Saturday, April 28, 2012

Lasting Love


I read an article not long ago titled "The Seven Secrets of Lasting Love" in which "experts reveal the keys to a long, happy, healthy marriage" and found it interesting, if not enlightening. Here are the seven secrets as they listed them:
1. Have realistic expectations
2. Sweat the small stuff
3. Consider yourselves a team
4. Accentuate the positive
5. Remember the little things
6. Have friendships with both sexes
7. Spend time apart

I'm not sure these are actually secrets, but they may be unremembered when the bad times roll around.

1. Have realistic expectations
I certainly agree that you need to have realistic expectations, in marriage but also in life. I have expectations for myself, most of them much higher than Darling has for me (thank goodness). I try to meet these personal goals, but quite often I am only moderately successful. Still, I try. I guess the current MBA term for these would be stretch goals.
I learned long ago not to set goals for other people, not to put expectations on them. Unless I am the team lead or the boss then I am not responsible for other people setting and meeting goals. I am certainly not responsible for other people setting their own personal goals.
For life, do the opposite
2. Sweat the small stuff
I also agree that you need to sweat the small stuff, to some degree. Marriages do not dissolve from differences in political ideologies but because someone squeezes the toothpaste tube from the middle instead of the bottom. If something about your partner irritates you then you need to say something. I know very few mind readers, and most of those are not consistent. Do not expect your partner to read your mind, or read your body language, or just know that something is bothering you. Talk. That's why you have a mouth. Be nice, but point out when something bothers you.
On the other hand, if your partner really has a problem with something you do, pay attention. Try to change, or at least come up with a compromise.
3. Consider yourselves a team
You are still an individual, but as a married couple you are a team. The needs of the team must always be considered, even before your own needs.
Whoops! That hit some people right between the eyes, didn't it?
C'mon, you work together - as a team - to define the actions that will take you - as a team - to where you want to be. That is a good thing for both of you, and enhances you as an individual. When you put your own needs ahead of the team needs then things get out of whack and you get the added disadvantage of hurting your partner. After all, they have needs too. When they feel that they are putting all their own needs on hold for the benefit of the team, and you are not, then feelings get hurt.
This is your partner, somebody you loved enough to date and marry. Why would you want to hurt their feelings?
4. Accentuate the positive
This is a key point, so pay attention. When you look for the bad, you can certainly find it. You didn't do that when you were dating, so why are you doing it now?
Not only should you look for the positive in your partner, you need to keep an eye on the positive in your own life. An easy avenue leading to deep depression is to look at all your faults and failings and then live up to them.
When you are helping each other emphasize the positive aspects in your lives, then the positive aspects of being together naturally come to the forefront.
5. Remember the little things
You bought her chocolates when you were dating her, right? And remember the little notes she left on your car? Those are still important.
I wouldn't have said to remember the little things, but I would have said to keep working on your relationship, keep making the other person feel special. Everyone needs to feel special and if you aren't making your partner feel special they will look for someone else to make them feel special.
Keep saying please and thank you. Politeness is so underrated in today's society that it makes me cringe. I even hear friends say mean things to each other. They say it is all in good fun, but some part of each of us hears the words, not the intent. I knew a couple where the husband spoke badly to his wife almost constantly, insulting her and calling her names. She just smiled and said it was his nature, but that's really no excuse. Bad manners are bad, and they aren't funny.
This can only end badly
6. Have friendships with both sexes
They say that this is a good way to refresh your mental state, to feel special without a physical relationship.
I disagree with this one to a great degree, but I'm sure my personal history colors my opinion. I was not the best husband, so my first wives were susceptible to the charming flattering of male friends. In the first case it worked out okay for her and they are still married.
I think that you can have friends of both sexes, but they should certainly be shared friends, and the relationships should always be stronger with the person of the same sex. If you start getting too close to a friend of the other sex, it's time to back off and evaluate what you're doing.
Compromise? I think so!
7. Spend time apart
This isn't a bad idea, but I don't agree with the extent they carry the advice. Their examples include taking separate vacations. I can't go that far. My first wife took a vacation without me, with some friends of ours. There are some stories of that trip, but let's just say she had a marvelous time. That vacation did not do anything to bring us together.
If one of you likes to take a nap by the pool and the other wants to zip-line over forested canyons, find some compromise. Find the time to do both. It lets the napping one have something cool to dream about and lets the adventurous one rest from exertion.
I'm not saying that you need to be joined at the hip. Time by yourself or with friends while your partner stays home or takes a nap or goes to dinner with a friend is not a bad thing. I'm gone long enough each day without Darling so that coming home is still a treat to me. (Hopefully it is for her too!)
So spending time apart isn't a bad idea, but not a week of vacation without your partner. It is more important in your life to spend time together! Find something you like to do together, and do it.

So those were the seven secrets, and they aren't really secrets at all. I'm not even sure there are seven that I agree with. They are worth thinking about.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Systems: Tragedy of the Commons

The Tragedy of the Commons
One for all - that way is best.
Take what I need and leave the rest.
The commons had what we could take.
They overlooked a key mistake.

I did not need the golden ring,
or any other golden thing.
But they enhanced my mental health,
and raised my group's entire wealth.

Now they say there's not enough.
Some took too much of all that stuff.
The commons theory, well, it's done.
Not one for all, but all for one!

Tragedy of the Commons is recognized as far back as the writings of Thucydides and Aristotle (really! - see the Wikipedia). Basically the problem is that individuals take care of their own property and view their own interests ahead of property that is held in common or shared interest.
Go all the way back to early village agricultural days and see how the example works. Some of the villagers have cows. Since everyone in the town benefits directly or indirectly from the cows (they get the milk or buy the milk, for example, not to mention the fertilizer!) the town sets aside a small field for the farmers to put their cows in. Now, at first, all is good. Farmer A and Farmer B each have a single cow and the field is pretty large, so there's plenty of grazing available. Everyone is pretty content. The field takes little or no maintenance, I have to point out.
Then each farmer gets a calf, so now each has two cows on the common field. There is still no problem, since the field can support the four pretty well, although Farmer B brings a bale of hay once in a while and tosses it in the field. Since he only brings the occasional bale, he doesn't care about the cost or if Farmer A's cows eat the hay too.
Farmer A, however, is a clever and industrious fellow. He sees opportunity and buys two more cows and puts them in the field. Pretty soon the field is overgrazed and the cows of Farmer A are eating most of the bales that Farmer B drops off. On top of that, Farmer A is making twice as much money from the milk and produce as Farmer B.
You can see how this works. You might think this could become an Escalation Archetype (and it might, if it comes to blows between the Farmers) but there is an inherent limit to what the field can produce and how many cows it can support. A common resource becomes pillaged by individuals who are maximizing their own gain, regardless of the common good.
In fact, this is the basis for why true socialism fails ("From each according to his ability, and to each according to his need."). It is a fine theory, but in practice takes something that most of us lack - a true sense of altruism. I've always addressed socialism this way: in theory it is a perfect system, but in practice it takes perfect people. It just can't happen here.
The Causal Loop Diagram
From Wikipedia, of course
If you thought Escalation looked bad, this should make you bury your head in your pillow. In this diagram both Farmer A and Farmer B figure out they should add cows to the field. Neither wants to add support to the grazing, so the natural resource limit (grazing capacity) eventually ruins the Commons for both of them, and pretty rapidly.
That was the classic example, but there are examples more appropriate for our current world (unless you have some cows grazing on public land, I suppose). Here's one that might hit closer to home for some people.
Friends of mine had a favorite fishing spot in one of the local lakes. For years they've been going there, successfully pulling in a nice quota of fish and enjoying themselves. The trick is that they didn't tell anybody where the spot was.
But somebody else did.
As soon as word got around, boats regularly anchored and fishermen from everywhere began to fish the spot. Before too long the spot was fished out.
This happens in the oceans too, doesn't it? Or the coal mines? Or the oil wells? Except that in coal mines and oil wells there is no system of natural replenishment. There is a fixed resource limit.
The behavior over time is not too complicated for this archetype either.
The benefit of the Commons increases for each group until, ultimately, the benefit disappears for everyone.
We actually see something similar in the world of MMORPG gaming, like World of Warcraft™ (now FREE to play up to level 20! - I had to do that). The main difference is that the "Commons" is owned and operated by an individual company.
I think back to the earlier days playing WoW, though, and remember when we used to try to logon and play and there would be a wait time to get onto the server! WoW had a certain number of servers available to the players and the popularity of the game took off faster than they could meet demand. I played. I got my friends and family to play. Eventually the servers were so busy that none of us could play!
There was a technical fix for that problem. Blizzard™ spent some money and provided more and faster servers to meet demand. Essentially, they expanded the Commons so the resource limitation was avoided.
We do see this problem somewhere else in the United States, though. Workers for decades contribute money to Social Security. As workers retire they get to draw from this common pool of money so they are not destitute in their old age. The problem is that the common pool is now "overgrazed" and cannot support the people drawing from it.
So now a real tragedy looms, and the government is afraid to deal with it directly. That will take us to another system archetype, though.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Systems: Escalation Archetype

Escalation Archetype
You know you did it. Yes, you do.
You hit me hard. I hit you too.
Then you hit me with your fist.
I almost laughed, since you almost missed.

I cracked your head with a brick.
You smacked me hard with a stick.
There wasn't much that I could do.
I found a branch and hit you too.

Then you hit me with your car.
I limped away but not too far.
I found a truck and went for you.
But you were gone, and we were through.

Of all the system archetypes I see escalation most often. I talk about it so much that escalation has even become dinner table talk. Darling recognized the signs in a conversation we had with another couple a few nights ago. "Ah," she said, "that's Escalation Archetype."
As I previously posted, to fully understand an archetype, you should know the behavior to expect, and (since we're talking about systems), you should at least look at a causal loop diagram.
The Causal Loop Diagram

Grabbed this right from Wikipedia
Scare you?
Causal diagrams can be frightening, but they are always composed of simple elements. Each of the above circles represents Action and Reaction or Cause and Effect. Actions in one group cause reaction in the other group at the intersection. The plus signs indicate the behavior is increasing, a negative sign indicates the behavior is decreasing.
In real life, escalation is much simpler. I have two favorite examples, the first is illustrated by the poem. One boy hits another, who hits back harder. The first boy finds a better weapon and hits even harder. Eventually the conflict escalates out of control (hence, escalation).
My other example is closer to home. We have two air conditioners, one for downstairs and one for upstairs. Last winter the air conditioner for the upstairs was set at seventy degrees. So was the heater downstairs. We have an open floor concept. Some of you can see this one coming.
As the heater for the downstairs brought the temperature up, the warm air rose. Even though we were only getting close to seventy downstairs, the upstairs became very warm, moving to the mid-seventies. Of course, the air conditioner for upstairs turned on and tried to cool the area off. This cold air flowed down the stairs and through the railings and chilled the downstairs area.
The heater worked harder to warm everything up. The air conditioner worked  harder to cool everything down. Both my gas and electric bills soared.
Escalation Archetype! The only way to resolve it was to get one of the two competing factors to quit. We turned off the upstairs air conditioner once we discovered the problem.
You can probably deduce the behavior over time.
Right. The behavior simply gets steadily worse for both parties.
Escalation can also work in reverse, and most people know that behavior as a downward spiral. We can see that at work in a depression/drug spiral. In that case, you feel depressed, so you take drugs to feel better. When the drugs wear off, things aren't better, but are worse - after all, you just spent money on drugs and you could have used that money for something better, like pickles. So now you're more depressed, and you take more drugs. This is a downward spiral due to destructive behavior, and another example of escalation archetype (but in reverse).
The only way to halt escalation is for one of the two parties to quit competing. Since it is, by nature, a competitive system, it's often a good idea to analyze the actual behaviors causing the conflict. Can you find the key factors? Can you mitigate them? In the best of worlds, you might even be able to find a larger goal where you are working together.
Joe and Bob both live in the same town and make hand-crafted guitars. People like the guitars, but inevitably choose the less expensive (since Joe and Bob both make quality guitars!). So Joe drops his price to get more business. Bob drops his price. Pretty soon they are both eating dandelion salad and they can't kick back and have a barbecue on Saturdays because they are both so broke.
Bob's wife is annoyed, so she and Joe's wife get together and contact a large company who handles hand-crafted guitars and sells them all over the world. They contract for a set price for each guitar and the problem is solved. Joe and Bob make the same amount and now they have barbecue on Saturdays together.
Except Bob is staying up later and making more guitars than Joe. Then Joe finds out and he starts staying up later…
You should get the idea.

Monday, April 16, 2012

System Archetypes

I really like systems, and of all the courses I took to get my Master's in Studies of the Future from UHCL and Dr. Peter Bishop, the study of systems was my favorite. What Dr. Bishop said at the beginning of class was prophetic. "Once you learn about systems, you start seeing them everywhere."
I do see them everywhere. I even did a study, my very favorite paper for class, to see if they were everywhere! Okay, they aren't, but they sure feel like it. (Do you get the sense that I run my life by feelings?)
There exists a collection of System Archetypes which help show patterns of behavior that occur frequently in life. An archetype is defined as an original model you can use as the basis for an analysis. (That's a little clunky - go look it up here.)
The ten standard System Archetypes are (in my own order):
Tragedy of the Commons
Success to the Successful
Accidental Adversaries
Shifting the Burden
Limits to Growth (aka Limits to Success)
Eroding Goals
Fixes that Fail
Growth and Underinvestment

Each archetype is characterized by its distinctive causal loop diagram and a behavior over time chart. Find the right archetypical pattern for your problem and you can apply known solutions to the problem.
There are hundreds or thousands of web sites dedicated to explaining systems and system archetypes, but I plan to tackle these ten also, in an upcoming series on Ten System Archetypes. The preliminary order is shown above, with my favorites displayed first. I'll grab the causal loop diagrams from Wikipedia when I put it all together. I don't have any tools right now to do nice loops.
As I add these pages, I'll come back here and link them to the list above.
I'll add my own distinctive touch, of course. I'll try to find a joke that displays the archetype characteristics. I also plan to do a poem for each. Here's a preview, the poem for the Escalation archetype:

Escalation Archetype
You know you did it. Yes, you do.
You hit me hard. I hit you too.
Then you hit me with your fist.
I almost laughed, since you almost missed.

I cracked your head with a brick.
You smacked me hard with a stick.
There wasn't much that I could do.
I found a branch and hit you too.

Then you hit me with your car.
I limped away but not too far.
I found a truck and went for you.
But you were gone, and we were through.

I'm excited about them.

Project Management

Project management seems like the next big thing.
For a while it was LEAN and LEAN Six Sigma, a combination of LEAN and Six Sigma, which are both process management/improvement disciplines. In 2007 I actually took the Green Belt courses in LEAN Six Sigma from Villanova U. I learned a lot, mostly terminology. A lot of it is common sense, which isn't common. Process improvement is still very important, though I'd venture to say that most of the low-hanging fruit is already plucked. That means improvements are harder now than they were.
I'm interested in Project Management, so I joined the Project Management Institute (PMI). Anybody can join, evidenced by the fact that they let me in. I thought about becoming certified, a Project Management Professional (PMP), but I don't meet the requirements for the official certification. I'll get to that in a bit.
Still, I took the company classes. Taught by PMP volunteers in the company the information is a vast storehouse of managing projects. The PMI did a lot of work on definitions and terminology, and knowledge of that information is vital to passing the sanctioned PMP exam.
Now, for historical purposes, let me back up a little. In the mid through late 1990s I worked on a very large computer project for my previous company. I discovered project management then, and worked hard to become proficient at the ins and outs of managing a project well and efficiently. At the time the plant used a DEC VAX mainframe and DEC was kind enough to lend us a beta version of their project management software. I don't think that software ever really took off for them, but I used it to the best advantage of working on our project.
Fast forward a bit more than a decade and I use project management a little here at work and certainly use it when we are working on developing apps for Undefined Logic, LLC. I do not, however, use it enough to legitimately claim the requisite 4500 hours of experience over the last eight years.
There is a path. Take it.
So I didn't take the exam. But I learned a lot. I'm planning to do a series on Project Management, partly to convey the information and partly to capture it for my future. After all, you never know…

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Courage

I heard the song Courageous by Casting Crowns on my way to work this morning. the background singers caught my ear during the chorus. They chanted "seek justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God" which is from Micah 6:8, and one of my first posts in this blog, A Single Verse to Live By.  I didn't know it was called the Micah Mandate at the time.
"We were made to be courageous" is a main line in the song. It got me thinking about all the times in the Bible that God tells us to be courageous. "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." Joshua 1:9.
Fear is a major driver in the lives of people. I should make it personal. I fear failure, so I usually avoid trying to do things that are really hard. I aim squarely for mediocrity, and I succeed. Well, I'm at least mediocre at it.
Some people are afraid to be afraid. Crazy risks, deeds of derring-do, acts of rebellion simply to prove they aren't afraid, but it simply highlights the fact that they fear to be themselves, to acknowledge common sense and rationality. It takes courage to acknowledge reasonable fear.
Many, many people are afraid to be themselves. They hide behind drugs, alcohol, and obsessive/compulsive behaviors. It's hard to look at yourself and agree with the flaws. It takes courage to be transparent.
I've seen acts of courage. My friend Tim died the most courageous man I ever knew, smiling at me the last time I saw in him in the hospital. When Angie died she was courageous, and so were her husband and young daughter, who are still courageous now that Angie is gone. People in the Cancer Center are fantastically courageous. I can't even get my head around that strength.
The people in Rwanda, Africa, members of the churches planted by my dear friend and hero Bishop Pastor Muhoza Lewi, are all courageous. They face trials daily simply to survive, trials that I cannot even fathom. I was inconvenienced that I couldn't find a Big Mac over there. I was totally distraught that I couldn't find pickles.
There is courage everywhere, but I notice that the most courageous realize a couple things.
1. Life has no guarantees. We choose our own attitudes.
2. Control is an illusion. We have no control, except in how to react to life.
3. We are spiritual beings in a physical world. Even Yoda knew this, but it's harder for real people to get a grip on it. " Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter."
When I was young, maybe tenth grade, I wrote the following for an assignment: Courage, not measured by the courageous, but by onlookers. True courage, though, seems rare to me.
Of course I could be wrong. Maybe courage isn't as rare as I think. It takes courage to be wrong, too.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Single Word

I originally titled this "The Final Word" but it sounded too much like my last post. I've missed posting on schedule lately, but I'm not done. Life has just been - dramatic - lately. So this isn't my last blog post, even though my two readers might not even miss me.
Last night we had dinner with some close friends and they introduced us to another nice couple they knew. During the conversation this couple mentioned that before she died her mother got to the point where she could only say one word. It wasn't clear whether she seemed to have conversational abilities and was just locked into that single word or whether communication was totally beyond her. But it was clear she had only one word, which she used to express her entire state of existence.
For her that word was Sunday.
Well, it might have been sundae - I didn't ask for spelling, and I'm not sure whether they knew the answer to that question anyway. Perhaps it never even occurred to them that she might be referring to dessert rather than the first calendar day of the week.
I was stunned into silence (and everyone noticed). "Well," I had to say, "I'm wondering what one word I would want, if I could only have one…"
I sort of expected a lively discussion after that opening, but there were no takers. I guess that isn't surprising. Our new friends have dealt with the concept for a long time, so it isn't something for them to ponder. Of our close friends, she has a mind like daVinci, full of clever mechanisms and building concepts - a natural genius actually. He has a mind that can catch a tune in mid-air and bring it to life on the piano, a genius with melody. Darling, of course, thinks in pictures and brilliant colors, different hues of sunrise and sunset, a genius in lines and colors. My abilities seem particularly affected by words.
Was it Sunday, the day, or sundae, the dessert? I don't suppose it matters.
When I said I wondered what my one word would be, my buddy sincerely hoped it would be a nice word, with some justification. I wasn't in the best of moods, and my dark mind could easily conjure an injurious or inglorious word to use as my final verbal tool in this world. I was hoping I'd have some control over the choice and it would be a nice word too.
That conversation died. But I continued to ponder what single word I'd want to have with me, my only means of communicating with loved ones and with the people who might decide to torture me in my invalid state. After all, I had to consider both possibilities.
Words floated around me as I slept last night. I was tortured with vowels and consonants. Not-so-nice words battered at the kinder, gentler mono and multi-syllabic versions of my persona.
What word could I use to convey my depths of despair and my heights of joy? A single, simple word to protect me from the world and link me to loved ones? Sunday wasn't looking too bad in comparison to some other options.
Then the word came to me, as I drove to work this morning.
If I had to be left with a single word in my life, I'd want it to be…

>> Hallelujah.