Image from Michael Radford's 1984

In George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, members of the Party in Oceania are required to view a short film each day on the telescreen. The propaganda presented enemies of the Party and encouraged viewers to shout their disgust and contempt at the screen. The ritual was known as the Two Minutes Hate and is described by Winston Smith, the novel’s protagonist, in the first chapter:

The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but that it was impossible to avoid joining in. Within thirty seconds any pretence was always unnecessary. A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic.

The Party used Two Minutes Hate as a control mechanism, a means to channel Oceania citizens’ repressed feelings of angst and contempt from living under a totalitarian regime towards its enemies. It also removed viewers’ sense of individuality, preventing them from thinking on their own and instead aligning with the thoughts and feelings of Big Brother.

Thankfully, we are far from the dystopian society depicted by Orwell. But is it possible that a daily ritual—even one limited to two minutes in duration—could influence an individual’s thinking and behavior?

We seem to believe so.

There are 200,000+ web pages offering a “daily dose” of something. There are more than 1,900 “daily devotional” books available from Amazon. There are numerous daily podcast feeds available via iTunes and an abundance of documentation on the daily habits of preeminent thinkers and leaders.

Clearly we have embraced the notion of a daily ritual—whether it be for comfort, motivation, organization, inspiration, appreciation or enlightenment. For some, the establishment of a routine helps provide direction, order and purpose. For others, a daily ritual helps provide clarity, focus and peace. Regardless of the reason, if it yields benefits we will likely continue the practice and extoll its virtues to everyone else in our network.

Hence why content producers—especially those dependent on advertising dollars—want to become one of your daily rituals. USA Today wants you to start the morning with one of their papers, while the Huffington Post would prefer you check the latest news via their website. Facebook would like you to spend your lunch hour with them, although Digg thinks you would be better served visiting their homepage instead. On your way home the local talk radio station hopes you tune in, but recognizes you may opt for a daily podcast on your iPhone. CBS wants you to end each night with David Letterman, while NBC would rather you fall asleep after Jay Leno and the Tonight Show.

While the list of available content options is endless, the producers all want the same thing: to become part of your routine. Because that provides them a predictable, consistent, repeated opportunity to try and influence your thinking and behavior.

Sounds a lot like Two Minutes Hate. Fortunately it’s not.

Unlike Orwell’s fictitious society, making someone else’s content part of your routine is entirely your discretion. You can opt in and opt out at any time and are under no obligation to react or respond in any way. Essentially, you get to pick “The Party” whose content proves most suitable to your wants and needs.

And I believe there is an audience eager to make the content of 2MinuteGenius a part of their routine.

Image courtesy of psdGraphics

Three months after lamenting my failure to capitalize on Apple’s stock run-up (see Thought Different), Brett Arends provides some emotional comfort via his recent MarketWatch commentary.

Back in 2003, Steve Jobs volunteered to cancel all his Apple stock options in return for a smaller number of shares, worth about $75 million at the time. In hindsight, Jobs would have been better served to keep his original options as it would have netted him an additional $10+ Billion—about 5x his current net worth.

Arends asserts Jobs’ move qualifies as one of the “dumbest trades ever.” I disagree. This is simply a case of retrospect rather than regret and it further emphasizes the point of my original post: while it certainly could have been better, over the years Apple has been very good to me.

I think Steve Jobs would agree.

I grew up in Northern Minnesota where summer lasted roughly three months.  As a result, most citizens were pasty white for the majority of the year.  And if during the middle of winter someone suddenly appeared with a nice deep tan, it was assumed they had traveled afar.

Where did you go? Florida? Mexico? California? Where? What sunny, tropical locale did you journey to? What did you experience?

See, in my small hometown a winter tan was the consequence of a vacation, respite or sabbatical; it was an outward sign that you had explored beyond the comfortable confines of the community. In short, an unexpected change in one’s complexion was assumed to be the consequence of a more significant trip. Therefore, subsequent discussion focused not on your changed appearance, but rather on the journey that led to it.

Of course, this is no longer a safe assumption.  The ubiquity of strip mall salons offering tanning beds and spray-on booths means anyone can change their appearance with a few bucks and a couple of visits. You no longer need to travel abroad or change one’s lifestyle to sustain a deeper shade of pale. Instead you merely need to wear eye protection and be still for 20 minutes once a week.

So for many individuals, a deep tan is not indicative of a more significant event but rather simple commitment to a maintenance program. Thus the focus shifts from maximizing the experience of the journey to minimizing the inconvenience of the task.

What salon do you use? Is it a spray tan? How often do you have to go? Is it safe? What does it cost? Is it convenient?

A business trip last week put me face-to-face with several coworkers for the first time since the launch of Rigorous Pursuit. Many noticed I was a smaller. After confirming their keen sense of observation and offering a complimentary “You look good…”, most inquired about what “program” I was using and how many more pounds I wanted to shed.

What diet are you on? Weight Watchers? Slim-Fast? Are you hungry a lot? How hard is it? How much more are you going to lose?

The questions caught me off guard. Granted, four months earlier I was considerably overweight and out-of-shape, but I hadn’t made changes in order to look better or to achieve a goal weight. I committed to a new daily regimen to achieve increased creativity, improved productivity, better health, greater longevity and higher overall satisfaction. My weight loss was not an achievement, but rather a simple benefit. And while the questions posed by my coworkers were certainly understandable, I found myself initially disappointed by the assumption my slimmer appearance was the goal rather than a consequence of a more significant change.

Cervantes once asserted, ”The journey is better than the inn.” Similarly, it wasn’t the promise of a “nice tan” that ultimately got me to embark on this journey. It was recognizing the importance of maximizing the opportunity and value of the pursuit itself.

You can accomplish a lot in two minutes…

When used wisely, two minutes is a lot of time.

The Toto Neorest 600 knows when you are using it and when you are not. It features a tankless design and cyclone flushing system to conserve water. A wireless control commands its many functions, its heated seat will help keep you cozy and its autoflush feature concludes each visit. It can be yours for $3,200.

Expensive? That depends.

If your household income is around the U.S. median ($42K), adding it to your bathroom would consume about 7% of your annual earnings; that’s an expense few investment advisors would support. The American Standard Cadet 3 is probably a more reasonable option.

But if your income exceeds $500K—which puts you in the top 1% of U.S. households—installing the Neorest costs roughly the same in terms of expense-to-income ratio. From that perspective, spending $3K+ for a state of the art, next generation toilet is a relatively good deal.

Of course, few individuals see it this way. Most will view such luxury as excessive, unnecessary, exorbitant and frivolous. And many will argue spending money on such an item is nothing more than a tremendous waste.

If you agree with this opinion, are you equally as offended by the notion of paying $3+ for coffee at Starbucks—roughly 15 times what it would cost to brew it at home? Or are you appalled by the idea of paying $5 for case of bottled water—roughly 125 times what it costs from your tap?

If not, then perhaps you need to stop using your income level as the basis for assessing other people’s spending and start using it as the basis to assess your relative wealth. Because from the vantage point of a citizen in Haiti, where a typical daily wage is $2, spending $5 on bottled water is indulgent, paying $3 for a cup of coffee is ludicrous and buying a $200 toilet is unconscionable.

Seth Godin announced he is taking his Linchpin seminar on the road, coming to Minneapolis in August.

I have referenced Seth’s work before and give him partial credit for inspiring me to launch this blog and pursue development of 2MinuteGenius. As part of that effort, I recut the audio from an interview he gave a while back on music and tribes to serve as the voiceover for an animation featuring kinetic typography. Give it a listen

Needless to say, the man has a lot of ideas and he can riff and freestyle about marketing, promotion and leadership for hours on end. Accordingly, the event in August is to be unscripted and highly interactive with an afternoon session dedicated to Q&A.

Thanks to a generous donation by my spouse (who is a truly indispensable linchpin herself), I will have the opportunity to experience it all while gathering ideas, collecting wisdom and networking with others.

It should make for a memorable day.

Here is a synopsis on April’s page turners, the first course of my literary feast on collaboration…

Group Genius by Keith Sawyer – Breakthrough innovation is often derived from collaboration. Group flow (aka “in the zone”) occurs when individual skills are comparable, the goal is clear, there is a commitment to listening and communication, and full concentration is enabled.

Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky – Technology now enables group action in a way that was previously possible only via institutions (government, religion, business, etc.). With transaction costs for many tasks now equal to zero, collaboration without managerial oversight is not only possible, but ultimately more successful. And if you do fail, you fail fast (which is a good thing).

The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki – For some problems it is better to use the collective sagacity of a group than it is to rely on a single expert. The key is to ensure the crowd is diverse, that opinions are formed individually, and some means exists to aggregate views into a collective decision.

I’ll provide more thoughts on how to apply and incorporate this knowledge into 2MinuteGenius in a later post.

Hidden amongst the simple, routine tasks of your job are opportunities to create art—experiences that inspire, motivate and connect with others. The story of Johnny the grocery bagger is commonly shared to illustrate how you can make a difference by putting “your personal signature on the job.”

But there are numerous other examples:

David Holmes did it while making announcements.

Ericson Calderon did it while serving ice cream.

Matthew Weathers did it while teaching math.

Ryan Matthew Burgos did it while pouring drinks.

So do the task at hand and do it well. But if possible, consider turning it into art. Doing so may require some bravado, certainly a willingness to fail, and it may produce nothing more than embarrassment. That’s the risk.

But when it resonates, everyone—your customers, your coworkers, your friends and family, and most importantly, you—will enjoy the reward.

We are keenly aware of the perils and dangers associated with overeating. Obesity. Higher blood pressure. Increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

We are also aware of the perils and dangers associated with overspending. Debt. Higher income requirements. Increased risk of credit problems, foreclosure and bankruptcy.

And yet we collectively continue to consume more than we need.

We eat too much sugar, cholesterol and saturated fats. We spend too much on designer shoes, smart phones and LED flat screens. We feast on too many deserts, red meat and coffee. We buy too many toys, clothes and electronics. We consume all these things because superficially we believe we must—to be happy, to be satisfied, to be successful and even to help the economy.

Stop fooling yourself.

And recognize our current economy is built on consumption; therefore the system isn’t going to change anytime soon because too many people are dependent on the system. Retailers, manufacturers, restaurant owners, homebuilders and farmers need you to keep consuming. As do credit card companies, weight loss clinics, loan officers, personal trainers, debt consultants and dietitians.

To prosper in this environment, you need to get two things under control: diet and budget. Do that and you’ll be way ahead of most.

In February, as part of a “Face the Nation” interview, Bob Schieffer asked former Secretary of State General Colin Powell if he had “any regrets” endorsing Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign.

I didn’t like the question. Not because of my political affiliation, nor due to some disdain for the interviewer. I simply objected to utilization of the word regret.

Regret acknowledges a poor decision enabled by emotion:

  • I reget snacking on chocolate cheesecake last night at 3AM.
  • I reget drinking so much at the New Year’s Eve party.
  • I reget sending an acrimonious email to my coworker.

Expressing regret is an admission that you were wrong and you knew it at the time, however you consciously decided to ignore your own wisdom or dismiss readily available information in favor of some other desire. The immediate gratification is eventually replaced by sadness, disappointment, repentance or despair. In an attempt to console yourself, you express regret—a confession that you were weak, acted selfishly and/or were incapable of keeping your emotions in check.

That’s regret. And I doubt General Powell was anxious to express that on national television.

In contrast, retrospect acknowledges a poor decision enabled by uncertainty:

  • I don’t regret not taking typing in high school, but in retrospect it would have served me well.
  • I don’t regret locking in my mortgage rate, but in retrospect I would have benefited from waiting two more weeks.
  • I don’t regret selling my Apple stock, but in retrospect I could have held it much longer.

Retrospect is an admission that you may have been wrong, but it was due to insufficient information or unforeseen subsequent events. Elapsed time provides more intelligence and greater clarity, which helps to explain why the decision was ultimately proven incorrect. There are no ensuing emotions of guilt, anguish or contrition to be resolved and any pain or disappointment is comforted by the fact no one can predict the future (e.g., “Hindsight is 20/20…” or “If I knew then what I know now…”).

Conventional wisdom says regrets are bad. We shouldn’t have any. Therefore, we hesitate to acknowledge them and quickly eschew the notion of having any when asked by someone else. But retrospect is usually considered a good thing. It presents an opportunity to learn from our past and make better decisions in the future. And if asked for our thoughts in retrospect, we often elaborate in great detail.

And therefore Powell’s response should come as no surprise:

“None whatsoever…I think he was the right choice when the nation voted for him…he has done some things that help the country a great deal…But I am afraid he put too much on the plate for the American people to absorb at this time.”

In other words: no regrets, but in retrospect…

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