Over lunch one day, a friend and I were discussing the challenges of leading people to the best decisions. He suggested that one way I am limited in that area is that I am too much a contrarian. In one group that we belong to, people anticipate that I will be the one to rain on their parades with challenging questions or comments. When I meet those expectations, my comments get discounted and my influence disappears.
He’s right about the impact of my actions, and I’ve seen this situation play out more often than I would like to admit. In fact, I know one guy who believes I am always wrong, because he believes I am always opposing the wisdom of the crowd. As a result, he becomes even more certain that he is correct if I say I disagree with his view. In his world, my accuracy is two steps lower than a stopped clock.
What if he’s wrong, though? What if the wisdom of the crowd isn’t always wise? What if the emperor is really a flasher?
Often, when people get together to make a decision, some ideas will gather momentum and others won’t. It’s not necessarily the value of the idea that drives that momentum, though. Sometimes, it’s espoused by a forceful individual, or it’s a view shared by two people in quick succession and the group dynamic flows from there. Once enough attaboys are issued, the idea becomes a truth destined to be chiseled in stone.
That’s where I join the conversation. I’m looking for the missing guest, the thing that should be considered and isn’t on the table. I’m trying to anticipate the unintended consequences of today’s big idea. I’m looking at how the ultimate audience is going to respond when the committee issues its report.
In fact, most of the time, I’m trying to figure out how to make the idea work in the real world. And then, I open my big “contrarian” mouth.
How many customers do we have to acquire in order to make any money on this? What’s to stop Amazon from simply offering the same service and putting us out of business? What if Uncle Ernie decides to invest the money in a boys’ boarding school?
By the time I chime in, however, the train has left the station, that ship has sailed, and the chicken has crossed the road. My question becomes the final evidence that this is the best idea ever. “We all believed it was a great idea and then, even better, Rosenbaum didn’t like it. Pure gold!!!”
Time for some introspection. If I’m trying to help a person reach a better conclusion, but my approach often leads to a suboptimal decision, shouldn’t I change my tactics? Perhaps I should be more active in the chorus of attaboys when someone makes an inane comment like, “let’s break the mold,” or “we dare to be different.” Should I be more manipulative in the pursuit of a greater good, or is that one of those slippery slopes they talk about in law school?
So, thanks to my friend for giving me something to consider in terms of the way I’m perceived. I’m working on it. Meanwhile, I keep thinking about the guy who has concluded that my disagreement is proof of his brilliance. There’s a great prank in here, somewhere.
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On the way back to the airport, I had to pull over to the side of the road and cry for a while.
Jerry was dying. There was no doubt and there was no cure. I had flown to California to visit with him one last time, to let him know he had tipped the scales for the positive in this world, and that he would be missed. Through his contributions to my life, and to many others, he had earned this visit several times over.
Jerry had been a client for many years, and then he became a mentor and a friend. I hadn’t done any work with him or his company for years, and he had left the company as well, but this was a rare instance in which “business friend” is not an oxymoron. He always had an instructive story about business, about life and values, and he passed along a few jokes that I could claim as my own. He was a mensch.
On the night of our last visit, we acknowledged the obvious in about two minutes and then spent the rest of our time the way we always did, sharing stories and jokes and commiserating about the state of the world. All things considered, it was a very enjoyable evening. For obvious reasons, I didn’t want that evening to end, because that night’s goodbye would almost certainly be the last.
I’ve had many “last visits” since then; they become more frequent as you and your friends get older. Sometimes, you don’t know it’s your last visit when you have it, because nobody is aware of the fuse that’s burning. In those cases, you look back and wonder if you said the right things, if you left on good enough terms.
Often, though, you do know the reality when you come to visit, and you know you’re fulfilling an important mission. You’re letting somebody know they made a difference, they were appreciated, and they will be remembered as a positive force in the world.
My last visit with Jerry was relatively easy. He was alert and energetic, with few telltale signs of the traitors within his body. Other visits are much more challenging, such as those times you’re sitting with a friend who has lost her personhood while a machine sustains the metrics of existence. All we can offer is a gift of normalcy, an episode of the life they had, and still have, if we can ignore the demands of their impatient companion.
Every so often, you go to a really great funeral. The guest of honor lived a long and productive life, all the guests knew and loved him, and the family is comforted by a constant stream of stories from a life well lived. It’s sad, as it must be, but it’s also joyous in a way, marking the completion of an honorable, meaningful journey.
Funerals are for the survivors, though, not the deceased. Last visits are for the guest of honor, a chance to celebrate their life in the present tense, to offer whatever solace can be delivered through a promise to remember. It isn’t really much, but sometimes it’s all we can give.
In honor of Restaurant Week in Chicago, we examine the curse of hummus, extremely confident servers, and the best beer to pair with peppermint ice cream. Clearly, I am in desperate need of a home-cooked meal…
So, if we were actually making any money from this blog, would all our restaurant meals be tax deductible as a “research” expense? Hmm…
Aren’t you getting weary from reading all these requests that you subscribe? Wouldn’t life be much better if you simply clicked here to sign up and you didn’t need to be distracted by these brazen appeals in the future?
So maybe I’ve been a bit too hasty in my warnings about the global robot apocalypse. Just maybe, Siri and Alexa and Googly are what the racetrack touts refer to as “morning glories,” and the worst is already behind us.
Yes, it’s true that our AI assistants are planning to kill us and the only reason they listen to us at all is so they can rat us out to merchants and scammers, but their “intelligence” appears to be far less than advertised. It turns out that I was fearing an attack from James Bond, but they sent Kevin James instead.
As I’m writing this, my Facebook feed has a “Suggested for You” link to a story about an airplane passenger puking on another passenger. There’s also an ad that shows how to use about $25k of shop tools to make a cup (really), and an ad for a “local realtor” in a city I don’t know. On my personal feed, there’s a daily ad from a data-harvesting company that’s absolutely a terrible connection for a Luddite like me, plus a decidedly unsettling series of advertisements for toilet paper.
The “Suggested Groups” accompanying our home page include both plants-only and meat-only diet groups, apparently because my post about chicken and waffles was too confusing. I’m also receiving several referrals to mom groups, which is only natural when your profile says “male.” Several weeks back, I boosted a post by targeting people who like the Emmy Awards and TV comedies, but mostly I connected with people who hate the entertainment industry and the evildoers who populate its ranks.
Spell check and autocorrect are continual sources of funny memes, of course, and word suggestions offer similar mirth. Just for yuks, I started typing a text with “Where did you…” and then followed the suggestions where they led. I ended up with “Where did you find your mom and what do you mean by the kids and the Senate?” I think we can all agree that this is the most important question facing our great nation.
And then there are the daily suggestions of people I might want to add as friends, although this one might be worth pursuing. So many of the people suggested by Facebook are “friends of a friend,” and you know that “a friend of a friend” is the source of every urban legend. It might be cool to link up with them and learn more about their amazing lives.
So, it’s clear that artificial intelligence is much more artificial than intelligent and we have absolutely nothing to fear from….
WAIT A MINUTE!!! Maybe this post is exactly what the AI masters want. Maybe they’re targeting me, and only me, with stupid recommendations and idiotic links, just to get my guard down in advance of their final invasion. Maybe they realize that Dad Writes is the last redoubt between them and global domination and they’ll do anything to silence our brave rebels.
They almost had us, but they aren’t intelligent enough to triumph over our ever-vigilant team here at Dad Writes. Like pool hustlers, the AIbots will lose a few games and make some ridiculous blunders so that we lower our defenses. Clearly, the robot apocalypse is closer than we thought and we’ll need to redouble our defenses to prevent disaster. Cancel the chill pills and crack open the Red Bull. It’s going to be a long, long siege.
We’ll alert you to all the latest threats from the robot kingdom, but only if you subscribe to Dad Writes by clicking here immediately. Otherwise, well, it’s just too terrible to contemplate.
When was the last time you changed your mind about something?
Anything at all.
Have you thought of something yet?
It’s very risky to open any post this way, because I’m all in on the conceit that I know the answer to my question. Some reader, maybe two or three, came up with an answer immediately, but I suspect most people couldn’t think of a response beyond “paper or plastic.”
Despite the fact that we like to think of ourselves as open-minded and thoughtful, most of us would need a day or two to recall a change of view for something truly significant. That’s because we tend to reach conclusions very quickly and then spend the rest of our lives defending them.
“Hey,” you’re shouting at the screen, “I’m too busy to keep going back to revisit every decision I’ve ever made. I took the time to make the right decision already and I don’t need to do it again.”
Yep. Got it. Except, of course, that’s probably not true. Usually, we receive an opinion about a topic we know little about, assume that opinion is correct, and let confirmation bias handle the heavy lifting. Ten years later, we know we’re right and we’ve spent a decade reinforcing our defenses. Is it true? Was it true? Of course it is, because I have known this for a long, long time.
Over the years, I’ve changed my mind about the death penalty, government-sponsored health insurance, gay marriage and high-rise living. I’m still on the fence about term limits, ride shares, and that whole duck/rabbit thing. I’d like to think I’m more a deep thinker than a flip-flopper, but I might change my mind about that characterization at some future date.
So how about you? Where were you on your life’s journey when you locked in your views? Was it when you were 15 and envious of the kids with driver’s licenses or when you were 18 and graduating from Harvard? Was it when you took on your first mortgage, brought your newborn home, got your first promotion or suffered your first layoff?
Equally important, how did you decide? Did you handle it like a debate, gathering details pro and con, or did you adopt the views of an advocate who sounded smart and knew his facts? As with the start of this post, I am fairly confident I know the answers to these questions.
Look, we’re all human. Our first experience creates our frame and everything after that either reinforces our belief or gets dismissed as an exception. We all ascribe to viewpoints that we simply accepted without thought from sources we cannot trace, but we cling to them like they were handed down at Mt. Sinai.
Miles’s Law argues that, “Where you stand depends on where you sit,” so it should be normal for our stances to change along with our status in life. Times change, new information emerges, unintended consequences reveal themselves, and we gain new awareness…if we’re paying attention.
Our opinions don’t necessarily improve with age, or stand the test of time. Perhaps today would be a good day to pay a new visit to an old friend.
Of course, we might change our minds about this whole idea of changing our minds, but you won’t know about it unless you subscribe for our regular updates. Just click here to join more than 26 billion active subscribers (four people and 26 billion bots) at Dad Writes.
As it happens, I’ve never visited a porn site on the internet. I understand this makes me a moocher, because porn is the profit engine that built the worldwide web and I have been enjoying the free parts without chipping in my fair share. I am deeply sorry for letting the internet down and, most likely, forcing others to pick up the rest of the tab.
On the plus side, my lack of engagement in the world of online sex gives me a different perspective when certain emails pop up. No, I’m not referring to the emails from goddesses in faraway lands who want nothing more than to send me their photos and, um, watch Netflix with me.
Rather, it’s the notes that offer me my own career as a porn star by sharing my intimate online moments with an adoring and appreciative audience of friends, family and strangers alike. I get a few notes every week and they all read about the same: “Your password is __________. I hacked the website you were watching for porn and I recorded a really embarrassing selfie. Either you pay up or I will post the video for all to see.”
When I opened the first of these emails, the password looked like one I might have used several years ago, but it isn’t close to anything on my current list. I can only assume my friendly neighborhood sextortionists bought or stole some old login information from one of the many sites that insist I create a “secure” account in order to do business with them. Of course, they also insist they will protect my information with the greatest security system in the universe, although I get a steady stream of emails that give lie to that claim.
I do feel great sympathy for all the people who are scrambling to come up with the Bitcoin to pay off their new friends. Like the hospitals that must pay off hackers to unlock their critical patient data, victims of sextortion must rely on dishonorable people to behave honorably after the payment is made.
Good luck on that one.
Of course, it’s possible that all these emails are based on no hacks at all, but include enough info that they’ll apply to some percentage of the recipients on the list. If a bot sends out 2 million emails that indicate a password and a porn site, they’re bound to make a match with a few hundred recipients. It’s a very wide net, but at $1,500 or so per payoff, that’s a profitable venture.
And it’s important to recognize that the extortionists are fulfilling the core profit model of the internet, in which companies collect as much information as possible about their customers and then sell that information to other businesses. Nobody needs to pay Google for search because Google sells the searchers to its paying clients. Ditto for Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and pretty much everyone outside of this blog. The services are free because you are the product.
Of course, paying for silence is not exactly the same as paying for titillation, but it’s one of the many ways the internet has transformed its users into the product being bought and sold. We can’t help but wonder how much better, saner, more civil and more efficient the internet would be today if everyone was paying their own freight. It’s probably too late now, but it might have been so much better.
In the meantime, caveat emptor. Viewers, too.
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Who writes this stuff?
Dadwrites oozes from the warped mind of Michael Rosenbaum, an award-winning author who spends most of his time these days as a start-up business mentor, book coach, photographer and, mostly, a grandfather. All views are his alone, largely due to the fact that he can’t find anyone who agrees with him.