Feeling Like a Kid

July 12, 2009

While I endlessly enjoy being an adult, there are some things that I naturally miss about being a kid.  Not really having a care outside of what I was playing with at the time, no bills and creativity that was uninhibited by social concerns are just a few.  While those are difficult traits to have as adult, I know of one sure fire way to feel like a kid again.

Solve some really hard problems.  So much of what kids do is problem solving and it’s easy to see and hear their excitement when they find a solution.  That’s a reproducible feeling but it gets a bit more challenging as I get older because I’ve solved a bunch of problems already and the ones that are left (which are many) tend to be a bit more complex.  No longer is making a stack of blocks an accomplishment, so the trick is to seek out and find equally challenging problems, adjusted for age inflation.

Last Thanksgiving I started working on what is now the foundation for my startup.  At the time this was a project unlike any I’d ever started, I didn’t even know if it was possible to accomplish what I was setting out to do.  If it was technically possible, I wasn’t sure if I had the mental goods to pull it off.  Thankfully I’ve still got some hubris in me and I wasn’t going to let worries of what reality might be get in the way of finding out what reality really is.

I use the word hubris cautiously because it has a pretty negative connotation.  Its definition usually includes other wonderful words like arrogance and overconfidence.  These are characteristics that most people wouldn’t want to have applied to their general self but I’m wondering if they can be useful to your problem solving self, perhaps even necessary.

Arrogance – having an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities
Overconfidence – excessively confident: mistakes were made through being overconfident

Are these really bad characteristics for problem solving?  I don’t think so.  Hard problems are relative to the individual and all hard problems tend to crush ones confidence at points.  So an exaggerated sense of what one can accomplish could be helpful in getting over self imposed barriers.  As for making mistakes, they should be embraced, not feared.  They teach you what doesn’t work, which leaves your mind free to try a new path that is more likely to succeed.

I think not knowing the path from A to B is what ties problem solving to feeling young.  I like to think of each experience in my life as forming a little path in my brain.  The more I travel down the same path the more defined and worn in that path gets.  Travel a path enough and it turns into a rut.  Seems like our brain can pretty much be on cruse control when going down these defined paths.

Don’t get me wrong, very well worn paths are useful things.  Without them performing complex tasks like playing a musical instrument would be impossible.  But simply following those paths doesn’t really stimulate your brain in the same way.  Getting out in the wilderness and doing some bushwhacking, that’s the kind of activity that your brain did all the time as a kid.  This is why you never hear a kid complaining that they are stuck in a rut, there is just so much to be explored.

As I say goodbye to my 20’s, it’s not really an accident that I’m trying to lay down a bunch of new paths in my brain and the good news is that it’s working.  The feelings that I’ve had while working on my startup have been nothing short of childhood bliss.  There has been more than one occasion where I was so excited after solving a problem that I ran out of my house in the middle of the night in uncontrollable laughter.

So the next time you’re wishing for some of your youth back, find yourself a hard problem, have a bit of hubris and start working on it.  If it’s a sufficiently hard problem it will take a while to solve it, but in the meantime at least you’ll be distracted from getting older.  While it’s not as quick as going out and buying a fast car or something like that, I will guarantee that the results will feel better, make you smarter and be a lot cheaper.

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Before going on a hike today (self employment rocks), I stopped by Jamba Juice for something to tie me over until lunch later in the afternoon.  The Jamba employee (or Jambalee for short) was a rather chipper young man who called himself Jimmy.  There was one person in front of me and as this customer gave Jimmy his money, Jimmy replied with “thanks boss”.  Immediately I was dreading Jimmy taking my order.

Sure enough, Jimmy called me boss when I gave him my money as well.  In fact, he called everyone boss and multiple times at that.  “Blackberry Bliss for Carla…  Here ya go boss”.  While annoying, it isn’t the lack of creativity that Jimmy had when addressing people that bothered me.  It’s the use of the word alone that I have a problem with and here’s why.

First off it’s simply an incorrect usage of a word for the given context.  Some may claim that its usage in this case is considered slang but I’m not buying it.  Besides, boss is already slang for excellent or cool.  Nope, when used as a title for another individual boss only has one meaning and it’s to denote that the person is your superior.  Not only am I not in charge of Jimmy, I don’t want to be in charge of Jimmy.

Second, essentially when someone calls me boss they are insulting themselves.  Why would someone voluntarily do this?  I can’t imagine that a person feels empowered after using the phrase.  If every random person that you serve is your boss, how much control can you have over your life?  Are they trying to boost my ego by making me feel like I’m important?  While I suppose some would appreciate that, I just can’t see the masses of service workers so willing to help out the egos of their customers.  I worked in a service job when I was in high school and it takes enough energy just to maintain your own ego while wearing one of those uniforms that there isn’t anything left to give.  Something isn’t adding up here.

I love sarcasm, so it shouldn’t be surprising that I feel like this usage of boss is actually a sarcastic remark.  I’m not convinced that everyone that’s using it intends for it to be sarcastic because lets face it, pop culture tends to be a bit of an echo chamber (in fact, I wonder if an echo chamber is a requirement for pop culture, but that’s a different topic…).  If I’m right about this, then calling someone boss is actually a backhanded complement.  Thanks Jimmy.

The difficult thing with backhanded complements is that they are often hard to reply to.  Treating it like it was a genuine complement only feeds into the desires of the person who gave it.  Replying with a backhanded complement of your own is a natural and somewhat satisfying reaction but that puts you on their level.  So what’s a good response to being called boss?

A part of me wants to treat their usage very literally by replying to the statement “thanks boss” with “you’re welcome subordinate”.  This is what I’ll call the Dwight Schrute response.  Somehow I don’t think people would enjoy hearing that all too often and they may think twice about using the phrase.

To stay on The Office theme, Angela Martin would take the direct approach and reply with something along the lines of “I’m the boss of my cats, you’re not good enough to be one of my cats, so stop calling me boss”.  While I’d love to see the look on someone’s face after that line was delivered to them, it’s not my style and I couldn’t hold a straight face.

Toby Flenderson would either take the polite route and ask that he not be called boss or perhaps the passive aggressive approach by filling out an anonymous comment card for the establishment.  While the polite route is probably the most adult way of dealing with it, Toby is pretty much ignored as a character and would likely get the same treatment in this case as well.

Stanley Hudson would go for the “whatever” reaction by uttering a “Ahhhh huh” while filling out a crossword puzzle while Roy Anderson would probably just punch the guy.  So maybe looking to The Office characters isn’t the greatest model for a response, but it sure is a fun one.

I don’t want to take all of the fun, so what would the other characters respond with?

Who Loves… me?

March 7, 2009

My brother has given our Dad the nickname “stat master” because of his ability to remember endless amounts of statistical data as well as his desire to acquire said information.  While I haven’t earned such a nickname, I must admit that I love looking at stats, especially search logs.

It amazes me what people type into search engines that ends up landing them on various posts in this blog.  Most of them are very logical and not surprising (eg: a search for my name).  But every now and then I come across one that catches my eye.  For example, this week someone searched for “jack johnson guitar” and somehow landed on my blog.  This is surprising because there are hundreds of thousands of pages with those words on them and somehow someone found one of mine.

But this week I stumbled on one of the greatest search referrals in my life.  Someone searched for “I love Ryan Grimm”, I actually let out a little laugh when I saw that.  Immediatly I started to wonder if a celebrety or artist popped up with my name, thankfully it doesn’t look like it.  So what was someone looking for when they typed that into a search engine?  Is it possible that they were actually looking for me?  I doubt it.  But it at the very least, it’s nice to know that someone out there is searching for their love of a Ryan Grimm.

My Questions

August 9, 2008

It’s amazing what you can find out about a person with a couple of simple questions. This can be both fun and important when meeting someone new and a couple of years ago two questions popped into my head that I’ve been asking people ever since. My questions aren’t all that original, but I love them all the same.

Sometimes in interviews you get asked questions like, “if you were a fruit, what fruit would you be”. While it can be fun to watch people squirm over abstract questions like that, I’m not convinced that they tell you much about a person. All you really find out is how comfortable they are with abstractions, maybe it’s useful when interviewing someone for a management role but not useful in getting to know them.

I like questions that can start conversations. If someone tells me that they’d be an apple, what am I going to ask them after that? No matter what the follow-up question is, it would take a very special person to turn that into an interesting conversation. So asking someone what type of fruit they’d be almost feels like you’re setting them up to fail.

In general I don’t think it matters what question(s) you ask a person, as long as those questions can start a conversation. My two favorite questions are, “where would you go if time and money weren’t factors?” and “what would you learn if time and ability wasn’t an issue?”. I love these questions because the answers I get are so insightful.

These questions can tell you so much about a person because there is more to the answer than the answer itself. If someone replies, “I don’t know” to either of these questions you can probably assume that they aren’t dreamers or maybe that they are very shy. I’d suggest ending the conversation if they reply with, “I’ve already been everywhere and know everything”.

You can also get insights on someone’s past with these two questions. If they reply very quickly and with great detail it’s likely that the person really loves to travel and always has ideas for trips. What does it tell you about a person if they answered with the Egyptian pyramids (maybe a history fan), Darfur (could be a caring person), the Moon (trail blazer) or the Jedi Temple from Star Wars (might not be grounded in reality)?

The answers for what you’d learn are especially interesting, simply because time is more of a restriction than ability. However, some people don’t recognize this which makes me wonder how confident they are in themselves. Also, from what I can tell most people would choose to learn something in a totally different area than their day to day life. This is very interesting but not all that surprising when you think about it.

The nice thing about these questions is that there is absolutely no wrong answers, only insightful answers. Maybe we’ll both discover that we have a lot in common, maybe our own dreams will even be expanded or maybe we’ll both realize that we’re not likely to get along. These are all fantastic outcomes in my mind.

So if I haven’t asked you these questions yet, you’ve got time to think up some answers. Even better yet, surprise me with some questions of your own and we’re sure to have a great conversation.