MY MAIN PERSONAL LESSONS LEARNED IN 2013

Whenever I am given an opportunity to talk to a group of young people about managing their career, I always tell them that it is important to be able to update their CV annually with what they can do now that they couldn’t do 12 months ago, or what they know now that they didn’t know a year ago.

I see no reason why this advice about continuous learning should be limited just to the young, so here are 5 key things that I learned in 2013.

1. You are never too old to unlearn and relearn … In my first job as a salesman in 1977 at DEC, I sold PDP11/70 minicomputers to accounting companies to set up on-line data processing bureaux for their clients. When all the hype started about “the cloud” my first reaction was “same old same old”, and that it was just another recycling of bureaux services under an updated sexier name. Yes and no. The fact is that it is a small “yes” and a large “no”, and as the companies I am involved with tend to be cloud based businesses, I had to forget my past experiences and relearn all about on-demand, subscription based services in this new world. It has been a rewarding experience.

Author: 百楽兎; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: 百楽兎; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


2. The time it takes to go from expert to dinosaur is rapidly diminishing … It took me about 30 years in IT before I realised that to stay totally current with technology trends would take more time than I had available to me while also trying to run a business. Today the valuable useable period for a software engineer is estimated to be about 10 years and rapidly dropping (see “Moving at the speed of shelf life” posted April 15, 2013). People are becoming more technology savvy as time passes, but we are also changing technology at a pace that makes it harder for people to keep up, no matter what is their age. At a time that we are telling people that they will need to work well into their seventies, we are simultaneously rapidy shortening their shelf life.

Author: Redvodka (own work); CC BY 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Redvodka (own work); CC BY 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


3. Not all close friendships are forever … Some friends become an integral part of your life and will be so forever, no matter how much time elapses between seeing each other. Some other friendships, even if extremely close at the time, just run their course and eventually you drift apart completely. I have realised that quirks and eccentricities that can be attractive, charming and endearing in friends when young, can become so pronounced as they age that they become intolerable. One close friend of 30 years would keep a running commentary going about the shortcomings of every other driver on the road. A bit annoying at times, but mostly quite amusing. In his late 60s this has now morphed into the most uncontrollable and violent road rage, that had him chasing another car, which had unknowingly pulled in front of him, at high speed through a busy city, just so he could pull alongside and scream abuse and profanities at the hapless driver. Unfortunately I was in the car with him at the time. I told him that he really needed to get some serious help, and haven’t heard from him since.

Author: John; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: John; via Wikimedia Commons


4. When it comes to health there is no one size fits all … I have friends who are forever telling me about the latest Peruvian mountain grass powder that can slow down the ageing process, and that it must work because it actually makes you gag when drinking, particularly as you have to mix it with virgin yak urine to augment its efficacy. Others extol the virtues of this year’s hottest fitness guru who has designed an exercise regime that means you only have to exercise for 30 seconds a day, as long as that time is spent running up a sand dune, holding your breath with a heavy weight tied to your testicles. The reality is that you just have to determine what works for you and make it a part of your normal activities, and just disregard all the “gurus-du-jour”. What works is everything in moderation except for vegetables, friends and laughter and the need to get up off your butt every day to do something that is fun to do and that gets your heart and lungs working. My walking around the paddocks for 45 minutes every day, with a shovel and wheelbarrow, picking up horse poo, seems to work well for me.

Health

5. You become a composite of the people you mix with … I am amazed at how quickly we become like the people around us. I have even found that having lived in France for about 10 years I have become more of a pessimist, talk about lessons one can learn from history and that I am even considering the possible benefits of the 35 hour week ( … not quite). But the reality is that if you spend time with negative people you will become just like them in a short time, so you should keep away from them. I don’t mean that you should spend all your time with Americans, who are the most optimistic people in the world and who can wax lyrical even about a death in the family, but it does change your sense of the joys of life if you mix with people who are full of love, life, humour and fun.

6. Great customer service is rare and awe-inspiring when you get it … I am not a great fan of Apple or Steve Jobs (see “Are fools or fanatics the problem” posted April 23, 2012), still carrying a Blackberry and using a Windows based laptop. I do however have an ipad, which my wife gave me as a Xmas present some years ago. Based on how slow is our internet connection in the small village in the French countryside where we live, I have never been able to upgrade the OS. I eventually decided that I needed to do something about this and that the best way to do this would be to go and camp in the Apple store and use their in-store wifi. From the minute that I walked into the store in Bordeaux city I was embraced in a cocoon of expertise, support and assistance that I have possibly never experienced before in my life. Rather than just letting me camp in a corner and do my own thing, a young Apple person insisted on helping me through it all eventually spending an hour helping me through the entire process, for no charge and no reward other than the fact that she was there to help. I may have to rethink my view of Apple, though not necessarily of its founder.

I have long found that the things that are the most important in life are the things that you learn after you think you already know it all.

FOURTH SECRET OF SUCCESS

In life there are some things that you should have in suitably generous servings at every opportunity that reasonably presents itself.

These are friends, laughter, sex and vegetables. Everything else in life you should have in moderation. (Note that combining the last three simultaneously may not work for everyone).

Woman holding bananas in produce aisle of supermarket, rear view close up shot of a neon sign that says sex

I believe that having great friends is a critical success factor in a healthy life.

Friends Playing at the Beach

I am not talking about people who can help you succeed in your career or in your business, or business contacts and acquaintances a la Linkedin, but people that are a serious part of your life. Friends who know enough about you so that there is no need to explain or justify what you do, who know you well and still want to be your friend anyway, who add a richness to your life just by their existence in it, and who see you the same way. The type of friends who can’t be bought, as Steve Wright (US Comedian) points out “If Barbie is so popular, why do you have to buy her friends?”

Robin Dunbar (British anthropologist and evolutionary biologist) came up with the number of 150 as the maximum number of people with whom we can have a meaningful relationship (Dunbar’s number).

Facebook seems to disagree as they have set their limit at 5000 friends. At 5000 your wall would need to be about the size of the Great Wall of China, and you would need to dedicate your entire life to just keeping up with the newsfeeds, and yet petitions abound to have this number raised to at least 15,000. MySpace already appears to have no limit at all. I wonder whether for many people these “pseudo-friends” have replaced real friends as, apart from keeping your life posted on the chosen site, there is not a lot of effort that has to be put into each individual friendship.

three friends holding a camera in front of themselves taking a picture

Social network junkies should however heed the warning of George Carlin (1937-2008, stand up comedian and 5-time Grammy award winner) who said “One good reason to only maintain a small circle of friends is that three out of four murders are committed by people who know the victim.”

I don’t actually believe the limit itself is as important as the reality of having meaningful relationships with whatever number of true friends you wish to have. Whatever that number may be for you, the issue is that each one carries with it some major responsibilities. If you want unconditional love you should get a dog, but every other relationship will require work and effort (See “Emptying your bucket” posted 5/8/2010).

Some of my basic rules of friendship:

  • Honesty versus criticism (family may survive criticism, friendship rarely)
  • Unquestioned loyalty
  • Their secrets are your secrets … no exceptions.
  • They are your friends because of who they are, not what you would like them to be
  • If you love them, tell them (goes for all sexes)
  • Periodic contact whatever that means and whatever that particular friendship needs
  • Help unconditionally when needed, even if not specifically requested
  • Keep your word
  • Laugh together often, even at yourselves

The conventional wisdom is that good friendships enhance an individual’s sense of happiness and overall well being. It has also been shown that loneliness and lack of social supports are linked to an increased risk of heart disease, viral infections, cancer and higher mortality rates.
US radio host Bernard Meltzer (1916-1998) used to say “A true friend is someone who thinks that you are a good egg even though he knows that you are slightly cracked”.

Egg with crack