenges and hurdles.  It’s just a speck in the ocean of history.

Here’s the article, for those interested in the science behind this discovery.

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Everyone agrees that the President of the United States is in a position to influence others.  What he says, what he does, who we gives importance to, who he avoids, who he ridicules, what he wears, how he speaks, and how he reacts  influences people around the world.  We subconsciously make a note of what people with influence do (celebrities, leaders, role models, etc.).

On February 24, Obama used his position of influence to give recognition to someone who did something unthinkable.  It wasn’t a member of Congress or a figure from the political world.  It wasn’t a celebrity.  It was a bank manager from Florida who did something extraordinary.  He gave away his $60 million bonus to his employees and even his former employees who had left the company more than a year ago.

The very fact that Obama even brought up Leonard Abess is what matters.  It matters a lot.  It matters because the President of the United States is saying it.  It matters because people subconsciously take notice that a good deed was recognized by the highest office in the land.  It matters because the President is recognizing someone who did something morally right at the cost of personal well-being or profit.  It matters because the President gave the limelight to someone who put others in front of himself.

Are we in a position to influence others?  If our immediate answer was NO, take a step back, breathe, and re-think.

Everyone is in a position to influence someone.  While that “someone” may not agree with or abide by the influence we have on them, our actions and behavior do influence them.  Something doesn’t have to be consciously accepted for it to exist.

Think about who is in our sphere of influence.  Kids, grandchildren, students, your spouse, colleagues, friends, parents, bosses, etc.  Now, think about how you act, what you say, and what things you give importance to when you’re in their company.

We’ll each fill in our own blanks as to what the next steps should be.

Rules often fail us. Incentives often backfire. But practical, everyday wisdom will help rebuild our world.  Barry Schwartz, a well-known psychologist currently studying the concept of “wisdom,” makes this powerful argument in his speech at last week’s TED conference in LA.

The conference is a melting pot for leaders who innovate ways to better the world and engage the challenges we face.

Also check out Bill Gates’ presentation on the importance of extraordinary teachers and how just one such teacher can help shape our future.

Is your Inbox your job?

February 1, 2009

Article Link: Read the article
Source: Seth Godin, author

Technology has allowed us to set up systems that create a constant queue of to-do items.  Many of us use our email inboxes as a to-do list.  Technology is great at oversimplify these things so we can quickly take action on something.  However, it’s our responsibility to ensure we don’t succumb to the trap of viewing our job as simply responding to items in this queue. It takes serious effort and awareness to not fall into this trap.

You’re being paid for your creativity, ingenuity, solutions to problems, ideas about growth, management of people, etc. — not for your ability to just attend to a queue. The email culture we  live in requires us to  be conscious of this phenomenon, or risk succumbing to it.

What did MLK stand for?

January 19, 2009

Service. Human rights. Dignity.

Why not celebrate MLK Day as a National Day of Service, asks Seth Godin.

Here’s his article on the topic,  and some ideas that you can implement.

#10 is just brilliant!

Sounds like an alibi, I know.  Resolutions seldom work because, unless you are committed to changing your lifestyle, they are usually short-lived.

Yesterday, I went to a dietitian for the first time in my life.  (No, my resolution isn’t to eat healthy.)  I wanted to get a practical understanding of  how my body interprets food, from the best in the business (in my area).  I learned more about my body and nutrition in that one hour of consulting than I have during my entire academic life.  It completely changed how I view food.  Let’s see how long I can maintain the effects of what I learned.

I learned another important lesson, though.  I learned about the value of hiring one-on-one consultants.  My resolution for this new year is to make resolutions.  I’m resolute to holding 6 meetings with experts in various fields that I’d like to get more knowledge about.  I’m still working to identify what those six are.  So far, my list is at 14, and growing.  The challenge is to narrow it down to just 6 (which works out to one meeting every two months; more than doable in terms of time and money).

My justification:
We invest hordes of money to purchase artifacts or invest in things – electronics to simplify our life, entertainment to occupy our free time, fitness equipment to live a healthy life, vacations to relax, IRAs to secure our retirement, etc.  However, have we ever invested to learn the proper way to use/do/engage these things?  Are we investing in our ability to learn how to learn?  It seems like a no-brainer to spend some money to have an expert teach us about the things we invest so much money into.

Of course, the challenge in all this is to find “real” experts.  There’s a million and one consultants out there in every field known to man.  Finding the best can make the difference between learning accurately and learning inaccurate or incomplete information.  It’s like clicking on the top ranked listing in Google versus a listing ranked #3 or #4.  The value of the top ranked listing isn’t proportionally higher than the third or fourth, it’s exponentially higher.

Then, the only challenge that remains is implementing it.  That’s the other half of the story (and arguably, the most important).

A balanced mind

December 1, 2008

Article Link: Thinking about Obama
Source: David Brooks, columnist for NY Times

Maintaining a balanced mind in times of joy and sorrow, success and failure, etc., is advocated by many of the world’s philosophies.  We seldom see it practiced in real life except for a handful of colleagues or family members who either seem “balanced” by nature or make an honest attempt to be.

Regardless of which way you voted, there are lessons to be learned from the political theater we’ve witnessed for the past two years. Both candidates have great qualities.

McCain = passion, service to country, and a great citizen
Obama = calm, collective, and clear-minded

This article is an attempt to highlight just one quality of one of the candidates.

Sure, at the end of the day, we can conclude that it’s all politics and perhaps staged.  But for someone to be on a national stage for more than 2 years and maintain a sense of balance is no easy task.  In itself, the last two years have been the longest job interview any presidential applicant can ask for.

The story goes that the first Thanksgiving Day was celebrated by the Plymouth Pilgrims.  The celebration was in honor of a bountiful harvest season, which meant enough food for people to survive and live well.  The Pilgrims were new to America and its land, climate, and agriculture.  The Native Indians, who have inhabited America for many generations, taught the Pilgrims how to farm and raise crops in this new land.  To show their gratitude to the Native Indians, the Pilgrims celebrated Thanksgiving.

The success each of us has witnessed and continues to do so in our life is the result of multiple things, of which our own efforts are just a small portion.  It’s the culmination of our efforts and those of the people who have come into our lives and touched us in some way or another.  Think back to your family, relatives, friends, school acquaintances, teachers, etc., who have helped shape your nature, personality, ideology, and philosophy towards life.  We’ve borrowed things, often times subconsciously, from people we’ve met in passing.  We’ve used ideas and examples from others that we can incorporate into our own lives.  We are who we are as a result of all this.

I speak for everyone when I…

… thank the basketball coach who kicked me off the team because I failed to follow instructions.  Thank you for teaching me the importance of putting the team ahead of my own goals.

… thank the relatives and family friends who continuously pushed me to stretch the limits of what I felt my boundaries were.  Thank you for teaching me never to settle (often at the cost of using examples of failures from your own lives).

… thank the then-annoying uncle who pushed me, unprepared, in front of an audience.  Thank you for teaching me that not every moment in life can be scripted and preplanned, and that speaking from your heart leads to more natural results than speaking from your mind.

… thank the parents who let their own wish lists get longer and longer so I could check off some items from my list.  Thank you for teaching me that sacrifice is always sweeter than self-indulgence.

… thank the family friend who involved me, when I was naive to the world of management, in reviewing the business plan for a multimillion dollar endeavor they were planning to fund.  Thank you for giving me the confidence that I can meaningfully participate in something that I felt was outside of my scope of capabilities.

… thank the third grade teacher who caught me cheating on an exam, and instead of reprimanding me in the typical manner, gave me a solution that would change me forever.  She told me to continue cheating on future exams, but to also increase the number of questions I solve on my own.  On each successive exam, I would do one more question on my own, and cheat on the remaining questions.  Eventually, I was able to solve all the questions on my own.  Thank you for planting the seeds to grow a lifelong student.

The list of people who have uniquely touched our lives can go on and on.  What’s important is that we reflect, say thanks, and reciprocate the act onto others during our lifetime.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Why vote?

November 1, 2008

“So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote, I do not possess myself. I cannot make up my mind — it is made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic citizen, observing the laws I have helped to enact — I can only submit to the edict of others.”

— Martin Luther King, Jr. | 1957

Often, we don’t realize the value of something until it is taken away from us.  This applies to civil rights, human dignity, and even the people in our lives.  It’s unfortunate, but true.

The right to vote is no different. People have fought wars, been tortured, and lost lives to ensure that every citizen has an equal chance to be heard. If you don’t care for the issues or the candidates, at least go and place your vote as a sign of respect for the people who have fought so that we have this opportunity to express ourselves.

In the end, your vote may not really matter. But what will matter is your reverence towards the people whose shoulders we sit on and live, breathe, and sleep so freely.

Article Link: http://www.fastcompany.com/node/1007055/print
Source: Fast Company Magazine

A new book out called The How of Happiness describes 12 scientifically proven ways to make yourself happier. The very first on the list: expressing gratitude to others!

Who would have thought that our own happiness is so intermingled with the happiness we impart to others? We all know human beings are social animals. But I think we’re social and extremely interdependent animals, regardless of how independent we convince ourselves we are.

In first grade, my teacher told me to do to others how you’d like them to do with you.  Science is now proving this proverb to be true.

(There’s a business idea in this article, for those entrepreneurs among us.)