Opinions And Ramblings By Adam Kmiec On All Things

Category Archives: Misc.

What I Missed In Social Media

House, M.D. Quote

It’s been nearly 7 months since I gave up social media cold turkey. Every year I take on 3 challenges and one of this year’s three was giving up social media. The decision was ultimately quite easy. Towards the end of 2017 my social media feed and morphed into a cesspool of political posts, complaints and anger. That’s not what made social media fun, interesting or satisfying. Heck, even, Facebook admitted social had gone off the rails.

At the start of July, this year, as I was working on my mid-year analysis of my 2018 predictions, I decided to log back into Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Swarm to see if I had been missing anything. To be clear, while I have been completely off the platforms, I do log in to Facebook Messenger when I receive a message and LinkedIn to accept requests and respond to messages. With that out of the way, the real question of course was, had I been missing out on anything of substance? The short answer, no.

However, there’s a much longer answer that provides more nuance and specificity. Let me start with the broad strokes.

  1. There wasn’t anything happening on social media that I wasn’t learning about from someone or someplace else. For example, person A started a new job. I got a text from person B asking me if I’d heard that person A got a new job. Person C got a new dog. Heard about it from person C, in person. Person D, went on a trip to location Z. I heard about it from person E.
  2. News still traveled, but it traveled slower. Apps like Apple News and Flipboard are great aggregators of news and information, but they’re delayed in providing updates. Twitter, in particular, is lightning fast and I would say of all the social platforms, the one I miss the most.
  3. Of the things I was missing out on, after re-engaging for a few days, I’m glad I missed out on them. Social media has an ability to turn everything into a tempest in a teapot. We see the very best in humanity, but also the very worst.

So, it’s fair to say, I didn’t really miss out on anything, but it’s also fair to say the absence of social media from my day slowed down the speed of information and altered the impact of information because of how I was learning about it. Seeing a photo of someone’s 1st house is different than hearing they bought a house.

My two weeks back in social, as a lurker, confirmed a few basic rules about social media that I’d become lax on.

  1. Garbage in, Garbage Out: What you see in your social media feed is directly tied to what and who you follow. If you follow a person who Instagrams 50X a day about how they run every day and lust to travel all the time, guess what? Yep, your feed is going to be taken over by photos and videos of running and travel photos. If you follow political zealots, you can’t complain about the multitude of “the sky is falling” tweets or status updates.
  2. As Gregory House once said, “People don’t change. They just become more of who they really are.” Social media is a mirror, megaphone and magnifying glass. If there was ever a thought that things might change in the 6 months I was off social media, within the 1st 10-minutes, it was clear what a misguided thought that was. This isn’t necessarily bad. If there’s a person who generally shared photos of their family trips, it was likely that’s exactly what they’re still sharing. Conversely, if you’re the person who takes the approach of, let me share with you slices of my life that make it seem that I have the most amazing life ever…it’s pretty much unlikely that’s going to change in 6 months. Thus, if you’re expecting people to change, it’s a fool’s errand and you only have yourself to blame for expecting people to do so.

On the whole, dropping social media has been more good than bad. I’m happier, less frustrated and certainly more engaged in the moment. There’s a certain freedom that comes from not having to wonder how to best Instagram this meal…before I eat it. Now, I just eat.

It’s Been A While

Getty

Wow! Is it May already? It’s been nearly 3 months without an update/post. It’s certainly not for lack of things going on and thoughts worth sharing. But, this ‘digital detox‘ has a way of making you think less and less about the internet and more about just enjoying the moment. I’ll have a full update in June about how the digital detox is going, but at a high-level, it’s been easier than I thought it would be. The first few weeks were more challenging. Habits are hard to break. But, by February, I had little interest in social media and I was so much happier without it. Social media had become a dumpster fire of negativity, political views, and social justice warrior-esque reasons to complain. Without all of that in my life, every day, I’m genuinely more energetic, happier and relaxed. I also feel like a bit of a trendsetter. If Facebook is creating this commercial, I’m sure I’m not the only person who decided to get back to a more analog life.

Changing the page, in June, I’ll have my mid-year analysis of my 2018 predictions. But, at first glance, things are looking good. That new crystal ball I purchased on Amazon must be legit.

Some other odds and ends:

  1. I saw Avengers Infinity War, helping to make it a box office success. Although, I’m in the minority when it comes to not being enamored with the film. Too many characters, too many questions, too many plot holes and the ending wasn’t my cup of tea.
  2. Also saw, finally, Blade Runner 2049. While it performed poorly at the box office, by every metric it was critically acclaimed. I second all the people who gave it a high rating. Stellar performances across the board, beautiful (albeit at times, dark) scenery and a plot with so much subtext you need time at the end to really think about what it all meant.
  3. Nichole started a new role at Riley Hayes and also decided she wants to run her first 5K. I’ve been training her since January. That’s always a dicey proposition, but I’m happy to say, the training is paying off and she hasn’t wanted to strangle me (as far as I can tell).
  4. Despite being hit with mountains upon mountains of snow this winter, I resisted the temptation of purchasing a snowblower. I actually find shoveling to be therapeutic. I put in the earbuds, listen to a podcast and get to work.
  5. Had a gift card to the Verizon store. Used it on a pair of Apple AirPods. I’m not a fan. Good sound quality, not great. They fall out to easy for me to consider using while working out, biking, etc. I will say, however, the pairing with Apple devices is as seamless as it gets, the battery life is very good and the packaging is genius. Having the case also be a charge was incredibly wise.
  6. I joined the Instant Pot revolution. No pun intended, but while they’re much better than the old school pressure cookers, they’re not fully baked. That said, when it works well, it makes a world of difference in flavor and meat tenderness. For the record, I ordered the Instant Pot Ultra.
  7. John and Cora wrapped up Winter basketball with mixed results. This was their first year playing in Woodbury. To say that the same small town politics I grew up in the 80s and 90s are still alive, would be an understatement. I actually had a player’s mom come up to me after a game to lecture me about John. He’s a 3rd grader. He had to try out for the 4th-grade team he’s playing on. The mom of a 4th grader on his team was none too happy that John was playing up and taking minutes away from her son. She said, clearly, “He doesn’t belong here. He should be playing with his own kind.” Stunning to say the least.
  8. The kids are headed to the FC Barcelona USA soccer camp this Summer, in Atlanta, Georgia. I’m excited for them to learn from a different class of instructors and to train against talent from all over the country. I’m also incredibly thankful that UnitedHealth Group has such a progressive philosophy for remote working. I’ll be working out of our Atlanta office that week. Without that type of flexibility, it would have been very difficult for John and Cora to attend.
  9. Two years ago I decided to get into soccer and in doing so, I picked Manchester City as my club. Wow, that was a smart choice. After a meh first year where we came away with no trophies, this year we set the world on fire. We broke records left and right while dominating the Premier League. On top of that we won the English League cup. We were a questionable red card away from most likely going on to win the FA Cup. And, we made it to the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League tournament. The kids and I had our first early morning pub viewing experience when we watched City best Manchester United at Brit’s Pub. I’ll always remember John yelling at a United supporter, “You spent $100M on that? On that?”, after a total whiff by Romelu Lukaku. What a year/season. Soccer truly is global and it’s helped me connect with team members at work and random strangers. As global as it is, it’s also incredibly local. This celebration campaign by Manchester City shows that well.
  10. Took the family to Vernon, NJ to celebrate my niece’s 1st birthday. Ahead of the party, we took a tour of Vernon and I showed the kids my old school, the fields I played baseball on and the courts where I learned to ball. John being John, found a ball and then proceeded to shoot and shoot and shoot.

The first 4 months of the year flew by. The list above only scratches the surface. But, I guess when you’re not busy trying to stream your whole life, you have a lot more time to enjoy life.

Add 3 New Things Every Year

Never Stop Learning

A few years back, just after I turned 30, I realized the need to find new ways to refresh my brain. There are several studies that show the how learning new skills like painting, helps fight off Alzheimer’s disease. I wondered if I could apply the concept at an earlier age. I also wondered if the brain could be trained and worked out, like a muscle. There’s a significant amount of data that shows muscles stop improving if you keep training them the same way. The experts call it muscle confusion.

In my first year I took up:

  1. Snowboarding: after years of skiing, I made the switch. This was more than just a challenge. In solidarity with my kids, we were going to take on something new together. They were learning skiing and I promised to fall down with them as I learned snowboarding.
  2. Boxing: still til this day, one of the best workouts you can have. It’s high octane and the sweat is real.
  3. Target Shooting: bought a pistol after a grueling Illinois background check process, took some classes and hit the range.

Over the years this concept of learning and trying 3 new things every year, lead to my new found love of soccer (a success) and my attempt to understand Snapchat (a failure).

This habit has been incredibly rewarding and fun. The pursuit of knowledge acquired from experience can be a lifetime quest.

This year I’m investing my time into 3 areas:

  1. Carbonated Beverages: Pepsi, Red Bull and I have a long-term relationship. At my most recent annual physical, which I passed with flying colors, I asked my doctor what more I could do. He suggested giving up white food, like bread and giving up on sugary carbonated beverages. I said, “Doc, I’m not going to lie. The bread thing ain’t happening.” But, I knew carbonated beverages would just be a battle of willpower. Challenge accepted.
  2. Social Media: In 2018 I’m eliminating all social media from my diet. No Facebook. No twitter. No Instagram. The “connection” I once found through social media barely exists. My feed, once filled with interesting, joyous and meaningful moments has been replaced with partisan politics, the narcissism of the “selfie”, armchair experts and one-upsmanship. I wonder if my health and sanity will be better without it. We’ll see.
  3. Building: I’m not sure what it will be, but I intend to improve upon the horribly designed shelf I made in 6th-grade shop class.

Maybe 3 is too many for you. Maybe 3 is too few. Either way, I highly encourage you to look for new ways of retraining your brain. Not only will you learn something new, you’ll have fun. An easy way to start is to ask your kids, nieces and nephews what they want to see you try. A child’s imagination is second to none.

The Modern Workforce

Work From Home - Image Credit, OboLinx.com

No doubt, the “modern workforce” is changing. We’re seeing a rapid evolution of what it means to “work.” Yes, there are still some salaried industries that rely on coming in by 9, leaving by 5 and taking your negotiated 1-hour lunch break. However, that approach is becoming the exception, not the rule.

Some 10 years back, when I was living in Omaha, Nebraska and working in digital marketing for ConAgra Foods, a senior exec educated me on “office space.” He explained, in a perfect world, the organization would have no office space. Physical space is an incredibly expensive liability on the books. With physical space comes rent, insurance, maintenance, overhead, taxes and a host of other line items. As he explained, if the company cooks fully eliminate its physical space cost, it could reinvest into compensation, R&D and other areas.

Fast forward a few more year’s and I’m at The Campbell Soup Company. Our CIO was light years ahead in thinking. Not only did the concept of world with zero real estate make sense, he argued companies should go a step further and embrace a full being your own device model. BYOD is often used for cell phone. You bring your phone, you pay for the service and the company lets you access your corporate email on the device. He wanted to embrace a concept where the organization would provide the “software”, but the employee brings the hardware. If you want to use a Mac, cool. ChromeBook? Fine. What happens in this model? Well, the cost of the device shifts to to the employee, as does maintenance, repairs, etc. The company wipes a great deal of liability off its books.

As we step into 2018, we’re not just ready for these two concepts to collide, we’re already seeing the value of it. This sponsored advertorial in Inc lays out a lot of the benefits of organizations that embrace a work from home model. At UnitedHealth Group, we’re routinely a top employer for remote and work from home staff. More than 40% of employees across UHG and its companies are remote. We’re at the forefront of this evolution and have been for some time.

Work from home, for a number of reasons, will become the default, instead of the rarity. Now, as Uncle Ben told Peter Parker, with great power comes great responsibility. Marissa Mayer famously found out, quite easily, that remote workers, were, well, not working.

When you’re remote, you need to be even more present than when physically in the office. You can’t be “that person” on a conference call, clearly tuned out. A work from home model can quickly go sideways. For example, regardless of the reality, the optics of a situation where someone “works from home” on Friday and Monday, are never good. There will be a portion of the employee population that assumes they’re simply taking a 4-day vacation, every week.

Then, you have a situation, I’ve unfortunately seen too often. Combine a loose work from home policy with employees who basically take 2-week vacations every other month, by “working from home” at their vacation destination, and you have a powder keg. Rarely is this successful. We may be embracing the future, but old habits die hard.

I’ve also seen the very best in remote workers. At Walgreens I had employee who lived more than 4 time zones away, but was not only one of the most engaged employees, was also one of the best performers.

The challenge with the new modern workforce environment is that each person is still unique. I could never thrive in a fully work from home model. I enjoy the face to face human interaction. I also think I’m more effective presenting and collaborating in person. However, other team members function better in isolation and seek it.

Having a high functioning team is, to me, more important than having a single high performing team member. No person is above the team. If a single person’s work-style preference negatively impacts the sum of the team, their preference is rarely worth it. Opportunities should be given to make work style preferences, well, work. However, there’s a difference between providing meaningful opportunity to succeed and being asleep at the wheel. Candidly, some employees are not cut out to succeed I’m working from home.

What Pep Guardiola Can Teach Us About Management

Pep Confidential

For my money, the three greatest non-traditional books on leadership are Tribes, Patton and His 3rd Army and Sacred Hoops. Tribes is the closest to being a traditional leadership book, because of its core theme. However, when I think of traditional leadership books, I’m referring to books like the over-recommended ‘Good to Great’, ‘Blue Ocean’ and ‘The One Thing You Need to Know.’ Meanwhile, ‘Patton and his 3rd Army’ is such an insider’s view of the decisions leaders are faced with, under duress. ‘Sacred Hoops’ is nothing like any “management” book I’ve ever written. Yes, there are management tools, so to speak, in the book, but it’s more about the soft skills needed to lead.

As many of you know, I’ve recently gotten into soccer. In doing so, I picked Manchester City as my team. Last year they brought on Pep Guardiola, widely considered to be one of the best futbol managers ever. He gets results with incredibly distinct and unique methods. A couple of weeks back I ordered, ‘Pep Confidential: The Inside Story of Pep Guardiola’s First Season at Bayern Munich‘, by Martí Perarnau. It’s a good read if you’re a soccer fan or someone focused on continually learning new leadership and management skills.

While I don’t think the book is as well written as Sacred Hoops, I will say it’s a heck of a page-turner. The author’s access to Pep, his team, and the players is astonishing. I learned a lot about soccer and leadership.

My 5 takeaways from the book, as it relates to management and leadership:

  1. Organizational design / philosophy is not that the same as an org chart. In the context of soccer, a philosophy to dominate possession is not equal to a playing formation like 4-4-2. You can have that philosophy in a number of tactical lineups.
  2. If you want an organization to change, you have to change as well. Pep comes to Germany, bringing a new system, staff, and ideas. What does he do? He learns German and provides instructions in German. He also works on his English, which he knows is also widely understood in Germany.
  3. Everyone deserves the chance to buy in, but if someone doesn’t buy in, you have to get rid of them or take them out of the equation. That someone can be a star player. When Zlatan wasn’t playing as instructed, Pep benched him. To make the system work, no star can shine brighter.
  4. Ignore positions and labels. Players are told and accept that they are a fullback, midfielder, striker, winger, etc. This is limiting. Instead, you must look at competency. Does someone have the ability to play multiple positions? It’s quite possible they can. As a Manchester City fan, I’m seeing that happen every day. He’s taking midfielders and making the fullbacks. He’s taking strikers and having them play as wingers. He’s brilliant in this approach.
  5. It never hurts to get the band back together. Part of the reason managers bring in people they’ve managed and worked with, in the past, is not blind favoritism. No, it’s because not only do they not need to learn the system, they can also help others learn the system. There are a number of people I’ve hired and rehired for that same reason. It really does make a major difference.

There’s probably a lot more I could have added, but I think these were the ones that spoke to me the most. I suspect they spoke to me the most because they validated a lot of my own thinking. Of the 5, the emphasis on organizational design and philosophy is the one that I believe is the most important. If you bring a philosophy and mindset to an organization instead of a preconceived notion about how to well, organize the organization, you’ll be better off. Org charts, if anything holds us back. Once you eliminate the concept of management through org chart, you can then start to apply #4. And if you can combine #1, #4 and #5, you’re usually going to be doing something amazing.

There’s a follow up to the book called ‘Pep Guardiola: The Evolution‘, as you might have suspected, it’s next up on my reading list.

Social Media and Philanthropy, Start Early

Every year, my kids look to raise money for the American Heart Association. It’s a program their school supports and they’ve become quite the philanthropists. I think it’s equal parts “doing good” and the competitive nature of, who can raise the most funds, that keeps them motivated.

Together they hold the record for most donations, in a single year, with over $2,200. That was 2 years ago. Since starting this program, they’ve raised more money, together, than half the school has. The $2,200 was somewhat of an anomaly, but a great example of using your platform to support your mission. In 2015, Cora, on her birthday, participate in a fireside chat, at iMedia’s Commerce Summit, in Minneapolis. Yes, at 7, she presented…and she rocked it. At the close of her session, she told the crowd about the Jump Rope for Heart program and the donations, came rolling in!

This year, they’re looking to crush it.

What I like about what they’re doing is the realization that it’s harder and harder every hear and it requires even more creativity to drive action. 3 years ago they used their parents’ email accounts. Then 2 years ago, it was twitter and YouTube. This year it’s twitter, youTube, Instagram, Facebook and a twist on the experience. They realized that they couldn’t just do 1 video and call it a day, especially after participating in the Ice Bucket Challenge. So, this year, they created a model where they’ll do certain things, when the donation amount hits a specific threshold. For example, they might donate their time, do some yard-work or write letters to veterans.

As a dad and a marketer, I couldn’t be more proud. I encourage you to donate or offer words of encouragement. Visit their page to learn more.

Remember, if you donate, I’ll buy your daughter’s Girl Scout Cookies, donate to your kid’s project to save a rare half turtle-half horse, in Australia or help drive whatever project is their passion.

If we don’t start them thinking about social, philanthropy and good, early, we all lose out.

What Happens, After Everest?

Photo Credit SmithsonianMag.com - Sir Edmund Hillary on top of Mount Everest.

Sir Edmund Hillary is credited as the first known person to conquer Mount Everest. Before him, George Mallory, was believed to have come within 300 meters of reaching the top. Tragically, not only did he never make it to the top, he died on that mountain. To come so close to one’s goal and fall short, must have been quite difficult to accept.

Before attempting to scale Everest, Mallory was asked why he wanted to do such a dangerous thing. He replied, “because it is there.” Often, people mistake that quote for something Hillary said.

Now, while Hillary didn’t say that famous quote he did say two other things that have gotten me thinking:

Motivation is the single most important factor in any sort of success.

and

While on top of Everest, I looked across the valley towards the great peak Makalu and mentally worked out a route about how it could be climbed. It showed me that even though I was standing on top of the world, it wasn’t the end of everything. I was still looking beyond to other interesting challenges.

Let me unpack those two quotes. They’re quite powerful. Choosing to climb Mount Everest the first time has to be incredibly motivating. There’s a natural rush that I can imagine in entertaining the idea of doing something for the first time. I also want to use “climb Everest” in a broad term – your “climb Everest” could be running a marathon, learning a new language, etc. –  Everyone has an “Everest.”

But, what happens, after you’ve climbed your Everest? Is it as motivating to climb it a second time? Probably not. If you’ve run a 5K, you look at a 10K, then a half-marathon, marathon, and so on and so on. Let’s be honest, it’s why things like Ultra Marathons were created.

I think I’ve always been a believer that once you climb Everest it’s difficult to get excited about something that’s an even bigger Everest. After all, if you’ve eaten at L&B Spumoni Gardens and had the best pizza in the world, how could any other pizza ever live up? But, seriously, think about it. If you’ve eaten at the best restaurant, drank the best whiskey, had breakfast with the president, etc. When you climb Everest, how does anything ever live up? I have often wondered if this is why people who have become the President of the United States, end up not pursuing other “jobs.” How could anything measure up to being the President? How could anything be more challenging or fulfilling?

The second quote is what’s given me the most to think about. Perhaps there is nothing more exciting and therefore nothing more motivating than climbing Everest…the first time. But, it doesn’t mean there aren’t other Everests out there to climb. The question of course is what else provides the same motivation, as Hillary stated, as your first Everest. And it’s that question, which boggles the mind.

Asking And Answering The Tough Questions

Answers (Credit PrestonBailey.com)

Before I got married, the church required us to attend an 8-hour, all day, Pre-Cana class. The concept of the class is to force couples to have honest conversations about serious topics. By having those conversations, before you got married, you’d be better prepared for marriage and thus would have a higher likelihood of having a successful one.

Let me set the scene a bit. I sat a table of 10, with 4 other couples. Beyond my table of 10, I believe there were 5 – 7 other tables in the room. There was a couple who facilitated the discussion. We were given a workbook to use. A number of topics were in the book. The format was for the facilitators to explain the topic and why it matters. Each person was given 10 – 15 minutes to answer the questions individually and then there was time for you to discuss the questions with your future spouse.

While I don’t have a copy of my Pre-Cana paperwork, there were 2 topics that I remember discussing.

  1. Children: Let’s start with do you want children? If so, how many? How do you plan to raise them? Will religion be part of that upbringing? So forth and so on. You’d think this would be a relatively easy conversation. After all, how could you get engaged without discussing this important topic. But, I can tell you, there were people who had never discussed this. One couple, at our table, was so far off in their answers, they got into a fight. If memory serves me right, the female half wanted 4 children and the male half of the relationship wanted 0. Now think about that for a second. If you’re debating between 2 or 3 kids, cool. Even 1 or 2. But, 4 vs 0?!
  2. Finances: Among the many questions in this topical area, was a real gem, that ignited a fight at our table, that was bad, they were asked to leave the room. They never came back. The question at hand was fairly straightforward: how will your finances be divided up? Will you have a joint-account where everything is pooled together or separate accounts with pre-allocated “things” for each person to pay/budget for or would you have separate accounts and a joint account for shared expenses, like a mortgage? I’ve always been a joint-account guy, as was my future spouse. For us, was this was a fairly basic question. But, for this couple it was not so simple. The female half assumed/answered, “joint-account.” The male half, picked separate accounts. She made it clear that part of why she was marrying him was his paycheck. His explanation for his answer was quite sensible. He claimed she spent far too much money on bags and shoes. She was able to do that because of the subsidization she was receiving from her parents. He had no interest in funding her shoe and bag habit.

I can’t speak to the merits or statistical value of Pre-Cana. I don’t have facts or figures. But, I can say the concept of asking and answering tough questions isn’t limited to the idea of marriage. Personally, there was more to apply from that class in my professional life than there was in my personal life. Asking tough questions and having answers when they’re asked of you, is not always enjoyable, but it is incredibly helpful. When we skirt around an issue, we don’t get to full resolution. Here’s a small set of tough questions you should feel comfortable asking and be comfortable answering:

  1. What’s the next role you want?
  2. How quickly do you expect a promotion?
  3. I don’t feel I’m fairly compensated. I believe $X would be more in line with my value. Do you agree and if so, when can we adjust my compensation?

Over the years I’ve definitely come to see the value in asking and answering tough questions. I’ve also seen the problems that arise from moving the goalposts. For example, let’s take the couple at my table who disagreed about how many children to have. What if the answers were originally 2 and 2, but then a year into the marriage, one of them changed their mind and no longer wanted any? That’s a radical change.  How would you handle that? In a business world, what happens if you went from agreeing to have someone on your team move to an international office, only to have them back out at the last minute?

Our answers to tough questions will change over time. That’s normal. Time shapes our views. The difference though between changing an answer and moving the goalposts, is all about perception. When we provide a dramatic change in an answer, unannounced and without prior “warning”, it will feel like the goalposts have moved. But, if we have constant dialogue about the things that matter most, we don’t feel like the goalposts moved. We aren’t blindsided. We view it as something that was going to happen, given all the previous discussions pointed to this change.

From time to time, I do wonder if those two couples ever ended up getting married or if the distance between their answers was to great to overcome. Either way, the value in being forced to confront and discuss the answers to tough questions, can’t be overstated.

The Comparison Conundrum

We’re all guilty of falling into the trap that is, comparison. When we’re at the gym, we look left, we look right and we then evaluate how we’re stacking up. If you’ve ever been running, especially in a race, we size of the competition, so to speak and make a snap judgement about whether we should be faster or slower than someone. There’s of course the old, “grass isn’t always greener” concept, where we look at our neighbor’s lawn, house, car, etc.

Apple vs. Organge

This passage from a study, published in Neuron, really nails it:

We found that although people estimated their abilities on the basis of their own performance in a rational manner, their estimates of themselves were partly merged with the performance of others,” says first author Marco Wittmann, a doctoral student in cognitive neuroscience at the University of Oxford. “The findings potentially have implications for social interactions in the workplace as well as clinical disorders such as depression.

In essence, we’re wired to constantly evaluate ourselves, not against our own goals, but against what we perceive someone else to be achieving. Perception is a funny thing. It can drive you mad. I know, because, I’ve definitely been there.

On the one hand, comparisons are helpful, because they provide context and a way to understand how something is performing relative to a norm or average. When used correctly, comparisons are incredible helpful. When I say “correctly”, what I mean is that when the variables are known, the evaluative criteria established and a norm to work off of, you have a perfect combination of elements needed to make a comparison useful. For example, is my 7 year old son, underweight or not growing fast enough? Can my 9 year old daughter read at a 4th grade level? A 5th grade level? Or is she reading below her grade level? In both of those scenarios, you have known variables (weight, height), you have a norm (avg weight/height for a given gender, at a given age) and you have defined evaluative criteria (that height or weight relative to the norm).

In those types of scenarios, comparisons are helpful, useful and logical. But, where comparisons start to fall apart is when you begin evaluating situations that are not as mathematical and structured as the height and weight situations. In particular, as someone who’s worked for other people for ~20 years and managed people for more than 10, there are 2 workplace scenarios that come up, routinely, that create great stress, because the comparisons aren’t structured.

  1. Promotions: Why wasn’t I promoted, but so and so was? Good question. I’ve asked it before. I don’t ask it anymore. I stopped 10 years ago. Why? Because, trying to compare yourself to someone else, even if you’re in the same role, is a fool’s errand. There are so many variables to consider. Everything from soft skills, like “executive presence” to experience and tenure to active career planning conversations. Additionally, if what you’re looking for is a promotion, comparing yourself to the job description for the role you want is far more structured, logical and productive. Lastly, I once found myself in a situation, early on in my career, when a peer of mine had been promoted. An email was sent out. I was irked. I scheduled time with my manager and basically explained how unfair it was and how was more qualified than the other person. She let me go on for about 15 minutes. And, finally, she said, “You are being promoted. Well, you were. It was taking longer than anticipated, because we also wanted to give you a bonus, on top of your increase. But, candidly, this outburst, gives me hesitation.” I did get the promotion and I learned a valuable lesson. #1, don’t compare yourself to other. #2, there may be other things at work, that you’re not aware of. Be careful not to put your foot in your mouth.
  2. Compensation: I should be making more money. The market rate for my role is $X and so and so makes $Y. Fair compensation is important in an organization. In an ideal world, a great organization, continually evaluates existing compensation, market rates, employee potential and then continually looks to invest fairly into their employees. “Fairly”, you’re asking; yes, “fairly.” Let me explain. Let’s say you have 3 employees, with the same title, experience and role. Person A, has been with the company for 5 years and joined in the same role they’re in, today. Person B, was hired 3 years ago, but from another internal team. Person C, was hired this year. It is conceivable and likely, given how they came into the roles, that their pay would be different. As I wrote in 2014, if you changed jobs every year, you’d be guaranteed to be evaluated against the current market rate. Said another way, your max base compensation potential, is always gained when/if you switch jobs every single year. That’s just one problem with evaluating comp. You have other variables like performance level. Is person A, statistically a better performing person than person B? If so, wouldn’t their increases each year be higher? Or, would you pay equalize the increases so that a high performer is compensated the same as good or poor performer? It’s not black and white.

I have found, over the years, the single distinguishing characteristic, between good and great employees, is an appreciation for context. For example, asking for a promotion, 3 months after you’ve been promoted, is unrealistic. Demanding a raise of Y%, when the company just had layoffs and reported poor financial results, is tone deaf. Context is critical. Context is understanding the nuances. Having an appreciation for context, makes you a better, more well-informed employee. With context, you can make smart comparisons.

Just because you can make a clear, structured, factual and logical comparison, doesn’t mean you’ll get what you want. The world is filled with scenarios where value is in the eye of the beholder. The Miami Heat didn’t value Dwyane Wade the same as the Chicago Bulls. As such, Wade left the Heat and joined Chicago. Why? Context. The Heat wanted to get younger. The Bulls wanted to win now. It’s that simple.

Lastly, I’ll answer the age old maxim of “that’s like comparing apples and oranges.” Yes, you can, in fact, compare apples and oranges, if the variables are known, the evaluative criteria established and there’s a norm to work off. If the question is which fruit is a better source of Vitamin C, this is an easy comparison. If the question is, which fruit is better, you have a difficult comparison, full of subjectivity.

 

On Camera Gear

There’s a long standing joke, told by photographers, based on Arnold Genthe’s autobiography, ‘As I Remember‘ that goes something like this:

A photographer invites his friend and his wife over for dinner. While waiting for dinner to be plated, the wife looks over the great photos on the wall and says, “I love these photos, they’re amazing. You must have a great camera.” The photographer smiles and nods his head. A few weeks later, the couple returns the favor and invites the photographer friend over for dinner. After clearing his plate, the photographer expresses to the wife who made the dinner, “I absolutely loved this dinner. It was amazing. You must have great pots and pans.”

The point of the story of course is that it’s the photographer who is responsible for the great photos, it’s not the gear that’s used, just like it’s the chef who prepares the meal.

Photographers love this story, because it over-values their contributions, while undervaluing the tools. I subscribed to that line of thinking for years. But, eventually, you realize the gear does matter and probably matters more than we’re willing to admit.

I’m often asked why my photos are so sharp, have such great color, etc. And I tell people, outright, it’s the gear. It’s because I’m shooting a Nikon D810 with a Zeiss 50mm Makro Milvus lens and you’re shooting with your iPhone. This isn’t to say an iPhone can’t take great photos. They absolutely can, under the right conditions.

Buddha in Kyoto. Taken with Nikon D810 and Nikon 35mm 1.4 G.

But, better gear gives you a better shot of capturing the moment. When you can shoot 8 frames per second at 24 megapixel resolution, with a full frame sensor, you’re going to have a better chance than shooting with an iPhone 6. That said, the gear can only take you so far and it can also highlight mistakes in technique.

I’ve been shooting since I was about 8. Always, Nikon. Always. From manual manual focus lenses and manual camera bodies like the Nikon FE2 to the legendary auto focusing Nikon F5 to the first real digital consumer SLR, the Nikon D100 to my current Nikon D810, I’ve owned many different camera bodies and no shortage of lenses. I’ve also tried dozens of digital image processing software suites. Here’s my accumulated knowledge and advice for what to buy:

  1. You’ll have a lot of options for camera bodies. But, at a high level, you have Full Frame, Cropped Sensors and Micro Sensors. As a general rule of thumb (but not an absolute), the larger the sensor the better the image quality, color fidelity especially at night. You pay more for Full Frame…and by more, nearly double. If you can afford Full Frame, go Full Frame. But, never invest in the Full Frame at the expense of quality lenses. Never.
  2. Once you pick a body type, you’ll pick a brand. Though my allegiance is with Nikon, ultimately, it doesn’t really matter which brand you pick. Honestly, there isn’t.
  3. Lenses are more important than bodies. As a rule of thumb, avoid zoom lenses. Most are cheap. They promise you versatility, but you sacrifice so many other benefits. Think of lenses like knives in a knife set. Knives have a purpose. Lenses have a purpose. Don’t buy a new lens, until you’ve mastered the previous one. Also, don’t buy a knife set. Buy individual knives. Also, buy lenses that are fast. Where possible F1.4, but you won’t lose much going to F1.8. And generally, you’ll save hundreds of dollars going from F1.4 to F1.8. My recommendation is to look at a 50mm F1.4 lens. Regardless of brand, it will run you about $500. A F1.8 version will be half that.
  4. Get a good quality camera strap. I recommend the OP/TECH Reporter series.
  5. There is no such thing as the perfect Camera bag. Too many options. Too many use cases. But, I nice versatile solution that’s low cost would be the Lowepro Orion. It’ll carry your camera, 2 lenses a flash and some other supplies. It’s also lightweight, durable and doesn’t look like a camera bag, which means it doesn’t attract the same potential theft risk.
  6. Work on your form. There’s nothing more impactful than holding a camera the right way. Doing it the right way, eliminates vibration, making your images sharper. There’s no shortage of links and books that will help you improve in this area.
  7. Avoid cheap tripods. What you gain in cost, you’ll lose in performance. Here’s the thing about tripods. You’ll probably only need one, over your lifetime. Yep, just one. Spending $300-ish, might see, crazy, but not when you amortize it over a decade of shooting.  I recommend something like this, from Giottos. It’s carbon fiber, a solid height and supports 3rd party heads and plates.
  8. You will need software to process and manage your images. Think of it like a digital darkroom and file cabinet. For oganizing and managing images, I use Adobe Light Room. If you’re looking to save cash, both Microsoft and Apple, offer free options that do the job. Your camera manufacturer will also offer you free software with the purchase of your camera. They’re fine. At some point, though, you’ll want something better. When that happens, get DxO.
  9. Buy a portable hard drive to backup your library. I have over 10,000 digital images. They’re backed up to a Lacie hard drive and backed up again to another hard drive.
  10. Avoid anything called a “kit.” For example a camera kit, will contain a camera and 1 or 2 lenses. Run. Run. Run away. Per advice #3, you think you’re getting a deal, but in reality you’re getting mediocre lenses. You’ll also see things like a starter kit, which might contain a cheap tripod, a memory card and some other things. Again, this seems like value. It’s not.

Beyond the gear, take a class. Yes, I’m serious. Take a class that will teach you how to use your camera, proper form, composition, etc. Your pictures will be better for it. Your local community college probably has a course that’s less than $150. It’s money well spent.

Lastly, go out and experiment. Decide you want to shoot something, be it a bird, graffiti, architecture, alleys or trains. It doesn’t matter, just practice. Tied directly to this, never accept or offer to shoot someone’s wedding or other major moment, until you’ve practiced, apprenticed and are willing to put your name and finances behind what you’re committing to. It’s irresponsible.

So there your have it! Hopefully, this will help you become a better photographer, even if all you’re capturing are your kid’s birthday parties. And believe me, as a father of 2, those are some of the most important memories to photograph.