The Philosophical Apprentice

“Only one who devotes himself to a cause with his whole strength and soul can be a true master. For this reason mastery demands all of a person.” Albert Einstein

Archive for the month “January, 2013”

Encyclopaedia Britannica Prompt for 29 January 2013 – Aaron (Biblical Figure)

The problem with getting your  theology from Hollywood is that, well, its probably not the most accurate. Take for instance the figure of Aaron. Anyone who has ever watched The Ten Commandments  by Cecil B. DeMille has to have the impression that Moses was a great guy but that brother of his was the ne’or do well of the family. If it hadn’t a been for that Golden Calf you see…..Well , thank goodness for the Britannica which informs us that in spite of the Bovine idolatry God thought enough of Aaron to make him as the founder and head of the Israelite priesthood.  Another interesting tidbit I learned provided one answer to the obvious question why God choose Aaron over Moses to be the new Chief Priest; Jewish commentators believed it was because Moses was originally reluctant to obey God’s call when first asked.   For more on this and other information the first part of the article can be found below.By the way, whatever the theological drawbacks the Ten Commandments may have I still enjoy it immensely and although I haven’t seen it in years I think I will watch this Easter provided they are still showing it every year.

Aaron,  (flourished 14th century bce), the traditional founder and head of the Israelite priesthood, who, with his brother Moses, led the Israelites out of Egypt. The figure of Aaron as it is now found in the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, is built up from several sources of traditions. In the Talmud and Midrash (Jewish commentative and interpretive writings), he is seen as the leading personality at the side of Moses. He has appeared in different roles in Christian tradition.

Aaron

Life

Aaron is described in the Book of Exodus of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) as a son of Amram and Jochebed of the tribe of Levi, three years older than his brother Moses. He acted together with his brother in the desperate situation of the Israelites in Egypt and took an active part in the Exodus, their liberation from bondage there. Although Moses was the actual leader, Aaron acted as his “mouth.” The two brothers went to the pharaoh together, and it was Aaron who told him to let the people of Israel go, using his magic rod in order to show the might of YHWH (God). When the pharaoh finally decided to release the people, YHWH gave the important ordinance of the Passover, the annual ritual remembrance of the Exodus, to Aaron and Moses. But Moses alone went up on Mount Sinai, and he alone was allowed to come near to YHWH. Moses later was ordered to “bring near” Aaron and his sons, and they were anointed and consecrated to be priests “by a perpetual statute.” Aaron’s sons were to take over the priestly garments after him. Aaron is not represented as wholly blameless. It was he who, when Moses was delayed on Mount Sinai, made the golden calf that was idolatrously worshiped by the people.golden calf

Once a year, on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), Aaron was allowed to come into the Holy of Holies, the most sacred part of the tabernacle, or sanctuary, in which the Hebrew tribes worshiped, bringing his offering. Together with his sister, Miriam, Aaron spoke against Moses because he had married a foreigner (a woman from Kush, the southern portion of Nubia); but, as in the episode of the golden calf, the narrative tells how Aaron was merely reproved, though Miriam was punished, for the offense. In the rebellion of Korah the Levite, however, Aaron stood firmly at the side of Moses. According to Numbers 20, Aaron died on the top of Mount Hor at the age of 123; in Deuteronomy 10, which represents another tradition, he is said to have died in Moserah and was buried there.

Aaron is a central figure in the traditions about the Exodus, though his role varies in importance. At the beginning he seems to be coequal with Moses, but after the march out of Egypt he is only a shadow at Moses’ side. Moses is obviously the leading figure in the tradition, but it is also clear that he is pictured as delegating his authority in all priestly and cultic matters to Aaron and “his sons.”

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Quote of the Day for 24 January 2013

Industrious people create industry.
Lazy people create civilization.
Hideo Nakamura

hat tip lazyway

Encyclopaedia Britannica Prompt for the Day of 23 January 2013 – Aare River

Our first river in the Britannica project is the Aare River in Switzerland which is aAare and Reuss rivers

tributary of the Rhine and the longest stream (183 miles [295 km]) entirely within Switzerland; it drains an area of 6,865 square miles (17,779 square km). The river rises in the Aare Glacier of the Bernese Alps in Bern canton, below the Finsteraarhorn and west of the Grimsel Pass, in the south-central part of Switzerland. As the Aare flows north past Meiringen, the river cuts through the scenic Aare Gorge. After turning west, it expands into the glacial Lake Brienz. The river is canalized at Interlaken above its entry into Lake Thun, at the lower end of which the river flows northwest in a deeply entrenched valley and almost encircles the medieval core of the city of Bern. It turns west to Lake Wohlen and then flows north to Aarberg, where it is diverted west by the Hagneck Canal into Lake Biel. Continuing northeastward, the river parallels the foot of the Jura Mountains. Below Brugg, the Reuss and Limmat rivers join the Aare before it enters the Rhine River at Koblenz, Switz.

Philosophers associated with the Aare River include Jean-Jacques Rousseau who spent time along Lake Biel and, also, Albert Einstein who, for a while, lived in Bern.

Encyclopaedia Britannica Prompt for 17 January 2012-Aardwolf

Today”s prompt is on the African Aardwolf. I thought I was fairly up on my African fauna but I have never even heard of this strange creature. I wonder if they are as loathsome as the hyenas they resemble?

aardwolf (Proteles cristatus), insectivorous carnivore that resembles a small striped hyena. The shy, mainly nocturnal aardwolf lives on the arid plains of Africa. There are two geographically separate populations, one centred in South Africa and the other in East Africa. [Credit: Simon Trevor/Bruce Coleman Ltd.]

The aardwolf, whose name in Afrikaans means “earth wolf,” is yellowish with vertical black stripes and a bushy, black-tipped tail. Standing less than half a metre high at the shoulder, it varies in length from 55 to 80 cm (22 to 31 inches) exclusive of the 20- to 30-cm tail. Weight is from 8 to 12 kg (18 to 26 pounds). Like the hyena, it has a long, coarse ridge of erectile hairs along the length of the back, sturdy shoulders, and longer front than hind legs. The aardwolf, however, is less of a runner and has five toes on the front feet instead of four. The skull is not as robust, but the sharp canine teeth and strong jaws characteristic of hyenas are retained and wielded in aggressive interactions. The cheek teeth, however, are mere pegs adequate for crunching its insect diet, which consists almost exclusively of harvester termites. When the aardwolf smells termites or hears the rustle of thousands of them in the grass with its sensitive, pointed ears, it laps them up with its sticky tongue.

Although aardwolves forage alone, they live in breeding pairs that defend a territory marked by secretions from the anal glands. When attacked they may fight, and a musky-smelling fluid is emitted. Shelters can be holes, crevices, and abandoned porcupine and aardvark burrows, where usually two or three cubs are born during the rainy months, when termites are most active. Cubs are weaned by four months and have left their parents’ territory by the time the next litter is born. The aardwolf is most often classified in the family Hyaenidae, but some authorities place it in a family of its own called Protelidae.

It appears that like myself few people have heard of Aardwolves. Even the spellchecker failed to recognize it. However, there is a MUD called Aardwolf though it has nothing to do with the African Aardwolf.

Speaking of MUD – that is another concept that I have never heard of before. It looks for the most part like the old fantasy games like Dungeons and Dragons but played online though apparently you can do other things besides fantasy such as training and education. I am a bit leery of “virtual life’ but am interested in learning more. Maybe I will read Sherry Turkle’s Life on Screen.

Don’t Break the Chain!

Here’s a link to the new organizational strategy I’ve been using. It’s called Don’t Break the Chain (DBTC). It’s also called the Jerry Seinfeld technique since it reportedly has been used by the comedian to force himself to write everyday.

It is very simple in practice. Here is one description

1) Choose some habit(s) you would like to adhere to on a regular basis

If you’re new to this, start with just one or two. My current habits are morning meditation, 1 mile walk, waking by 6am, exercise

2) Get a calendar

Here are your options for calendars in order of awesomeness:

A smartphone app made for this technique. My favorite is Streaks, but there are plenty more if you search your app store for ‘streak’ or ‘don’t break the chain’.

A web app, eg. chains.cc which also has an accompanying iPhone app.

A physical calendar on which you can draw big X’s. Only use this if you’re desperate because the digital versions automatically keep track of your streaks and allows for multiple habits with varying requirements of consistency.

3) Cross out every day you stick to the habit

It feels fantastic to cross off each day. I’ve been told it’s common to unconsciously utter the words ‘Damn right’ or ‘BOSS’ while doing this…

Why does this work so well?

You’ll do anything to continue the chain. You’ll even find yourself having the urge to lie when you break a particularly long chain. That’s part of why this technique is so effective: it’s painful to go back to (literally) square one.

Consistency is key. Habits are solidified through steady commitment to change, even if those commitments are small in scope. Going an inch a day is far better than trying to go 6 inches every few days and failing.

Here’s another perspective on DBTC.

I’ve been using the DBTC for four days now and am very pleased with the results. I have included a Don_t-Break-the-Chain-Calendar-365-Year for anybody who wants to try it out. Good luck.

Encyclopaedia Britannica Prompt of the Day for 16 January 2013-Alvar Aalto

I’ve always enjoyed reading about architecture and so I am very happy that the second entry in the Britannica project is about Alvar Aalto, a prominent 20th century architect from Finland.

Alvar Aalto, in full Hugo Alvar Henrik Aalto   (born Feb. 3, 1898, Kuortane, Fin., Russian Empire—died May 11, 1976, Helsinki, Fin.), Finnish architect, city planner, and furniture designer whose international reputation rests on a distinctive blend of modernist refinement, indigenous materials, and personal expression in form and detail. His mature style is epitomized by the Säynätsalo, Fin., town hall group (1950–52).

Early work

Aalto’s architectural studies at the Technical Institute of Helsinki were interrupted by the Finnish War of Independence, in which he participated. Following his graduation in 1921, Aalto toured Europe and upon his return began practice in Jyväskylä, in central Finland. In 1927 he moved his office to Turku, where he worked in association with Erik Bryggman until 1933, the year in which he moved to Helsinki. In 1925 he married Aino Marsio, a fellow student, who served as his professional collaborator until her death in 1949. The couple had two children.

The years 1927 and 1928 were significant in Aalto’s career. He received commissions for three important buildings that established him as the most advanced architect in Finland and brought him worldwide recognition as well. These were the Turun Sanomat Building (newspaper office) in Turku, the tuberculosis sanatorium at Paimio, and the Municipal Library at Viipuri (now Vyborg, Russia). His plans for the last two were chosen in a competition, a common practice with public buildings in Finland. Both the office building and the sanatorium emphasize functional, straightforward design and are without historical stylistic references. They go beyond the simplified classicism common in Finnish architecture of the 1920s, resembling somewhat the building designed by Walter Gropius for the Bauhaus school of design in Dessau, Ger. (1925–26). Like Gropius, Aalto used smooth white surfaces, ribbon windows, flat roofs, and terraces and balconies.

 [Credit: Zahlenmonster]The third commission, the Viipuri Municipal Library, although exhibiting a similar dependence on European prototypes by Gropius and others, is a significant departure marking Aalto’s personal style. Its spatially complex interior is arranged on various levels. For the auditorium portion of the library Aalto devised an undulating acoustic ceiling of wooden strips, a fascinating detail that, together with his use of curved laminated wood furniture of his own design, appealed both to the public and to those professionals who had held reservations about the clinical severity of modern architecture. The warm textures of wood provided a welcome contrast to the general whiteness of the building. It was Aalto’s particular success here that identified him with the so-called organic approach, or regional interpretation, of modern design. He continued in this vein, with manipulation of floor levels and use of natural materials, skylights, and irregular forms. By the mid-1930s Aalto was recognized as one of the world’s outstanding modern architects; unlike many of his peers, he had an identifiable personal style.

Finnish pavilions for two world’s fairs (Paris, 1937; New York City, 1939–40) further enhanced Aalto’s reputation as an inventive designer of free architectural forms. In these designs, both chosen in competition, he continued to use wood for structure and for surface effects. Also during this period, in 1938, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City held an exhibition of his work, showing furniture that he had designed and photographs of his buildings.

 [Credit: Iittala Group]Aalto’s experiments in furniture date from the early 1930s, when he furnished the sanatorium at Paimio. His furniture is noted for its use of laminated wood in ribbonlike forms that serve both structural and aesthetic ends. In 1935 the Artek Company was established by Aalto and Maire Gullichsen, the wife of the industrialist and art collector Harry Gullichsen, to manufacture and market his furniture. The informal warmth of Aalto’s interiors is best seen in the much-admired country home Villa Mairea, which he built for the Gullichsens near Noormarkku, Fin.

Mature style

The decade of the 1940s was not productive; it was disrupted by war and saddened by his wife’s death. In 1952 he married Elissa Mäkiniemi, a trained architect, who became his new collaborator.

Aalto’s commissions after 1950, in addition to being greater in number, were more varied and widely dispersed: a high-rise apartment building in Bremen, W.Ger. (1958), a church in Bologna, Italy (1966), an art museum in Iran (1970). His continuing work in Finland, however, remained the measure of his genius. Many of his projects involved site planning of building groups. Two such projects were the master plans of colleges at Otaniemi (1949–55) and at Jyväskylä (1952–57). Aalto’s experience in planning originated early with such industrial commissions as the Sunila cellulose factory (1936–39, extended 1951–54), which included workers’ housing and was a triumph of comprehensive planning.

 [Credit: GEKS]The single work that epitomizes Aalto’s mature style is perhaps the Säynätsalo town hall group. Modest in scale in its forest setting, it nonetheless asserts a quiet force. Its simple forms are in red brick, wood, and copper, all traditional materials of Finland. Viewing it, a person feels the achievement of a perfect building, in that the essence of the time, the place, the people, and their purpose is brought into focus by the awareness of the architect.

Aalto received many honours. He was a member of the Academy of Finland (Suomen Aketemia) and was its president from 1963 to 1968; he was a member of the Congrès Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne from 1928 to 1956. His awards included the Royal Gold Medal for Architecture from the Royal Institute of British Architects (1957) and the Gold Medal from the American Institute of Architects (1963).

Assessment

 [Credit: © Zygimantas Cepaitis/Fotolia]Aalto, whose work exemplifies the best of 20th-century Scandinavian architecture, was one of the first to depart from the stiffly geometric designs common to the early period of the modern movement and to stress informality and personal expression. His style is regarded as both romantic and regional. He used complex forms and varied materials, acknowledged the character of the site, and gave attention to every detail of building. Aalto achieved an international reputation through his more than 200 buildings and projects, ranging from factories to churches, a number of them built outside Finland.

Aalto’s preliminary plans were freely sketched, without the use of T-square and triangle, so that the unfettered creative urge for inventive shapes and irregular forms was allowed full play before functional relationships and details were resolved. The absence of theoretical rigidity revealed itself in his final designs, which happily retained the spontaneity and individuality of his early sketches. As a Swiss art historian expressed it, he dared “the leap from the rational-functional to the irrational-organic.” Since Aalto’s staff was small (some six to eight architects), all of the work bore the imprint of his personality.

Aalto wrote little to explain his work, but his architecture conveyed a variable, lively temperament, free from dogma and without monotony. His work was said to express the spirit of Finland and its people, primitive yet lyrical. His friendships with such artists as Fernand Léger, Jean Arp, and Constantin Brancusi may have nourished his fondness for curvilinear shapes. While his work was never compulsively innovative, neither was it static. His late designs showed an increased complexity and dynamism that some regarded as incautious. In particular, his work of the late 1960s and early 1970s was marked by splayed, diagonal shapes and clustered, overlapping volumes. Energy and imagination were ever present.

For me, Aalto’s work, from what little I have seen of it, is not bad for a modernist architect. Aalto is one of the few modern architects who appears to not have deliberately set out to make ugly buildings. At his best, Aalto manages to combine modern abstract geometrical forms with beautiful materials like brick and wood and create something charming, as he did with own summer house.

I don’t care for his larger projects as much, though his extensive use of brick and simple shapes reminds me of a lot of non-offensive architecture I grew up around on college campuses in the South, like the University of Florida for instance.

I do like Aalto a lot in that he didn’t succumb to the common megalomania found in architects throughout the last century. And people are beginning to appreciate that. Covering one of the first retrospectives of his life and work, an article in the New York Times reveals that

Even in his lifetime Aalto was something of an outsider. Born in 1898, he was 10 to 15 years younger than the Bauhaus leaders
who were transforming architecture and design in the 1920s. He also did most of his work in Finland. Most important, his
architecture was defined by a humanist philosophy more than by a distinct style.
While inspired by Modernism, he grew wary of that movement, noting in a speech in London in 1957 that, “like all revolutions, it
begins in enthusiasm and ends in dictatorship.” Even so, in the years before his death in 1976, he could not escape the backlash
against Modernism prompted by the banality of much postwar reconstruction.
Aalto’s reputation recovered. And it did, the Barbican show suggests, because his hand can more easily be seen in the natural
materials he used – wood and brick – and the details of his designs than in the overall look of a building. He was, one might say, a
friendly architect, concerned with people more than power, with pleasing more than impressing.
“We should work for simple, good, undecorated things,” he explained further in his 1957 London speech, “but things which are in
harmony with the human being and organically suited to the little man in the street.”

Tom Wolfe couldn’t have said it better in his classic From Bauhaus to Our House.

Here are some additional resources here, here, and here.

For a philosophical look at Aalto’s rejection of corrupt modernism see here.

Finally, I have attached a journal dedicated to preserving modern architecture. It includes some good information on Aalto and, furthermore,  I couldn’t resist the irony. When did the modernists ever care about preserving anything from the past?

Encyclopaedia Britannica Prompt for 14 January 2013-Aachen

Aachen is a city in northwestern Germany close to the borders of Belgium and the Netherlands.

It was a royal residence of the emperor Charlemagne, and it served as the principal coronation site of Holy Roman emperors and of German kings from the Middle Ages to the Reformation. The Palatine Chapel, a masterpiece of Carolingian architecture, is incorporated within Aachen Cathedral, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1978.

Originally a Roman spa called Aquisgranum, Aachen rose to prominence in the late 8th century during the rule of Charlemagne, becoming his favourite residence and a centre of Western culture and learning. From the coronation of Otto I in 936 until the 16th century, more than 30 German emperors and kings were crowned at Aachen. Aachen was fortified in the late 12th century and granted municipal rights in 1166 and 1215, and it became a free imperial city about 1250. Aachen began to decline in the 16th century. It was too remote from the centre of Germany to be convenient as a capital, and in the 1560s the coronation site was changed to Frankfurt am Main. Aachen was frequently at odds with the emperors during the Protestant Reformation. In 1656 the city was devastated by a great fire.

Aachen hosted several peace conferences, including those ending the War of Devolution (1668) and the War of the Austrian Succession (1748). Occupied by Napoleon’s army in 1794 and annexed by France in 1801, it was given to Prussia after the Congress of Vienna (1814–15). The city was briefly occupied by the Belgians after World War I. It was severely damaged in World War II, and it became the first large German city to fall to the Allies (October 20, 1944).

The noteworthy medieval churches of St. Foillan, St. Paul, and St. Nicholas were destroyed or heavily damaged during World War II, but their reconstruction began almost immediately afterward. The Rathaus (town hall), built about 1530 on the ruins of Charlemagne’s palace and containing the magnificent Hall of the Emperors, was also damaged and restored.

 [Credit: © Huber/Press and Information Office of the Federal Government of Germany]Aachen Cathedral suffered relatively little damage in the war. It incorporates the distinctive Carolingian and Gothic styles. The Palatine Chapel (built 790–805) of Charlemagne, modeled on San Vitale (in Ravenna, Italy), is Carolingian in style, and the choir (c. 1355) and subsidiary chapels are Gothic. In the gallery of the chapel is the marble throne thought to have been Charlemagne’s; it was long used for coronations. Charlemagne’s tomb is marked by a stone slab over which hangs a bronze chandelier presented by Frederick I Barbarossa in 1168. The cathedral treasury contains examples of fine medieval workmanship and sacred relics (including the supposed swaddling clothes of Jesus, as well as his crucifixion loin cloth) that are displayed to pilgrims every seven years.

Other notable landmarks are the Suermondt Ludwig Museum and the fountain, surmounted by a statue of Charlemagne, in the market square. The International Newspaper Museum has exhibits of newspapers from the 16th century to the present. There are numerous educational institutions, including the Rhenish-Westphalian Technical University, founded in 1870, the earliest in Prussia. The nearby hot springs are much frequented; Schwertbad-Quelle, in the suburb of Burtscheid, is the warmest spring in Germany, with an average high water temperature of 169 °F (76 °C).

Aachen is a rail hub and the industrial and commercial centre of a brown-coal-mining region; almost every type of heavy industry functions in the vicinity. Manufactured products include machinery, electronics, chemicals, plastics, textiles, glass, cosmetics, and needles and pins. Pop. (2003 est.) 256,605.Aachen Cathedral: location

In the history of philosophy Aachen played an important role in the preservation of classical culture when Charlemagne brought English scholar Alcuin to Aachen. Alcuin introduced the tradition of Anglo-Saxon humanism into Western Europe and thus began the Carolingian Renaissance which Kenneth Clark would later claim allowed Western Civilization to survive by the “skin of its teeth” (1) .

(1) Clark, Kenneth, Civilization.Harper & Row, New York, 1969, pg 18

 

My Goals for 2013, or lack thereof

This should be a quick post since I have decided not to have any.

I suppose I should explain. Every year I go through a little ritual where I right down all that I want to accomplish. I make list after list of all that I want to do. And then I never do them. As I write this I cannot think of a single instance where I have completed anything on a yearly goals list. It is certainly frustrating.

I have been all set to do the same this year, just waiting to sit down and write them and then publish them on this blog Last night was the night that I finally broke through the inertia on the blog and after last night’s entry I put in a little work on what I wanted to accomplish this year.

In the midst of all this I came across a really interesting article that maintains you shouldn’t set any goals. That’s right, you should consider not setting any goals. Sheer heresy! no? Here is what the author Peter Bregman wrote

We all know how important it is to have goals, right? And not just any goals, but stretch goals. Big Hairy Audacious Goals (or BHAGs, as they’re known to the inner goal-setting crowd).

It makes sense: if you don’t know specifically where you’re going, then you’ll never get there. And if you don’t set the bar high enough, you’ll never live up to your potential.

This is accepted common sense in the business world and it’s reinforced by research. Like that study done on the Harvard Business School class you may have heard of, in which only 3% of the graduating students wrote down clear goals. Twenty years later, those 3% were worth 10 times the worth of the rest of the class combined. Compelling, right?

It would be if it were true. But it isn’t. That study doesn’t exist. It’s pure urban myth.

Bregman goes on

Questioning the wisdom of setting stretch goals is like questioning the very foundation of business. We might debate which goals to set, or how to set them, but who would debate whether to set goals at all?

I’d like to.

It’s not that goals, by their nature, are bad. It’s just that they come with a number of side effects that suggest you may be better off without them.

The authors of a Harvard Business School working paper, Goals Gone Wild, reviewed a number of research studies related to goals and concluded that the upside of goal setting has been exaggerated and the downside, the “systematic harm caused by goal setting,” has been disregarded.

They identified clear side effects associated with goal setting, including “a narrow focus that neglects non-goal areas, a rise in unethical behavior, distorted risk preferences, corrosion of organizational culture, and reduced intrinsic motivation.”

As Bregman explains

When we set goals, we’re taught to make them specific and measurable and time-bound. But it turns out that those characteristics are precisely the reasons goals can backfire. A specific, measurable, time-bound goal drives behavior that’s narrowly focused and often leads to either cheating or myopia. Yes, we often reach the goal, but at what cost?

So what can you do in the absence of goals? It’s still often necessary to drive toward achievements, especially in business. We need help setting direction and measuring progress. But maybe there’s a better way to achieve those things while sidestepping goals’ negative side effects.

I want to propose one: Instead of identifying goals, consider identifying areas of focus.

A goal defines an outcome you want to achieve; an area of focus establishes activities you want to spend your time doing. A goal is a result; an area of focus is a path. A goal points to a future you intend to reach; an area of focus settles you into the present.

A sales goal, for example, might name a revenue target or a specific number of new clients won. An operations goal might articulate a cost savings.

An area of focus in sales, on the other hand, might involve having lots of conversations with appropriate prospects. An operations area of focus might identify areas you want to explore for cost savings.

Obviously these aren’t mutually exclusive. You could have a goal and an area of focus. In fact, one could argue that you need both together — the goal specifies where you’re going and the area of focus describes how you plan to get there.

But there is a benefit to concentrating on an area of focus without a goal.

An area of focus taps into your intrinsic motivation, offers no stimulus or incentive to cheat or take unnecessary risks, leaves every positive possibility and opportunity open, and encourages collaboration while reducing corrosive competition. All while moving forward on the things you and your organization value most.

By way of further explanation

In other words, an area of focus offers all the advantages of a goal without the negative side effects.

How do you do it? It’s simple: identify the things you want to spend your time doing — or the things that you and your manager decide are the most valuable use of your time — and spend your time doing those things. The rest takes care of itself. I have found that five major things are about the limit before your efforts get diluted.

The key is to resist the temptation to identify the outcome you want to achieve. Leave that open and allow yourself to be pleasantly surprised. I’m not suggesting that this is easy to do. I never realized how goal-focused I was until I tried to stop focusing on goals. Without goals, I found it hard to trust that anything would get done at all.

But things got done. And in my experience, not only will you achieve at least as much as you would have if you had set goals, but you’ll enjoy the process far more, avoiding unnecessary stress and temptation.

In short Bregman urges us to  focus on the tasks instead of the outcome.

I really, really want and need this to be true. Fortunately, I think Bregman is on to something here and I want to explore the concept a little further. I have come upon a system that I think will help me , as Bregman says, focus on the tasks instead of the outcome and I will discuss it in a future post.

The Know-it-All by A.J. Jacobs (Book Review)

A.J. Jacobs’   The Know-it-All is the first (but hopefully not the last) book I read in 2013.

A.J. Jacobs is a editor / writer for Esquire magazine who ” in the years since graduating college” began  “a long, slow slide into dumbness”. Jacobs sought to counteract his intellectual decline by tackling the mighty Encyclopaedia Britannica “from A to Z”. Along the way Jacobs interviews Alex Trebek, joins MENSA, seeks to star on Jeopardy, competes on Who Wants to be a Millionaire, struggles along with his wife to conceive a child and manages to pull off the monumental task of reading the entire encyclopedia.

Despite the relentlessly glib and  ironic tone, the book was very entertaining and in parts, hysterically funny. Jacobs is self-deprecating throughout which allowed me to pull for him during the book particularly when he detailed his struggles with his wife to conceive a child (may he have more than one). Jacobs also, I’m glad to know, studied philosophy in college and, while he’s rather disparaging of MENSA, in general he’s very respectful of those honestly pursuing the Socratic life. A case in point is his portrait of Ron Hoeflin, a man with a reputed IQ of 190. Jacobs writes

Ron’s fifty-nine years old, a bear of a man with graying hair and smudged glasses. He’s legally blind, but he can see things up close, which forces him to read with a magnifying glass. He grew up in the suburbs of St. Louis, memorized pi to two hundred decimal places as a kid ( he still remembers the first fifty digits) and eventually got a Ph.D in philosophy from the New School for Social Research. He makes his modest living putting together regular newsletters for HiQ societies. As he’ll tell you himself. he’s shy and awkward, not exactly a social butterfly, barely even a social caterpillar; he reminds me of Dustin Hoffman’s idiot savant in Rain Man, but without the idiot part. I like him immediately.

In a passage that t really captures the spirit of the philosophic quest Jacobs says that Hoeflin

seems interested in my encyclopedia project. Turns out he’s an obsessive reader too. Every day without fail, Ron reads philosophy at the Wendy’s on Eight Avenue and Fifty-sixth street over an iced tea, a Caesar salad, and chicken sandwich. Why Wendy’s? “It’s got good lighting, and it’s more social. Even though I don’t talk to people, there are people around me, which I like”. It was there that he read  the entire Encyclopedia of Philosophy in 420 days, about ten pages a day.

For my part I found this was an inspiring passage, and I was inspired by the passage as well as the entire book to consider  reading the entire Britannica myself. It’s a crazy idea and Jacobs tells us that everybody told him he was crazy as well. Still I’m tempted and it occurred to me recently to use what I  read in the Britannica as daily writing prompts for the blog.

 

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