Lumosity: One Week Later

May 26, 2009

A week ago I set out on a 105 minute journey that claimed would exercise my brain to cerebral greatness or at least in that direction. They assumed that after using their online software for just a week I would be hooked… so hooked that I would pay for a monthly subscription. So I was expecting a lot. If you’ve seen “Good Will Hunting” than you have an idea of what I was expecting.

Well today I finished that journey. And I’m not decoding messages in the news or solving MIT math problems in my spare time… so was it a failure? In a word: No.

According to the program’s built in monitoring system I have made improvements daily in speed, attention, memory, problem solving, and flexibility. But I began to wonder if the program is designed for improvement because I like improvement… and I might even pay for it. So how do I know if I’m just wasting away my money and time?

Well there are testimonials but everything has those. And there are PhDs working on the program but American car companies have at least a couple of those and look where that’s got them. So how do I know this program is doing something other than taking my time and money because there are better ways to waste those.

After going to the gym I can feel the workout later. It happens every time I go. Then after several visits and some more pain, BAM, there is improvement. I get a similar mentally feeling after using Lumosity. The short mini games work a range of skills and afterwards I feel, for lack of a better expression, mentally worked out. Much like I wouldn’t expect a BAM like improvement at the gym in a week I expect it will take at least a month to notice differences in day to day from the training. Although I experienced additional confidence after just a couple sessions as I became more aware of my present abilities.

So they got me. I should have known with a free trial I might be in trouble. I’m going to try out a month of Lumosity and I’ll report back on how I feel about the program after the novelty wears off.


Free: The Inviting Killer

May 24, 2009

Free stuff is rarely free… it is sometimes way over priced. As far as legal tender is concerned, yes it is actually free but in other ways it can be costly. Free has many varieties but the idea of something for nothing never adds up. Free Trial. Free Subscription. Free Product. When I see the word free I start to slowly back away, trying to appear larger than I am (much the same strategy you use when dealing with bears). Because free has gotten me before.

Your time and well being are valuable. And free can steal them. Whether you are watching a free movie while listening to an earth shattering sound system (that is for sale) or signing up for a free store card to get 20% of your purchase free, there is a cost.

Make sure before trying anything that you are willing and able to purchase it if you want it. Don’t test drive a $200,000 car. It will handle better than your $20,000 bucket but you can’t afford it. If you can’t afford that kind of speed and you get a taste for it life gets worse, all for free.

Don’t sign up for cards you don’t want. Free can be very enticing here but it is the forbidden fruit. The initial discount seems great and you can always cancel, right? Yes but canceling is death, for them and for you. It is often time consuming and frustrating and has to be done during certain business hours if you want to talk to a person and you will want to. But you are only given this option after answering to a machine. The machine has no lingua franca. Computers don’t like to be talked to. (on most of these services if you say nothing regardless of the question the machine is programmed to connect you to a person, after repeating something like “sorry I didn’t get that could you say that again”…. No I don’t want to)

Free is dangerous and it is everywhere prepare yourself.

Finally Nothing to Lose

May 24, 2009

As the economy continues to tighten people are becoming anxious for ways to stay ahead of the curve (or to stay in the curve). Whether you are employed or self employed the pie is getting smaller. Whether you are rich and own the pie or just worried about getting your monthly slice it is diminishing. In these bearish times only the uniquely specialized and creative can win.

Specialized people have high job security. If you are the go to guy that is not going to change with a down economy.  As long as the industry your in does not die status quo need never change. But what if you are not highly specialized? Well life can get a lot more exciting.

You can become uniquely creative because you are finally forced to.

  • Creative in the skills that you acquire.
  • Creative in the way you apply your skills.
  • Creative in the way you engage the market.

I was only creative enough to come up with three there are many more. The point is you need to differentiate yourself or your company. You need to be different. This is true if you want to be the best. And this is true if you want to want keep your lunch. Sometimes life reminds you of Econ 101 and no free lunch becomes pretty clear when you lose yours.

The idea of being creative in a down turn is everywhere. It is not new. There are many books written on the topic. The problem is creativity isn’t enough, not in business.

Creativity in art is enough. If you make something truly unique you will inspire people with your imagination. But not in business. There are plenty of creative business ideas but they aren’t inspirational. Investors lose sleep over deciding which ideas are creative in a way the market will embrace. Do people want to put pictures online and have short delayed conversations? Yes, Facebook. Do people want to ……….? No, the ……….. is because you’ve never heard of it. The idea didn’t stick.

So how can you make sure that you are being the right kind of creative? Passion. It is the single most important factor in success. If you are passionate about a new creative idea then you can make it work because you are steadfast in your support of your idea. You can work harder, longer, and smarter when you driven by passion. It even helps with sales. Just make sure your dream is big enough then work to find the part that fits the here and now and run with it.

The down economy may just be your chance to be what you want to be. And you may find that the economy wanted to support you all along just not at what you where average at.

Don’t Be the No Comment Follower

May 23, 2009

Ever notice in meetings how a natural leader always emerges. The person that everyone looks to for approval and the one who will end up guiding the meetings direction and getting most of the credit. Assuming you have, you may have also noticed that this person isn’t always the smartest, best looking, creative, or even the most well rounded (this is a condensed list of the things he is not). Actually everyone might hate this person but they still look to this person as the leader… in the short term. In the long term the person maybe terminated, assaulted, or disposed of but chances are good that they will be promoted… and before the group can do the democratic thing and exile the individual.

So how does this potentially stupid, dull, and ugly person find others following him? He is the first to talk in meetings. He is the first to suggest ideas. He is the first to respond to emails. And first translates to leader. Pretty simple idea. Just like a race, the fastest person emerges as the natural leader.

But smart people listen. So can there not be a smart leader… (no wonder the economy is bad). But there is a simple solution. And unfortunately it is preparation. If you go to the meeting with a list of ideas already crafted out your well thought out ideas will clearly highlight empty headed ideas… as long as you articulate them. This is a must. An idea is worth nothing until it is put into action. And ideas get put into action by a group which means they must be shared.

Consider it your job to save the group from incompetent leadership. Leading often means more work but control is valuable. Control could save you from working on anchor projects (projects that continue to sink aka doomed dumb ass work).

MetroNaps- Nearly a Dollar a Minute

May 22, 2009

Since I graduated kindergarten, probably somewhere in the middle of my class, I have given up nap time. I wasn’t especially good at taking naps then and I guess somethings don’t change. But recently I feel like I’ve been missing out. Maybe I can find some untapped after lunch potential with a power nap, a brief period of doing nothing. The National Institute of Mental Health conducted studies that concluded that a midday nap could reverse information overload… I’m liking the sound of this. A professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine concluded that the nap could improve some memory functions… So I’m thinking this is pretty great, got to get on this.

Unfortunately this longing to engage in napping has been an uphill battle for me. I wear contacts so extended periods of shut eye often don’t leave me refreshed. And I often feel like I’ve been cheated from a real period of sleep after one of these power naps. But the worst part is if your not refreshed with memory boosted when you awake from your slumber you’ve just extended your work day to include the work you would have gotten done during your period of mental absence.

So hard as I have tried embrace this napping movement I can not recommend it. I have tried naps ranging from 10min to 90min and generally the longer the worse off I’ve been upon return to reality.

But there is something new, created by MetroNaps, that just might help me win this struggle. A napping pod. What is a napping pod well its basically a cross between a small spa environment and a lounger chair. What lets you know that it is awesome? It costs 7,950 dollars and features no locomotion feature. Before I send out for one of these I need to find my way to the 24th floor of the Empire State Building where I can take a 20min sojourn for 14 dollars (at nearly a dollar a minute I hope it has an international calling feature in case I’m sleepless in NY).

But until further testing I have to recommend that you sleep at night when you don’t even need special dimming features (very eco friendly).

Keep Organization Simple

May 21, 2009

Most people from what I’ve seen (and lets go with seeing is believing here) are just organized enough. Enough to what? To get by. Should they get more organized? Maybe so but just maybe. It is only worth getting more organized if it results in an overall net gain. Simply put less stress same output.

Placing throw pillows in a Feng Shui manner on your bed, folding your towels in hotel like squares, and aligning your silverware in Aristocratic style are all organizational habits that might make your life shorter (and feel longer). If you don’t know where to put your chilled salad fork in a place setting… you might want to keep it that way. In fact, you might just figure out that a regular fork is under appreciated and can handle the additional responsibilities of tackling salad.

But one addition to your organization can make a difference… a big difference. Carry a small piece of paper with a pen everywhere you go. On one side of the paper keep a list of things that you need to do (made in the morning). On the flip side write down ideas, names, or whatever else is on your mind through the day. One side will help you stay on task the other will keep mental clarity and help you focus. You also won’t forget things that where important enough to preoccupy you from your tasks in the first place.

This system is simple and simple is beautiful. I have tried PDAs and smart phones as well as flipped through some organizational self help books and these options are sure to add complexity to your life. The PDA/Smart phone option is nice for scheduling (managing outlook) but adding stuff on the go can be agonizing. Regardless if your phone is a of the touch screen variety or features a queer, little keyboard or even if it swings both ways, it is hard to keep a to do list and a thought slate that can be quickly altered on the go (even in hospitals, airplanes, and other phone hating locations). And while following a self help organizational book can make you a organizational guru, much like the chilled salad fork it is overkill for just about everyone.

3 Steps to Overnight Improvement

May 20, 2009

Painting like Picasso, playing like Tiger, and investing like Warren all take similar amounts of time. According to Malcolm Galdwell (writer of Outliers) 10,000 hours of time (so make sure your gene pool is long lived before setting out for this kind of greatness). But really this isn’t that much time if you count all of the time spent aspiring to unleash your inner Rainmaker (which I do). How would this count? Two Words: Mental Game

But I like results, immediate results. I’m not alone society wants  instant gratification too.

So here are 3 ways to be better right now.

  • Use a Good Handshake and Use it Often
  • Smile More Often
  • Don’t Talk/Text/Whatever Else Your Phone Does When with Others

Yes these are simple, most important things in life are. But if you start using these techniques I believe you can cut off at least 100 of those 10,000 hours on your path to greatness. I think even Warren would think that’s a decent investment but who knows his time management skills might suck.