Friday, November 21, 2014

What To Do in Chaotic Times

Let us assume for the moment that I am on to something with this dichotomy I have identified with normal times and chaotic times. This is not a forgone conclusion, but I will come back to that later.

How do you behave differently to be successful in chaotic times? As it turns out, the answer is quite simple, at least superficially. In normal times, you set goals, make plans, and pursue your goals. In chaotic times you cannot set goals and make plans because things are in a state of flux. This, after all, is what got me to thinking about this initially. Instead of setting goals, you have to look for opportunities. You may not know what is going to happen. But, when suitable opportunities arise, you must be prepared to take advantage of them.

How do you prepare yourself to take advantage of opportunities in chaotic times? This is a little trickier but still not that difficult.

Figure out, in general, what you are good at.

Figure out what kinds of opportunities might arise that would need the things you are good at.

Shore up your strengths so you are ready to take advantage of opportunities. This simply means that you should work on getting better at the things you are good at.

Make sure your are psychologically ready to look for opportunities.You need to be open to new things or things that do not look exactly like what you were expecting. You don't want to pass up a good opportunity just because you did not recognize it.

Make sure you position yourself to know about the right kinds of opportunities as they arise. This involves networking and keeping up with sources that are likely to provide information that you need.

Finally, you need to be flexible. If you make mistakes, learn from them. If you got something wrong be prepared to make adjustments to get it right. Don't be afraid to take chances or experiment.

Does this mean you should quit your job and wait for opportunities?  No, you need to sustain yourself until something good comes along. However, you have time to invest in sustaining yourself and time to invest in your future. The time you invest in your future should be directed at preparing yourself to take advantage of opportunities.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Clue Four: Steppenwolf

These clues are coming from all over the place. But when patterns come together, it is because the pieces of the puzzle resonate with things that you might not even notice otherwise. That is what makes them clues. And I would also emphasize that they are clues because they are useful patterns for organizing your thinking about nagging hunches and intuitions. They are not messages  from beyond in some weird mystical way. Well, let me take that back. I suppose they are messages from beyond in some weird mystical way. Just not the weird mystical way that most people might think of them.

In this case, however, there was a connection. The Mad Men epiphany got me to thinking about the turbulence of the 1960's which brought to mind a novel by Herman Hesse which was very popular at the time. The novel was entitled Steppenwolf and the name was popularized by a rock band who adopted the name. The novel was actually published in 1927 and republished in the 1960's due to its popularity at the time. And, surprisingly, it was republished again just a few years ago.

The main character in Steppenwolf was an individual caught between cultures who did not belong to either. He came to represent people caught between two cultures in the case of cultural change. Any culture, according to Hesse, has good things and bad things about it. But, on the balance, the good things out weight the bad. So, for anyone living in a given culture, life is generally tolerable. However, for people caught between cultures, life can be brutal. Consider, for example, a modern person transported back to Medieval Europe. Life would be horrible. However, if you took someone from Medieval Europe and transported them to the modern age, life would be equally as horrible.

People in the 1920's were undergoing substantial cultural change in a Post WWI environment, with prohibition, bath tub gin, flappers and a run away stock market. They were caught between the dying world order of the previous century and the nascent new order which would take a while to form. In the 1960's the Baby Boomers saw massive cultural change as well, which is why the book became so popular again. It is interesting to note that if you add 40 years to 1927 you get 1967. And if you add another 40 years you get 2007. All at the brink of impending massive social change. I don't want to make too much of this. But, it is an interesting pattern.

Nonetheless, this notion of transition between cultural norms gave further credibility to the idea that was brewing in the back of my mind. It suggested that we might be in chaotic times because we were at the brink of another wave of massive social change which has yet to take form. And we might be able to get some insights by looking back to the 1920's and 1960's.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Clue Three: Mad Men

I was watching Morning Joe (a news commentary show on MS NBC) one morning a few months ago and they had a guest on who was the script writer for the very popular TV show Mad Men. The discussion, around the table, was about the early 1960's era and why that time period resonated so much with audiences today. As the discussion developed examples started popping up of instances they could remember of people who were part of the Mad Men era that could not deal with the changes that would occur later in the decade. I think it was Joe Scarborough who said that his father liked the early Beatles but by the time Rubber Soul came out he no longer understood was was happening. When he said that, the wheels began turning.

The transition from Mad Men to Woodstock was a period of major cultural upheaval in this country and many others as well. For most Baby Boomers it represented the defining moments of their lives. For the sake of simplicity I am going to reduce this to a larger pattern and that is - the old giving way to the new. In this case the Mad Men represented the old culture and Woodstock represented the new.

Now we are approaching a similar transition only the Baby Boomers represent the old and the rising Millenials represent the new. I believe that the show resonates with Baby Boomers because they subconsciously see themselves in Mad Men - people riding high in a belief system that is about to crash. I think it also resonates with Millenials but for a different reason. For the Millenials it is a reminder that their day will come.

Going back, for a moment to this idea of normal times vs chaotic times we can see the pattern once again. When the old way is the default world view we have normal times. When the new replaces the old we have chaotic times. When the new becomes the default world view we have normal times again.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Clue Two: Thomas Kuhn

As I mentioned earlier, clues are not given to you by some guiding force. And clues are not discovered along the way. Clues are merely ideas or patterns that resonate with what we are thinking and help us put form to those nagging fuzzy ideas in the backs of our minds. So, my second clue seems even more unrelated than the first one.

I have been working on a very difficult paper on the philosophy of information systems. Earlier in the data gathering stage I was reviewing a lot of books and articles that I though might be useful in helping me write the paper. I went off on several side roads which is not at all uncommon in these pursuits. One of those side roads was into the philosophy of science. I was wondering, at the time, how the philosophy of science might be different for research in information systems than it is natural or social sciences. As I was pondering this I picked up some classic works by Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn along with a variety of lessor known books that I felt might be useful.

While pondering Kuhn, the idea of "normal science" kept ricocheting around in my subconscious. At the risk of over simplifying this idea allow me to explain it in a very cursory manner. Most of the time, in a scientific field, there is a fair amount of agreement on what problems it is trying to solve, what methods lead to legitimate results, what counts as evidence and so on. The questions appear to be answerable. And the methods appear to be adequate for answering the questions. This is what is referred to a "normal science". Then a disruption comes along. There are anomalies that cannot be explained or important questions that cannot be answered.

When this happens, the field must adjust. New ideas and methods must be considered as scientists attempt to account for the anomalies or make progress on the unanswered questions.   Over time some of these new ideas will become mainstream and the field will settle back down to "normal science"

Now, I did not intend this post to be a short lecture on the philosophy of science. But, I needed to explain that in order to explain how it became a clue.It occurred to me that my goal setting behavior was disrupted because it was not clear to me what was important to achieve. I could not fix on a goal or set of goals because things were in such a state of flux - that not only were the targets moving but what qualified as a target was changing as well. Thinking about Kuhn's concept of "normal science" I thought the pattern fit well to the social, economic and political spheres as well. There are normal times when you know what your are trying to achieve and how to achieve it. In normal times you can set goals and pursue them. However, in the times between normal times, the times I refer to as "chaotic" things are in a state of flux and it is difficult to set goals in order to make progress. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Clue One: The Folly of Goal Setting

I am almost pathological in my goal setting behavior. I have a five year plan and a ten year plan. I don't actually write these down. But, I do, generally, have a pretty good idea what I would like to accomplish in various time frames. I can't say that I always accomplish everything as I have goals at varying levels of important. There are must do goals, goals that I would like to accomplish, and goals that might be fun if I get around to them.

Every year I make News Year's Resolutions which I do write down. I actually check the resolutions periodically to see if I am on track for the year. I don't always accomplish all of these either. Most do get accomplished to some degree. One or two might be bumped to the next year. And there are those that I abandon after reflecting on them and deciding that that are not worthy goals.I set goals for each month and have a To Do List everyday. The same applies to these as far as accomplishing them. 

I am not revealing all this to convince your that I should be on some sort of OCD medication. Rather, it is to establish the fact that goal setting and goal driven behavior is just a part of my nature. That is, until just a few years ago.

I usually start working on my list of New Year's Resolutions in early Fall. I do this because I want to have time to think through the goals that I will be dedicating my time to in the following year. I'll jot them down, reflect on them, and revise them so that I have a pretty solid list when the New Year shows up. But, when I began to ponder my initiatives a few years ago, I found that I was incapable of identifying any reasonable goals. This was a huge problem and I began to give it some pretty serious thought.

After reflecting on this for a while, I realized that the reason why I was having trouble setting goals was that the future was in a state of flux. I am usually pretty good at predicting, in general terms, what is likely to happen. I do not have any clairvoyant talents. I just know a few tricks. I ramble on about these in another one of my sporadically attended blogs Patterns and Predictions which you can look at if you feel so inclined.

Nonetheless, I realized that with the future largely opaque to me we must be in an unusual time. And that was my first clue.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Normal Times vs. Chaotic Times

Here is something I have been thinking about a bit lately. It seems like there is something different about the times we are currently in. Everybody that I talk to seem to feel it somehow. But nobody can put it into any context. We have been in an extended recession. The usual economic rules don't seem to be working. Nobody seems to know what to do. We have a great deal of global unrest punctuated by crises like the Ebola epidemic. The US Congress can't seem to get anything done. There is great political division across the US. And, it is not limited to political and economic realms. In their personal lives, people seem to be unsettled and no longer deriving the satisfaction they once derived. People used to feel that if you worked hard and pursued your goals, you would get somewhere. Now that seems to be fanciful musings from the past. Something is different. If I had to summarize it in a sound bite, I would say that nobody seems to know what is going on and nobody seems to know what to do about it. So, I began thinking about what is going on.

I have been getting clues now for several years and those clues are beginning to fall into a pattern. I will describe some of the clues in future posts. For now, I will just provide a general description just so you don't think that the clues are coming from voices in my head.

Let's say that you are working on a problem in the back of your mind. Somebody says something that resonates greatly and seems to provide some insight into the problem you are puzzling over.  This is a clue. It may have had nothing at all to do with your problem. But, because it provided needed insight, it is a clue. I will expand on this later.

For right now I am going to cut to the chase and lay out the answer. We have gone from a period of normal times to a period of chaotic times. And understanding that helps us make sense of what is going on and what to do about it. If that peaks your interest, stay tuned, or keep reading as the case may be. I will explain all in upcoming or subsequent posts.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Taking a Break

The academic year is coming to an end. My last class is Wednesday. And then I coast into summer mode. I have some things to work on which will require a lot of attention. So, I will be taking a break from blogging. If you wish to be notified when I start again you can follow me on Twitter. My account is DrJohnArtz. I don't tweet much so you won't get a lot of traffic. But, I will send out a tweet when I start blogging again. Enjoy the summer. I will be thinking deep thoughts. ;)