Archive for February, 2010

The Role of Luck

Lindsey Vonn's crash in the giant slalom at the 2010 Olympics caused teammate Julia Mancuso, who had started her run, to have to stop, go back to the top and start over. Her poor performance is largely attributed to this restart -- a stroke of bad luck.

People ascribe successes and/or failures to all sorts of things. Compare the student who passes a class: “I passed.” to the student who failed: “He failed me.” There are countless examples of people failing to accept personal responsibility for things they should, and likewise there are examples of people who take too much of the burden on themselves.

In the end none of this matters because the world at large doesn’t really care who is to blame for a particular success or failure.  Yes, sometimes we get caught up in it, but that’s rarely productive. It doesn’t matter. “It is what it is,” as I am prone to saying. One reaps the rewards or suffers the consequences and that’s that.

Luck is nearly always a factor, and often a major one. Some people talk of fate or destiny, of even of the will of God or whatever overarching power someone happens to believe in. Well, what if it’s just plain old luck? Randomness. It can be debated which is the case, but either way the point is it’s not in your control.

Luck provides a degree of unpredictability in our lives that can keep us on our toes or immobilize us. An athlete’s career — life even — can be wiped out in a moment of bad luck. Yet the race driver still races, the wide receiver still goes out for a pass. When they win they attribute it largely to skill and cunning. And when it all goes wrong it was bad luck. That is the mindset of the successful, even though they academically know luck is in play all the time. It’s ironically very similar to the lack of personal responsibility unsuccessful people seem to convey.

Luck’s unpredictability is an important part of what makes a thing risky. It’s part of what makes a great achievement even greater. Part of what makes trying valiant.

Luck also provides us a convenient place to lay the blame when we don’t want it.

Successful people inherently know when to attribute luck and when to attribute themselves. That is not to say that their assessments are accurate in any objective sense. It is to say they know when to take or leave the credit for the sake of the ends they have in mind. For the sake of continued success.


The message is in the delivery these days.

First, I couldn’t care less what Tiger did or didn’t do. If no laws were broken, and the police seem satisfied that’s the case, then I don’t think he owes the public any kind of apology or explanation.  Of course he must do it to repair his image and try to restore the TW brand and money making machine to its former status. We’ve all seen countless examples of how being tried in the court of public opinion differs from any other kind of court.

He’s been pretty heavily lambasted for his “press conference” the other day. It may be unfair. If you read the transcript of the speech the words are actually pretty good. He didn’t write them of course, but it does go farther than he truly needed to for a public apology. If you just read the words it sounds sincere.

But when you watch the delivery…it doesn’t come off well.

We’re all too cynical now to believe any of these big personalities when they come out with their admissions and apologies. We all believe they aren’t truly sorry for what they did, just that they got caught. Given that’s the case (at least in our collective minds) it’s interesting that many were still looking for something in the delivery to convince them of his sincerity.

And he didn’t deliver.

What if he had been able to summon the insight and skills to pull it off? In the, “if you can fake sincerity you’ve got it made” vain, he’d be better off already, at least in terms of his image, which is presumably why he was up there in the first place.

Delivery is crucial. Politicians know it. Actors clearly know it. It doesn’t matter how brilliant or talented you are. You have to be able to deliver in a way that people find compelling.

Audio Engineers

Ask anyone in the music industry whether he/she knows an overly opinionated audio engineer and you will almost always not only get an affirmative, but very often it will be accompanied by a roll of the eyes or some other non-approving gesture.

Audio engineers have a well deserved reputation for being not only opinionated, but also for seeming to carry their knowledge of audio as a badge of honor. Their (our) identities are wrapped up tightly with perceived expertise on the subject.

Ironically most of them aren’t engineers at all. Most don’t have much in the way of a rigorous educational background on the relevant subjects. Many are not much more than equipment operators who have some technical and creative aptitude. Perhaps their knowledge of this is why many of them push their opinions so strongly. It’s a defense mechanism.

“Convinced myself, I seek not to convince.” — Edgar Allan Poe

Some of the top audio engineers I know have gotten over much of this and do not need to push their agendas nor prove how smart they are.

Common Sense

The phrase “common sense” often seems to get invoked as a way to point out an apparent lapse of judgement. The overarching message is that if you do not posses common sense about something you are in some way deficient. That you lack some intuition or knowledge everyone else possesses. At the very least you are not normal.

The degree to which one’s sense about things is common is, of course, relative. Being immersed in other cultures is a powerful way to experience how common sense isn’t always so common.

Most successful people I know have a sense, or way of thinking about certain things that’s not common at all. Common sense is overrated. It makes life easier sometimes, but it does not necessarily make it better. In fact, it often causes us to be blind to greater possibilities. It’s limiting.

Work those kids

Totally brilliant concept, if a bit disturbing.

The idea, as I understand it, is it’s sort of like a social network that in many ways mimics real life. You buy a stuffed animal (at a physical store ironically) to care for, but most of the rest of the experience is virtual. Through a series of activities and interactions one acquires points that can be used to in some way enhance the experience on line. Webkinz has spread like wildfire virally and through some very well engineered placements. They have tons of kids jumping through all sorts of hoops on-line. Activities can be simple — think of keeping a plate spinning for a period of time, at the the end of which points are awarded. It requires your attention for a specified period of time. More elaborate ones require cooperation among numbers of kids on-line. Imagine being able to quantify for advertisers how many eyeballs are definitely glued to the screen for known periods of time while their ads flow by on the sides. Cha-ching! I’m in the wrong business.
Meanwhile the kids get all sorts of reinforcement about the importance of earning points to acquire (virtual) things. Jump through a certain series of hoops and you’ve earned enough points to upgrade to a green couch, which has been deemed desirable by the culture of the game. There’s even a secondary market for Webkinz points. One person I know discovered his kids had become so wrapped up in it that they devised a way to steal points from a neighbor’s kid, resulting in a huge blow up and the canceling of a trip the families had decided to take together. Yikes.
Looks very innocent and family oriented on the surface. The advertising aspect is brilliant, and I can’t blame them for cashing in. The insidious training about the rat race of acquisition seems to be either overlooked by parents, or is actually perceived to be desirable.


Currency and Money are different related concepts. Money is not currency and currency is not money.

  • Money – is not real, not tangible. It is the value of something.
  • Currency – is what we use to represent money.

Money Machines – Currency squirting out of a machine would have seemed almost magical 100 years ago. It was a pretty amazing innovation when you think about it. Okay, great. Now what? We’re still forcing people to go get cash out of machines 30 years later. Okay, we’ve added debit cards, and credit cards have obviously become much more widespread (another topic for another day). But with all of the other technology we have around is dirty old money really still necessary? This is another example of our relative lack of progress.

With physical currency we have to:

  1. Make it – huge, expensive and environmentally unfriendly printing and smelting processes.
  2. Transport it – More expense and harm to the environment, especially when you consider having to keep every ATM everywhere in the world full of it 24-7.
  3. In most transactions humans have to handle it (for the most part), posing health risks and opportunities for forgery (more expense, especially when you consider all of the modern technology that goes into making forgery harder).
  4. It eventually has to be disposed of.

Can we not evolve this process?

If the Voltage Gets High Enough…

…Current will flow

When resistance to current flow is high, voltage builds. The more it builds the more spectacular the results tend to be when it finally breaks through.

Objects that conduct easily can be useful, but produce unspectacular results. However, things that conduct more easily than others can be an integral part of a spectacular result if the conditions are right. Those conditions include a large potential difference (voltage) and a generally high resistance to current flow.

Nothing ever happens without voltage.

Which role do you play? All are important, but there is only one voltage that gets high enough to cause the desired result.


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