Unrecognized Greatness

An irony when someone’s creative work becomes recognized after many years of toil and advertising: their work that was previously ignored did not change. It did not suddenly “become” great simultaneously with its rise to notoriety. Therefore, it was previously great but just not recognized.

With the idea for this blog post, naturally I searched online and found articles citing such people as Herman Melville, Franz Kafka, and Johann Bach (for musical compositions) as people who were only acclaimed posthumously. While Kafka did not make an effort to publish his writing (and even wanted it destroyed upon his death), others do publish and advertise their work. We would think that great works would generate a “word of mouth” effect where the initial small audience is so impressed that they share it with others. It seems logical that great work is timeless and will naturally be recognized in concordant magnitude and expediency with its worth. Yet, in practice this is so genuinely uncommon that unrecognized greatness (and lauded trash) might be proposed as a general rule rather than exception.

Search on unrecognized greatness, hidden genius, etc. and you will naturally find a lot of platitudes about perseverance, fortitude, and personal worth. These platitudes may do more harm than good. It’s easy to assure ourselves that others simply do not recognize the great work we are doing. Yet, what is great work for one might be mere child’s play for another. The former individual is not discredited; she may have unique and ingenious creations to make, from a different perspective than the latter. However, frequent, conscious consideration of how she should use her time and focus her energy is necessary to make these contributions. The 10,000 hour rule comes to mind. You cannot get good at most things by daydreaming, sporadic bursts of effort, or endless deferment.

Compare Franz Liszt to the local piano teacher, and we could definitely conclude the piano teacher should just stop trying. Yet, while what is peak performance for a hard-working muggle might barely be a blip on the radar for a masterful wizard, that does not mean individuals of lesser talent are anywhere close to their personal bests. Albeit, the value we place on being recognized and reaching peak performance varies across individuals and cultures. Like an attraction to redheads or a hatred of celery, we may even be unable to rationalize or counteract our desire for fame. Recognizing and dealing with it might be a worthier course than suppression.

People experiencing unrecognized greatness naturally get a lot of really horrible feedback encouraging them to destroy the aspects that make their work quirky, tantalizing, or otherwise useful. “I really couldn’t relate to your [story / photograph / song] at all” is possibly more of an admission of the reviewer’s divergent taste (or ineptitude) than useful feedback. However, hearing enough garbage without commensurate uplifting testimonials is bound to hurt one’s self-image and might be discouraging or prompt changes that turn unrecognized greatness into mainstream trash. In a marriage and relationships workshop at University of Central Florida, I learned from Yamille Aponte that it takes 5 or possibly even 25 nice comments to make up for just 1 disparaging comment to your partner. Hearing a lot of so-called “constructive” criticism can really do more harm than good. As much as we humans like to think we are continuously objective, is our objectivity continuously foiled by elementary psychological experiments. Worse still is the person critiquing you thinks they are doing you a “favor” and walks away with a dose of good feelings. Even benevolent feedback frequently stymies unrecognized greatness. For instance, requests to simplify and streamline a work are common. Editors love to cut out the best parts of stories. Consider that trying to appeal to a larger audience may backfire and make you appealing to no one.

There are many ways we can operationally define greatness. We could say a work is great if it immune to criticism, i.e. performing a musical piece with complete technical accuracy (let’s say a lot of complex emotions are included so it cannot be criticized as robotic or some other drivel). We could define a work’s greatness based on how many man-months of attention it commands: Candy Crush Saga is really great because look how much time people spend on it. We can define a work’s greatness based on the opinions of “experts” in the field. We can define a work’s greatness based on revenues generated, popularity among its target audience, dedication of its fans, or comparative analysis with similar works.

In American culture, greatness is probably mostly commonly defined merely by quantity of recognition. If a lot of people have something to say about what you do, whether positive or negative, then you are great. In a recent psychology course at University of Central Florida, I learned from Valerie Sims that children who are “isolates” (completed ignored) in 5th grade are far more likely to be depressed and suicidal in later life, compared even to peers who are universally hated (but acknowledged). Thus, one might conclude that “recognized badness” is universally superior to unrecognized greatness. Motivational figures encourage us to “fail” big—repeatedly, without fear or shame. Yet “trying too hard” versus “not trying hard enough” remains a delicate balance. If we are to optimally use our time, clearly we must fail “right”—in a way that helps us learn and improve. Unfortunately, failures can also lead to type II errors (false negatives), where we erroneously believe we have eliminated a fruitless path. These variables and more can morph future iterations of our work from unrecognized greatness to unrecognized mediocrity. Therefore, what we “learn” from failures is damaging if we tag something as a dead end when it would actually work if we tried a different approach. Sadly, our time is highly limited (350,000 waking hours in a typical adult life) and we do not have time to comprehensively manipulate every variable.

As an aside, what I dub as unrecognized greatness can also be under-recognized greatness. Once again, we are encountering one of the shortcomings of the English language where it is impossible to present nuanced yet compelling vernacular. For example, I have been annoyed lately when people say things such as “not all people do [some bad behavior].” With a semblance of objectivity, such phraseology is completely meaningless! It literally means the range of people who do not do [some bad behavior] is from zero to N minus one (where N is all people). Similarly, “unrecognized” greatness implies no one sees it—yet more often, we are looking at situations where a few people recognize an individual’s greatness at least partially, but they are significantly under-appreciated compared to matched peers. However, writing it as such does not make for a compelling essay title, nor does it piss enough people off to provoke attention or thought. More accurately, statements such as “not all people” or “unrecognized greatness” should be rephrased in terms of speculated percentages or proportions. Example: “while many childless Central Floridians under 30 dislike cantaloupe, I think at least 7.5% love cantaloupe but have only tried it in assorted fruit bowls.”

People often encourage us to take personal responsibility for our successes, failures, and circumstances of our lives. Unwittingly, this is better than its polar opposite. Our locus of control truly defines (or results from) how we look at our world. Doing whatever we can to achieve the type, quality, and quantity of success we desire is vital in our pursuit of happiness. Some people have little interest in being recognized for their greatness but just want meaningful personal relationships; they may even be married to people who think their artistic works are of little consequence. Others are desirous of widespread public acclaim and may pursue it at the detriment of other fulfilling paths, with regret or relish. Truly, identifying what is right for us, or what we seek to make become right for us, is of substantial importance. It is even more important than any external markers of greatness, because it justifies our behaviors and beliefs.

Recognition might be icing on the cake, or the cake itself. Desire of recognition is easily derided, but perhaps deserves more respect. “If you really love [some craft], you shouldn’t care about what people think” is a deleterious mantra. Yes, we care about what people think, and we are tired of hearing that it makes us shallow and inferior. The call to action here is to recognize and honor the greatness in both yourself and others, by devoting time and energy to it, and by calling it out in others. At opposite ends of the spectrum, we have the realists who told Elvis Presley he should not quit his day job, and the dreamers who say we should follow our most passionate interests with reckless abandon. In fields where substantial equipment and supplies are required, the path to greatness might entail accumulating funds through unrelated work. Giving up on our dreams is not the answer, nor is pursuing them in a short-sighted manner that leaves us exhausted and destitute.

The best antidote for unrecognized greatness is self-discipline. When you get noticed, there will be a long history of tenacity and perseverance that will basically be ignored. Expect to be told that you “lucked out,” in both getting noticed and being born with a gift. Those who attribute your success to luck will remain in their blissful fairytale world where they struggle without really doing anything. You can try to help them, but you’ll just get laughed at.

MetroPCS rebate scam / run-around / fraud / bad faith

This is what I am dealing with for buying a MetroPCS phone with a mail-in rebate.

Bear in mind I already sent them a demand letter on 4/25/2015, and I wrote this email below after MetroPCS erroneously rejected my rebate and sending me a rejection postcard not once, but TWICE; the first time, I called 800-999-6389 on 3/13/2015 and a representative told me he fixed the issue, and then I got another rejection postcard on 4/25/2015.

The associated phone was the ZTE ZMAX and was purchased by me on 1/23/2015 and activated on 1/28/2015. I mailed the $100.00 rebate form on 1/31/2015 (17 weeks ago). The rebate is for handsets purchased between 1/21/2015 and 4/05/2015, yet I have been rejected twice for the phone being “activated outside the program period,” even though a phone rep on 3/13/2015 admitted the postcard was completely wrong.

Here is the email I sent 5/28/2015 after finding that their rebate tracking website does not work on 3 separate attempts:


Hello, Amanda [last name redacted], or other Young America Special Services Team employee,

It has been over 4 weeks since the date of the email below (4/28/2015) and the $100.00 rebate card hasn’t shown up yet.

On 5/05/2015, I received an email with tracking # XXXX-XXXX-XXXX for this rebate. However, your rebate tracking website is completely broken / non-functional. I have checked it on 3 separate occasions (Fri., 5/22/2015; Tue., 5/26/2015; and Thu., 5/28/2015), and both times, I have received the following error messages:

When entering Option 1: Phone # and ZIP code:
“We’re Sorry. That request cannot be completed.”

When entering Option 2: Tracking Number or Option 3: Contact Information, the following error message has been received on all occasions:

metropcs-rebate-server-error-20150528

Please provide the date my rebate with tracking # XXXX-XXXX-XXXX was mailed, or when it is expected to be mailed.

It has now been 117 days (almost 17 weeks) since I mailed my initial rebate submission.

Respectfully, I remain,
Richard Thripp
4-year MetroPCS Customer


4/28/2015 email from Amanda at MetroPCS’ rebate processing / fulfillment house:

Hello Richard,

Thank you for contacting the MetroPCS Rebate Center, we are happy to help you with your inquiry.

Your submission has been reprocessed and you can track the status of your rebate on our website; www.metropcsrebates.com within 48 hours. Please allow 4 weeks for your submission to be processed.

If there is anything further we can assist you with, feel free to contact us by email, Web Chat or calling 1-800-999-6389 Monday – Friday between 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. CST.

We apologize for the confusion.

Amanda [last name redacted]
Special Services Team | YA Canada – a subsidiary of Young America, LLC
770 Richmond St., Unit C | Chatham, ON | N7M 5J5
www.young-america.com


4/25/2015 demand letter (email) to MetroPCS:

My rebate has been twice rejected with a postcard saying “the product activation for your submission occurred outside of the program period.”

The first postcard was received 3/13/2015, and I called 800-999-6389 on 3/13/2015 and was told the rejection was MetroPCS’s mistake and that I would receive the rebate in 8-10 weeks.

I received a new postcard with the same rejection message on 4/25/2015.

This is erroneous and at this point, arguably is an act of bad faith.

I demand my rebate for a $100.00 Visa prepaid card on the ZTE ZMAX mobile phone be honored as advertised, and have documentation proving the phone was purchased from MetroPCS.com, activated during the program period, and that the rebate was accordingly submitted and rejected in error.

Further, I demand an additional $15.00 concession for my rebate being repeated rejected and delayed, arguably in bad faith [this demand was not acknowledged in the 4/28/2015 reply from Amanda at Young America].

If my demands are not met, the actions I will take will include, but not be limited to:

1.) Submitting a chargeback with my credit card issuer (Chase Bank) regarding the transaction, in the amount of $100.00.
2.) Filing a complaint with the Attorney General for the State of Florida and the applicable state(s) of MetroPCS and MetroPCS’s rebate processors.
3.) Being that the rebate is processed in Texas, I have additional recourse permitted under the Texas Business & Commerce Code, Title 12, Section 605.
4.) Filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.
5.) Filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau.
6.) Being that the repeated rejection of my rebate has arguably been in bad faith and been conducted via correspondence delivered through the U.S. Postal Service, filing a complaint with the United States Postal Inspection Service for a possible case of mail fraud.

Sincerely,
Richard Thripp


Text of MetroPCS rebate tracking error message which has been showing up on their site for at least an entire week when I try to track my rebate:

Server Error in ‘/’ Application.
Runtime Error
Description: An application error occurred on the server. The current custom error settings for this application prevent the details of the application error from being viewed remotely (for security reasons). It could, however, be viewed by browsers running on the local server machine.

Details: To enable the details of this specific error message to be viewable on remote machines, please create a tag within a “web.config” configuration file located in the root directory of the current web application. This tag should then have its “mode” attribute set to “Off”.

<!– Web.Config Configuration File –>

<configuration>
<system.web>
<customErrors mode=”Off”/>
</system.web>
</configuration>

Notes: The current error page you are seeing can be replaced by a custom error page by modifying the “defaultRedirect” attribute of the application’s configuration tag to point to a custom error page URL.

<!– Web.Config Configuration File –>

<configuration>
<system.web>
<customErrors mode=”RemoteOnly” defaultRedirect=”mycustompage.htm”/>
</system.web>
</configuration>

Reaching Peak Performance for Knowledge Workers

A presentation about attention- and time-management for “knowledge workers”: people who solve problems and approach problems creatively, and who deal primarily in knowledge (mental labor) rather than physical (manual) labor.

Prepared and presented by Richard Thripp of Toastmasters of Port Orange, FL on 2015-05-20, in fulfillment of Competent Communication Project #6: “Vocal Variety” in the Toastmasters curriculum.

Download the PDF of this presentation here (1.1 MB).

Keywords: attention, knowledge workers, peak performance, personal development, self-discipline, time management

Covey’s “Quadrant II” tasks and why you should know about them

The following speech, titled “Quadrant II Tasks,” was prepared and presented by Richard Thripp of Toastmasters of Port Orange, FL on 2015-04-15, in fulfillment of Competent Communication Project #4: “How to Say It” in the Toastmasters curriculum.

After hearing my speech, the audience will be educated on “Quadrant II” tasks as presented by Stephen R. Covey in Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and the audience will be encouraged to prioritize Quadrant II tasks in their daily lives.

Covey's Quadrants
Image source: SidSavara.com

  • Quadrant 2 tasks are important but not urgent.
  • More examples of Quadrant 2 tasks:
    • An ambitious exercise regimen
    • Quality time with your spouse and family
    • A side business you hope to eventually replace your day job with
    • Pursuing higher education or educational enrichment
    • Eating healthful meals; taking care of your teeth
    • Learning another language
    • Writing an enthralling book
    • Producing glamorous works of art
    • Developing your speaking skills
    • Toastmasters attendance and involvement; completing your CC and CL manuals
  • Quadrant 2 tasks are the “big picture.” They are vital to your long-term goals, dreams, and effectiveness in general. However, they can get swept under the rug because of the other 3 quadrants:
  • Quadrant 1 tasks are important and urgent. These tasks usually have deadlines, and not completing them on-time has negative consequences. For example, filing your taxes.
  • Quadrant 3 tasks are urgent but not important. If you are like me, your coworkers, friends, and family are likely to pile up quadrant 3 tasks on you, such as requests for technical help, proof-reading, or shopping advice. Ironically, a lot of these problems go away if you ignore them. A ringing phone is a prime example of an urgent but often unimportant stimulus.
  • Quadrant 4 tasks are not important and not urgent. Effective people minimize these tasks. Reading junk or chain email, using Facebook, watching TV or YouTube, reading blogs or the news, and text messaging might be in quadrant 4 for you.
  • Quadrant 2 tasks are most important to the effective and self-actualized person.
  • Quadrant 1 tasks are necessary and should be dealt with as needed.
  • Quadrants 3 and 4 should be ignored to the largest extent possible.
  • You can be very efficient focusing on quadrants 1 and 3, but be ineffective. Efficiency and effectiveness are two distinct concepts. Think about what will matter in a year or 5 years.
  • Caution must be used when applying these principles to interpersonal relationships. As Covey says, with people, “slow is fast and fast is slow,” meaning that trying to be efficient simply does not work. But these relationships may belong in Quadrant 2 and may be worth the time.
  • Quadrant 4 activities can be restive and relaxing in moderation. However, try watching documentaries, reading nonfiction books, and listening to audio books rather than the radio.
  • People who refuse to use social networks and refuse to give out their phone number or email might not just be aloof. They may be taking preventative measures to allow themselves to focus on ambitious Quadrant 2 tasks without distractions.
  • “Things that matter most must never be at the mercy of things that matter least.” – Stephen Covey; a good example of Covey’s Quadrants. He said Quadrant 2 is most important.
  • “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” – President Dwight Eisenhower. Sometimes called Eisenhower’s Decision Matrix.
  • WHAT does your Quadrant 2 look like? How much time do you spend in Quadrant 2? How can you improve that?
  • Is your Quadrant 2 being neglected and ignored? Do not feel bad—you are not alone. Start saying “no” to Quadrant 3 and 4 tasks, and work on a Quadrant 2 task first thing each morning.

Download the PDF of the Quadrant II Tasks speech here (420 KB).

Richard Thripp’s 5th speech titled “Why Toastmasters?” has been posted on Thripp.org.

Responsible Credit Card Usage

The following speech was prepared and presented by Richard Thripp of Toastmasters of Port Orange, FL on 2015-01-14, in fulfillment of Competent Communication Project #3: “Get to the Point” in the Toastmasters curriculum.

Initially, I prepared the following essay, which was subsequently adapted into index cue cards that I used to deliver the speech.

After hearing my speech, the audience will be able to articulate three benefits of credit cards and contrast these benefits with drawbacks that can result from poor spending habits, a lack of self-discipline, or other factors.

Good evening fellow Toastmasters and guests,

Regarding self-discipline and credit cards, a common response is to advocate using cash or debit cards to limit our spending. Psychologists tell us we are likely to spend less if we have to fork over cold, hard cash rather than swiping a piece of plastic. However, credit cards offer a great number of advantages. Many credit cards now charge no annual fee and offer at least 1% in cash rewards on all purchases. Customers paying with credit cards have the recourse of pursuing a partial or complete chargeback against the merchant if receiving bad service, which is an avenue not available to users of cash and some debit cards. If the statement balance is fully paid within 21 days after the monthly statement closes, credit cards offer an interest-free loan with no risk, besides risk associated with a lack of self-discipline. If we pay them on time, credit cards help us build a good credit history. If we utilize less than about 30% of our credit lines, they are also likely to improve our credit scores, which can result in lower interest rates and more generous credit lines, not just with credit cards, but also mortgages and auto loans.

Despite these benefits, credit cards are not for everyone. Considering the average annual interest rate on a credit card is about 15%, deferring a balance of $5000 for one month will cost you about $63, completely wiping out the 1% in cashback rewards you may have earned. Further, missed payments can result in the penalty interest rate taking effect, typically 30%, as well as a late payment fee of about $37. Given these dire penalties, credit cards should be used by choice rather than out of necessity, and a wise consumer should always have enough money saved to cover all their credit card purchases.

Rather than condemning credit cards, we should recognize that for some people, they are effective, beneficial, and can actually help us build wealth. The credit card industry has a term for consumers who always pay their balance in full: “deadbeats.” This is because they earn far less money off these consumers than consumers who succumb to making the minimum payment while being subjected to high, compounding interest rates. The credit card business is so lucrative that credit card issuers offer large incentives to new account holders, often in the neighborhood of $500, as well as promotional 0% interest rates from 6 months to as long as 24 months, designed to get you in the habit of not paying the balance in full each month. Being a deadbeat means you can take advantage of these financial incentives while never giving them the satisfaction of profiting through interest and late fees.

The savvy, deadbeat credit card user is likely fiscally responsible in most areas of life, and has developed prudent habits that make him or her far less susceptible to the pitfalls of credit cards. When evaluating whether you are cut out to be a deadbeat, I suggest taking the approach of a financial actuary—rather than relying on emotions and self-image, compile statistics on how much money you have lost to high interest rates, late fees, cash advances, and other financial mechanisms over the past year. If this amount is any more than a few dollars, I suggest you avoid credit cards like the plague.

INDEX CARDS (used for actual speech):

INTRO:
Regarding self-discipline and credit cards, a common response is to advocate using cash or debit cards to limit our spending. Psychologists tell us we are likely to spend less if we have to fork over cold, hard cash than swiping a piece of plastic. Since credit cards are not for everyone, this may be an appropriate response in many cases.

POINT 1: Credit cards not for everyone
• High interest and late fees
• Avg. 15% APR = $63 interest on $5000 balance in one month!
• Penalty 29.99% APR + $37 fee
• Minimum payment = trap
• 0.00% APR lures you in [transition]

POINT 2: Benefits of credit cards
• Interest-free loan (if paid in full)
• Sign-up bonuses and rewards, I made $5000 in 2 years, nontaxable income
• Builds credit history/score, tracking
• Chargebacks (more leverage than cash)
• “Deadbeat” users don’t pay interest/fees

POINT 3: Builds credit history
• Over time improves credit score
• DON’T MISS PAYMENTS
• Keep below 30% utilization
• Multiple CCs = less effect to avg. acct. age when new CC is opened
• High credit score = very valuable in life

CONCLUSION:
While credit cards can be a trap for many people, they can allow you to make thousands of dollars in bonuses and rewards while building your credit. Lenders and scoring models look favorably at a long history of on-time payments, which will benefit you when seeking a mortgage, auto, or personal loan, or even when renting an apartment or car. Thus, using credit cards responsibly can pay large dividends.

How to Avoid Losing Computer Data

The following speech was prepared and presented by Richard Thripp of Toastmasters of Port Orange, FL on 2014-10-08, in fulfillment of Competent Communication Project #2: “Organizing Your Speech” in the Toastmasters curriculum.

A presentation of ideas regarding avoiding losing typed work on webpages, backing up computer data, and the format and compression of data.

Good evening fellow Toastmasters and guests,

Tonight I would like to talk about some basic concepts regarding computer usage and steps you can take to avoid losing data.

Have you ever filled out a form on a website only to have everything you typed vanish due to accidentally pressing the back button or some other glitch? This can be avoided by careful consideration and planning. If you are typing a long report, get into the habit of typing it in another program such as Notepad or Microsoft Word and saving the file regularly using the Ctrl + S keyboard shortcut. Then, when you have finished typing, you can copy and paste the results into the website, with the Word file serving as a backup. For users of the Mozilla Firefox web browser, there is also a free extension called Lazarus Form Recovery that saves all text you type in the browser, so you can retrieve it after a browser or operating system crash, server timeout, or other problem.

Backing up your computer files by making duplicate copies of them on other devices is critical, not only due to the risk of hard drive failure, but also viruses, software problems, and user error. For a backup to be effective, it must be updated regularly and stored on a different device—for example, it must not be stored on the same hard drive or a partition of the same hard drive. When updating your backup, care must be taken to ensure you are not deleting or overwriting previous versions of files that you might want to recover later. One piece of software I use to back up my files is called SyncBackFree, which allows you to configure options regarding the types of files to be backed up, and also to synchronize files based on variables such as file size and the “last modified” timestamp. Synchronization is also available, and is useful if you are actively making changes to the files on two devices, such as your home PC and a USB flash drive. For simplicity’s sake, I do not use synchronization, but rather edit most of my documents and school files directly from my flash drive even while at home, and thus use the software to perform a backup from my flash drive to my internal hard drive or other device at all times, which means my flash drive is treated as the authoritative or master copy. When using powerful software such as SyncBackFree, you should be careful to understand the interface and review the files that are going to be changed before proceeding with the backup, since it is possible to make a mistake and end up overwriting the data you intend to preserve.

In principle, you should also always have at least one copy of the files you intend to preserve NOT connected to your computer, in case a bug, virus, power surge, or curious toddler manages to delete both copies of the files. Thus, it may be necessary to have three copies of important files, with no more than two connected to your computer at any one time. I would also recommend looking into online backup, as it is increasingly becoming an effective option, especially for people who merely backing up documents and spreadsheets, rather than many gigabytes of photos and videos.

The final concept I will discuss is data formatting and compression. While you may think these are only of interest to computer science students, in fact they are quite important to the literate computer user. Consider that you are preparing a poster for work that you would like to both display in print, and distribute by email. A common mistake is emailing the same file you intend to print—this wastes many megabytes of space in each recipient’s email inbox. In fact, you should create a separate file to send via email, which can simply be the original file resampled to a lower resolution and saved with more compression.

Over-compression is also a common mistake. One example of this is misuse of the resolution and quality settings on your digital camera. As a new digital photographer in 2004, for several months I made the mistake of choosing the one megapixel resolution setting instead of two megapixels on my camera. My logic at the time was that the photos look the same anyway in slideshows on my monitor, and that I had only a small memory card and small hard drive in my computer. I regret this decision whenever I look at these photos, and wish I would have used the highest resolution setting on my camera and bought a larger memory card and hard drive earlier. Additionally, monitor resolutions have increased since 2004, so one megapixel photos do not even take up my whole screen now. When working with data, this is a very important principle to keep in mind—you can always remove data later, but you can never restore data that has been destroyed or was never recorded in the first place. Thus, it is wise to avoid making irreversible changes to any original file. Thanks to the abstraction that is the digital world, we are fortunate to be able to make perfect copies of digital files and perform our experiments safely.

Effective Prioritization and Establishing Stewardship Agreements (Covey’s 7 Habits)

Written for my Learning Theories Applied to Instruction and Classroom Management graduate class (EDF 6259; professor Kay Allen) at University of Central Florida on 2015-04-13 (Spring 2015 semester), this assignment gave me the opportunity to read and write about Seven Habits of Highly Effective People as part of my graduate coursework.

Richard Thripp
Grade Contract: A

1. Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

a. Important Concept One: Effective Prioritization:

Covey presents the idea that the activities prioritized by most people are often somewhat trivial or meaningless, yet come with urgent deadlines and social pressure. Similarly, we pressure ourselves to get our “to-do list” done for the day, even when the tasks on it fail to contribute to the “big picture”: our lifelong goals and priorities. Activities that are important, yet not urgent, are where we should place more focus, even at the expense of activities that seem urgent to others. This is because prioritizing vital tasks that relate to our personal mission has better and more important long-range benefits for ourselves and our leadership potential. Most daily planners and email or inbox workflows focus on tasks that are urgent but not important, and while solving such tasks may meet others expectations or make us “feel” busy, in the long run they are inconsequential (Covey, 1989). Leaders may gain the respect of others by confidently refusing requests and assignments that are urgent yet not important, which also frees them up to focus on what really matters. A single step one can take in this direction is to jettison the telephone (or delegate answering it to someone else). A ringing telephone is a highly salient example of an urgent, yet frequently unimportant distraction.

In the classroom, effective prioritization might involve talking more about underlying themes or overarching mathematical concepts and principles. The drill of rote learning might appear to fill the urgent need of improved standardized test performance, yet if you start early in the school year, it is possible that higher-order instruction might result in both improved conceptual understanding and higher test scores.

b. Important Concept Two: Establishing Stewardship Agreements:

Stewardship delegation has a large upfront cost—placing work such as photography or yard work (Covey, 1989) under the control and self-direction of children, for example, requires that both the leader and steward establish guidelines and desired results, as well as leading the steward to take ownership and personally identify with the work. This is applicable to children and adults alike; many corporations and institutions employ “gofer delegation,” where employees are told how to do every task, and never take initiative to develop their own methods. More importantly, they do not feel their work is a part of them (low commitment), and thus are ineffective workers in the long run. Instead, if individuals are given parameters and pitfalls to avoid, while being allowed to develop their own methods to produce the desired results, they will eventually become much more effective due to being self-directed and feeling personally responsible. This form of delegation is much more “hands off” and allows the steward to be his or her own boss, which additionally frees up time for the leader to work on more important activities, such as establishing new stewardship arrangements with other employees.

In the classroom, a stewardship agreement might be presented with regard to children’s binders or notebooks. Surprisingly, when I observed a 5th grade classroom at a low-SES public elementary school in 2011, I saw the teacher placing items in students’ 3-ring binders for them, and even filling out parts of their worksheets. Getting children to manage and take pride in their binders through stewardship delegation entails more work upfront, but has large benefits. Children may become proud of their organization skills and more interested in reviewing the homework and curriculum materials in their binders, and the teacher will not have to micro-manage or worry about these students abusing or losing their binders.

c. Share at least one way in which one or both of the concepts has/have informed you in your professional practice.

Effective prioritization is an ongoing battle for me, but I have felt more apt to work on complex projects ahead of schedule this semester, after listening to Seven Habits of Highly Effective People in audio format. Further, I have passed up many urgent but unimportant requests, such as requests from friends for help with physical labor, copy-editing, or low- or un-paid freelance photography work. In fact, some friends have actually come to expect me to decline helping them over the past two months, and have stopped sending me their urgent requests. While declining urgent but unimportant engagements is but one aspect of Covey’s model, I believe it is an important first step for me. Developing this habit will benefit my career, allow more time for my hobbies, and promote mutually beneficial social relationships.

Reference

Covey, S.R. (1989). The seven habits of highly effective people: Restoring the character ethic. Thorndike, ME: G.K. Hall & Co.

UCF Graduate Research Forum Announcement

UCF students should come see the research by Samantha Furbee​ and I on our measure of principal connectedness in Florida elementary schools as it correlates to percentage of low-income families: whether principals have photos and/or messages present on the official school websites.

We will be presenting at the Graduate Research Forum at the University of Central Florida on Tuesday, 3/31/2015, from 12:00 to 4:00 PM at the Student Union in the Pegasus Ballroom.

Visit http://www.students.graduate.ucf.edu/research_forum/ for more information about the forum.

– Richard Thripp

Brain Myths: Crosswords, Math Skills

An assignment (no sources required) written on 2015-02-11 by me for an online class at University of Central Florida: EDF 6529, Learning Theories Applied to Instruction and Classroom Management.

Question: What are some misapplications and/or neuromyths that may be less than beneficial to the educational process?

I am glad to see that my fellow students have covered important neuromyths such as the myth of learning styles (they do not really exist), the mythical implications of being a right-brained versus left-brained individual, the myth that we only use 10% of our brains (we use all of our brains), and the myth that plasticity completely vanishes after early childhood. These ideas are very common among the typical American, but are very wrong, and negatively influence learning by discouraging people from taking on new tasks and by encouraging them to have a defeatist attitude.

Commonly, people believe that crossword puzzles and other “brain exercises” help their minds stay sharp and help them avoid dementia in old age. Even young people believe these activities have significant benefits to their brains, despite a plethora of scientific evidence that such puzzles do little or nothing for the brain, while physical exercise greatly benefits the brain. Nevertheless, people want to believe in Cartesian mind/body dualism—they seem to want to believe the brain is separate from the body to justify living a sedentary lifestyle. This is a difficult but important myth to overcome, since debunking this myth will help people reallocate their time and resources to such things as cardiovascular exercise which will actually help their mind and body more than crossword puzzles. This can affect college students as well—when they are cramming for exams, exercising might help them retain more information and score higher.

The myth that one is simply not a “math person” is quite strong. It is similar to the myth that one is not a “morning person,” though perhaps even less supported. However, if people who are not good at math can develop the discipline to learn mathematical skills piece-by-piece starting at a remedial level, they will probably become pretty good at higher math in a few months or years. You might even see other areas of their life where they employ such discipline, yet this myth allows them to hold themselves back from exploring math. Discrediting this belief and others might be accomplished through modeling; if a person observes or hears stories about many people developing mathematical skills from a challenging starting position, he or she might replace this belief with one that is more accurate and empowering.

Obstacles and Incentives in Public Spaces

In public spaces, many obstacles are not important enough to be removed or addressed at the individual level, because they do not cause enough inconvenience to an individual to compensate for the cost (in time or risk) of removing them. Few motorists would stop to move a fallen branch in the road, because there is not enough incentive to do so; it is far easier and (depending on the speed limit) less risky to simple drive around it. Summing the benefit of such an action among all the people it would benefit usually yields an incentive far higher than the cost; however, since such an incentive cannot be realized on a communistic basis, few people demonstrate such altruism.

Consider the yard sale sign that stays up long after the sale has ended and directs numerous people to a non-existent yard sale. Even though the sign wastes far more time than it would take for the owner to take it down, the owner has very little incentive to remove the sign. In some cases, wasting peoples time is actually incentived—merchants often continue advertising items they do not have, hoping to lure in customers who will reluctantly buy an inferior item at a higher price, rather than leaving empty handed. I can speculate that such deception wastes millions of man hours annually, in Florida alone.

Avoiding punitive action is a common incentive to avoid creating obstacles in public spaces. Littering is something that in theory, a lot more people would be doing if not for fear of heavy fines. Without punitive action and social pressure, littering tends to cause little harm to the litterer, because he or she probably doesn’t live nearby and doesn’t have to worry about picking up the litter, and is also not impacted by the reduced property values and displeasing aesthetic and environmental consequences. Nevertheless, even without fear of punitive action, there are many people who still would not litter, and even with it, many people still litter. Thus, we might not be able to accurately predict how individuals will respond without a wealth of personal information.

The local Aldi grocery store has an effective incentive for customers to put back their shopping carts: getting a shopping cart requires inserting a quarter, which is only removable when the cart is returned to the stall. It is common to see no stray shopping carts in their parking lot, which is ironic, considering that if returning the cart takes 1 minute, that is a pay rate of only $15.00 per hour—certainly a fair percentage of their customers value their time more than that, even on an after-tax basis. Psychological studies make it clear that small incentives that are not even “fair” compensation can result in long-lasting changes to opinions and behaviors. In contrast, generous incentives often result in transitory changes in opinions or behaviors that “snap back” as soon as the incentive is received. Obviously, some customers will not have a quarter available and will end up buying less with only a shopping basket or their bare hands rather than a cart. This may be why the “shopping cart return incentive” (as I call it) is not common (at least in Central Florida). However, such mechanisms can become part of the culture of customers at a store and, counter-intuitively, can result in them becoming more loyal, vocal, and inured. Consider the culture at “warehouse clubs” such as Sam’s Club, BJ’s, and Costco; these stores have literally created barriers to entry—they have made it harder and more costly for customers to begin to shop there than elsewhere, yet this has an effect that reminds me of pair-bonding, possibly due to social and psychological investment.

If we can apply similar models to the general public, we may be able to get more people to move obstacles out of the way and pick up after themselves. Establishing social norms is a good start. You can do this simply by setting a good example when seen by others. The more people that see you, the better, since they might follow suit, particularly if they see such behaviors on a regular basis.