Monthly Archives: June 2009

How to Shut Off the Voices from Your Past

I knew this guy that had bought a new car recently. For him it was a big deal, because all of the cars he’s ever driven have been used. And when he bought them used, they were at least several years old. He is a very successful businessman, and I always wondered why he didn’t want to spend a lot of money on cars, because I was sure he could afford it. He had expensive clothes, and he lived in a nice area of town, in a very upscale apartment building, so I wasn’t really sure why he insisted on buying used cars all the time.

But whatever the reason, he apparently got over it, as he bought a brand new, state of the art, top of the line SUV. I think it was made in Germany because the quality was incredible. One thing though, he didn’t like at all. It had this navigation system that would always talk to him while he was driving. None of his other cars had navigation systems, and he had always prided himself on being able to find his way around, even when he drove to strange cities that he’d never been to before. He said he could “sniff” where he wanted to go. When he was going to a meeting or something important to his business, he would only get the major cross streets, look at a map briefly before he left, and then go only by memory or by instinct. So when he got this talking car that told him what was what every time he turned a corner, I could understand why he was so frustrated with it. Especially since it was always telling him some potential danger up ahead.

He said it was like having a voice in your head that is always telling about something bad that will happen. Like when you want to get up and give a speech or ask out a pretty girl, there’s always this voice saying, “be careful, you might get hurt or embarrassed.” Most people hear that voice and then obey it completely, like it is a voice from God himself or something. Others don’t even hear it at all, they just get a funny uncomfortable feeling, and when they decide not to do what they were thinking of doing, the voice shuts up and the feeling goes away.

One interesting thing my friend did was figure out how to reprogram his navigation system. What he did was program his goal, or destination into the system, and then put in the time he needed to be there. Then whenever it talked to him, it only told him things specific to his goal. When he realized that the voice he kept hearing were only suggestions, and because it was some mechanical robot voice making them, he didn’t have to take them into consideration if he didn’t want to. He could always listen to them, and then decide what to do based on what they said. Most of the time he just ignored the voice, although sometimes he paid attention just to see what happened. And the time that he did that, although it saved him a few minutes, he decided that it wasn’t that much fun paying attention to some robot voice. So eventually he took his car to the dealership and had the thing dismantled.

And when I finally asked him about why he always drove around used cars, it was because when he was a kid, his dad was a used car salesman. And his dad had told him that since used car salesman always have a bad reputation, he would try really hard to give people an honest deal. So when my friend would buy a different car, he would specifically buy them from used car lot out of respect for his dad. When he figured he’d respected his dad enough, he decided that it was time to move on, and generate some of his own respect. Which is one of the reasons, I think, he became so successful.

House of Receding Horrors

I remember when I was a kid there was an amusement park I would go to. It wasn’t a huge amusement park like Disneyland or anything, it was one of those small, local ones that some cities have near beaches. They had a few rides that were ok, if you were a kid. Sometimes I wonder how those places can get insurance with all the questionable people they have working there. I don’t think I remember ever seeing somebody working there that seemed like a person you see working someplace else, like at the grocery store or your local coffee shop or something. The kind of person that gets to know you and what you buy or order or whatever.

If you’ve ever seen a person like this outside of their your normal meeting place it’s always kind of weird. You either don’t recognize them, and wonder where you know them from, or you recognize them, but you both feel kind of awkward because you are away from your normal comfortable meeting place. Maybe I’m paranoid, but sometimes the thought strikes and makes me wonder if all those times they are being friendly is because of their job or not.

One thing about this amusement park always scared me. It was the haunted house. I had only been inside twice when I was a kid, and both times scared the crap out of me. I only went in because my friends and I all dared each other. Of course I didn’t let on how scared I was, and I suppose my friends were all the same, to some extent. But I can’t forget how scared I was both times. The place was dark, you couldn’t see where you were going, it had this weird smell like an old doctors office that hadn’t been cleaned in a while, and there were these weird sounds that you couldn’t really tell where they were coming from. It seemed like no matter which way you were facing, the sounds seemed like they were behind you and getting closer by the second. I couldn’t get out of there quick enough. Probably the thing that terrified me the most was at one point I almost panicked, and had to leave, but I couldn’t find where the exit was. There were no exit lights anywhere, and all I could hear were those sounds like some old lady breathing right behind me, and everywhere I turned seemed to be a dead end. I almost fainted from shock.

One time used to hang out in this bookstore once a week, and it only took the people a couple weeks to realize that I ordered the same thing every week. Pretty soon when they saw me, whoever it was, they would just smile and say “large iced tea?” right away with raised eyebrows just to make sure. I remember seeing one of the girls that worked there in a total different environment, and before any of those uncertain feelings or questions came up, she said “large iced tea!” with a smile, instead of this time, saying it like a question, she said it like a statement of recognition. It took care of all my concerns in one fell swoop.

I visited my friend a couple weeks ago that lived in the town where they had that amusement park. I was sure that it would be torn down and replaced by affordable housing or something, but it was still there. Just for fun my friend and I went to that haunted house, and I’ll admit I was a bit nervous going in, but boy was I surprised. It smelled like some incense you buy at a car wash, and the sound they had piped through was completely laughable. It sounded like some old woman who had been smoking for too long, but it was on this crappy loop that lasted only about four seconds, and kept repeating. There was an obvious gap when the tape repeated itself, which gave it an odd cartoonish feeling. And even though the exits weren’t marked where they normally would, because they had to have them noted by law, they had decided them to write them on the ground. So all you had to do was look down and see where the arrows were pointing to leave. The exit was never more than a few steps away. I couldn’t this pitiful haunted house had caused me so much fear earlier. I guess that’s what happens when you let your imagination run away with you.

Altering Behavior Can Lead to Tremendous Results

I was waiting at the station the other day, waiting for a train, and I happened to be sitting next to a guy that was working on some very complicated math problems, or problem. I wasn’t sure if it was a bunch of different problems or if it was on big problem that was somehow interconnected to all the rest. Because he had them written on several different pieces of paper. He would write a bunch of equations, pause, and stare off into the distance, and then write some more. There were many people walking around, and it is summertime, so there are a lot of distractions that can steal your attention from a math problem, if you catch my drift.

Sometimes you can only focus on a problem for a certain amount of time before you need to give your brain a break. It’s kind of like lifting weights. You can only do so many sets before you need to set the weight down and give your muscles a chance to repair themselves. That’s how you get bigger muscles. When you lift weights, you are actually breaking down the muscle fiber, and then if you give yourself enough rest in between the exercise with proper nutrition, your muscles will rebuild themselves better, stronger, faster, just like Steve Austin.

Sometimes working on a mental problem is the same way. You need to give your brain a rest. I don’t know if there are brain fibers that break down and grow bigger, although it certainly can seem that way if you’ve ever done a lot of math homework. Einstein said that you could never solve a problem at the same level where it was created. So maybe staring off into the distance every so often gives your brain to look at things in different perspective.

Finally after the guy seemed to stare off into the distance longer than normal, I asked him what he was doing. I didn’t think I was disturbing his thought process. His body language seemed to indicate that he was taking a longer than usual rest. He told me he was working on some thermodynamics applications for his business. He is a chemical engineer at a local beer distillery, and he was working on some equations that are related to the process before fermentation. He was that they result that they were getting was adequate, but if they could streamline it a little bit, without giving up any quality, they would be able to increase their profit margin.

He said it’s all a matter of results and behavior. He said the problem is when you focus on only one side of the equation. The results, in this case, were the end product. The different brands of beer that his company produces. There are specific ways to measure results in his particular case. He explained that it’s important to stay away from measuring results subjectively, because obviously different people will have different opinions. It’s important to have an objective way to measure the results you get, so you can reproduce them or even improve on them. Specific gravity, alkalinity, color refraction index are different ways to measure the exact results. The other side of the equation is behavior. In this case the behavior is how the chemicals interact with each other in the fermenting tank. Time, temperature, sugar levels, ingredients of the initial mix are all things they can vary. The trick is to vary the behavior and see what the easiest and quickest ways are to get the results that you want. If you can find a relatively easy behavior that will give you the results you want, you’ve got a winner. Then you can go about varying your behavior and see if you can even improve on your results, which is even better.

I wish I would have gotten his name, or business card though. Going on a tour of a local brewery would be a pretty cool experience. I never thought that brewing beer was such an involved, scientific process. Go figure.

They are Waiting for Your Ideas

I was in this bar the other night, hanging out with some friends. My friends left, but there was an interesting match on TV, so I decided to stay and see how it turned out. I didn’t even know that team was playing but that quickly turned into one of the more important things that night. As I was watching the game, I couldn’t help but notice all the other people that were paying really close attention to this. Most people could find this very fascinating. Of course, the game eventually ended, and everybody’s interest quickly fractionated into various splinters of interests. I started talking to a guy that I happened to be sitting next to at the bar. Funny that I didn’t notice him before.

We started talking about various things, sports, work, etc. He started telling me about his friend whose roommate just got this massive promotion at work. Massive promotions are pretty good when you can come across things like this. What had happened was this guy used to be a production worker in a factory that produced highly technical products that are used in various high-end electronics. Because of the nature of the work, and the small degree of error tolerances allowed in the manufacturing process, the work was sometimes a bit anxiety causing. One the one hand they had extremely tight technical specifications inside which they had to build a certain amount of products. On the other hand they had very important production thresholds they had to achieve on a consistent basis in order for the company to remain profitable. It was a business that had a very slim profit margin. And in today’s economy, I’m sure you can appreciate how important something like this is.

This guy had been working there for a while, and the management was a bit interesting. The production facility itself used to be part of another company, and they produced elements of a similar product. Then they initial company split up into different smaller groups, to try and maintain their profit, and the production factory was sold off completely to yet another company. Because the production process was very similar, the incoming management company didn’t change much.

While this didn’t present a problem to most of the workers, this guys friend had a bit of a problem. Just before the new management team took over, he had some ideas on how to promote the efficiency and consequently the profitability of the production line. He was just getting enough courage and confidence to suggest these to upper management when they made the change. At first he thought that he was just going to wait until things settled down, and then present these ideas to them. But then something interesting happened. Upper management just kept their hands off approach and was content to let the workers continue to produce, just like they had before. They didn’t have any meetings, or offer any insight or suggestions. It seemed to most of them that they were happy with the way things were. Which of course was fine for most people, because keeping things the way they were is very comforting to most people. Change is very scary to some. But this guys friend had an idea, and now he not only was unsure of whether or not his idea was going to be accepted, he wasn’t sure if his idea was even in line with what the new management team wanted to do. This was all very confusing. He had an idea, but wasn’t quite sure they would be open to hearing it.

For a while, this caused him some anxiety. He had all these ideas on how to make things better, but he didn’t know if he was supposed to voice them, or even if they would be accepted. He wasn’t content though, to keep things the way they were, because there’s no fun in that. He wanted to take things in a new direction, but the wanted to make sure that it was safe to suggest this new direction to management.

So after waiting several weeks, hemming and hawing, he finally thought to himself:
“You know what, what’s the worse that can happen? You have good ideas, you have an idea of what can make things better, if they don’t like your ideas, at least you will let them know that you want to make things better than they are. Because if one thing is certain in all this confusion, you can always improve things. And the more you improve things, the easier they become.”

So he finally strode into the management office, and whey they learned that he had some ideas of how to increase productivity, and therefore profits, they were all ears. What he thought was going to be a brief five or ten minute meeting turned into a three hour brainstorming session, with him at the controls. After the meeting, he got a good idea of where they wanted to take the company, and then gave some very good ideas on how they could easily get there. Soon he was promoted to a manager position, with his salary almost doubled. Now he is the new managing director of manufacturing engineering and design, something pretty good for a guy with only a high school education. And because of his ideas, the company is now extremely profitable, and they seek this guys opinions on all major decisions that upper management makes. Pretty good if you ask me.

If You Ask, They Will Give

Once upon a time there was a magic restaurant, run by a retired wizard. He used to be a very powerful wizard, and though he would enjoy playing golf after he retired, but that was kind of boring. So he opened a restaurant. It was kind of a fast food place, but there were also tables that people could see waitresses bringing food. There were three guys that would always come by and stand outside the restaurant and look in, but they were afraid to go in because they didn’t have any idea what kind of restaurant it was, what kind of food it was, or even if it was a traditional restaurant, where you sit down and order, or a hybrid, where you place your order at the front, and then somebody brings it to your table, or where you place your order at the front and have to sit around and wait at the front for your order.

They three guys watched with great interest as they observed different people doing different things. Some people would walk in and order, and sit down and the food was brought to them, others stood and waited, and still others walked in straight away and sat down. Once they even saw somebody walk in, and linger around near the front, and then some woman came out and led him to a table.

The three guys that were watching tried to formulate a theory about how the restaurant operated. At first, they thought that the difference was due to the socio-economic level of the people that came walking to the shop. They assumed that rich, upper class people got served better and with more respect that poor lower class people. But then they saw a few guys in expensive suits walk in, place their order, wait at the front for the order to put placed own in front of them, and then carry it themselves to a table, that sometimes they had to even bus themselves a little bit before sitting down.

And they saw a couple guys walk in that seemed to be wearing very old, very inexpensive clothing, and even smelling as though they hadn’t showered in a while. They saw a few of these guys treated with ultra first class treatment.

Then they decided that maybe it was due to the level of attractiveness of the people that came in. They figured that really attractive and sexy men and women that came in would receive first class treatment, while normal guys and gals might get the brown bag treatment. Then they saw some average guys receive first class treatment, and some people that looked as though they could be models of movie stars waiting at the front for their orders, which they had to carry themselves back to the table.

After weeks and weeks sitting outside, and formulating theory and theory, only to see it disproved, they finally they decided to experiment. They drew straws to see who would go in first. They the guy that was chosen to go in first, was very nervous. He wasn’t sure how to act, or what to say. He walked in, and stood around the front, waiting to see if somebody would lead him to a table. Nobody did. Then he went up slowly, and noticed there were no menu boards above the registers. Why didn’t they notice this before? He slowly walked up to the counter. The girl behind the register smiled at waited. Nervous, frustrated, anxious, he turned and ran.

The next guy went in two days later, after much discussion, they looked through the windows, watching what people were eating. Finally they decided that he would walk in, and order a cheeseburger, french fries, and a coke. Then he would wait and see what would happen.

Finally, it was his turn to walk in. He was even more nervous that the first guy. He timidly walked up to the register, and ordered a cheeseburger, fries, and a coke. The girl behind the register smiled, tapped a few buttons on the mysterious looking object, which they assumed had been a cash register, but now the second guy wasn’t so sure. Why hadn’t they noticed this before?

“For here or to go?” she asked helpfully.

He looked around, trying to get an idea of what to do. He saw beautiful waitresses taking orders from plain looking sitting patrons, he saw rich businessmen reading the newspaper waiting for their take out order.

“um, to go.” He managed, wanting to leave as quickly as possible. Before he knew it, his food was placed down in front of him in a non-descript paper bag. He grabbed it and left as quickly as he could

Now the three were more dumbfounded that ever. This something strange happened. The third guy saw his next door neighbor walk in, pause and two stunning waitresses came out and led him to a large booth next to a huge window with a view of a beautiful waterfall. Why hadn’t they noticed that before? They were shocked. They watched as the third guys next-door neighbor made his way through a seemingly exquisite fourteen-course meal, complete with some kind of French appetizer they thought was only an urban legend. Frustrated beyond belief, because the third guy new what an absolute dweeb his next door neighbor was, walked in, his frustration overpowering his anxiety and fears.

“I’d like the best table you have. And four of the most gorgeous waitresses that have ever walked the earth!” he proclaimed in a loud and confident voice.

Before he could even inhale after his outburst, four of the most gorgeous waitresses came walking out, wearing brilliant evening gowns.

“I want the largest booth in the place, with a view of the ocean.” He didn’t know why he asked for an ocean view, that’s just what came out.

“Certainly,” said the apparent head waitress. They led him to a booth, and he was amazed to see the most gorgeous beach view he could ever imagine.

Filled with confidence, he ordered every possible luxury item he could possibly think of. The waitresses merely scribbled furiously on their pads, and nodded their heads in agreement. After they left, he noticed his neighbor smiling, looking at him.

“This place is great, isn’t it? I don’t know how it works, but they will give you whatever you ask for. I don’t know why they don’t advertise this place; I guess they don’t want it to get too busy. You kind of have to figure it out on your own. But not matter what you want, all you have to do is ask for it, and they will be happy to give it to you. They funny thing is, is that if you are unsure of what you want, they will be unsure of what to give you, and then you’ll usually end up getting something that isn’t worth much of anything. But the more you know what you want, the more eager they will be to give it to you.”

For some reason, the third guy felt a little reluctant to tell his friends about his discovery. Some things, he reckoned, are much much more rewarding when you discover them on your own.

Sail Your Way To Pleasure

I have a friend that has just been promoted at work. He works for a large, multinational company that designs, makes and sells many different kinds of consumer products. The company has been around for over a hundred years, and is pretty much a household name. My friend was just promoted to the regional distribution manager for the entire western United States. He is in charge of making sure that there is a clear connection and communication between the designers, the needs of the marketplace, the manufacturing centers around the world, and the end points of sales in various cities in the United States. He frequently flies all around the world in many capacities, and is well known in the industry as an authority in his field. Needless to say, he makes a ton of money, and gets a great deal of respect from those that he works with and even competitors in his field

It wasn’t always like this. I didn’t know this guy before he became successful, I only met him afterwards. We actually me at a seminar that taught different aspects of communication not taught in any business school. There was a huge range of people at this seminar. One of the great things about being able to meet so many people is that you get so many different ideas and viewpoints on the same things. And it really expands your mind to the idea that there are really many ways to look at one situation. Sometimes I think I learned more that seminar from the other participants than I did from the actual instructors. It wasn’t uncommon for several us to sit up until the early hours of the morning in our hotel lobby just talking different aspects of why we were there and how many different ways there were to accomplish what it is that you want to accomplish something.

This guy mentioned that he used to be unhappy. Although he had a pretty decent job, with decent pay, something was missing. He seemed to be just going along without any real purpose. When he was in college, he didn’t really know what he wanted to do, and he just kind of fell into his job, and slowly moved up the ranks without really paying attention to where he wanted to go.

Then one day he was in a bookstore, and for some reason he ventured into the area of the bookstore that he didn’t usually go into. I don’t know if you’ve ever actually counted the different sections in the bookstore, but there is a lot. He got a book on sailing. He had never sailed before, but for some reason he thought that sailing would be an interesting thing to learn. The book talked about how important it was to be able to read maps, and be able to use a compass, and how to properly steer the boat in the right direction. The book said that one of the biggest dangers was just kind of going in a direction that seemed to be ok, but after you’ve been traveling for a while, you realize that you are in the middle of nowhere. And if you end up in the middle of nowhere without any supplies, it can be pretty dangerous. So the book recommended that you choose a direction, and take your time choosing. And you make sure you know how to get there, and realize that you are likely to get blown off course, so make sure you have extra time planned on your journey to where you are going.

After he studied sailing for a couple of years, he really started to discover his passion. He went and talked to an HR manager at his company, and asked him about a possible career path. The HR manager told him that it was a big company, and there are many opportunities. You can choose whatever path you want, and if you do the proper training and build your skills, there is no reason why you can’t choose your own success. They both discussed what he needed to do in order to succeed, and where he needed to learn more skill and improve on the skills you already have.

That conversation took place about a year before I met him at that seminar, and he told us the story of how he was able to create his own success, simply by taking the time to choose a direction, a destination, and the proper tools that would get him there.

Train Your Brain for a Fight

I used to have a friend that was a boxer. He wasn’t a professional or anything, he belonged to a boxing club, and he went to sparring practice a couple times a week. Once a month or so, they would have several boxing matches. There were about twenty or so members, and the first Sunday of every month they would have several fights that members of the community, as well as friends and family of the boxers could come and watch. They fights were only two or three rounds, and they wore that thick protective gear. None of them were serious enough about it more than just thinking of it as a hobby and a very very good form of exercise.

I don’t know if you’ve ever boxed before, or if you’ve ever trained before, but training to box, even if you never step inside of the ring against an opponent can be an incredibly thorough workout. When I was in high school I was on the wrestling team, and those workouts were murder. It’s no wonder that boxers and other fighters are in incredibly good shape. I think one of the main reasons that training for fighting of any sport is not so popular is not because it is not effective, but it is incredibly intense. If you train as if you are going to fight, then you will get the best workout you can imagine. Sometimes It’s a good idea to train for something even if you aren’t going to do the actual thing you are training for.
Some people practice public speaking and public debating, not because they ever intend to run for political office, but because simply practicing these skills can make you incredibly confident in your communication. And when you can become incredibly assured in these areas, they will undoubtedly bleed over into other areas of your life.

My friend had one main problem when he boxed. He had only been in one fight in his life, back when he was in fourth grade. It wasn’t even a fight. He said him and some guy he really didn’t know were talking, and then they started insulting each other, and the guy just suddenly hit him in the side of the face, with a left hook. Not too many fourth graders are skilled in the defensive arts, so my friend naturally was completely caught off guard. So when he used to box, he always had a deep fear of getting caught by a left hook. He said that his boxing coach did a really cool experiment with him.

He asked him to think of what makes him feel the most invincible in the ring. What feeling, what pictures he saw in his head when he felt like he could beat anybody. He thought about, and he felt really good when he landed a very strong right jab against his opponents jaw one time. He was able to do this because his opponent had lowered his left arm momentarily, and my friend felt a sudden rush of excitement, and snuck in a quick right jab, that connected so well, they decided to call off the fight.

So what this coach did, was he made two videotapes. One was of some opponent about to land a left hook, just like the one that hit my friend in fourth grade. He made another video of an opponent dropping his left hand, and opening up his face for a right jab. He then spliced these two videos together, in about a three second movie. There was one quick one of the opponents winding up for the left hook, and then it switched to a slow motion video of the same guy dropping his left arm.

My friend said he watched this three-minute video about ten times, and after he was finished, and interesting thing happened. Whenever he was in a fight after that, and something caused him to remember the left hook, he immediately got the feelings of super confidence and invincibility he felt from when he landed the right jab. He said that he fought a lot better after that.

I guess when you brain is giving you information, you can choose to accept it, or make a habit of changing it into something else that is more resourceful and useful. After all, it only took my friend a few minutes to re train his thinking from fear and defensiveness to confidence and power. How many ways could you apply this?

Choose Your Focus And Attract Help From Others

The other day I was talking to a friend on the phone. Actually we were talking through Skype. I don’t know if you’ve ever done this before, but it really is a great way to communicate with somebody. Especially if you are the kind of person that likes to make friend with a lot of people from around the world, Skype is a great way to stay in touch. I don’t have a camera hooked up, but my people talking with both voice and video so you can actually see the person you are speaking with. I remember reading an article in a sales magazine a while back and it said when you speak face to face, there is much more information passed on than just through email or even through the phone. When you can pay attention to facial expressions and body language it can be really easy to communicate well with others.

My friend was telling me about a problem that she was having. She had recently taken up photography, and was really interested in taking many photos. She was really intrigued by a modern artist who takes photos mainly of people. She was greatly inspired by his work, and really wanted to increase her skill in that area. There was one problem though. She was told in one of her photography classes that it is in extremely poor taste, and in many cases illegal to take peoples photographs without their permission. For her this was a huge problem, because she is naturally shy and can’t really find it easy to see an interesting person and then just approach this person to ask if she can take their picture.

She had all these wild imaginations of bad things that might happen if she just approached strangers and asked to take their picture. She was having problems with this, so she decided to approach her professor and ask his advice.

What her professor told her really surprised her. He told her that all she needed to do was to get clear in her own mind first, why she wanted to take the other persons picture. Did the colors of their clothing match well with the background, was their a unique couple, where they sitting in nice environment, did they have a particular friendly expression that would create feelings of happiness when people saw the photo? The professor said that all she needed to do, was to ask her self these questions, then simply to go and introduce herself, explain that she was a photographer, describe why she wanted to take the persons picture, and then ask their permission. He told her that it would also help of she created some business card with her name and email, so in case they had any questions later on they could contact her. He also made sure to instruct her to ask for parents permission if she wanted to take pictures of kids playing in the park for obvious reasons.

She thought about this, and then tried it. She was amazed at the response she got. While a few people said they didn’t really want to have their picture taken, most people did. And many times when others saw her taking pictures of couples, or children on bicycles, they asked her if she was working for a magazine. And something really interesting happened. Because got into the habit of giving out her business cards, many people started contacting her for actually business purposes. When she first started, all she wanted to do was to take some pictures that would be nice to look at. Then she created a web site, and put up many of the pictures on the web site. Pretty soon she started getting many offers to take pictures for birthdays, retirement parties.

What started out as a hobby, turned into a lucrative business for her, all because she figured out exactly what she wanted, and just approached people and asked them if they wouldn’t mind participating.

People Skills are Money Skills

The other day I was sitting in an airport waiting for a friend of mine. As soon as I realized that I’d forgotten to bring the scrap of paper on which I wrote down her flight number and arrival gate, I had a flash of insight. I used to do something a certain way, and then after that I did something else. But then I realized that if I could organize things a little bit differently, I would be able to actually do them both better, as one was a natural extension of the other. I was doing them in the opposite order, not because I thought they naturally went that way, but because I was doing the first thing because although I recognized that it was necessary, I also realized, on some level, that it was uncomfortable, and I wanted to get it out of the way.

I don’t know why I had this flash of insight while I was sitting there in the airport, but I took out my notebook and scribbled it down, hoping that I’d remember to look at my notebook later so I could reverse the order of the way I was doing things in hopes of doing them better.

I read this in a book by about developing creativity. Always keep as small notebook with you, that way when you have a flash of insight, you’ll be able to remember it later, and use it to help yourself get whatever it was you wanted to get.

After I wrote this down, I couldn’t help but notice all the people milling about in the airport, waiting for people. Some looked happy, some looked a little sad. You could tell which people were separating, and which were reuniting. It is always nice to see people get together and express an open appreciation for each other, and it always makes me a little sad when is I see people saying goodbye.

It reminded me of a book I was reading the other day, which was about job relocation. The author was talking about how when people change jobs, which in this day and age should be a given, considering that the average person has at least five careers in their life. When you change jobs, the skills that are the most important are not the technical skills that change with every job, but your people skills. Those that have the best people skills will always be in demand, and always make the most money. So the bottom line, according to this book I was reading was that you need to always be working on and improving your people skills.

One way to do this is to always make it a habit of talking to strangers. I think it is an exercise that was inspired by Ben Franklin, who said to “Always look for the virtue in others.” The exercise is to start an innocent conversation with a complete stranger, and try to covertly extract a virtue or two from them, and then share their own positive qualities with them. This will greatly increase your self-confidence and ability to interact with others to get what you want and to promote yourself.

And when my friend finally showed up, I was surprised that I had remembered the correct gate. Imagine that.

How to be a Jedi Master of Conversation

So the other day I was hanging out with this new set of friends I had met previously. I had run into them a few nights ago in a local bar, and we started talking about various things that you usually talk about in bars with strangers. The conversation steered it’s way around to baseball, and I turned out the had an extra ticket to a game last weekend. They offered, and I accepted. So there we were hanging out in the parking lot, having a few and cooking some bbq like most people do before a baseball game.

It’s interesting when you pay attention to the way a conversation flows. It’s a highly dynamic and interesting phenomenon. It’s like it has a mind of its own. One interesting thing you can do next time you find yourself in a conversation that is kind of wandering around aimlessly without any intended direction is to do some experimentation. I wouldn’t recommend doing this when the conversation is somewhat important, like if you happen to be testifying before congress or anything. In that case you might want have your game face on.

But if you think of the topic of conversation as a separate, living, breathing organism, it can be fun to experiment with it and see how many different ways you can stretch it. Sometimes it’s like when you chase a chicken. You can delude yourself into thinking that you are controlling it, but in reality, a chicken has very limited intelligence, and is operating on pure panic and fleeing in any direction possible, sometimes completely irrelevant of the noises you are making to communicate to the poor chicken that you really aren’t going to chop off its head and eat it.

Try this experiment: Next time you find yourself in the middle of a conversation of little global economic importance, choose a topic, completely at random, and as completely far removed from the current topic as possible. Then try and slowly steer the conversation towards your selected topic, but try and do it in such a way that the other people bring up the new items of the conversation. To do this you’ll have to introduce little intermediate transitional breadcrumbs and hopefully covertly help people to think of the connection on their own. The more you practice this, the sooner you’ll realize you can steer a conversation any way you want, including towards things to your immediate benefit. Which will pretty much make you a Jedi master.