The limits of believability and Greek rhetoric battles: OGB #1 Euripides

I recently joined Online Great Books, “an online community developing classically educated men and women using the Great Books of Western Civilization.” Thus far, we have read Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Aeschylus, Euripides, and we’re about to start Plato. Each month we have a virtual seminar to discuss ideas that we found interesting. In parallel, I’m also in a seminar to discuss creation stories; we have read the Enuma Elish, the Epic of Gilgamesh, and Theogony by Hesiod.

I love it. I highly recommend joining if you are able. Or at least trying it out. I’m reading more and thinking critically. And I’m appreciative of the great things that persist.

In meditating on and discussing these works, certain ideas pop out to me. Some as “AH HA!” and some as “WTF!”.

Thus this is the first of a series of meditations on the ideas from great books that apply to life today, inspired mostly by the ideas of others in my seminars: #037 and #creation. Thanks team!


 

Euripides I: Alcestis, Medea, The Children of Heracles, and Hippolytus

Euripides is known as the last great tragedian. This is probably because he pushed the limit of storytelling. His characters acted rationally enough while pushing the limit of believability. I think he fills the role of the last tragedian because anyone trying to one-up Euripides would have had to jump over the line into ridiculousness.

WTF

What’s the edge of what humans can do? Race 26.2 miles: easy to believe. Race 3,100 miles: less easy to believe.

In Medea, Medea is a powerful, rash, and logical woman who has used selfish acts to get her way. She betrayed her family by killing her own brother to help Jason, her husband. Later, Jason betrays Medea and their marriage oath by taking a mistress. In response, Medea plots and then murders his mistress by tricking her to wear a fancy dress that burns into her flesh. Medea then kills their own children. And literally rides off with their bodies unburied into the sunset on a chariot while Jason looks on in horror.

The storytelling is masterful because even though Medea toils between feeling pity for her innocent children vs. anger in cold blood, she can understand both sides: mercy and revenge. However, she is consistent in her behavior and self-justification by always acting to fulfill revenge. But, even though she commits heinous acts, her anger is believable and justifiable. She follows her anger to the end but justifies her decisions every step of the way. Medea’s character straddles chaos justified into order.

What would Euripedes’ successor have to do to make the sequel to Medea? Tricking Jason into eating his parents? Maybe infanticide in revenge was the evilest but most plausible act by the Greeks. Anything beyond this would reach parody beyond believability.

AH HA:

Battles of rhetoric with witty insults from emotional confrontations are universally enjoyable for us to watch. Euripides includes two levels of battle. Phase one involves long paragraphs of one character going at the other. Then phase two is one-liners back and forth in quick succession. The play acted out seems like a real battle. Each shoots at one another with their slings and arrows from a distance. Then they get closer, fighting hand-to-hand, jabbing and countering.

In Alcestis, Admetus has a chance to save his life from his fated death. Death, personified, pursues him. A god saves him by telling Admetus that he can save his own life by picking a family member to die in his place.

This may seem like a strange thought experiment, but it’s applicable to today. Who decides who lives and dies if a COVID-19 outbreak hits an underprepared hospital without enough beds?

Admetus first asks his parents, who refuse. Then he asks his wife Alcestis, who accepts and dies in his place. Props to Alcestis for going the honorable route: I think this is why the play is called Alcestis, to honor her sacrifice.

Anyway, after Alcestis dies, Admetus confronts his father Pheres about why he wouldn’t sacrifice himself for his son. The following insult battles are compelling. Keep in mind, this was ancient Greece and not Shakespeare.

Part of Admetus’ soliloquy to his father as a “battle phase one”:

  • “Go on, get you other children – you cannot do it too soon – who will look after your old age, and lay you out when you are dead, and see you buried properly. I will not do it. This hand will never bury you.”

Medea and Jason share some blows back-and-forth from their story as well as a “battle phase two”, after Jason confronts Medea about their kids.

  • Jason: “O my poor children, what a vicious mother yours has proved to be.”
  • Medea: “O my poor boys, what a sad end you’ve met, thanks to your father’s failing.”
  • J: “It was not by my hand they died.”
  • M: “It was, though, because of your own arrogance and your new-saddled marriage.”

Summary

  1. Stories throughout history still capture our interest by maintaining believability while pushing the limits of what’s possible. Anything outside of believability enters into comedy and parody.
  2. Intellect and wit can be used as an attack, similar to physicality and technology. Throughout history, we appreciate and enjoy fights, either with swords or words.

Throwback to aphorisms from Bali, part 3

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Personal protection has always been cool – Bali, 2019

During this unique time, I’m missing the freedom to explore, among other things. Travel is an escape from the mundane routine. This is a throwback to our escape to Bali last summer for part 3 of the lessons we learned.

A little tip goes a long way

Money from the West goes far in some other countries. People work hard everywhere. Leave a healthy tip when you’re pleased with the service. Remember that while you’re on vacation, residents are still working. They deserve to know when you appreciate good service.

“Nothing can be built higher than the coconut tree”

There is a fascinating concept that states no building can exceed the height of a coconut tree. Apparently, this isn’t completely true. But it’s a nice story that’s been around for so long because it would make sense if it were true. Regardless, there is a deep respect for nature on Bali.

A store is a home

Often, vendors live and sell in one place. You’ll find the whole family in the store sometimes. Treat it with respect, buy something, and play with the kids. It’ll make their day.

Bali and Indonesia went through some shit

The tsunami absolutely wrecked the island. The debris and leftover destruction are still there. But the Balinese rebuild stronger and continue living with honor.

There is no fee for any ATM withdrawal

Seriously, every ATM we withdrew from did not charge us a fee. My wallet supports whatever program enabled this to happen.

You’re not obligated to buy from a vendor even if you feel like it

This is like the tug of guilt you feel when you walk out of a store without buying anything. Vendors will ask you to take a “quick look, but no need to buy.” They know that looking makes you more likely to buy. Your act of compliance makes you more likely to comply with a future request coming soon: “Why not just buy one?” Then later, “Why not buy another?”

If a universe can be imagined, then it exists

There are many possibilities out there.

Looking back to look forward: What matters to me from my past

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Photo by matthew Feeney on Unsplash

Someone once said that the life flashing before your eyes is what really matters to you. So what really matters to me right now in this COVID-19 crisis? What will I remember about this time? I’m a thinker, so conceptualizing the lessons from this period of my life will take time. As a way to get me there, I am looking back on what formed me to this day. In each case, I’ll outline three things I learned and why they are relevant today.

Experimentation:

Until high school, I always ended up doing new things but didn’t know why. Why did I do certain things and not other things? Video games? I did that. Writing poetry? I didn’t do that. I could imagine myself writing poetry, but why didn’t I?

In my high school years, I started differentiating between the first step and the second step. I first imagined a world in which I did something as before. Next, I added step two: try that thing. I made active choices to expand my breadth of experience. I started out small, stepping a bit out of my comfort zone one inch at a time. Soon, my experimenting exploded into new experiences everywhere. I set myself on a track of openmindedness without limits.

I could imagine a world pranking band camp with my buddies. So, one step led to another by tricksters sneaking to the school overnight and rearranging the letters on a school sign to “GO SUCK COLON.”

Now, my goals span beyond one night of debauchery. I’m finding that there are many worlds in which I can imagine myself. Could I build that bookshelf? Yes, but it looks hard. Still, try it to see if you can. I still experiment today by imagining and then trying.

Learning how to socialize:

I was timid for most of my life until high school. Then, I finally found myself in certain social groups that were familiar. I could not navigate a classroom or gymnasium full of random people. But I started seeing the same teammates on sports teams and pushing ourselves through pain for dozens of hours every week. I opened myself up to them and formed the strongest friendships.

The way to socialize in new situations came down finding familiarity in new situations: new people, new places, new conversation topics. The way I succeed is by latching onto the things I find familiar, finding comfort in that feeling, and then opening myself up to the newness around me. Certainly, the way to succeed is to recollect myself in the familiar but not to stay there, because that’s boring to others.

  • Colleague I know in a group of strangers? When in doubt, comment on a shared memory.
  • New place but something looks the same? When in doubt, comment on what it reminds me of.
  • New topic? Learn it to satisfy my curiosity with the purpose to incorporate it into my worldview. Then share my own experience when I can segue the topic to something similar.

Self-confidence:

One day the librarian threatened to kick me out of the library before class started because I was not working. As a way to impress my friends there, I turned to the closest bookshelf, picked the first book that caught my attention, and set it down on the table. “I’m reading.”

Luck had it that I chose a bright red paperback copy of Engels’ and Marx’s The Communist Manifesto.

For the following few weeks, I walked around with that book in my backpack, fully owning it. Just before I entered the library each day, I pulled the book out of my bag and held it out to walk past the librarian’s front desk.

During those weeks I learned that self-confidence comes from ownership. I fully owned my choice to be reading The Communist Manifesto and even got into debates with the librarian about its ideas. With every interaction, I gained confidence.

Thus, my Confidence Manifesto is taking and fully owning the choices I make. Confidence could be based on experience or could be based on delusion, or many other things. But I learned that confidence is a choice that is within my power: more specifically, a series of choices that align my actions together into a common thread.

Today, I actively base my confidence in relevant experience rather than randomness. I am more certain of my ability to drive a car than a plane. But should I somehow wake up as the pilot of a plane careening toward the earth and everyone is trembling in fear, I have two choices. Tremble, letting fear drown me. Or, have some confidence and try my best to fly the thing and maybe succeed.

Summary

Things may be new right now. But I can imagine myself surviving like this. So watch I Am Legend and let’s try it.

Everything may feel different. Latch onto familiarity to enter the chaos.

The librarian is kicking us out. Grab a book and let’s dive in.

The bet on delayed gratification

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There’s something special about delayed gratification. It allows us to bargain with the future. We bet on more later, rather than less now. The crazy thing is that it works. Athletes delay gratification by actively pushing through pain for a goal in the future. Economies and societies run on this idea as well.

In May 2018, my wife and I chose to give up physical intimacy for a month as a form of devotion. We were having some tough times, and we needed a reset. We prayed for guidance and disciplined our bodies. As a result, we grew closer together. We plunged into cold water, woke up, and reminded ourselves why we loved each other.

Why is this important? Delayed gratification is more than just an indicator of long-term success. It’s a form of discipline. It blocks out the malaise of sloth. The lazy, comfortable body gets a master who knows what’s best.

Delayed gratification is one of the most important human realizations.

Aphorisms from Bali – Part 2

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Jatiluwih Rice Terrace

 

Here’s part two of the things we learned in Bali on our honeymoon; enjoy!

 

Learn how to say thank you and greetings

Sometimes it’s the little things that make it easy to connect to other people. This is an easy way to turn from tourist to friend. Get by on smiles and gestures. Then, use a translator app for everything else. “Terimah kasih!”

Follow the sunset… and the sunrise

Looking for something fun to do? Find the best place to watch the sunset or sunrise. Chances are, you’ll find someone else doing the same.

Know when to turn back

Especially when climbing a dangerous, wet, dark mountain without a trail and without other people.

Don’t dive while sick

Then again, Bali has some of the best diving around, and you can see manta rays. But, the pressure you feel is no joke once you reach a few meters underwater. You have to unlearn some of the basic instincts of survival. If you freak out and you’re 10m underwater, you must surface slowly, not quickly.

Learn how international business runs

It’s fascinating how the real estate market works in Bali, as it is so popular for tourists and ex-pats to settle down. Similarly, there’s a lot of education focused on hospitality since there are plenty of opportunities in the service industry there. Careful though, because you should still only invest in what you know. There are no consistent get-rich-quick opportunities in reality.

Fresh is best

There’s nothing as renewing as sipping on a fresh coconut. And the fish is best eaten when it’s still on ice from the morning. Bananas have a real shape – hint: they’re actually quite small when they aren’t genetically modified to look like a girthy school bus.

Bali is a reminder that you should be increasing your healthspan, not just your lifespan

Most advice is bad, potentially including mine. But this is important. Fill your life with meaning and spirit rather than extending the cold, dead shuffle. Allow me to generalize to say that Balinese have figured this out. They work hard when they work, but they value family, relaxation, and conversation for the meaning of it.

“If you ain’t first” – A survey in Natural Language

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Photo by Kolleen Gladden on Unsplash

Story

A few years ago, I surveyed 60 of my colleagues with a set of questions:

“What is the most important number? And why? All answers are acceptable.”

This question simplifies an important aspect of human culture: value. What we find most important shows what we value. I received 67 numbers with corresponding justification. I consolidated the results, which you can see here. What would you answer?

 

Findings

Number Frequency at 67

Number Frequency Raw

The top numbers chosen were #1 and #10. This makes sense because of how our number system has been set up (base 10).

 

Twist

However, I cared less about the numbers. I cared more about how people projected importance onto numbers using their words.

The top words appearing in peoples’ answers: Word Frequency (two or more occurrences)

Here are some simple quirks and explanations from the data.

  • “Most” appears more frequently than “More” and “Many”
  • “All” appears more than “Some”
  • “Always” appears more than “Sometimes”

To match the absoluteness of my question, the answerer had to provide an absolute judgment. Technically, one could say that a number is more of something than the rest. But we don’t see “Than” frequently used.

  • “My” appears more than “We”

This shows how we ultimately judge value through the lens of the self rather than the group. We may rely on group mentality to save time and assimilate, but it’s good that I have the final say.

  • “It” and “Is” and “It’s” appear more than “They” and “Are”
  • “Number” appears more than “Numbers”

This shows that people did a good job of providing one answer rather than many. But sometimes it’s hard to choose a favorite.

  • “And” appears more than “Or”

This could show how people are more decisive about multiple answers to a question. Or, this could show how people are more indecisive about the uniqueness of their answers. The frequency of “Also” could also bring light to this.

  • “Important” appears only one time more than “Favorite”

People hear “important” but think “favorite.” Maybe what we like is most important to us.

  • “First” appears more than “Last”

Often, what’s “last” is not the most important. Sometimes though, it is the most important. But often it’s much easier to define what comes “first” rather than “last” or the rest. So what’s first stands out. We can all agree that both “first” and “last” are more important than “second” because Ricky Bobby said so.

Oddly, the following appear more than once:

  • “Orgasm”
  • “Lebron James”

 

Conclusions

I don’t have any clear conclusions. This sample was not randomly selected and rigorously conducted. But it’s interesting to think about the results.

If I asked a machine, what would it answer? Natural language processing by machines can interpret the word frequencies and sentence structure using data and algorithms to learn patterns. It could easily tell us the number that is associated with success.

But what is the most important number? Maybe it’s the number that appears most often in quarterly earnings’ calls of companies about to grow.

Or maybe it’s the first number that babies say.

I guess we would still have to decide what values are most important first. Or last.

Praying intentionally as a way to gain patience, oneness, and optimism

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Photo by Billy Pasco on Unsplash

In April 2018, I began to pray. I had never really tried that hard to pray before. I had learned to pray before meals and pray before bed. Both of which are important. But the words I was reciting felt empty and meaningless. Inspired by Pastor David Platt and my renewed interest in spirituality, I began praying more intentionally. I tried a different approach.

I started to speak from my heart with meaning. I did not ask for things I want, rather I asked for guidance. And before asking for anything, I submitted myself to gratitude. I said, “Thank you, God. I am so grateful for the blessings you’ve given me. I don’t deserve any of this, and yet you’ve chosen me.” When I pray, I hear an echo in reply. I don’t know from where the echo responds. But the voice guides me when I submit my weakness and ask for help. It gives me answers and hard truths.

God is many things to many people. I changed from asking for things I don’t have, to thankfulness for what I already have. This is because I realized who I was talking to: God. Jordan Peterson put it best in his conversation with Sam Harris. I understand the gravity and magnificence of God in these terms:

God is how we imaginatively and collectively represent the existence of an action of consciousness across time; as the most real aspects of existence manifest themselves across the longest of time-frames but are not necessarily apprehensible as objects in the here and now…

So God is that which eternally dies and is reborn in the pursuit of higher being and truth. That’s a fundamental element of the hero mythology.

God is the highest value in the hierarchy of values; that’s another way of looking at it.

God is what calls and what responds in the eternal call to adventure.

God is the voice of conscience.

God is the source of judgment, mercy, and guilt.

God is the future to which we make sacrifices and something akin to the transcendental repository of reputation.

Here’s a cool one if you’re an evolutionary biologist. God is that which selects among men in the eternal hierarchy of men.

-Jordan Peterson, https://youtu.be/jey_CzIOfYE

Since I’m still early on in my spiritual journey, I am interested in my own relationship with God through prayer. I’m not interested in telling everyone else what to do. In my personal experience, my prayer resulted in newfound patience, self-integration, and optimism.

I became more patient because I stopped asking for things that I wasn’t getting. Instead, I asked for guidance and strength in the face of difficulty. And even then, I knew that the world could crash down on my family and me in an instant. Through it all, I would get what I need, not what I want. This meant that I learned patience. Usually, I demanded results and progress. But I soon discovered that I often don’t know what’s best for me. And I receive what’s best slowly.

I became more self-integrated. As I spoke from my heart, I said whatever came naturally. That is genuinely what we care about – not what we want ourselves to care about. I began to notice the things that bubble up to my thoughts, but I don’t flesh out. Maybe because I’m embarrassed about them. Instead, I give them to God through prayer. And when I put them into words, God accepts them and replies with an answer. In this way, I accept myself as speaking these words, because God accepts me. I could say what I think is the worst thing, but if God responds and accepts me regardless, then I can own this part of me without ignoring or suppressing it. In this way, I can integrate the not-so-good parts of me and control them, instead of suppressing them and risking that they overcome me.

Lastly, I have a newfound optimism. So far, I’ve shared the deepest thoughts of my heart to God, and he still calls me forward. In this way, I know that there’s nothing that I can do that will separate us. Of course, I’ll make mistakes as I search for the best path toward the good life. Calamity will happen and test or break my will. But I can rest assured that I will not be alone through the adventure.

I should pray about the things that I don’t understand because I need help in those areas. If I pray the same way every time, and I ask questions that I know the answer to, I don’t gain anything. By digging deep and intentionally building a relationship to God through prayer, I have more patience, self-integration, and optimism.

Aphorisms from Bali – Part 1

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My wife Sahyli and I honeymooned in Bali for 3 weeks this summer after our wedding. We had an incredible experience. We learned a lot about the world. We learned how to fill the hours in each day with life. We learned how to travel together.

Here are some more knowledge bits from the road:

Look straight ahead, because you’re responsible for what’s ahead of you.

Indonesian driving laws give responsibility to drivers for anything that’s ahead of them. If you’re driving and someone else turns out ahead of you and you two crash, you’re at fault. When surfing, you must look straight ahead, or else you’ll lose your balance.

200 meters or 500 meters, no problem, same thing.

Numbers are often estimations. We received walking maps without distances. 10 minutes until a right turn, 20 more minutes until the waterfall… it’s all the same. You’ll get there.

Honk to show your position.

Honking while driving is not rude. It’s useful to alert others of your position. If you don’t honk, you practically don’t exist. This is crazy to American drivers.

Everyone is brother or sir.

The beach is chill, brothah. And anyone can be sir when there’s a chance for business. Vendors and taxis love to flatter foreigners for a sale.

Hustle to get bargains. Check multiple shops.

If you see it and you want to buy it, you can probably find another one down the street. Or next door. Vendors in a certain area sell similar stuff.

Haggle like you can walk away.

Assume the price they offer is at least 3 times what they’ll sell it for, and 5 times what they bought it for. Offer a low price with respect and kindness. Walk away and then you’ll get that price.

Go where the crowds aren’t.

Bali has gone through the Instagram reactor. More tourists are showing up to the popular photo opportunities throughout the islands. Ask the locals for the little-known spots. Instead of driving, try walking from A to B to see a whole lotta C.

Start early.

Crowds gather at destination locations starting at 9:00 am. Book a driver the day before. Get up at 5:00 am and get out by 6:00 am. You get hours of secluded enjoyment by sacrificing a bit of comfort.

Sleep early.

See every sunset you can see. But then after that, get sleep. Maybe a hot stone massage in your room before bed. You’ll value the serenity of the morning light over the mountains more than the bumping and grinding of clubs that you can find anywhere. However, ignore this if you go night diving or sunrise hiking because that stuff is cool.

Befriend your drivers, masseuses, etc.

People are amazing. We met the nicest people by talking and asking about their lives. Local people are much more interesting than tourists.

Say hello.

Do it, even if you’re not buying what they’re selling. Especially the kids. Everyone is so nice and it lifts your spirits. People just want to have a good time.

When in doubt, just ask!

You could find your way, but what better excuse to ask the local people? They know the best ways. Often, those best ways are not coded into Google Maps or Apple Maps just yet. Watch, learn, and ask, and you’ll find some hidden treasures. Hidden beaches, waterfalls, or cuisine.

Get massages. Full body, feet, and reflexology.

If it hurts, it’s working. So worth it.

It’s impossible to clean sand.

Enough said. Separate the sandy clothes from the rest and pray.

Cockroaches aren’t actually deterred by light.

They’ll come out whenever they want. But sleep with the lights on anyway if it makes you feel better. The more you know.

Refill your thermo water bottles.

The tap water is not safe to drink. So, you’ll buy a lot of plastic water bottles. Use every opportunity to refill thermo water bottles with clean water whenever possible. Look out for the environment one sip at a time. Plus, thermo keeps water cooler than plastic.

For every song that exists, there’s a chill, acoustic version that is played in Bali.

The modern island soundtrack includes every song that exists. I mean EVERY song.

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Part 2 coming soon. Terima Kasih!

Stop Browsing Mindless Memes.

In March of 2018, I stopped browsing mindless memes. I realized I wasn’t gaining value by scrolling. So, I stopped. As a result, I spent my time better, and I became more optimistic.

Browsing memes was fun. Memes can reveal hidden parts of culture. They provide fresh points of view on deep issues. They are relatable and viral. Reddit has been the cutting edge platform for meme creation. Usually, the comments in Reddit threads are engaging and strive to push the conversation forward.

Dank memes are something else. Dank memes are often self-referential and pointless, replaying inside jokes for cheap laughs. Others are so ridiculous that they don’t make sense. Dank memes are hilarious, but browsing is a downward spiral.

When I opened the Reddit mobile app, I would lose myself for a while. I stayed awake staring into the bright blue glow scrolling, scrolling, scrolling. My back got sore from slouching over the toilet. Creative users uploaded their new dank memes 24/7. It was addicting.

I don’t remember what made me decide to stop. Maybe it was the final tug of disappointment from waking up tired, again, after staying up too late. Maybe I was becoming cynical. Maybe I heard myself saying the stupidity I was reading.

Operationally, I moved the position of the Reddit app on my phone. I replaced it with the Pocket articles app. Now when I felt like browsing memes, I’d wake up as I opened Pocket instead.

For a week or two, it kinda sucked. But the world didn’t crash down on me. I didn’t need it. Eventually, I uninstalled Reddit altogether.


Today, I use Reddit like I use Facebook: I don’t scroll. If I do scroll, it doesn’t last long, and it’s not too pleasant. Partly this is because I’m not the type of person who scrolls aimlessly anymore. But it’s also because I uninstalled the fancy native mobile apps (the thing you download from the app store). So, I can only access Reddit and Facebook using a mobile internet browser. Both Reddit and Facebook do not optimize their mobile sites on a mobile Internet browser. This makes the user experience on the browser unpleasant. Fortunately, I use that unpleasantness to limit usage.

Maybe there’s an idea for an add-on to apps. Suppose something saps our attention without giving us value. Don’t directly limit the time spent on the app, because this takes a lot of willpower. Instead, reduce the user-friendliness of the app. The add-on would make browsing slower and awkward. Instead, limit the quality and we are less likely to binge. Use that to your advantage!

Hanging onto my attention gave me back my mindfulness. I followed this thread into my next improvement the following month.

How to Stand Out: “Create Measurable, Marketable Examples of Your Performance, Experience, and Skills”

Throwback to this blog post: https://www.hamilton.edu/news/story/grant-meglis-booz-allen-hamilton-implementation-services-consultant

Growing Your Crop

You wake up. 5:30am. Snowflakes tumble softly through the dark outside. That feeling of anxiety arises: will there be a snow day? How will I know? When should I set my alarm?

We identify and then overlook simple problems constantly, every day. Small problems, like restarting the computer, require similar problem-solving skills to large problems, like codifying machine ethics. A strange dichotomy of productivity emerges, in which the performer is judged by the performance, not the effort.

At Hamilton, you cultivate mind, body, and spirit with great effort. You may be able to talk the talk, but to build your career you must show your crop. I will offer you a few ideas of crops that you can sell in the market. This means that when you are looking for jobs, you need to create measurable, marketable examples of your performance, experience, and skills.

 

Simple Business Similarities

  • Here are examples of conceptually simple things that businesspeople do all the time:
  • We apply our team’s capabilities to client requests, like using one law to prove another.
  • We gather requirements from clients, like clarifying a homework problem with the professor.
  • We design process workflows, like designing a new “button” onto the Google search page.
  • We research best practices, like reading Wolfram Alpha or Wikipedia.
  • We structure information in databases, like building the Statistics test questions.
  • We develop systems through programming computer code, like structuring matrices into operations to produce desired outputs.
  • We test to ensure quality software, like the old “plug and chug” algebra method.
  • We train clients to use our applications, like showing classmates the (process of finding the) answer.

 

The Business Case: Showing Your Crop

I work at Booz Allen Hamilton, supporting the implementation of Capital Planning software for Federal agencies. My job duties vary from training clients and building custom Excel reports to testing application developments and analyzing defects. Thus, the following examples revolve around software development and technology consulting.

Here are some ideas that allow you to show off critical skills and produce the measurable results that businesspeople value. For any or all of the following 11 steps, build things that you can take into an interview and show off, such as documentation, prototypes, or interpretive dance routines.

  1. Plan: Think of a problem you have or a way to improve something. Better yet, ask someone else. This problem does not need to be a new problem. Write down a paragraph or create a PowerPoint deck describing the issue or the enhancement: “Students and professors don’t know if class will be cancelled due to snow the next day. Early in the morning, countless people interrupt sleep cycles unnecessarily or lie awake, disappointed. We can do better.”
  2. Analyze: Imagine if you had $1,000 and two weeks to build a solution. Imagine if you had $250,000 and six months to build a solution. Document similarities and differences between reaching out to your roommate vs. reaching out to the local mayor’s office.
  3. Gather Requirements: Talk to a friend or professor for 15 minutes about what they would need if they were paying you to solve the problem. Document the conversation(s). Generate a list of requirements of the form “As a [user], I want [function], so that I can [goal]:” “As a Hamilton student, I want my alarm to know when to wake me up even on snow days, so that I can party the night before.”
  4. Research: Find a solution. Anything that might work. It does not need to be your own idea – solutions rarely are. Write it down in detail. “I want to build an alarm that directly connects to the Hamilton snow day notification system. If class is on, alarm on. No class, no alarm…”
  5. Design: Create a way of presenting your solution to others. Draw a picture of your alarm clock. Show different pages and screens a user can click on.
  6. Develop: Build or imaging building a basic prototype. How did you build it or how would you build it? Use screenshots and show step-by-step the process.
  7. Track Data: Build a database of important things you would need to track in your solution. Imagine how to organize tables of users, times of day, or alarm sound preferences. Or, determine where to put a “flag” that is set to 0 as a default and then set to 1 when there’s a snow day.
  8. Integrate: Tie your solution to other tools and systems. For example, how would your alarm communicate with the Hamilton snow day notification system? What information would transfer in between the services, how often, and in what form? Imagine and document.
  9. Test: Create test cases that list, step-by-step, reproducible instructions on how to verify that your solution is working as expected. Imagine ways your solution could break and ways of addressing those issues. For example, how could the alarm business logic misinterpret a 1-hour vs. 2-hour delay?
  10. Market: Show off your solution. Magnify the problem or solution by running around throwing snowballs at people at 5:30am to wake them up. Document the results.
  11. Support: Build a training document that demonstrates how your solution works to clients paying for it, team members wanting to help, or a random stranger sitting on the Sadove sunporch.

By using any or all 11 of these ideas, you can structure your vast knowledge, experience, and skills into a crop that you can sell by pointing at it. Just like a normal day pales in comparison to the fresh, exhilarating giddiness of a snow day, you want to walk into interviews and rip open the curtains, as the interviewee’s eyes lift wide to gaze upon the mountains of fluffy snow… metaphorically of course.