T O O   M U C H   S T U F F  !
By   Shlomo Maital 
 
    From a recent article in The Guardian:
   The average ten-year-old child has toys worth almost £7,000 but plays with just £330 worth of them, a study has shown.  A typical child owns 238 toys in total but parents think they play with just 12 ‘favourites’ on a daily basis making up just five per cent of their toys.   The study of 3,000 parents also revealed one in two parents admit ‘wasting hundreds of pounds’ on toys their children never play with.   It also emerged more than half believe their children end up picking the same toys day in and day out because they have too many to choose from.

   Do we buy too much ‘stuff’ for our kids? We do.  But note – we also buy too much stuff for ourselves.  How else can you explain the amazing popularity of Marie Kondo, her book, and Netflix series? 
 
      Kudos to Kondo, for helping us reduce clutter and clean up.  Now, for a much tougher question —  instead of buying stuff and throwing it out,  how can we rewire our brains, defeat the consumer spend-and-borrow ethos and stop buying things that bring neither joy nor satisfaction?
    Kondo’s principle:  Does it bring joy?  If not, throw it out.
    Now, let’s take it one step further.  BEFORE you buy it —  will it REALLY make me happy, after the first 10 minutes?   No?  Forget it. 
     Is there a Marie Kondo out there, who can write the book on The Life Changing Magic of Not Consuming?     

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Distraction – Our Greatest Threat
By   Shlomo Maital
 
      It is easy to identify a lot of things that have gone wrong in the world.  Britain is in a deadly stalemate, facing an urgent decision and with no majority for anything.  Right wing governments threaten democracy in Venezuela, Poland, Hungary and even Italy.  America is stuck in a stupid conflict between a stubborn President and stubborn Democrats.   Israel goes to elections on April 9 that according to polls will change absolutely nothing.
        But underlying all this is a little-noted problem. Distraction.  Small children are easy to distract; parents do it all the time.  Apparently world leaders are also easy to distract.
Trump obsesses over a wall, while America’s economy slows, and its infrastructure crumble.  Israel faces threats on its borders, but its Prime Minister obsesses about his impending indictment for bribery.  Europe struggles with migrants, and debt, but is totally distracted by Brexit and will be for months.  China and the US grapple over Huawei and cell phone technology, while their trade war causes the entire world economy to slow.
       
        The world has lost focus.  The 30-second news cycle has led to massive myopia, neglecting longer term problems.  Elections focus on personalities.  Try to find a comprehensive well-designed political platform for any political party anywhere. 
      I think the distraction of non-news and personalities is a major threat – if it continues, we will never even begin to grapple with the real major problems the world faces.
     So, let’s decide – Just because our leaders are distracted, and purposely try to distract all of us with pipsqueak inconsequential matters,  we don’t have to play.  Where possible, let’s find ways to refocus the political system on the things that really matter – saving, education, investment, schools, roads, corruption, equality, and overall creating a better world.
      Make America Make the World Great Again.

Why Do People Swallow Whole Fake News?
By   Shlomo Maital

 
   Why do so many people swallow whole fake news?  Why do we believe things that are patently false (like the 2016 rumor that Hillary Clinton was somehow molesting or kidnapping children in a fast food restaurant?)
     Today’s Global New York Times has an Op-Ed that has some strong answers. It is written by Prof. Gordon Pennycook, from my hometown Regina, Saskatchewan,  and co-author David Rand, MIT.*
      The bottom line:  Education is not the answer.  More educated people fall for fake news, too, especially fake news that agrees with their views.
       We fall for fake news, because we are unable or unwilling to engage in critical thinking – to challenge everythng we read critically, and subject it to the laws of reason and logic.
        Critical thinking is a key skill that is taught far too little in schools and universities.  At Queen’s University, long ago, I took a compulsory course in Philosophy, in the days when all university students were required to know some literature, philosophy and history.  It was the best course I ever took.  I learned about logic, about ethics, and about metaphysics.  And I learned about critical thinking.
       A critical thinker asks,  is this true?  Is it based on strong facts?  What are the facts?  Is it logical? Does the conclusion follow from the premises? What are the sources? 
        The enemy of critical thinking is the Internet news mania.  Internet news has a news cycle of seconds.  Everything is instant.  There is no time for reflection or challenging thought.  So – let’s slow it down.

     Build yourself a news microscope.  Focus it.  Zero it in on news.  Think critically.  Reserve judgment as you do so.  Just because Buzzfeed is in a big hurry does not mean that we all have to be.

•  “Why do people fall for fake news?”    Gordon Pennycook and David Rand.  New York Times, Tuesday January 22 2019.

What Is Your Mantra?
By   Shlomo Maital

In Sanskrit, the word ‘mantra’ means “a sacred utterance, a numinous sound, a syllable, word or phonemes, or group of words believed by practitioners to have psychological and spiritual powers”.

     I teach my entrepreneurship students to work hard on a ‘mantra’ for their startup idea – three words that capture the essence of their value creation.  Great mantras do have power.

       For Nike, for instance: authentic athletic performance.  For Wendy’s (fast food chain): healthy fast food.  (Nike’s Just Do It! is a marketing mantra, not a ‘this is what we stand for’ mantra).

       A new documentary on Brexit (Britain’s exit from the EU) focuses on the person who lead the pro-Leave campaign in 2016, Dominic Cummings. He chose a three-word mantra for the campaign:   Take Back Control. It was brilliant. It captured what the British people wanted – control of their borders. Problem was — taking back control of the borders also involved a hornets’ nest of other intractable problems, including the Ireland-Northern Ireland border. But – the three-word mantra was crucial in the 52% majority for leaving the EU.

       I think each of us needs a mantra – a way to focus what we seek, why we are alive. A mantra is always an over-simplification, like the Brexit Leave mantra. But the advantage is, sharp focus. Einstein said, simplify as much as possible – but not more so. Can you simplify your own focus, down to three words, without distorting, or misleading?

       My mantra for the past few years, since I became a pensioner, is: Help Other People. The underlying logic: Pensioners become instantly transparent, the moment they retire. By creating value for others, you remain relevant and engaged. Believe me, it is not easy!  

       What is your mantra?   Do you need one? Has your mantra changed and evolved?  

 

5G: What It Means for You
By   Shlomo Maital
 
     Cell phone users are mainly uninterested in the technologies that drive their smartphones.  Today’s technology is 4G (4th generation), and it began as LTE Long Term Evolution, which was the term used to describe how 3G (3rd generation technology) would evolve into 4th generation.   When your cell phone shows 4G, mostly, it is not really using 4G yet.    However, 5G is already on the way.
    But what is 5G (5th Generation)?  What will it do for us?
    “We think that 5G will have an impact far beyond 3G,” said Ben Timmons, Senior Director, Business Development of Qualcomm Europe. “It’s not going to be about personal communication anymore. It’s much more of a transformational technology that will have a huge impact on an enormous range of industries.”   Qualcomm of course is a major developer of 5G.   But – is this all commercial hype?
       Analysts at HIS Markit note, “Qualcomm is one of the main players in the development and deployment of the technology.  …. the American semiconductor giant has already successfully completed pre-commercial 5G  trials.”  Recently US regulators turned down an attempt by Broadcom to acquire Qualcomm.
      5G is really REALLY fast.  How fast is 5G?   “Samsung says it’s managed to achieve 7.5Gbps, while Nokia claims a more impressive 10Gbps. There’s also Huawei, which has managed 3.6Gbps.” In contrast:  4G at present runs between 5 and 12 Mbps (Megabits per second).  So 5G may be up to a thousand times faster. 
      What will this speed mean?   First – downloading / streaming will be really fast and easy, boosting this content immensely.  Second,  latency.  Latency is the ‘lag’ between, say, requesting a search and getting the answer.  It is now very short,  several hundred milliseconds.  But this is significant, especially when 5G is being used to transmit traffic information to self-driven vehicles.     5G will reduce latency lag to a few milliseconds.  And that difference is huge!
     The transition to autonomous vehicles will take years. Meanwhile, 5G can help cities significantly improve traffic management and traffic flow for self-driven vehicles.  Once 5G is in place,  machine learning and deep learning can use data from individual vehicles to alert drivers, first responders, redesign accident-prone road stretches, and in general make city driving safer and smoother.  However, the lethal mixture of autonomous and self-driven cars during the transition to autonomy will need careful management.   
     You will need a new smartphone that enables you to use 5G.  But don’t buy one just yet.   5G will be implemented during 2019 by AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and others.  But you won’t benefit from the full lightning 5G speed until the American mobile carries upgrade all their key central switching equipment,  perhaps late in 2019 or early 2020. 
       According to Don Clark, who writes the Personal Tech column in the New York Times,* most Americans have never heard of 5G and are unaware of what it does.  This is absolutely fine.  The best technology is the kind that, like sci fi writer Arthur Clark once said, seems like invisible magic.
      Note that China is a major player in 5G.  The Economist worries that carriers who buy 5G network technology from China’s Huawei  may leave the network vulnerable to prying eyes (spying).   This is just another instance of the growing technology war between the US and China. 
• “What 5G will mean when it arrives this year’.  NYT  Wed. Jan 2, 2019.

Estonia:  Government Services Online On-Demand!
By   Shlomo Maital
  
    Hey, has anybody noticed little Estonia lately?  Time the world took notice.
As the whole world talks about the ‘digital revolution’ and ‘online government services’, Estonia has raced ahead and actually done it, quietly.
 Now they are offering to share what they did with the world.  “We have built a digital society”, Estonia says,  “and so can you.”
   What exactly have they done?
   Well – 21 years ago, it began with e-governance;  then paying taxes online in 
2000;  digital ID’s in 2001; voting online in 2005; public safety in 2007; blockchain in 2007; e-health in 2008; and e-Residency in 2014. 

     Basically – all the services you need from the Estonian government, you can get online.  You can pay your annual taxes, or file your annual return, online, in 20 minutes.  Now you can establish residency.
     I visited Estonia some years ago, on a benchmarking trip with Israeli managers.  I found the visit startling.  It all began with the Soviet Union.  Estonia once belonged to it.  The Russians feared computer science, and so banished computer science to the fringes, to Estonia.   Estonia now leverages that huge advantage.   Some 15 years ago,  a group of Estonians helped create Skype, along with a Swede. 
     Estonia offers to freely share what it knows and what it has done with the world.  I wish my country Israel, called Startup Nation, would visit Estonia and learn seriously what they’ve done.   Instead, my Prime Minister visits Brazil, praises the far right new President Bolsinaro, and plays soccer on the Copacabana 
 Beach. 

    Alas.

Colin O’Brady Crosses Antarctica Solo!

By   Shlomo Maital

 

Colin O’Brady Near the Finish

   33-year-old Colin O’Brady has just completed a 921-mile journey across Antarctica, solo, alone, unaided by wind, pulling a heavy sled with his tent and food. The New York Times calls it “one of the great feats in polar history”.   No-one had done it before unaided.

   A friend of O’Brady, Englishman Louis Rudd, 49, started out at the same time as O’Brady and is also close to the finish. In a gentlemanly act, O’Brady said he will wait for Rudd, then they will fly out together.

     O’Brady survived 932 miles of bad weather, freezing temperatures, mishaps, jagged ice projections and loneliness, for 53 full days, without a day off.

     In his final push, O’Brady completed the final 77.54 miles in one shot, sleepless, for 32 hours – an ultra-marathon tacked on to a regular day’s walk.   O’Brady said, “I just felt locked in for the last 32 hours, like a deep flow state. I didn’t listen to any music – just locked in, like I’m going until I’m done. It was profound, it was beautiful…!”

     What can we take away from this amazing feat?  Rather than think about his suffering, O’Brady said “I was reviewing the entirety of the expedition in my mind, and I was aware I’m going to tell this story for the rest of my life, but I told myself, you’re living this right now – live it!”

       We can learn from those two words – live it!   I see so many people enjoying wonderful experiences, vistas, celebrations ..and focused on taking selfies. Surely photographing these experiences at least somewhat mars the ‘live it’ enjoy it experience.   Let’s live it. Be in the moment, as the mindfulness people tell us. Never mind the selfies. Live it, so that you will be able to relive it, many many times, with sharp memories. Because, you will relive it, and if you really live it while you’re living it, those memories will serve you far better than any selfie.  

     Thanks, Colin! We get it.  

 

Selective Silence: a User’s Guide
By   Shlomo Maital 


 
  In the Jewish Talmud (Ethics of Our Fathers), Rabbi Shimon ben Shatach says, “I have lived all my days among the wise, and found nothing better than silence.”
   Silence?   Nothing better?
   Rabbi ben Shatach spent his days in study with his colleagues.  Talmud study involved dialogue, conversation, debate, argument. 
    Silence?
    It has taken me many years to figure out what he meant.  Here is what I think.
    Selective silence.  Speech, when it is warm, embracing, informative, loving, is of course vital.  There is nothing better than such speech.  The Talmud is built on it.
    But words that are hateful, hurtful, wounding, insulting, humiliating?  Such speech is better transformed into silence.
     But how?
     Here is my modest suggestion.  I affirm that I have used this method and it works.  I wish I had understood it years and years ago. 
      You are about to say angry hurtful words.  Your brain has formulated them.  They exist, those words, they live, they burn in your frontal cortex. 
       Stop.  Listen to yourself SILENTLY say them.  Then stop.  Don’t say them out loud.  Only to yourself. 
        I can think of many occasions, when, had I used selective silence, my life and those around me would have been a whole lot better.
     I’ll bet you can too, dear reader. 
Is this what Rabbi Shimon ben Shatach meant, when he said he found nothing better than silence?  Selective silence?   Silencing hurtful words? 

Finding (and Retaining) Meaning in Life

By   Shlomo Maital

 

The October issue of Monitor on Psychology (APA) has a fine article by Tori Deangelis,  “In search of meaning”.   In it she makes several key points:

  • Almost every problem that’s brought into therapy …is implicitly about the meaning of life. This is from Dr. Clara Hill, a psychology professor and author of Meaning in Life (2018).
  • Psychologists George and Park agree that “people believe their lives are meaningful when three aspects are in place: they feel their lives make sense and have continuity, they are directed and motivated by meaningful goals, and they believe their existence matters to others.

 

         Sense, continuity, goals, value for others…   these components are similar to those that guide startup entrepreneurs.   ‘Make meaning, not money’, is the principle taught by startup expert Guy Kawasaki. Turns out – this is also the recipe for a meaningful life.   Make sense – there is a reason I am alive and I need to find it, matching my passions and skills.   Continuity – I am part of work that began before me and will continue after me. Goals – meaningful ambitious aspirations. Value for others – my life has meaning, and creates value, for others.

               A number of approaches to “meaning therapy” have proven effective. Logotherapy was developed by Victor Frankl, a psychiatrist who survived Nazi death camps and later made his survival technique into a therapeutic method, based on 3 things: kindness or creative work, truth and beauty, and facing life’s difficulties with courage.

         Another approach is story-telling. Shape your life as a story – tell your own story, looking back – and build your own story, looking forward in time. A research finding shows: Those who frame their lives as a journey find more meaning than those who see their lives in a linear, steps-to-a-goal fashion.

     Other research simplifies meaning into two key parts:   close personal connections and purposeful work. Problem is, many challenging jobs, as in high-tech, take a heavy toll on family life and family connections.   In one of my Coursera courses on entrepreneurship, given together with a former very senior high-tech executive, the first of 10 key lessons taught to students is: Take care of your family.   Purposeful work can end up losing meaning if you end up without those around you whom you love and who love you.

   The article ends on a positive note, quoting a wise psychologist: While meaning is a profound human experience, it is in the end based on ordinary, attainable things.

     But, I would add, to find meaning – you have to be aware that it is important and must be sought.

Smoke That Kills, Stoves That Save Lives

By   Shlomo Maital

 

The man in the photograph is Eric Reynolds. Next to him is the stove he invented. It burns cleanly wood pellets. This California-born entrepreneur identified a problem (African villagers burn wood inside their huts, for cooking, and the smoke kills many through respiratory problems), and found a solution. He gives away the stoves, through his company called Inyenyeri,  and funds the business by selling the wood pellets at a reasonable price.   The business model is based on the fact that poor Africans cannot afford large capital expenditures but can afford to buy the wood pellets from time to time.

     His story is told in the Dec. 8 edition of the New York Times.   The article begins: “Eric Reynolds will tell you that he is on the verge of freeing much of humanity from the deadly scourge of the cooking fire. He can halt the toxic smoke wafting through African homes, protect what is left of the continent’s forest cover and help rescue the planet from the wrath of climate change.”

     Some time ago I wrote a blog about an Engineers Without Borders project, by Israeli (Technion) engineers, who used biomass to generate methane, bottle it, and then let the villagers use it for cooking instead of wood smoke. Reynolds has tackled the same problem, in Africa, but has a different solution.

     According to the New York Times article, “He is happy to explain, at considerable length, how he will systematically achieve all this while constructing a business that can amass billions in profit from an unlikely group of customers: the poorest people on earth.   He will confess that some people doubt his hold on reality.”

     We know that C. K. Prahalad, in his book Fortunes at the Bottom of the Pyramid, explained long ago how one can build businesses on the poorest of the poor. So it is indeed possible.  

     Reynolds says, “Profit feeds impact at scale,” …he is now in the midst of a global tour as he courts investment on top of the roughly $12 million he has already raised. “Unless somebody gets rich, it can’t grow.”   More than four decades have passed since Mr. Reynolds embarked on what he portrays as an accidental life as an entrepreneur, an outgrowth of his fascination with mountaineering. He dropped out of college to start Marmot, the outdoor gear company named for the burrowing rodent. There, he profited by protecting Volvo-driving, chardonnay-sipping weekend warriors against the menacing elements of Aspen. Now, he is trying to build a business centered on customers for whom turning on a light switch is a radical act of upward mobility”, the New York Times article noted.

     Reynolds is 66…and qualifies for being one of the world’s many “snow-capped idea volcanoes” (senior grey-haired entrepreneurs).

 

 

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

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