Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Is Modern Technology Overrated?

We know it’s not cool to suggest that the tech revolution is overhyped. But, that’s how many professionals feel sometimes regardless of age.

I just spent two days unplugged from the grid over the long weekend. No email. No texting. No downloads from the cloud. Guess what? The world didn’t end. It was actually pretty liberating. I used a landline phone with no problem. I took some notes with a pencil and paper and actually looked at a paper map while driving and made all the right turns without GPS, Siri, or the reassuring voice of an anonymous female voice with her fake British accent. And when I returned, my email inbox was full, but no excessively.

I’m no Luddite. It’s just my patience wears when all the new tech tools and gadgets supposedly making my life easier don’t work—or constantly need upgrading. Sometimes it’s just easier to use your brain in an ad hoc fashion than let technology solve your problems.

Real world examples

I frantically finished an essential piece of work Friday afternoon, diligently saved to my hard drive, cloud and external drive. I prepared to shut down the computer for the long weekend when I got the infamous warning that essential upgrades were needed on my PC--27 in all—“Don’t shut down or turn off your machine.”

Finally out of the office, already late, I had a small auto malfunction. No big deal except I accidently accepted an app upgrade on my Smartphone while trying to get AAA roadside assistance. It took 30 minutes for the upgrades to load—which meant 30 minutes I couldn’t call, email or text for help or let me family know where I was or what was going on.

Then I had to find directions to my niece’s out of state wedding at an obscure bed and breakfast on the New England coast line….Mapquest, Google Maps etc. kept forcing me to GPS connect to all the local hotels, restaurants and gas stations in the area, when all I really wanted was turn by turn directions. The Smart security alarm in my home malfunctioned while I was away, so the fire department apparently came by for a midnight false alarm. I didn’t score any points with my neighbors for that won and it cost me $250 to boot.

Is tech really making us better off?

As Times columnist Paul Krugman
observed yesterday, the new technologies are “more fun than fundamental. Information technologies that excites the Twittering classes may not be a big deal or the economy as a whole.” What’s more, “the new technologies have yielded great headlines but modest economic results,” continued Krugman. And they aren’t really making us more productive, just more wired, he implied.

While computers, artificial intelligence and robo advisors are creeping into our lives more and more each day, there are certain things that the pliable, creative human brain can do that machines simply can’t. Robert Shiller, the renowned economist and Yale professor, noted the other day we need to teach students to outsmart robots. In other words, we need to make education more “business focused” and teach about the “creative entrepreneurial process that presumably computers cannot duplicate.

Many of you are financial advisors, attorneys or CPAs. Let machines and other technologies handle the repetitive, low-margin, uncreative aspects of your work and free up your brain for the high margin, creative solutions that your clients expect from you.


As our client Gary Klaben of Chicago-based Coyle Financial Advisors noted in a blog post that we helped him with last fall, “Use each competitive threat as motivation to “up your game” and further refine your target market and the value you provide to your clients—and your clients’ heirs.”  Also see Derek Markham’s post for more Overrated Technologies and Their Overlooked Alternatives.

blog has more, as does the FREE Resources page of our website.


Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Aging Process Hits Us All

It’s hard to figure out what the best age is. 20? 30? 39? But, at some point in life you go from wishing you were older (think teens, and new entrants to the workforce) to wishing you were younger (almost everyone over 40).

If you or a client are worried about memory loss or diminished mental “processing speed,” just know you’re not alone. As Jane Brody noted in her new series about aging, memory issues become more apparent in the Medicare years, but gradual changes in cognitive function actually begin decades earlier.” What tends to happen, she explains, is that these changes are often masked by the brain’s excess of neurons and the ability to lay down new connections throughout life.

What to do?

You can laugh about misplacing your cell phone or forgetting where you parked the cars. That’s a normal part of the aging process. Or you can be a good Boomer and fight the aging process till you die.

As you might expect, Brody advocates getting enough sleep, being physically active, exercising regularly, drinking in moderation and keeping your brain sharp.

Here are some other tips that may surprise you

1. Be well educated. Even if you missed out on a good education early in life, experts say it’s never not too late to engage in intellectually stimulating activities. Take courses online or at a community college. Read books, participate in discussion groups, and attend lectures and other cultural activities.

2. Learn complex new tasks like woodworking, home brewing or digital photography, which can improve cognitive performance. Just make sure these activities are personally rewarding or meaningful, not frustrating or just busy work.

3. Stay active in leisure or volunteer activities as social interaction is a strong predictor of healthy aging.

Finally, leverage certain aspects of the brain that actually get better with age. Medical experts say the older brain retains “plasticity” and can actually have better depth of comprehension and widsom gleaned through experience than a younger brain.


Aside from getting your AARP card at age 50, no one is going to send you a memo telling you that you’re officially old. Just as you and your client has a magic retirement number, you should take steps to figure out your cognitive impairment number. Like Brody and others, we recommend “Staying Sharp: 9 Keys for a Youthful Brain Through Modern Science and Ageless Wisdom,” by Henry Emmons and David Alter.

Best, HB
Our blog has more, as does the FREE Resources page of our website.


Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Writing Without the Letter "E"

I once had a great swim coach named Doug Stern. Doug was an aquatic innovator who liked to use the principles of “reduction” to help us get a feel for the water. While most coaches encourage their swimmers to use hand paddles, pull buoys, elastic bands and weight training, Doug had us swim with tennis balls in our hands. Then we tried to swim a few laps with our eyes closed. Then we swam a few laps with our hands in the karate chop position and finally with our hands balled into a fist. Finally with our eyes open, we’d start swimming with our normal motion and guess what? Our hands felt like enormous paddles. It seemed we had incredible sensation in each finger with three times the power of before.

“Notice what you notice!” Doug would always roar above the thrashing in the pool. It seemed like we were swimming downhill as we sliced confidently through the water using muscles and senses we never knew we had.

Make the writing process less painful

Sometimes you have to do without certain crutches or senses to understand what you’re truly capable of. Let’s take writing. Some of you love the process, many of you hate it. But, like paying taxes and getting “the pipe” exam once you turn 50, we all have to do it. Whether you’re communicating with clients, churning out a blog post, penning a short article or muscling through an e-book, we all know we tend to get lazy. We could be more precise when we put pen to paper, but it’s too easy to fall back on our tried and true sayings, or our small arsenal of adjectives and famous quotes.

My 6th grader was staying up way too late the other night on the verge of tears over a writing assignment. Turns out he had to write a 500-word story based on the picture below. The only catch? He couldn’t use the letter “E.” He was stuck at 411 and fading fast. How hard can that be, I thought to myself. I smith words all day long. I love baseball. I don’t get writer’s block.

Turns out pretty hard.
Sure there are 25 other letters to choose from, but without “e”—the most common letter in the English language--you can’t use “the.” That means can’t use often vague pronouns such as "he," "she," "they,” “me”, “her” and “them.” You also lose out on common functional words such as “when”, “where”, “these”, “those” and “every.” You not only have to flex your vocabulary muscles, but you must be painfully more precise.

Try going a day without using the letter “e” in any of your an e-mails or client communications. Can’t be done, you say? Well, you should read
Gadsby, the 1939 novel by American author Ernest Vincent Wright—50,000 words without “e.” Click here for more on e-less writing.

As my colleague, Mark Klimek points out, writing without your favorite words and letters "is a maddening exercise in many ways, but it’s also a good reminder of the importance of really thinking through what you want your communication strategy to convey.”


Notice what you notice about yourself and the reaction to your written communications when you take away your language crutches and force yourself to be more precise. Once you have your “e” privileges back, it will be like getting a double dose of creativity. Chances are you’ll glide through your next project in a more streamlined and confident fashion.

blog has more, as does the FREE Resources page of our website.


TAGS: Writing without using “E”, Gadsby, Ernest Vincent Wright