Three In The Morning

Between 1991 and 1993, I went through a period of time in which basically all I read were books on Chinese philosophy. From Zen, to Taoism, to books by Bruce Lee (which on first glance are about fighting, but really have a whole other level to them), I read everything I could get my hands on. I have boxes upon boxes of books in the basement ranging from Zen in the Art of Archery, to Zen Driving. I’ve got more of these books than I can count stored down there.

I have been mulling over a presentation that I have to give in a few weeks and have written and rewritten it a million times, trying to figure out how to communicate some ideas while not being sure what the best way to communicate them would be. I have definite ideas about certain things and find myself sometimes being unable to adapt myself to things that do not subscribe exactly to the way I am holding the image in my head. This has been one of my big challenges while moving from a technical role to management. Depending on where certain people are coming from, they may phrase something differently than I have in my head and I will spend more time arguing with them than thinking about the similarities between what they are saying and what I have in my head. The reverse tends to happen as well.

By chance, I picked up a copy of “The Way of Chuang Tzu” that I have had sitting on my bookshelf for over 10 years now and started reading it on the way to Gameworks yesterday with the kids. I came across the following passage called “Three in the Morning”. Since it was so applicable to what I have been struggling with lately, I thought I’d post it up here. This version was pulled from, as for some reason I like the way it is written in this interpretation better than the interpretation I have in my copy of the book.

Here it is, for your meditation and enjoyment:

When you break something up, you create things.
When you create something, you destroy things.
Material things have no creation or destruction.
Ultimately these concepts connect as one.

Only the enlightened know that they connect as one,
So instead of debating this with your preconceptions,
Approach it in an ordinary way.

Those with this ordinary approach, simply apply the idea.
Those who apply it, connect with it.
Those who connect with it, attain it.
This easily attained understanding is not far off.

It all flows naturally.
To attain this state and not even know it,
Is what we would call Tao.
To exhaust your mind trying to unify them,
And not realize that they are the same,
Is what we we would call “three in the morning.”

What is this “three in the morning”?

A man who fed monkeys with chestnuts said to them:
“Three portions in the morning, four in the afternoon.”
All the monkeys got angry.

The man then said:
“Alright, four in the morning and three in the afternoon.”
All the monkeys were pleased.

The food and the quantity had not changed,
And yet resulted in anger and happiness,
All because of the different arrangement.

Therefore the sages incorporate the two concepts,
Don’t even try to debate truth and falsehood,
And maintain the principle of natural balance.
This is what we would call the dual approach.

Whats the lesson here? People are irrational by nature. They may argue with something when phrased one way and agree with it if you just change it enough that it seems like they are benefiting more from the new perspective than they were from the old, because when it all comes down to it, people want to know what is in it for them and want to maximize the benefit they receive.

What the monkeys received overall did not change from one proposal to the next, but they felt like it had.

The hard thing for me is communicating things in a way that non-technical people can understand. I may be communicating something that absolutely has value for a business person, but the benefit gets lost because I’m not talking to them in their language. They can’t see it. At the same time, when they try to communicate value to me, I can’t see it because I am not making an effort to communicate with them from their perspective – I have my own.

But the benefits are the same from both.

This was a really good thing to run into at a perfectly applicable time. I really have to learn to communicate in such a way to get the point across to others, rather than only being able to communicate things in the way I understand them.

Thats the lesson for this weekend.

Why Business People Speak Like Idiots

Why Business People Speak Like Idiots : A Bullfighter's GuideI just finished reading the book Why Business People Speak Like Idiots : A Bullfighter’s Guide by Brian Fugere, Chelsea Hardaway, and Jon Warshawsky.

The book is an entertaining look at the communication styles of what they call “business idiots” and how to recognize them and, most importantly, why you should not use them. Just to give you an idea of the entertaining way in which the book was written, it was actually dedicated to Mr. T. The dedication reads "He said it best: Don’t gimme none of that jibba-jabba!".

While being extremely entertaining to read (unlike most business books), the book is extremely informative. The authors split the book into four parts to address the four “traps” that happen in business communication:

  1. The Obscurity Trap – This trap is explained as those who use a lot of empty words in order to communicate vaguely and avoid accountability. This trap is characterized by a lot of empty phrases like "best of breed", "synergy", "center of excellence", "innovation", "best practices" — all of those phrases that you hear in "kick off meetings" that fail to get to the point of why you are listening to the person you are talking to or cannot be defined as something concrete. The obscurity trap forces the listener to work really, really, hard to figure out exactly what is being talked about. It is also a mechanism that "business idiots" use to avoid accountability, as what they are communicating and whether they are responsible is hidden in the long diatribe you are currently listening to. Surprisingly at the end of the book where they have a glossary of these phrases, the phrase "go live" – a popular term in the SAP world – is defined as well. The meaning of " go live" as described in this glossary is "Captures the intense drama of using a new computer system on Monday. Also says a lot about whoever thinks this is an exciting event". This section is all about the disease in business today of indirect and obscure communication.
  2. The Anonymity Trap – This trap is all about being templatized. In the business world it is quite common to be "coached" around appearance and communication, so that you look and communicate like everyone else — you know, so you are "playing the game". The communication coaching usually centers around communicating in the way outlined in the obscurity trap which automatically ensures you are not committing to anything. It is frowned upon to speak your mind, as you have to blend in with the rest of the company — you know, be a "team player". This trap focuses around the sad use of Powerpoint and templates these days and the use of these communication tools and how they have effected both the vaguety (is that a word?) of communication and make you, well, forgettable.
  3. The Hard-Sell Trap – I’ve said for years that the best way to sell someone something is to let them decide without pressuring them. I’ve even written about my ideas of a good salesmen and the way I dispise the “hard sell” and will normally walk out of places without buying anything when people attempt to sell me something this way. This chapter confirms (to me anyway) that my ideas were valid. Enough said. Good chapter to read and digest.
  4. The Tedium Trap – This trap is all about conforming to the culture so much that you lose yourself in the process. Once you’ve hit the tedium trap, you might as well hang it up, because anything uniquely you is gone in your communication. This chapter explains the Tedium Trap and gives some good ideas as to how to get out of it and start bringing yourself back into your communication.

In the last chapter of the book, there is a paragraph that sticks out as why you should read it. I’ll quote it here:

“If you’ve made it this far, you probably don’t want to check your soul at the door. If you take anything away from this book, it should be that you don’t have to check anything at the door but the four traps. There is an amazing opportunity for you to rise above your peers, further your career, sell your ideas, and get what you want just by being yourself.”

That sums it up. I really enjoyed this book and learned a lot about why I have, in the past, gotten frustrated in business, especially when I have been told that my communication is "too direct".

I highly recommend reading this one if you are just starting out in the business world (although it’s not too late for those who are already up to their ears in it) so that you can see how important it is not to get caught up in trying to be "like everyone else" and that the unique thing you bring to business is — well — YOU.