Category Archives: Modern Life
An interesting article in a recent New York Times Magazine section caught my eye. Its title was “Forecasting Fraud,” and it focused on the phenomenon of one’s misrepresenting themselves by using titles that are not entirely accurate. The article’s central example was the ubiquitous TV weatherperson who is referred to – often inaccurately – as a meteorologist. While a meteorologist has specialized education, many of the people who report rain or shine may only qualify as a “weathercaster” rather than a meteorologist, since they can claim only professional experience, and have no special course work or degree. Read the rest of this entry
I’m a recovering pessimist. I admit it. In fact, there are times I’m kind of proud of it. Being a cup-half-empty guy doesn’t mean that life is miserable. Quite the contrary; for me it means that I’m never extremely disappointed when something bad not-so-surprisingly occurs. I’m also frequently pleasantly surprised by that positive thing I was pretty sure wouldn’t happen. In fact, I would argue that being a realistic pessimist (some would call us healthy skeptics or even pragmatists) allows a certain freedom. Because I’m pessimistic I take the extra time to help prevent that horrible event that just might happen. This allows me the comfort of knowing that, when I celebrate a success, the celebration probably isn’t going to be interrupted by something awful. Healthy skepticism or pessimism encourages us to prepare for the worst. It frequently keeps us from being surprised and, in many ways, it makes us better managers.
The challenge, as a pessimist, is to not let your expectations bias other people’s actions. For example, whether or not I believe that the Zags (Gonzaga) will go out in the second round of the NCAA championships, despite being ranked #1 in the nation, shouldn’t impact how the team will play. If I were the coach however, it would be best if I kept my doubts to myself. As a leader, it is important to project confidence and a “can do” attitude. If you let your pessimism (or skepticism) rule then you are far less likely to succeed.
To lighten things up on our blog I’ve created the following quiz to help you determine if you’re a secret or out-of-the-closet pessimist too. Count the number of statements you agree with.
- When I don’t hear anything on the dispatch radio, instead of believing everything is functioning smoothly, I’m more likely to believe the radio isn’t working.
- When no one raises any questions after a complex training, I’m as likely to assume they didn’t “get it” rather than assuming we did such a good job teaching and they did such a good job learning.
- When the kids were young and they were “playing quietly” I just knew something was wrong.
- When the host or hostess tells you it will be a ten minute wait for your table, you know it’ll be longer (but they don’t want to lose you as a customer.)
- “No news” probably doesn’t mean “good news.”
- When you see a pint glass that has only 8 ounces of water in it you think either a) half empty or b) someone’s inefficiently assigned the wrong size glass for that water.
- When the weather forecaster says it will be clear with light breezes this weekend he is just as likely to be describing what’s going on in his head as the actual weather forecast.
- When the service company says they’ll be there between 8 and 12, they really mean they have no clue when they’ll be there and they’ll probably be there at 12:15 just after you’ve left home.
- The bus inspector will almost always choose to inspect the one bus that we were too nauseous to finish cleaning last night when returning from a nausea-inducing ride down the mountain.
- I’ve always had a fondness for the saying “The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.”
- Rush hour seems to change based upon the time I get on the freeway.
If you agreed with 6 or more of the above statements, welcome to the club, fellow pessimist. Hold your head high (but watch out for low hanging objects.)
I recently reviewed a few newspaper articles that I’d saved for later consideration. One item that caught my eye was written before the November election. It created a “word cloud” of one of the presidential debates. A quote from a political consultant interested me – since, being a dinosaur – I hadn’t heard of a word cloud. The consultant said, “Word clouds display the narrative and trajectory of a campaign’s emphasis and direction. They are extremely helpful in cutting through the clutter to visualize the strategy of a campaign.”
Here’s what I’m wondering: What would a word cloud created from your presentation at a safety meeting tell about what’s important to you? What would such a cloud created from your enthusiastic “back –to-school” orientation reveal about your “emphasis and direction” for the year? How often does the word “safety” actually come up? Do words of caring and compassion for children play a big role? Are their words that are significant because of their absence, and words that demonstrate your strategies when depicted visually that you really hadn’t intended to be prominent?
My web search of “word cloud” tells me there are a lot of tools available for generating a word cloud of written text. Most of them come across as neat ways to create an art form: “You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes”; create something which is “visually stunning.” Others, however, focus on a word cloud as a means of analyzing a speech.
Political campaigns use word clouds to gauge the message they’re sending. Similarly, it could be interesting for each of us who communicates by written or spoken word to occasionally use one of the word cloud generators to see if we are saying what we mean, and are getting across points that are consistent with where we really want our emphases to be.
I think I’ll try it as I prepare for upcoming conferences. Perhaps you’ll consider doing the same for your own presentations. Let me know how/ if it works for you. — Peggy
I recently had the opportunity to visit Guangzhou (Canton) in the People’s Republic of China. Since this isn’t a travel blog I won’t bore you with the usual references to exotic sites and fascinating people. Among the many lasting impressions I will keep is a set of circumstances that are seared into my mind. Near death experiences have a way of doing that.
I’ve experienced countless unsafe modes of transport including Tuk-Tuks in Bangkok, dirt bikes in West Texas, illegal taxis in central Mexico, parachutes in San Diego, and elephants in Chang Mai. However, taxi rides in Guangzhou had the special distinction of bringing me face-to-face with death. As a matter of course, a Cantonese taxi ride involves prolonged periods where the car straddles the lane line. No doubt, in the driver’s mind this increases their options. At any instant they can switch lanes because, after all, they’re already partially in the other lane already. As a result, a taxi ride is frequently an exercise in attacking and defending. Sort of like a perverse fencing match with potentially similar results.
Near misses, in this setting, are extremely common. You would think that after one or two near misses the driver would learn to be a bit more cautious. However, we humans have a unique and amazing ability. We can rationalize and explain away these experiences so that we are more comfortable when we repeat them. This may sound trite and even whiny. However, in any safety sensitive business this is extremely troublesome. In fact, two Georgetown University researchers (Dillon-Merrill & Tinsley) have shown that people who escape near-misses are even more likely to repeat the risky behavior. Unfortunately for many of us, surviving a near miss teaches us how good we are at surviving rather than how close we’ve come to disaster. Each time we miss we become a little more confident and a little less cautious.
There is a reason the FAA defines a near miss as an event where two planes come within a mile of each other. Pilots are required to report these near misses. Were it not for this rule (verified by radar), most professional pilots (like some professional bus drivers) would be too self-confident to report it. More significantly they would be unlikely to change any of their behaviors or procedures. That is, of course, until the near miss isn’t a miss at all.
NOTE: Peggy and Pete will be taking a break for a couple of weeks. We’ll be back early next year to share, discuss, ponder, and laugh in our usual manner. In the wake of the Newtown tragedy we will be keeping our friends and families just a little bit closer during this holiday season. We encourage you to do the same.
I collect egregious stories about bus drivers. I adapt real life situations I learn about to make them teachable moments. In a pinch, I’ll invent a good illustration of a point I want to get across to drivers, attendants, or their supervisors.
It’s with an eerie sense of “how could this happen” that I read, sometimes, headlines or court cases that describe events that I have dramatized, enhanced, or simply put out there as a shocking exaggeration of unacceptable strategies or failings designed to capture my audience’s attention, and stick with them.
I ask you. . .how is it that I continue to read accounts of how a driver or teacher has duct-taped a child? How could each of these headlines (some real, some concocted by me to represent the situation reported) form accurate lead-in’s to media reports of terrible situations:
“Who’s the adult: Driver sprays mace in student’s face”
“Driver disabled camera before mistreating handicapped child”
“Cell phone video captures driver’s cursing”
“Aide is silent while driver takes female student into his own home off-route”
Don’t be afraid of your own ignorance or insecurity. Now that I’m a new resident of KC MO, I’m remembering how great it is to be new, and, therefore, unaware of such things as directions, where to get things, etc. I use my “newness” as a way to ask others what I don’t yet know (such as directions). It’s been a long time since I’ve been truly new at something, and it reminds me how useful it is. For one thing, there’s may be a kind of immunity from offending someone when you preface a question with “I’m sorry I’m new here, so I’d love to know the backstory to your feelings.” It sure beats saying “Where are you coming from?” I’m tempted to “fib” and be a “new” resident for a very long time.
Along those lines, I’ve never had much fear of not knowing in my professional life either, and I recommend it. Transportation supervisors need to buy time to be smart. Don’t be afraid to say to parents, staff etc.: “I will get back to you. Don’t make any changes until you hear from me. If you don’t hear from me in [what period of time] please ask me again.”