Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Laws of Attraction

So often, you hear about people entering a new relationship and in the process losing themselves. Over the years, I've had many friends who 'fell' in love. It all started with attraction: not just to appearance, but to looks, intelligence, money, energy, charm, and so on.

Attraction is powerful. Most of us are not able to clearly articulate what it is in another person that attracts us. At best, we can identify elements of attraction (someone's smile or their laugh or their wit), but we can't come up with an overall blueprint of what would make a person attractive to us. Our not being able to clearly identify what it is in others that makes them attractive makes attraction even more powerful, almost magical.

As though attraction were not already powerful enough, most of us would probably describe 'being attracted' as something that happens to us, not something that we do. Indeed, enchantment might be a better word to use when describing our experience of attraction.

Now, there are all sorts of challenges that come with being enchanted.

First, being enchanted causes us to focus on the elements of attraction to the exclusion of the elements of repulsion.
We're so attracted to his winning smile and confidence that we ignore the times when he seems controlling and rigid. We're so enamored of her warm voice and soft caress that we ignore times when she's unkind to or impatient with others. We build up an image of the other person that is indeed positive, but unbalanced. Unlike seeing flaws in the full light of day and then not judging them, we blind ourselves to them.

Second, being enchanted causes us to ignore or casually dismiss the trail of discarded passions that we abandon along the road to a deeper (and more time consuming) relationship. We put other relationships on the back burner. We put plans on hold. We spend less and less time on other interests.

I have a friend Jeff who is the most naturally gifted musician I've ever met...
When I we were both fifteen or so and just discovered be-bop, I bought some Charlie Parker records. For a fifteen year old, I had a good ear; I could listen to any pop or rock song and write down what was being played. As I listened to Charlie Parker, I was completely blown away. He played so fast and so differently, that I could just barely keep up listening to what he'd played, let alone write it down.

I played the record for Jeff who seemed to kind of space out as though memorized by the music. When the tune ended, he picked up his trumpet and started playing back Charlie's riffs verbatim. He'd never before heard bebop let alone the specific recording and yet...

In a composition class at Berklee College of Music, we would gather weekly to have our compositions reviewed by our instructor and to have them played by students. One week, I wrote a brass quartet that I was really proud of.

After looking at my scribblings for just a few seconds, my teacher looked up at me telling me, "Look, when writing for other instruments, you really need to get a better understanding of the range and capacity each of the instruments. You can't just write something because it sounds good in your head. This trumpet part has intervals that no trumpet player is ever going to be able to play."

Ahh..., little did he know. Jeff was the trumpet player in the quartet that day.
Anyway, a couple of years later, Jeff was enchanted. I don't think that he even owns a trumpet today.

Third, enchanted is a set up for bitterness and resentment. It's not that we don't see the flaws; we simply ignore them. It's not that we forget all that we've given up; we just look away from it. When the enchantment ends, all that stuff comes crashing down on us.

Nothing Personal
Our experience of enchantment is not limited to personal relationships or even to people. We can be enchanted by pretty much anything: big companies offering bright futures and money... owning a big house or an expensive car or a boat... running off to join the Peace Corps... becoming a rock star. You name it; pretty much anything can be the source of our enchantment.

There's a saying: the two happiest days in a boat owner's life are the day he purchases his boat and the day that he sells his boat. With slight modification, this is probably the case in many relationships; couples are happiest when they first get together and after they break up (assuming that the vindictive bitterness thing doesn't settle in.)

Breaking the Spell
The crazy part about the power of attraction is that, even after being burned by it, we'll immediately embrace it again. It's as though we think that the culprit was the object of attraction, not attraction itself.

I have friends who, after freeing themselves from long, unhappy, unfulfilling relationships that began with attraction, almost immediately purchase a ticket for the next ride. Some even use attraction to someone new to help inspire to them break free from someone old. And the cycle continues...

On the flip side, I have friends who are unhappy in their relationships simply because they're 'suddenly' confronted with all the things that they've ignored and denied all along. They 'suddenly' become aware of the less attractive aspects of the other person or that they've 'given up so much'. It's as though their partner tricked them or somehow did it to them.

In the end, as long as you view attraction as something that cannot be understood or something that happens to you, you're, well... you're screwed. Nothing you can do about it.

If on the other hand, you view attraction as something that you can understand and something that you do, then there's hope.

Think about it; there must something in your life to which you were once not attracted, but are now attracted: sushi... girls... guys... books... football... drama.. adventure... math... music... running?

I've been told by lots of people that I'm rather an acquired taste. Acquiring taste is essentially our shaping and changing that to which we're attracted. We do it all the time. It's just that we tend not to do it deliberately or systematically.

If you don't want to buy into owning your sense of attraction, how about simply better understanding it. Next time you go to a restaurant, make a game out of identifying what you find attractive and unattractive in others that you can see and hear. Take turns with your dinner companion(s) identifying what and why. Write it all down and look for patterns as they emerge. If they don't keep playing until they do.

Finally, if you insist on buying into the whole enchantment thing, at least be aware of the trade-offs that you make along the way. Note them. Talk about them. Don't let them slide by hoping that something will change. It won't.

Happy Wednesday!


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Getting It Right

Last night, I thought more about the 'getting it right' phenomenon I wrote about yesterday in More than You Know. Apparently I was doing much of my thinking while sleeping, because at about 4AM, I suddenly sat up in bed recalling a story about virtuoso jazz pianist Oscar Peterson and virtuoso classical pianist Vladamir Horowitz. As the story goes (whole tone scales playing in the background)...
Horowitz determined that he would to put to rest forever the question of which school of pianists was truly the greatest, the jazz school or the classical school.

Horowitz purchased a copy of one of Peterson's solo recordings and learned to play one of the songs verbatim. Not only did he learn to play exactly the same notes as Peterson, but he also learned to play them flawlessly, even better than the original recording.

Horowitz arranged for a meeting with Peterson. As the two talked about the merits of the schools of music they each represented, Horowitz said to Peterson, I'd like you to hear something. He sat down at Peterson's piano and played the song he'd learned with all the virtuosity and grace of a classical master. When he was done, he turned to Peterson and said, "So, what do you think?"

Peterson who had improvised the original recording, looked at Horowitz and said, "That was great. Play something else."

Getting It Right
Over the years, I've come to realize that no matter what the discipline (music, snowboarding, medicine, business), there are innovators and there are performers. This morning, I came to the
conclusion that the primary difference between innovators and performers is how they feel about 'getting it right'.

Innovators tend not to be too concerned about getting it right. They make lots of mistakes. They're often sloppy in regard to their technique. Their main motivation is pushing the envelope, doing things that haven't been done before.

Performers on the other hand are concerned specifically with getting it right. In fact, not just getting it right, but getting it perfect. Performers may innovate in incremental ways, honing and refining what has been created by others. But in general, their motivations and skills are focused on manifesting the perfect instantiation of something well defined and understood.

Of course, you occasionally encounter someone who is both an innovator and a performer. Bach didn't just compose all those fugues, he could improvise them on the fly. Sean White seems certainly to be redefining the sport of snowboarding while also being the sport's greatest performer. However, people like Sean White and Johann Sebastian Bach seem to be pretty rare.

What's Wrong with Being Great?
Over the years, I've encountered a lot of people who were great performers, but who wanted to be counted among the innovators. In some cases, their being great performers simply wasn't enough for them; they saw being an innovator as somehow better or more prestigious or more important than being a performer.

To some extent, society seems to be of two minds. In the near term, we seem to gravitate to the great performers. However, over the long term, we tend to remember only the innovators. If you were to ask someone about current musicians that he knows, it's likely that all of them would be performers. However, if you were to ask him about musicians from two-hundred years ago, it's likely that he'd list composers, not performers.

The problem with great performers who don't consider being a great performer good enough is that they tend not to be very good at innovating. Getting it right simply gets in the way. Their work tends to be derivative rather than creative, borrowing liberally from what has been done before. When they do 'create', the creation doesn't have the kind of structural integrity found in the work of great innovators. They lack a sense of systemness. They may not even understand the notion of systemness.

In the end, innovation requires a willingness to completely abandon 'getting it right'. In some cases, the path to innovation requires intentionally getting it 'wrong', to break the mold and see what happens. Now, if you're concerned about acceptance or approval or good grades or whatever other rewards come with getting it 'right', then it's likely that you're not going to innovate.

The Innovator's Dilemma
So, how does an innovator deal with the practical aspects of getting it wrong, e.g, not being able to get or keep a job. Well, outside of the simple answer of becoming independently wealthy, one thing that comes to mind is making your passion your vocation and not your occupation.

I have many friends from music school who simply don't enjoy playing music anymore. At twenty, we were all innovators, trying new things and breaking rules. Now that they make their living from music (as teachers, composers, performers or studio musicians), there's very little innovation involved in their work. They're paid to color within the lines and to do so perfectly.

If you put yourself in the position where your livelihood depends on your craft, you're likely to lean towards getting it right. Alternatively, there's always deciding to live on less. It's amazing how much of what we never even considered owning at eighteen becomes absolutely essential at forty.

In regard to More than You Know, Sree commented on the need to get it right being quite deeply seated in most of us. I have to agree that it sure does appear that way. However, from my perspective, it comes at great cost.

OK, I can go back to sleep now.

Happy Tuesday!

Monday, March 29, 2010

More than You Know

I spent Thursday and Friday in New Jersey working with my friend Jonathan and then hanging out together at night. In the evenings I got to reconnect with old friends and meet new friends. In particular, I got to spend time with and get to better know Jonathan's mom and sisters. It was really fun.

What's with All the Questions?
One of the things that I tend to do when hanging out with people (or pretty much any time I'm with people) is to ask a lot of questions. Friday night, as we sat talking in the kitchen of Jonathan's sister Nancy, I started asking questions of Nancy's friend Lori. Nancy goodheartedly quipped something like, "Watch out, here he goes!"

Now, I get that a lot. People notice that I ask a lot of questions and make different assertions as to why.

Some see all my questions as a kind of shtick which is Yiddish for either a contrived and often used bit of business that a performer uses to steal attention (as in 'play it straight with no shtick') or a devious trick or a bit of cheating (as in 'how did you ever fall for a shtick like that?'). Others, see the questions as a way of hiding whatever my agenda might be, making themselves nervous and spending a lot of time on "why did you ask that?" And still others think that I simply don't like to answer questions, so I ask them instead.

Indeed, to the extent that doing something frequently qualifies as shtick, then perhaps shtick it is. However, although I'm aware of various questions that I seem to ask more frequently than others, I'm not aware of any specific pattern or series of questions that I use repeatedly. The agenda part is always funny in that I'm typically simply interested and curious about the other person, not driving towards anything in particular, but just seeing where the questions and answers will take us. I'm not sure why people find it hard to believe that you're just curious about them, but a lot of people do (find it hard to believe).

The Gorge of Eternal Peril
As we talked about my questioning, Jonathan, referring to Monty Python and the Holy Grail, asked, "What's your favorite color?"

In the movie, King Arthur and his crew approach the Bridge of Death that spans the Gorge of Eternal Peril. To cross the bridge, one must correctly answer three questions put forth by the bridge keeper. If answered correctly, one may proceed. If not, one is cast into the Gorge of Eternal Peril.

Sir Launcelot
The first to approach the keeper of the bridge is Sir Launcelot.
KEEPER: Stop! Who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three, 'ere the other side he see.
LAUNCELOT: Ask me the questions, bridge-keeper. I'm not afraid.
KEEPER: What is your name?
LAUNCELOT: My name is Sir Launcelot of Camelot.
KEEPER: What is your quest?
LAUNCELOT: To seek the Holy Grail.
KEEPER: What is your favorite color?
KEEPER: Right. Off you go.
LAUNCELOT: Oh, thank you. Thank you very much.
Seeing that Launcelot has crossed safely and that the questions were easy, Sir Robin goes next.
ROBIN: That's easy!
KEEPER: Stop! Who approaches the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three, 'ere the other side he see.
ROBIN: Ask me the questions, bridge-keeper. I'm not afraid.
KEEPER: What is your name?
ROBIN: Sir Robin of Camelot.
KEEPER: What is your quest?
ROBIN: To seek the Holy Grail.
KEEPER: What is the capital of Assyria?
ROBIN: I don't know that! Auuuuuuuugh!
Poor Sir Robin is cast into the Gorge of Eternal Peril. Sir Galahad approaches the keeper.
KEEPER: Stop! What is your name?
GALAHAD: Sir Galahad of Camelot.
KEEPER: What is your quest?
GALAHAD: I seek the Holy Grail.
KEEPER: What is your favorite color?
GALAHAD: Blue. No yel-- Auuuuuuuugh!

When it comes to questions, I think that many of us treat the answers as though getting them 'wrong' might result in our being cast into the Gorge of Eternal Peril. We start to wonder what's really motivating the questioner. We start to second guess our answers. We start to wonder if our favorite color is blue, no yel--auuugghhh.

Dumbing Ourselves Down
Whatever the motivation is, being concerned about getting answers 'right' has this amazing effect of making us stupid. Oftentimes, the answer that first comes to mind is simply amazing, and yet, we're not sure about it, so we say, "I don't know."

Many of us will play a game of 'wait and see' to make sure that it's 'safe' to answer or to say what we think. We know that we have something to offer, but we hold back.

Indeed, there are many times when people who ask questions do so with hidden agenda. There are many times when people are simply performing shtick. Nonetheless, why hold back, denying yourself and others all your brilliance inside that's just busting to get out.

One of the biggest limiting beliefs that many of us have adopted is, "I have to get this right!" I have a couple of alternatives to suggest:
  1. Very little that we do is set in stone, irreversible or unchangeable.
  2. Getting it 'best' works much better than getting it 'right'. By getting it best, we simply make each answer the best we have at that moment. A moment later, we can get it best again (making it even better.)
Happy Monday!


Sunday, March 28, 2010

Connecting the Dots

The other night we sat talking over dinner with our friends Randy and Jenny. Iris spends time in the playroom almost every day with their son Quinn. Iris remarked that just the other day, Quinn had spontaneously shouted, "Aimee, A-I-M-E-E!"

Randy and Jenny were amazed as Quinn doesn't spell nor could they recall how or when he would have learned to spell Aimee.

So what changed?

Jaycees Can't Sing
As we considered what had transpired with Quinn, I recalled having worked with a group of Jaycees in Glen Ellyn, Illinois when I was about 22. As a fundraiser, the Jaycees had decided to produce a musical written by Jaycees and performed by Jaycees. I was hired as the music director.

I sat at the piano one night facing four young business men whose main performance involved a quartet with four-part harmony. Each of them had sheet music in front of them which they had practiced and learned. So, we jumped right into the song.

As we began rehearsing, it was immediately clear that the harmonies weren't all they were intended to be. We started, stopped, started, stopped and then finally I decided it might be best to practice the song first in unison. "Hey guys, let's take it once through with everyone singing the melody."

So, we launched into a rousing chorus of the song singing just the basic melody and... well, what they sang wasn't exactly the melody. In fact, it wasn't exactly any melody.

From all I could discern, every one of these guys was tone-deaf. As I paused the song, pondering how to proceed, out of the corner of my eye at the edge of the Glenbard West, high school stage, I could see the musical's director bent over laughing. Turns out, he knew full well that none of the guys in front of me could 'carry a tune in a bucket' and our current exercise was meant as a bit of a practical joke (on me).

Joke's on Me
I suddenly felt inspired to teach these guys who can't sing, to sing. We tried taking one line at a time over and over. We tried simply humming the song without the lyrics. We tried pretty much anything that I could think of, but still nothing that was sung in any way represented the tune: not for want of trying.

Finally, I pointed to the man directly in front of me and said, "I'm going to play a note on the piano. When I play the note, I'd like you to listen to it and then to hum the same note. Everyone else, I want you to listen to what I play and then listen to what he sings."

I played a G below middle C and waited. The man hummed an Eb just below. I played the G again and waited. The man hummed a Bb just above. I played the G a third time and... E. Then I stopped, scanned the group catching each man's eyes and asked, "OK, I want you to think about this. Is what I played, what he hummed?"

I could almost hear the gears turning as each man pondered the question, eyes glancing back and forth. Finally, one man looked me in the eye, a big 'ahh hah!' spreading across his face, and said, "No!"

One by one, we proceeded with the exercise until each of the guys could here when a hummed note was the same pitch as that being played and when it wasn't. Turned out that none of the guys had ever associated pitch with music. They'd always considered music to be words and rhythm. About an hour later, everyone of them could sing the song, some of them actually singing harmony. They'd simply never connected the dots.

Under-connected Brains
As I learn more about the neurological basis for autism, a common thread is that of brain synchronization. Different parts of our brains are responsible for different activities. When we undertake complex tasks, multiple regions of our brains work together to accomplish them. To do this effectively requires connectivity and timing.

For people with autism, it appears that the timing and coordination of certain parts of the brain doesn't work or doesn't work well. This makes processing of some complex tasks impossible or difficult.

Imagine racing down an entrance ramp onto a highway of fast moving traffic. Let's say that drivers on the ramp pay attention only to other drivers on the ramp, and those on the highway only to others on the highway. Both the ramp and the highway work fine, but when you bring them together, the merging of traffic doesn't work. Not only that, but because the merging doesn't work, both the highway and the ramp stop working as traffic begins to pile up at point of intersection. To work effectively, activity on the ramp and on the highway must be coordinated an synchronized.

Similarly, people with neurological challenges that limit or preclude the synchronization and coordination of various regions of the brain have difficulties with complex tasks. Each processing center works fine. However, crudely speaking, when you bring together multiple centers, the merging of information doesn't work and the resulting pile up causes each independent region to overload.

It appears that the solution to this is simple (albeit perhaps not always easy to implement). The key is to conduct activities that help to improve the coordination of the various parts of the brain. Since the individual parts of the brain are working just fine, once the connections are established, amazing things happen including apparently miraculous strides in learning.

Connecting the Dots
I've often used the illustration:
If all you have is a hammer,
then every problem looks like a nail.
Oftentimes, when teaching others new skills and capabilities, we use repetition. If someone is slow to 'get it', we repeat and repeat and repeat until they either understand or we determine that they aren't going to understand.

However, if a person simply isn't making the connection between two or more critical elements, you can repeat until we have an efficient and effective public health care plan, and they still won't 'get it'. Repetition without connection doesn't work.

What is likely more useful is to ferret out the places where the connections are not being made, and then to work on connecting the dots.

OK, so that's the simple part. The trickier part is figuring out what connections are missing and how to build the bridges. Depending on the situation, there may be formal evaluations that can help you with that. In other cases, it might be as simple as dialoguing with someone until you find the missing bridge. If you're coaching someone, it may involve simply dropping what's not working and starting to pay close attention to where the connection breaks down. Once you find it, work on bridging the disconnected pieces.

The cool thing is that once the connection is made, all sorts of wonderful things happen and progress can seem miraculous.

If you've struggled all your life with math, it could be that your cognitive abilities are just fine, there are just a few things that don't quite connect yet. If you're a slave to the sheet music never having been able to 'play by ear', it could be that there are just a couple of connections that need to be made and you'll be playing anything you hear. In many cases, there may be a solitary, basic connection or association that's simply missing. Track it down, bridge the connection and voila!

Happy connecting!


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Chew on this! (II)

Every Friday until November 7, 2010 you will find entries from a series written by Iris about her training to run the New York marathon in 2010. It is something she never aspired to do; she has never run a distance of more than two kilometers in her life. In this series she describes her adventures and how she works on her beliefs to transform her challenges and successes into one great experience.

It’s the end of week two of the inflammation injury. I've run a total of five minutes (!) over the last week and have been doing strengthening exercises. This seems to me a slow, slow recovery! I am registered for a 10K in three weeks and I wonder how I will be doing by then. Ahh, well... that’s the future. I'd rather come back to the present moment and take it one day at the time. The strengthening exercises, the stretching and cross training will do their work.

This afternoon I heard that my friend Jonathan knows about this diet that in his opinion works really well to eliminate inflammation. This weekend I will hear all about it and change my diet to help my body. By Friday I will give you an update about this all. No beliefs to explore this week. Everything feels peaceful in this area, and I want to leave this subject to go back to the article that I wrote yesterday.

Chew on This!

If you have not yet read the article Chew on This!, I suggest that you to do that first. If you don’t, you'll miss some of the fun of creating new neural pathways by squeaking some of the rusty wheels of your brain!

It’s all about doing
Lots of people talk happiness. They know the lingo and easily recite the words taught at all the right times. But then when it’s time to put the learned materials into practice, not many people seem up to the challenge! This is the reason that I thought it a good idea to start writing about my marathon experiences: a real life example of how the happiness philosophy can help you create your world.

And this was also a motivator for writing Chew on This! yesterday. How do we put a philosophy in practice? By playing with it! By using it! By doing it!

While writing this article, I still am a little surprised by the quietness of everyone who read the Chew on This! yesterday. The statistics show that quite a number of people came to the site yesterday. The readers stayed longer on the page than on other days this week. So I know that people have done more than just glancing at the post. I know you're out there! But still, almost no one commented. Was I unclear? Were you unclear? Do have nothing to say? I'm sure you have wonderful things to say and great insights! Come on, let's do brain crunches together!

OK, it's play time. Let's go find the beliefs in Dr. Seligman's paragraph.

Find beliefs.
It is all about beliefs. Beliefs are everywhere. You read them; you hear them; you create them; you buy them; you sell them.

There are beliefs we change easily, and there are beliefs we take for true. There are beliefs we've held since we were little and there are beliefs we created during the day when working or watching television. The philosophy or happiness is about recognizing beliefs, so we can post ourselves firmly in the manager's seat of our lives and be in control of our beliefs and the actions that flow out of them.

The paragraph I posted yesterday presented a big pile of Martin Seligman’s beliefs. We could distill and analyze the paragraph for a long time. There is so much fun stuff to find in it. But let's start simple: what are the beliefs he sells? Do you recognize them? Let me start by listing a few that I see.

1. Ending friendships is difficult.
2. There are kind and unkind ways of making this transition, but they are all unpleasant.
3. This is a horrible situation, one that most children experience from both sides.
4. As parents, we want our children to react like Andrea.

Do you recognize these as beliefs? Can you hear the unspoken "always" in the sentences? Can you hear the "this is the truth" in the sentences? Can you see in the fourth sentence that he is speaking for every parent? OK, what other beliefs can you find? (Hint, hint... feel free to use the comment box!)

Does not fit...
One belief that Martin Seligman sells that does not fit my version of the philosophy of happiness:
I don’t believe that Andrea hurt Lauren, but I do believe that Lauren can feel hurt by Andrea’s actions. I would like Andrea to think "Lauren felt hurt after I told her I don’t want to be her friend anymore" and also "is there anything that I can do to help her (compassion)?"

I don’t believe in taking responsibility for someone else’s feelings or pain, like Dr. Seligman says in this paragraph. But I do believe in approaching people with compassion.

Kinda fits...
I do support Martin Seligman's belief that Andrea has learned from this situation and will probably do better in similar situations in the future. I also believe that, if Andrea had been able to immediately go to the belief "Lauren felt hurt after I told her I don’t want to be her friend anymore", she would have been more easily and quickly able to go to the compassionate state of explaining and supporting Andrea during the conversation itself, instead of responding from a with guilt after her actions.

Other thoughts I had...
If Martin Seligman’s books were totally filled with these kinds of paragraphs, I would not be interested in reading his work. But luckily, I have also read in his materials lots of stuff that I really love and seems really useful. There are even insights that I might want to adopt into my version of the philosophy or happiness! But let's go there when we have the basics down! This paragraph is useful, because it is such a great example of how often we all make up that our worldview is everyone else's worldview!

Your time to Chew on This!
OK. Want to play and practice? Go back to the first article and be present with the words. Use all the material that is there to learn about yourself and others. Are you drifting off to other subjects? Are you judging what you read? Are you agreeing what you read? If so, are you aware of the beliefs that you're buying? What do you feel in yourself?

Then sit down and write down the beliefs you find. Why are they beliefs? Which of these beliefs do you support? Which not? Why?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Chew on this!

(Iris's weekly marathon article will be posted Saturday March 27, 2010)

The readers of the Belief Makers blog consist of a bunch of newbies and a group of returning "hardcore" readers. We love newbies, and if you are one, we hope this blog will inspire you to come back often and question your life and anything in it. We hope you will inspire yourself to create an most amazing future for yourself; a future better then you ever thought possible.

If you are one of our core readers then you know (I assume!) that we write a lot of our articles with specifically you in our minds. A lot of the contents of this blog requires some interest and understanding of the happiness philosophy and how we at Belief Makers like to support, grow and question this philosophy not knowing where this will lead us! There are things written in the hope it will inspire you to sharpen your mental skills and make a stand for your beliefs. We don't write to have you agree with us. We write to have you grow yourself and become an amazing source for yourself and others. A source that you trust. A source you feel comfortable with. A source that helps you sail the biggest storms easily and helps you glide over high waves as if there was no storm at all.

A couple of weeks ago Sree mentioned to us that a lot of our articles are so "well-done and tied up, that there is not a lot of space left for comments". In this article today I have taken this wonderful feedback in account. This article is written by me with the intent to be chewed on and to be discussed together in the comment section! So, I hope you are ready to jump in!

When time allows, I like to read different materials that are available in the "happiness corner". When I heard about Martin Seligman and his work in positive psychology, I bought a couple of his books to study his work and learn to understand what he stands for. I must tell you that his books are a real challenge to me. Some of the things he writes in his books I find brilliant and at those times I get really excited, while other parts make my stomach squirm. In some of those moments I just cannot get myself to read anymore and I put the book aside till a later moment!

This morning, I opened up "The Optimistic Child" on page 60. Martin E.P. Seligman described on the pages before a situation where a teenager Andrea breaks her friendship with her friend Lauren. Then on page 6o, Martin Seligman describes a short analysis of this interaction before he advices parents how to help their children with situations like this.

After reading it, I just had to type the paragraph into this blog for you. You will find it below. I recommend you to take the time to read it carefully:

"...Changing friendships is difficult. The person being dropped feels rejected and hurt; the person doing the dropping feels guilty. There are kind and unkind ways of making this transition, but they are all unpleasant. Andrea feels bad that she no longer wants to be close friends with Lauren, but she does not see this as a reflection on her own character. She is able to own up for the way in which she handled the situation ("I shouldn't have been so mean to her today") without beating herself up about it. Andrea didn't think, "I'm a horrible person. I'm the world's worst friend." And Andrea is mercilessly accurate both about her impact on Lauren ("I’ve really hurt her feelings") and about her own desires in the matter ("I just don't want to be her best friend anymore"). Because she takes responsibility, Andrea can correct her trajectory and form a plan of action that may help a bit ("I ought to call her tonight"). Andrea will probably do a better job in parallel situations in the future ("I could have handled this better" and "have explained how I feel"). This is a horrible situation, one that most children experience from both sides. As parents, we want our children to react like Andrea. We want them to take responsibility (Andrea is causing Lauren pain), but we don't want our children to be overwhelmed with guilt and shame whenever they do something that displeases someone else..."

"The Optimistic Child – The fundamentals of optimism". Martin E.P. Seligman, Ph.D. , Page 60;

I am not going to give away my thoughts on this piece, just yet. What I want you to do is to read the paragraph again and then answer the following questions:

What things in this paragraph do you agree with? Which things Martin Seligman says do you not agree with or would you question? What other thoughts come to mind when you read this article? Do you believe there is material in this paragraph that fits into the Happiness Philosophy? Have you ever broken a relationship? How did you explain bit to yourself and others? Would you still do it that way? Why, or why not?

Please, feel free to put your thoughts on paper, or I mean... the website! I'm looking forward to your responses!

Enjoy smearing your wheels...!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Our Volunteers in Jaedon's Classroom

In January, the children and I were thrown in to a world of horses and royalty and dressage and Austrian culture by the book, White Stallion of Lipizza.  It is a beautiful story of dreaming, persevering and accomplishing.  It introduced me to this idea of the stallion being the teacher.  Borina, the Lipizzaner stallion teaches Hans, the young austrian boy, the ins and outs of dressage.  There were times when the stallion did all the movements perfectly, independent of input from the young Hans, almost as if to show him how the movement should actually be done. Then, Borina would more accurately respond to Hans' less than correct input (throwing Hans off or dragging his hind quarters in an undignified fashion) helping in the potential riding master's learning process.

The story reminds me of Jaedon's teachings.  Now that I'm clear on the fact that he is teaching and I am positioning myself as his student.  Many of his responses mirror my internal thoughts and feelings, and give me the opportunity to explore them more deeply.  As he reflects my discomfort to me, I see it more clearly.

I'm also his manager, helping other willing students have access to his lessons.  This week, I had the pleasure of adding 5 new students to Jaedon's classroom.  Read about my journey here.  Their first goal learning to let go of any need to 'fix' Jay and to really have fun being a loving, peaceful presence in his life.  Initially, Jaedon seems to interact with them strongly, almost showing them how much fun their time could be. At some point, they will each get to see the powerful reflecting image too.  How will they respond?  I really want to help them, guide them in this process.  Yet, I feel myself go tense at the ensuing thoughts: 5 new volunteers!  How will I manage? Can I teach them all?  I'm realizing that these thoughts add to my confusion (some days yes! some days no!) about having a large team of volunteers working with Jay.

Reframing all that in my head is such a relief.  I live with the master teacher! I'm just a facilitator, a midwife in my volunteer's process.  Every volunteer will go as far and connect as deeply as they each want to.  While I hope they do, and I continue to look for ways to inspire them, I can take myself off the hook.  I'm not making them.

I'm hopeful and excited, anticipating the next few weeks for all of us.   I'm getting to practice this new way of being with Jaedon and they are getting to learn from him more directly.... I keep refining this whole volunteer training thing.  Who knows what it will become next?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Neither Hot, Nor Cold

So, when it comes to new relationships, new opportunities, new ideas and new adventures, are you the kind of person who jumps first? Or, are you the one who waits to see what others (or the other) will do?

Maybe you're someone who proposes to jump 'together'? Together may be a way to encourage someone to go with you. Together may be a way to manipulate someone into going before you. Together may indicate a willingness to wait or a lack of willingness to go it alone. Some people can appear to go together when in fact they're so good at watching others that their delay is imperceptible.

Of course, you can never really go together unless each is willing to go alone.

Let's Be Friends, You Go First
Over the past few days, Iris and I have had amazing opportunities to experience all sorts of relationships, potential relationships and former relationships. Last night, as we talked over dinner, Iris commented on what she was seeing as a common theme: who goes first?

Who goes first
has lot's of variants. For example, some people play who goes first kind of like you would that Olympic 'sport' curling; they don't really push and they don't really pull, they just keep the other person in play with promises and innuendo like brooms brushing ice around a rock. They're not ready to commit, but they're also not ready to let go.

Others play who goes first by running rapidly towards the edge of the cliff where it's either fly or plummet. They run fast enough to inspire confidence, but not so fast as to lose the person trailing them. They race ahead and then pull up at just the last second, allowing the other to pass them. If the other stops, so do they; if not, they follow on.

Others jump, but they have a hidden parachute strapped to their backs.

Some people adopt the business mantra, 'he who goes first loses'. For example, if you're negotiating a salary or a deal or the purchase of a car, whoever clearly articulates what they're willing to pay or what they're willing to take, loses. For many, this is part of the art of negotiation. They hold their cards close to their chests, revealing no more than what is absolutely required to stay in the game.

Some are more manic, pushing hard sometimes and then suddenly withdrawing.

And then there are other people who don't hesitate whatsoever; they seem not to know that there's a game is being played. Cards face up on the table, they say what they want, they tell you what they'll do, and then they go for it.

How do you approach new relationships and opportunities?

Holding Out for More
I think one of the motivators that drives the who goes first game is a form of playing not to lose that is more like afraid that I could have done better. I can't tell you how many people I know who've held off on committing to a relationship because they felt like, perhaps, just maybe, they could 'do better'. It's amazing how the idea of 'doing better' can get in the way of doing great.

We do this in situations from evaluating our significant relationships to purchasing a house to looking for a new job. I've often called it the fruitless pursuit of perfection; the perfect becomes the enemy of the awesome. In in the end, I imagine it's no different than cocaine addiction or golf, always looking for that high or that round that will surpass (or even be as good as) a previous one.

Delaying Execution
Of course, some people are simply full of crap. They're so concerned about what others are thinking about them that they'll say pretty much anything to keep others in the game. They'll promise, they'll cajole, they'll manipulate, they'll distract and they'll misdirect. They'll say whatever it takes to get another chance. "Just one more day... Just one more time... It will be better, you'll see!"

The toughest part of this is that the best players tend to be the most sincere (in the moment). Although many of us believe you can't lie to yourself (it's kind of definitionaly impossible), there are still cases where people have such strong powers of denial so as to be delusional. They could see through their own lies, but, well, they don't.

Then there are the people who actually have no intention of ever fully pursuing their stated desires. They speak of them and flirt with them. They race toward the edge as though to jump only to be yanked back at the last moment by whatever it is that ties them down. It could be a previous commitment, a lifestyle, money, comfort or simply what others would think of them.

I know people who for years have talked on and off about starting their own companies. Yet I'm confident that they'll simply never abandon the comfort of a regular paycheck.

I know others who say they want to do more for the people in the world around them, but their stuff (their possessions, their status, their lifestyles, their relationships) always gets in the way.

I have friends who out of concern about what others might think, stay in relationships with their partners even though both of them want out. They don't have the will to make it work, nor do they have the will to leave it behind.

As I read my post to Iris, her comment was, "Wow, this post is really kind of... depressing!"

I hadn't thought of it that way, but I think I can see her point. If in fact, most people don't simply jump in, but instead, feign jumping while waiting for others to go first... well, you could view it as depressing or as an opportunity to grow and change.

So, are you someone who decides to go for something and then goes for it with complete abandon, or do you hesitate waiting for someone else to lead the way? As you take off on a new adventure, do you strap a parachute to your back or ensure that there's a safety net waiting below? Maybe you talk the talk, but your walk is hampered by the tethers that snap you back to your status quo?

In the movie Gattaca, Vincent explains to his brother Anton how he was able to swim a large expanse of water despite his physical limitations and apparent lack of capacity to do so.
You want to know how I did it? This is how I did it, Anton: I never saved anything for the swim back.
I believe that we often deny ourselves the best we could experience, simply because we hold back, we watch, we wait, we ration, we save our strength for the swim back.

Happy Tuesday!

Optimism Test: Part One

Some months ago my good friend Mark K was very engaged in his reading of (i.e., listening to) Martin Seligman who has a long background in positive psychology.

I finally got the CD, Learned Optimism, that included an evaluation of your optimism profile.

The test is very simple and can be found on the Internet at Optimism Test.

The survey basically asks you about how you respond to good and bad events (or stimuli), and then measures the degree of pervasiveness, permanence and personalization of your beliefs. The pervasiveness, permanence and personal nature of beliefs correlates directly to your level of optimism.

The permanence of a belief has to do with how long you believe something will last. When you get sick, do you feel as though you'll never get well (permanent) or do you feel as though it will be over quickly (not permanent)? If you get fired, do you believe that you'll never find a job or that you'll get a job quickly? If someone says they love you, do you see that as a forever statement or as something that needs to be reinforced frequently? These are examples used to measure permanence.

Optimistic people tend to ascribe little permanence to negative (unhappiness-fueling) beliefs and situations, and significant permanence to positive (happiness-fueling) situations of beliefs. I tend to see bad events as something that will pass (which gives me a high score on the bad-permanence factor). However, I also see many good events as something that will end some time (which gives me a low score on the good-permanence factor).

So I started to question myself: do I believe that I can change so I keep seeing bad events as temporary, whereas I prolong the expected duration of good events?

According to Mr. Seligman, the practical reason for doing this is that, if we believe that a bad event is temporary, we tend to do something to change it, whereas, if a good event is seen as temporary we tend to not do anything to keep it.

It did sound somewhat funny to me: if love is lasting forever, does that make me do more to keep it alive? What if love is temporary, but something I and other people can keep choosing? Wouldn't I then do more to make it possible? So, I decided that most events (good and bad) are temporary, but I can work on making them appear more frequently if I want to.

Pervasiveness is the measure for how universal things are. Do they show up everywhere all the time, or, do they just show up here and there independently of one another.

Again the test said that I was more optimistic regarding the bad events than the good events.

This time I chose to not believe in the test. I actually think that at times I am very pessimistic about bad events. A few bad events can drain my energy and 'make' me think that life in general is challenging and difficult whereas a few good events will fill me with energy.

I guess that the reason for my test results is that I tend to have just a few areas of focus in my life and they are always intertwined. For a while, I have focused on my health and my work. When something affects my health, it also affects my performance at work. When I felt stressed at work, it affects my health. Since these are my main areas of focus, I tend to see them as my whole world. So, when these are affected, I see the events as universal.

If the test were questioning anything that were not work or health related, I would give an answer reflecting my beliefs that one event did not relate to another. I can see how it could be useful for me to not bundle everything together and to have a broader and more independent perspective. For me solution is simple: meditation.

When I meditate I get a lot of energy, and I also experience everything being one and yet separate. This means I can choose for myself which events to treat separately (i.e., the bad events) and which to treat together (i.e., good events).

Personalization is about attribution, i.e., who is to blame. If you want to be less optimistic, then all you have to do is personalize 'bad' events and not personalize 'good' events. For example, if you were to lose your job, you could decide a) I got fired because I did a bad job (personal), or b) I got fired because there was a financial crisis (not personal).

During a good event, you are going to be more optimistic if you believe that you caused or influenced it, e.g., our project was a success because I did a good job (not because the team was fantastic or not only because the team was fantastic).

Seeing this definition, I decided that I would like to be moderately optimistic regarding bad events. I would like to see the event as something that just happened AND as something that I could influence. Say, I just got fired; I would like to tell myself both that the job wasn't a good match for me (not personal) and that I could do a better job in choosing my next position (personal).

Some of the Questions

Since I told you in Optimism Test: Part Two that my friends didn't like the questions, I'll now go over a few of them:
13. You owe the library $10 for an overdue book
a) When I am really involved in reading I often forget when it's due
b) I was so involved in writing the report that I forgot to return the book
This question is about permanence. Is it something that I always do or was it an independent specific event?
17. You prepared a special meal for a friend and he/she barely touched it
a) I wasn't a good cook
b) I made the meal in a rush
This question is about pervasiveness. Am I just generally a bad cook (pervasive) or did I just not cook well this time (not pervasive)?
47. You are in the hospital and few people come to visit
a) I am irritable when I am sick
b) My friends are negligent about things like that
This question is a about personalization. Did your friends not visit you because of something that you did (personal) or did they not visit you because of something that they did (not personal).

My Answers
I'll start by pointing out that the questions we are discussing are all about bad events... I also want to point out that it doesn't matter whether or not the answers are not exactly what you would do. The question would be one of which answer is closer to how you would respond. As I mentioned in Optimism Test: Part Two, I didn't find these answers particularly relevant to me, but I did answer them anyway.

Question 13: The Library Book
Personally, I haven't turned a book in late since I was 18, but if I had an overdue library book, the reason would be that something specific came up.

Question 17: Grumpy in the Hospital
I've been in a hospital only once and I didn't stay overnight. Only two people showed up, but only three people knew that I was there. I believe that if someone didn't turn up at the hospital it would be for his or her own reasons, not because I was particularly grumpy. I mean, how would they know that anyway, if they hadn't been there to see me?

Question 47: Cooking for a Friend
I rarely cook and when I do it is often done in a rush. From my perspective, if you are preparing a special meal, then it wouldn't be done in a rush. If so, would you still call it special? I believe that I myself and most other people can prepare a fantastic meal, when we take the time to do it.

So What?
Here's what I came away with for myself.
  1. Optimism and happiness are independent of each other. You can be completely happy, and yet not completely optimistic. You can also be completely optimistic (e.g., I know I can do this job) and completely unhappy (e.g., I hate this job).
  2. I don't want to be a complete optimist. For me, being a "moderate" optimist is more useful in most cases. I believe that this helps me prepare for and prevent bad events, without fearing that they are frequent, universal or everlasting.
  3. I would like to grow my belief that I can create possibilities for good events and that the good events will last. So, I will work on making good events more personal and more permanent.
  4. Recognizing my tendency to control my environments, I do realize it might be better for me to take some good things less personally. This is a bit opposite of what the Optimism Test would say. I believe to be completely optimistic, it's useful to believe that the universe will keep providing the good events and that there is nothing for me to control. So, I blame the universe for great events in my life.
What About You?
Although I don't agree with everything, I found Dr. Seligmen's book and the Optimism Test really insightful and useful. After the book and the test, there are several aspects of how I interact with the world that I am going to change. I'd like to invite you to read (or listen to) his book and certainly to take the Optimism Test to see what it tells you about yourself. If you do, I'd love to hear about what you learned? What did the test say about you? Did you agree or disagree? Why did you agree or disagree? Is there anything about yourself that you would change?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Being Present vs. Time Travelling

As an autism professional being present is a very important aspect of my work, and of the every day fun I have!

Being present helps me to focus on my little friend. I can play with one hundred percent of my attention and notice his or her cues, which helps me to help him/her the best way I can. Being present also allows me to fully enjoy our time together.

This hasn't always been this way. I used to be an expert worrier and I used to spend at least 80 percent of my days thinking about different things. For example I would be thinking about my to do list or I would be occupied with beating myself up for things I did in the past. Or I would be feeling sad about everything that was happening to me (my lovely victimhood).

I used to have conversations with people and have my thoughts somewhere else or read a book and then realize after some pages that I had no idea what I read.

Why do we time travel?

I have met many people who shared my hobby of mind-time -traveling (thinking of the future or the past). So why do we do this? I guess the answer is different for everyone, but I can share you some of my insights.

I realized not long ago that when I am thinking of the future I am going over my list of things to do, because I want to make sure to not forget anything. The result is that I feel overly busy while I keep the to-do list active in my mind for a long period of time.

In the end I get only done half of what I could have done because I spend the rest of my time remembering the things on my list. Ad by thinking of the things on my list I create tiredness.

The other thing I used to do was preparing for future events. I used make up conversations in my mind where I and another person are talking and answering each other. Hardly any of the conversations or events happened the way I planned them. I even used to get angry with people because of their made up responses. Thinking about it now, I have to laugh loudly.

If things didn't happen the way I planned them in my head, I first had to deal with the unanticipated event and then with my response. No wonder I was perceived as inflexible. I was having a hard time adjusting to the situation that was different from the one I prepared for.

Being in the past didn't help me either. I was recreating feelings from the past over and over, and was keeping them alive. For sure I wasn’t spending time with pleasant memories from my past. I focused on the moments where I was unhappy!

A very important thing I keep reminding myself about is that we all do the best we can. By time traveling (thinking of the future or the past) I was doing the best I could. This was serving me in some way even though it didn’t lead to many happy feelings.

What can we do to be more present?
  • We can use the amazing tool of dialogues to figure out why we are not present at times.
  • We can make it our intention in the morning to be present and remind ourselves of our intention throughout the day. It can be helpful to put the actual intention on our desk or into our diary or anywhere we can see it many times during the day.
  • I have to use a sentence that helps me to make a new belief stronger: "I allow myself to experience..." In this case I allow myself to experience being present. I love this phrase because it doesn't indicate that I am supposed to be a certain way and it doesn’t remind me of the lack of what I am intending.
  • Also for some people it might be helpful to say: "I am refusing..." In this case I am refusing to think of the future or the past. I have heard people using this phrase. It is not my personal favorite, but maybe it can help someone reading the blog this morning.
Have a lovely present day wonderful reader.

With much love, Barbara

Friday, March 19, 2010

Bold, big love

Every Friday until November 7, 2010 you will find entries from a series written by Iris about her training to run the New York marathon in 2010. It is something she never aspired to do; she has never run a distance of more than two kilometers in her life. In this series she describes her adventures and how she works on her beliefs to transform her challenges and successes into one great experience.

It's Thursday evening and I am typing this blog while watching the sun go down. The sky is orange and beautiful. From my lazy chair I have an incredible view that seems so much more amazing to me tonight. I am totally aware and it seems that this sunset was specially painted for me personally.

Sitting in my chair I am wondering about my life, the world, our experiences and how we interpret them. It's one of those philosophical moments in which many things are thought, and it is a moment in which I feel very grateful for my life. I am grateful for who I am today. In my thirty-seven and a half years I have walked many roads. The last seven years I have mainly walked new unknown roads with my hubby Teflon, creating our amazing future on the spot.

Making Miracles
I must tell you, we are miracle makers. We see, choose and decide without holding on to what we have. We like moving towards what we want at full speed! If this means leaving our house, or changing our jobs, or traveling around the world, or taking loans to support others with what we have, we do it without hesitation.

One thing that makes us miracle makers is that we "love". We love each other deeply; we love other people deeply; we love a challenge; we love helping people; we love doing creative new things; we love change and we love to change; we love life and everything in it. We love what is and what will come and we believe that what will come is going to be beautiful.

Today I spent my day talking to families with autism, working with one of my wonderful little friends in his playroom and doing a couple of dialogues with amazing people. And at the end of the day I was not burned out or tired, but I felt full of gratitude and love for the people I worked with. People are the most amazing mammals in the world, so inspiring, creative and fun.

Sometimes things do not go our way. My leg injury that I ran into a couple of weekends ago did not disappear. A full-blown inflammation is still keeping me tied to walking and biking instead of running. But the funny thing is that I am not upset.

I start to get ready to go back to running. My mind clearly wants to run. But my body says something else. Teflon and I talked about this inflammation and we came to the conclusion that my cardiovascular system has really strengthened, but that my muscles are running behind in gaining strength. So, this week I am signing up for a gym to have some machines help me focus on this and show this inflammation the door.

When things do not the way we expect, we find alternatives, and we try new things. We follow the path that opens up, but instead of blindly walking it, we influence, we change, we create and we end up where we want.

Making It Big!
I'm reading what I wrote in this article and I realize that I am practicing something that I explained to one of my clients today. I told this person that when you look at addressing a challenge, you go into the details and cut everything in small, specific pieces. It helps you to see what the challenge is about and to see that there are simple steps you can take to overcome it. However, when you are not working on a challenge, but working on making your happiness and positivity bigger, the skill is to create your beliefs in a big way. Forget about specifics, get big and general!
Here an example. I could have said, I love Teflon. But instead I wrote, "We love deeply!"

Saying that we love deeply is a way bigger statement of love in my life. In comparison with the first statement it seems unbreakable, tangible, vibrant. Ahhhh. Love...

So, I would like to know, how often and in which situations you make your happiness fueling beliefs big and general? Do you allow yourself to make your skills, abilities and passions big? Or, do you qualify them and apologize for them? When was the last time that, in describing yourself, you used words like amazing, awesome, wonderful or great?

I'd love to hear from you and your amazing description of you!


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Jaedon Teaches

I started this week with a wonderful realization: my son Jaedon was sent to me so that can take what I learn and offer it to others.  Jaedon's name means God has heard and I think I finally got it.  Jaedon is God's gift to me and I get to offer him and all he teaches to others.  This isn't a new thought for me, but I settled into it in new ways this week.

Lessons in Progress...
What is Jaedon teaching?

  1. Be Loving and Accepting.  He doesn't need people to be a particular way to accept them.  He just does.  It seems to me that the more we show him loving acceptance, the more of his love we get to see.   Maybe showing loving acceptance is for us then?
  2. Be yourself.  Jaedon just does Jaedon.  He doesn't try to be anyone else and he is happiest when we aren't trying to make him into someone else
  3. Be Happy.  Jaedon is primarily a happy boy.  He doesn't worry too much about what others think!
  4. Be a mirror.  Jaedon allows us to see ourselves, our reactions, our discomforts, our fears, without judging them.  He doesn't protect us from our discomfort.  He let's us choose our feelings and gives us the opportunity to reflect on it as being about us.  It's not about him!
There are many more lessons, more than I can type right now.

Today, we went to Toys 'R Us.  Jay and I walked hand in hand.  He dragged me around much of the store.  We hugged and talked.  I thought 'The typical 11 year old would  not be allowing his mother to hug and hold hands with him in the store!  I still get to do this with mine!" And because of the many lessons Jaedon has been teaching me, I was totally in the moment, enjoying every second!  

Who is your Jaedon and I wonder what  he has to teach you?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I Will Not Lie Down

Turn this thing around
I will not go quietly
I will not lie down
I will not go quietly

Don Henley, I Will Not Go Quietly
I've recently been doing some work that required me to provide history about myself and the things that I'd done. Since I developed a penchant for being in the present, I haven't done a very good job at cataloging what I've done previously. So, I decided to google myself to determine my history.

Through the course of my googling I found that I'd been awarded nine patents that I was completely unaware of. One of them goes back to work I'd done with an amazing group of people back in the late 80's and early 90's at Bell Labs. I found that I'd even filed a couple of patent applications with Arno Penzias who won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1978.

It was fun to research myself as a third party might and my resume now looks way cool. One of the patents I found took me back to an amazing time in the late 80's.

US Patent 5724590 - Technique for executing translated software
In the late 80's, Don Henley wrote a song that became a theme song of sorts for my advanced development group at Bell Labs. This was a point in time where the computer industry was in flux. At that point, IBM was still a computer company that owned the mainframe market and created the PC market. The Apple Macintosh was a relatively new entry in the fray, and a long gone company call Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) owned half of Massachusetts and most of the mini-computer market.

AT&T had recently divested itself of the operating companies that were called the "baby bells". At that time, these companies were named New England Telephone and Illinois Bell and so on. They went on to become companies like Verizon, Cingular and Qwest. The reason AT&T had let go of these subsidiaries was so that it could launch new businesses focused on the burgeoning computer market. Unfortunately, the business minded folks at AT&T had no clue about the computer market. At a point in time where the leaders of AT&T Computer Systems might have purchased either Apple or National Cash Register (NCR) to get into the computer business for about the same price, they purchased… well, they purchased NCR. Sigh…

That Ain't Squat
Anyway, my group of seven engineers had been working on what would have been the next generation computer for AT&T. We had an operating system developed at Bell Labs called UNIX and a new processor developed by a company called MIPS which was later purchased by Silicon Graphics which became the computing engine for many of the high-end special effects companies in Hollywood (movies like True Lies and Apollo XIII). I had a an amazing visionary boss who said, "In order to have a computer that can win as a late entry into the computer market, it's not enough for it to run UNIX applications (of which there were few); it must also run all Windows and Macintosh applications!!"

Now, he was an amazing visionary with a great ability to inspire and somehow manage technology mavericks, but he had no clue as to how he might accomplish this. So, we set out, it never occurring to any of us that it was impossible, just something that we didn't yet know how to do.

As we developed our new computer, we came up with a system that could literally translate the software running on one system and run it on a completely different system in a way where it was impossible for anyone to see any differences. For example, we could run Macintosh applications and Windows applications and Unix applications all on the same computer at the same time.

Now, this isn't like the virtual machines of today that let you run say Windows on a Macintosh. The systems today count on both systems using fairly similar architectures (for example the same processor). In this case, the hardware systems were completely different from one another. (For fellow geeks out there, one was running on Intel x86, another on Motorola 68xxx and yet another on the MIPS R3000.) The other really cool thing was that our translated applications ran much faster after translated than before translated, i.e., our virtual applications ran about 5-times faster than the originals. Even today, the virtual applications are never quite as fast as the originals.

In addition to this, we developed all sorts of advanced media processing capabilities, text readers, voice processing and so on. It was an amazing time and there seemed little we couldn't do. Our little desktop machine could do the work of many computers and was more powerful than a Cray supercomputer.

We called our new computer squat so that no one could say, "That ain't squat."

Everyone Wanted to Help
As word of our little project started to spread, different people began knocking on our door to see if they could help us. It turns our there were whole research departments dedicated to different pieces of what we had done, departments dedicated to speech processing technologies, departments focused on reading text, departments focused on new operating systems, departments focused on compiler technologies (the technology basis for translating applications).

However, in many instances, the offers of help were in fact suggestions that we not use the technology that we had developed, but instead, use the technology developed by the various "helping" organizations. Some of these suggestions were made quite strongly to the point of being perceived as demands. I started to learn about the politics of academia and research.

Essentially, no one believed that a small group of just seven people could have accomplished as much as had and that we should avail ourselves of the work of these much larger organizations. We were open to doing so, but only if what was there actually worked and worked better than what we had. We didn't find much evidence of that and said, "Thank you, no."

Oops... next thing you know, we were the subject of a technology audit by some really high-powered people from the research organization. It was their job to review what we'd done and see whether or not it was real. It was fascinating.

The Inquisition
So one afternoon we were visited by an amazing group of people including Al Aho, Peter Weinberger and Brian Kernighan (the namesake of the Unix program AWK), Larry Rabiner who ran the speech research lab, and Arno Penzias (the head of Bell Labs Research). We walked them through everything that we'd done providing demonstrations, presentations and fielding questions.

To say that these guys really knew their stuff would be a bit of an understatement. They asked specific and insightful questions about various aspects of the project and gave up little in the way of the impressions they were taking away. As we progressed through the afternoon, the folks on our team would check in with one another wondering how things were going.

Finally, as we gathered around a monitor for one of the final demonstrations, Peter Weinberger leaned over to me and softly said, "You know, this is really impressive."

I felt as though I'd been holding my breath for three hours and had finally exhaled. My whole body relaxed in a way that let me know that I'd been carrying a lot of tension.

We were officially audited and approved.

Project Canceled
At the end of 1990 going into 1991, AT&T purchased National Cash Register (NCR) for $7.5 billion. The idea was to quickly enter the computer business by purchasing a cash register company; it ended up decreasing the wealth of AT&T shareholders by between $3.9 billion and $6.5 billion. Anyway, when AT&T made the acquisition, they decided that we didn't need to be developing new computers anymore and to "redeploy" the members of our team.

It was a really amazing group that had a great working chemistry and I had no intention of disbanding it. I made various appeals up the chain of command to no avail. As the deadline approached, I found another organization within the company that had defined some new, funded projects that desperately needed a strong working team with the kinds of skills my team had. Without asking permission, I transferred each of them to that organization.

A few weeks after the transfer was effected, I sat in my office the lone remaining member of my team on the organization chart. My phone rang. When I answered, I heard the voice of the executive assistant to our senior vice president talking into what was clearly a speaker phone surrounded by other people. He said, "Mark, I want you to think very carefully before answering the following question. How is that your team ended up in thus-and-such organization?"

I wasn't particularly good at taking advice, and without hesitation I said, "Because I transferred them there?"

Life After Life
Well, eventually they got over it and I ended up getting a job in the basic research group thanks to the new relationships I'd established through our technology audit. AT&T later ended up selling of NCR and exiting the computer business and then being purchased by one of the operating companies that it had dumped years earlier.

My team ended up doing some amazing work creating a system that was purchased by Apple to move many of their applications from the Motorola 68xxx to the PowerPC and I had a grand time in the research group.

It was nice to think about those times and remind myself of not lying and not going quietly.