Monday, March 29, 2004

Laughing In All Seriousness

I had thought I'd want to expand on the conversation I started earlier about game theory, Prisoner's Dilemma, and the problem of suboptimization (what's good for the individual in the short run may be bad for the group both in the short run and in the long run; it may even be bad for the individual in the long run too if he's still around) ... and how these all relate to developing a personal code of ethics.

That's where I thought I was going to go with this today. And instead, I've changed my mind. I still may get back to game theory & ethics (so hold that thought!); till then, how about an April Fool's-ish theme.

In the past, I've usually been too serious to get much into April Fool's jokes or pranks. Occasionally I'd go to bed the night before or even wake up in the morning with the notion that it might be a good idea... in theory anyway and then that serious side would take over again and I'd conveniently forget about having any particular fun.

Now, I'm still the sort of person who would rather not cause anyone undue angst - I'd rather keep it all in "good fun". I'm not above yanking someone's chain, however. And I'm learning to recognize when I've got a chain of my own that's there to be yanked. That's a big step.

So I was faced with the question a few days ago - what's something serious you wish you could laugh at? It's a good question... and I should back up a bit (yes, I realize flashbacks are a particularly bad movie device - can't help it though; I just think that way sometimes) before sharing more about what it was I wanted to be able to laugh about.

The flashback (along with a bit of a frolic and detour) part is this. My first on-air job was meteorologist at KRTV in beautiful Great Falls, MT.

While I came to enjoy my time there, I did so only after coming face to face with the reality of why the abbreviation for Montana is Em-Tee. Anyway, it's not unusual for on-air meteorologists/weather anchors to do double-duty, especially in smaller markets. At KRTV, my second hat was to go to the "cop shop" every day before work, check the booking logs and get the daily briefing. Checking the logs is important because otherwise you only get the information they want you to have or (more likely) that they think you'll find interesting. Believe me, a police officer's idea of what the viewing public might find interesting is not all that accurate.

One day, both the booking logs and the briefing were pretty devoid of anything even closely resembling a news story. I made a few notes on a couple of things and left for the station, hoping they weren't counting anything from me to fill airtime beyond stretching the weather a bit. The hope turned out to be just that - wishful thinking. They needed me to write up something for the newscast and when I tried to explain that the best I could come up with was a burglary in a weight loss clinic, the news director was not phased a bit. His direction? Write it funny.

In Mack Berry's view (and I've since come to believe it myself), it's possible to write anything funny. Somehow, by the time I was done writing, fourteen cases of diet bars stolen from a weightloss clinic seemed a lot funnier than it started out.

That seems easy enough with a crime that belongs in News of the Weird or plenty of other more light-hearted-leaning things. What if it's something like having difficulties at work or home - or even having someone close to you be diagnosed with cancer (my answer to the "what do you wish could be funny" question)? That seems tougher.

I have a sister with a huge gift for finding the humor in anything. You should hear her story of rolling a car, getting hit on the back of the head in the process with the snowboard she had in the backseat, nearly killing her, and having the medics seeming to be more than passingly interested in the lingerie she was wearing as they were trying to treat her assumed-to-be-serious neck injury. We were rolling on the floor laughing so hard, no one thought to question her supposed attempts to avoid some constantly changing variety of rodent as her explanation for the rollover.

And if a life-threatening accident can be that funny, then you bet, cancer can be funny too, even when it's at its saddest. I found myself watching Julia Sweeney's one-woman-show, God Said, "Ha!" the other day. It was the answer to my request to be able to find real humor in having a family member diagnosed with cancer. If you want to see what even the most serious things look like when written funny - and still full of the compassion it takes to be fully human - this is a good movie to see.

And so, I"ll put the question to you - what would you like to be able to laugh about... and how could that happen? Try "writing it funny". Send it to me at if you want. I like funny and sometimes even the darkest humor is right up my alley.

Life plays little tricks on us sometimes (okay, big ones too), checking to see if we can still laugh. In that sense, every day is April Fool's Day.

Friday, March 26, 2004

The Meaning of a Killer Instinct

So, does having a killer instinct mean a person has to give up kindness as a pursuit? Does having (or building) a sense of self-perservation mean we can't care about others? Essentially these questions were put to me after my last post and I'm glad they came up because I do not see these as mutually exclusive.

For anyone reading my essays who might not already know me, it's important to point out that it's not uncommon for me to use intentionally misleading terminology for the shock value, to get people to think about what they really think and want in life. When what I say sounds wrong to you, it's generally a good idea to at least consider the possibility that I don't mean it the way you took it... although it's also true sometimes that I mean it exactly that way!

So why did I talk about having a "killer instinct"? Mostly I called it that because that's the phrase my friend used, though I'm sure he didn't mean it in a bad way either. What he saw in me at the time was a timidity that didn't suit me. I was already good at the being kind part... all the way to the point of letting folks walk all over me. In my on-air work, it showed up as a lack of confidence; I didn't believe in myself enough to have very many other people believing in me either.

What I had to find was a balance. I knew I wasn't suited to being a braggart or someone who stepped all over others to get what I wanted. I did have to develop more confidence in myself though, and exude enough of it to have others believing in me too. And while caring about others is important, it is also possible to overdo it when one has no sense of self-preservation at all.

So where does a person find the right balance?

For me, the "a-ha!" came on seeing the movie A Beautiful Mind. In it, the mathematician John Nash describes for his friends how Adam Smith's view on free market capitalism is missing an important component... that if they all look out only for their own self-interests, then no one will end up with what they want. It's competition taken too far. Of course he says this as they are all acting out the other extreme: no one is acting on any self-interest what-so-ever. What follows is a mathematical description of why it works out best for everyone involved (well, everyone but the blond, anyway) if they instead further the best interests of the group that also align most with their own self-interests.

Basically, you're no help to the team if you take yourself out of the game, nor do you gain much for long if you seek to be the only superstar or the only one benefitting. By finding where your own wants and needs are aligned with those of the greater group - and going for that, everyone is better off.

It's not just a curious side-note in some movie. His theories on equilibria in non-cooperative games won Nash a Nobel prize in economics (making it a great finish of triumph in the movie) and the field of negotiations has been one of the many important areas to benefit from practical application of his theories.

The more I get into this subject, the more I find that fascinates me so I have plenty more to share. For now, I'd love to have you share how you find your balance - and which side of the equation you are still working to develop. Send your thoughts to and we'll all benefit.

How would acting for both your own self-interests and the interests of the larger group look in your life?

Thursday, March 25, 2004

What does not kill me makes me stronger - Goethe

What does not kill me makes me stronger. - Goethe

This isn't just some saying trying to make us feel better about rough times. In the world of health care, it is quite literally true. Chemotherapy treatments for cancer are no more than a race to kill off the source of illness faster than serious damage is done to the rest of the body. Even many everyday medicines such as some antibiotics are a form of short term poison that you are expected to recover from once the problem being treated is dispatched. It doesn't take a genius to figure this out when you're reading about (or experiencing) some of the possible side effects of various medications.

For a while (quite a long time ago) I was doing on-air television work as a meteorologist. The best advice I ever received in all my years doing that gig was from sports anchor Rod Simons (who used to have a website at and is still mentioned at the Flying Colours Television website) when he kept at me to develop a "killer instinct". I took a lot of knocks in that business that nearly took me down for good a few times before I came up swinging, with my "killer instinct" finally fully developed.

For me, a "killer instinct" has meant staying true to who I am: part of which includes being an optimist who enjoys connecting with people (a few at a time anyway) and likes to see the good in all people and things whenever I can... while also developing a sense of self-preservation and the kind of drive toward excellence that ensures other people see that in me too. I find it easier now to insist that people take me at full value and that my sense of self is not diminished by how others see me. If they can't see me as providing as much value as I believe I bring to the table, it's their loss. I take that as an indicator it's time to take my ball and go play somewhere else. There was a time when I was most definitely not that strong.

It would be tough to know these days exactly what Rod meant so many years ago when he was giving me those lectures and yet some form of that message has always stuck with me. Thanks, Rod, for helping me see that playing nice isn't the same as playing dumb... or being a pushover either, for that matter.

By the way, Nietzsche must have studied Goethe and liked what he had to say on the subject, as he said very nearly the same thing only quite a bit later.

So, what's making you stronger right now? What "killer instincts" are you developing? A quick message to will satisfy my curiosity and probably result in sharing your wisdom with at least three other people!

Also, if you see Rod, tell him Kimm says "hi".

Saturday, March 06, 2004

Linear Processing vs. Intuitive Processing

Speaking of left brain vs. right brain dominance, I found myself faced this past week with an outright favoritism toward linear processing vs. intuitive processing. Personally, I struggle with these arguments because I too find it tempting to draw more on logic than on 'gut feel' or 'instinct'. I am forever discounting thoughts and ideas that don't immediately make logical sense to me. And what I have discovered over the years is that, in doing so, I have inadvertently cut off one more important source of information. Not the sole source, not a more authoritative source, mind you... simply another source of information... another way of processing the data I am exposed to.

In the first place, each side of the brain does a better job at processing certain kinds of information, so if you allow that side to atrophy through disuse, you'll be limited in how well you can process certain kinds of information. The answer is to exercise both sides of your brain so that both sides can contribute effectively.

I find that taking a holistic approach need not be an excuse for poor logic. Only recognize that sometimes our brains are not processing information in a linear fashion and so a logical explanation in such cases may not yet exist. Yet. If the processing is accurate, the linear side will eventually catch up.

How do you tell the difference between valid instincts and wishful thinking? If you have some thoughts on the matter, let me know at

Keep searching for truths, in whatever form they can be had.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Logically Creative

One of the great curiosities I find in geek work is that there is always someone trying to force fit it into something that is entirely logical or entirely creative. The truth of the matter is that it is, at its core, a blend of both so tightly interwoven that one really cannot fully exist without the other.

Even so, the technology world is full of technology managers that don't understand techies need time and space to be creative, that it's not work that can be spit out production-line-style according to their sense of how and when it should be done. All the while, many of the geeks themselves just want to play and have fun, not realizing that real and repeatable work also has to be part of the package if they're to continue receiving a paycheck.

Of course, some of the technology workers don't even realize that their work is as creative as it is. When everything is about knowledge and logic and credentials, the creative side is often shunted off to the margins and therein lies a real tragedy. When we fail to nurture creativity, we shut off access to that part of our brains, forcing ourselves to try to do our work only with the remaining half devoted to logical and linear thinking. Imagine how much more powerful our thinking would be if we were to fully harness both sides of our brains, the linear and the creative.

Are you left- or right-brain dominant? How do you compensate for that, or do you? As always, I'm interested in whatever thoughts I manage to provoke so send them to me at

Think of how much more we can accomplish using logical creativity.

Monday, March 01, 2004

Got Change?

Much as I enjoy technology and relish new toys, I find buying a new computer to be a bit of a hassle. First, there's the matter of immediate obsolescence. I'll wait and wait for the latest technology to be available only to have some other new technological wonder announced the week after I've finally made a purchase. Once or twice I've even found myself paralyzed into making no purchase at all because of this phenomenon.

Even when I steel myself to actually go through the process of spending money on a computer, I find the effort of weighing all the choices dizzying. I want a computer that does the work I want it to do AND can support the playing I want to do on it too - beer recipes, video editing & playback, music, maybe a few games, etc. On top of that, I want it for less than $2000.

On the flip side of all these issues that tend to slow me down in getting a new computer is this sense that, whatever it is I'm struggling with on the old one, life will be so much easier once I get a nice new clean computer and can start over from scratch. This notion is, of course, not entirely wrong. If I want to make the new computer last for a while, though, and not turn it into a race to see how quickly I can trash the thing, it helps to have learned something along the way about what went wrong on the old computer.

See, the thing is this - most of the difficulties I run into on computers are the result of all the applications I try to run on them. As soon as I migrate these to the new computer and introduce all my same old (bad) habits into the new environment, then my troubles simply tag along too. Like a car that stays pristine only if no one eats (or even rides) in it, a computer really only stays factory perfect as long as you don't use it.

There is a certain similarity between these matters and jobs. So many people figure it's easier to continue to try to forcefit themselves into make their existing jobs work than to risk any difficulty or unhappiness finding something that suits them better. Others are convinced that changing to a new job is the only thing that will make their lives better, only to find that they bring with them some form of baggage or troubles that immediately infect their new environment too.

How do you know when making a change is the right thing to do? What preparations do you make that help you be more successful in a new position? Send your thoughts to - I'm interested in what you have to say.

Change can be a good thing - so long as it's thoughtfully planned with the right criteria in mind and old mistakes are learned from and addressed.