The New Simplicity

The Craving for Simplicity

150 years ago, in a shack he built-in the woods, Henry David Thoreau wrote, “Simplify, simplify, simplify!”

In saying this, the Harvard grad and one-time pencil maker tapped into a seemingly perennial human yearning for simplicity in all things.

This desire for simplicity remains today in full force. Look no further than NY Times bestseller, “The Life-Changing Magic of  Tidying Up – The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.” The appetite for simplifying stuff it top of mind for many.

Haven’t the workplace, relationships, and parenting become similarly cluttered with complexity?  Can’t we tidy those up! Can’t we apply a few foundational principles that make everything proceed swimmingly?

I so want to believe we can. I even wrote an article about it here.

How it Might Work – Simplifying Everything

My calculus here would be to blend the golden rule, Kant’s Categorical Imperative, Moore’s Law, and Occam’s Razor into some jacked-up formula I could apply to my life.  I would achieve perfect harmony. I could understand morality, reciprocity, growth, and parsimony through the deft application of these principles. What would result would be one magnificent and unselfish life.

Unfortunately, these are merely intellectual carbohydrates and white sugar infused ideas that I crave devoid of any real rationality.

As the Bard of Baltimore, H.L. Mencken said, “There is always an easy solution to every human problem, neat, plausible and wrong.”

You mean to suggest that the monthly Harvard Business Review article that breaks down every major business problem into three bullet points might be a tad oversimplified?

Yes, I do.

The world we live in, arguably, is more complicated than ever. There are more data points, more connections, and richer matrixes that define the systems in the world. Add to this the information torrent created by technology that shows no sign of slowing down.  It seems logical that meaningful problem-solving today should acknowledge and address these complex, systems-oriented layers.  Anything else should be considered sophistry.

The “Magic Number”

And if we believe in Miller’s Law – the so-called “magic number” of seven plus or minus two being the limits of human memory/cognition – this comfort with complexity is innately difficult if not impossible without the help of machines.

And there is the rub: do we crave simple solutions because they are more in line with our innate capacity?

Whether it is that or just because simplicity has an irresistibly elegant aesthetic – the truth is we need to move beyond the simple if we want to solve today’s problems which are complex.

What we need is an alacrity with complexity. This is the new simplicity. This “new simplicity” would stretch human capacity with the help of technology. 

So, don’t get bogged down and overwhelmed the next time you get hit with a multi-dimensional issue or problem. Time to adapt.

My millennial co-workers do this every day remaining calm while juggling cell phones, chats, social networks, and the constant blast of podcasts and music into their always-in head buds. It’s amazing. Whatever we “mature” folks argue about “Myth of Multitasking” the undeniable reality is “some are good at it.”

The challenge then for all of us is to embrace this new standard knowing the desire for something simpler is a useless vestige. A phantom artifact from our days “in the woods” that needs to be abandoned if we are to move forward and tackle some complex problems.


The Perfect Job – Starts with the One You Have Today.

There was a time many years ago when, more than anything, I wanted a job that would give me “most evenings and weekends off.”  That, I told myself, would be my perfect job!

At the time I was reaping the rewards of some horrible choices I had made early in my life. I was working multiple jobs. All hours.  Hardly making any money. The future seemed bleak.

Fast-forward to today.  I have a fantastic position with an amazing organization. And yes, I do get most evenings and weekends off!

Better yet I have a wife, son, and dog in our house in Granite Bay CA that makes it all incredibly meaningful.

The roadmap from there to here was simple.  Just reference this favorite and apt illustration of “what success looks like.”

How I got There


My first “professional” job  – I learned later – was obtained because the Japanese-born manager confused “Harbor College” with “Harvard College.” He thought he was making a terrific Ivy League hire. He was not.

He did make a great hire, only from UCSB, not Harvard.

Far more important, for me, was that he was illustrating that dumb luck can be a huge factor in one’s career path (or squiggly line).

Dumb luck, however, is not a reliable and repeatable strategy for success. A far better strategy for career success, I learned, can be obtained focusing on these three activities.

Three Steps to the Perfect Job

  • Showing up. Showing up every day with a great attitude and a singular focus toward successfully doing your job (not bringing personal business or unproductive approach to work) is simple but not easy. It all starts here. Get in the game by showing up every day, maybe even a little early and be ready to play. Have your game face on. Start right now with the job/role/company you are in today. There is no telling where a reliable and consistent performer can go.
  • Focus on the quality of your work. High quality work almost always trumps everything else. You will do more for your career by doing a great job – regardless of what it is. Great work will not only impress your employer, but it will also make you feel good about yourself for “a job well done!”
  • Maintain perspective. Work is important. It makes possible so much of what we value in life. Work, however, is not the only thing. You also need to be happy. Happiness often comes from labor and the broader tapestry of life that includes family, friends, health, travel, hobbies, and accomplishments. Having the right perspective on where your job fits into this rubric can change the job game from misery to gratitude. Remember, the right perspective can change everything, without changing a thing.

A Few Other Thoughts

I have also learned that sleep, exercise, and better nutrition are in the purview of what I can control. If I am rested and fit, not only do I feel better but I tend to perform at a higher level. Plus, when I’m doing well at work, I feel better about me, and as a result, I’m easier to work with. Double winner!

It turns out that first job I got through dumb luck was a perfect one for me. Mainly, because once I got that job, I learned to show up, do good work, and develop a good attitude. That focus provided the fuel I needed to persevere through the inevitable shortcomings that any job or role present. Best of all, the perspective I gained carried over to all my other jobs.

In conclusion, while dumb luck helps, it isn’t sustainable for a great career. A better strategy is to show up every workday with a great attitude focusing on doing the best work you can in whatever role you find yourself in. Over time the “perfect” job will sort itself out, automatically as the job you’re in will be the perfect one.  That’s the squiggly line to success.

And guess what, if you’re lucky, you too won’t have to work most evenings and weekends!

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How Summer has Changed for Kids – The Good Humor Man

Published when our son was 12

My Childhood – Freedom!

When I was a kid, back in what feels like the Mesozoic era, summer was always an excellent time to relax and be a kid.

I could get up in the morning, hop on my bike and ride to the local playground and spend the entire day there. The mornings would start with a bit of knock hockey. There were lots of options afterward. Playing on the swings was one. There I would go as high as I could only to jump off and roll! This was all a great warm-up for the Foursquare contest that would close out the morning.

After lunch (they’d cook hot dogs at the park served with Kool-Aid for about 25 cents) nearly every day there was a softball game. Loved that! Then, I could climb some trees picking crab apples to snack on before coming home for a cookout with some neighbors. If I were super lucky, the ice cream man would come around. I’d twist mom and dad’s arm to buy me a Fudgesicle. Then, meeting other kids at the ice cream truck, we’d organize an impromptu game of kick the can, hiding all over the neighborhood in people’s yards.

Those were the days, right?

Looking over the plans we have for our 12-year-old this summer, I was struck by just how much difference there is from when I was a kid.

My summer was characterized by:

  • No school
  • Unstructured time
  • Unsupervised time

His summers:

  • Continued focus on school with learning activities
  • Camps, clinics, trips – almost every moment is scheduled
  • Supervision everywhere

The summer day of my youth that I just outlined would be impossible for our son to recreate today.

Why is this the case?

Our child – Fully Scheduled!

First, our son has no time! Almost every day is spoken for! Daily and sometimes hourly commitments are on his calendar all summer long, Why? Because parents insist that their children will develop into nothing less than a superstar!  In our neighborhood, anything other than a packed schedule with a keen eye toward personal development is considered negligence!

Second, knock hockey, four square, and softball is boring and dull compared to other choices he has in his life. Computer games, texting, and snap chat on his iPhone have his, and apparently, all his peers’ full attention.  Those and YouTube videos by internet celebrities trump such silly pastimes as hide and seek and team sports. B-O-R-I-N-G.

Then, there is the danger factor. Hanging around strangers at the playground, eating crab apples, jumping off swings, and hiding in neighbors yards can be dangerous! “Danger, danger!” is a familiar cry in our hypersensitive world where riding a bike somewhere needs parental approval. The bike was the passport to freedom as a kid!

Does all of this point to some problem that needs to be solved? Maybe not. Time marches on, and things change. I get it.

I just miss the ice cream man.


Leah Delancey Chang – Memorial

Sadly, our friend Leah Delancey Chang passed suddenly from a very aggressive cancer.  Her husband and sister held a bittersweet memorial a couple of weeks ago that brought together over 100 people who knew and loved Leah. I was asked to share a few words. For those who couldn’t be there, I thought I would share them, again, here. 

The picture above was taken in Interlaken, Switzerland.  (left to right, Ann Parsons, Dan Parsons, Leah Delancey Chang, Kenny Chang, Jamie Dulick, Annette Stalker, Jim Stalker). 

Background – How we connected.

Way back when, I was fit, and for over a decade, on a daily basis, I raced from gym-to-gym in Southern California, engaging in that most peculiar group exercise activity, high impact aerobics.

Today high-impact aerobics is largely a forgotten footnote to the broader story of the 80’s fitness boom – that’s still going on – quite successfully I might add.

But, make no mistake – in its day the high impact class was where it was happening in the fitness revolution. Ground zero. Inside the new mega clubs that were being minted in Southern CA and beyond were dance exercise rooms. These rooms were the shrine for this new group exercise phenomenon whose great sound systems and springy floors had people literally lining up to have a go at challenging choreography created by charismatic instructors (like moi). It was the most fun anyone had ever experienced exercising before or since, and people became addicted. Taking class after class, day after day. It literally became part of many folks daily routine.

But there was a dark side. Along with forming pre-Facebook social connections, the classroom mercilessly established a Darwinian pecking order as to where people could position themselves in the classroom. Take somebody’s “spot” – and a rumble could bust out. Don’t laugh, I’ve seen it happen.

Leah Delancey was one of those who came to my class and found her spot. Leah quickly established herself as THE person in the front of the room. Yeah, she was one of THOSE. And, then, she started coming to all my classes. Within a short time, leveraging her unbeknownst to everyone else in class experience as captain of the color guard for UCLA, Leah became the undisputed top banana in class. If you couldn’t see the instructor, people would look to Leah’s flawless execution of spins, kicks, turns, and the infamous single-single double to follow along.

And did I say Leah was serious? Remember, she was a USC Law School grad. Don’t “F” with Leah (or her space) or you risked being stared down as she out aerobicised your sorry ass.

Leah’s influence on me and others.

Soon, she had her sister, Ann, coming to class. Ann wisely stayed in the back leaving Leah’s real estate intact. Soon, I met my wife in class. Leah met her husband, Ken, through my class. Ann was already married to Dan. Then somehow we all became friends. Weekends hanging out. We would rotate parties between our starter houses as we bought them in the South Bay. We all took a vacation to Switzerland. Then came the kids.

When our kid came we moved away to god-awful Granite Bay. I tried to keep the aerobic thing going, but it wasn’t the same teaching in Granite Bay. After all, there was no Leah in the front row.

So in short order, I hung up my dance belt… for good. No more high impact classes for me. No more magic. That became a memory.

But, in the South Bay with Leah, there was still magic. Leah had picked up aerobics where I left off and kept it going teaching classes to the true believers of high impact. Leah took it all further with richer choreography, trickier moves, and longer routines. She taught over a thousand classes to hundreds of people who were all in need of an exercise fix. Many of those people are here today, at this memorial.

You are here I suspect because when someone is at their best with something they are genuinely passionate about, the impression they create is often unforgettable. You’ve all been touched in some way by Leah.

Final Thoughts.

And I can tell you, it is an amazing gift to be able to touch people with a passion for exercise as it gives back tenfold (or more) to the giver. That’s why those who do it, keep doing it. That’s why Leah did it. Plus, it was just plain fun.

I share this not so we can create a metaphysical scorecard that makes this horrible and unjust passing OK. It’s not OK.

But I share this because, I want us to remember Leah for what she was, passionate. As an introvert, this wasn’t always apparent, even to those who knew her. How many of you knew that she had a wicked sense of humor?

Then, isn’t that one of those great mysteries of life, who are we, anyway, really?

What I know is Leah was indeed passionate about her kids Matt and Anya, her husband Kenny, her parents Chuck and Janet, her pit bulls, and her dear, dear, sister Ann. For them, the loss we reflect on today will be immeasurable.

But as a friend told me, when we think of those who have gone too soon, we want to think of them, always, at their best. Hold that vision. Let it wash over all the other ones.

So for me, I’ll always remember Leah, in the front row, confident, throwin’ down to all the posers who tried to take her mantle – with a “good luck chump” vibe that was hard to ignore. Leah was also raising the bar for me and everyone else in any classroom she was in.

Leah, rest in peace. The rest of us. Keep moving.

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Dogs are amazing – they just don’t live long enough.

When something arises out of nowhere that takes them down suddenly, it’s somber.

This is especially difficult when they have been beautiful dogs.

I think dogs are here to teach us – how to love, how to be unselfish, how to make tough decisions, and then, yes, when the time comes, how to mourn.

It sounds a bit hyperbolic, but Lucy, our first standard Poodle, gave Annette and me the confidence to have our son Riley. It’s true!

Coco carried Lucy’s torch, and for this past nearly seven years completed our little family.

Coco was always thrilled to see us – whenever we came home – no matter how long we were gone.

I think that’s called unconditional love.

While she did seem to get mad when were gone too long, her intermittent ire only added to her charm.

Tonight and forever, she’s in the big dog park in the sky. I can see her running full speed – impressing the other dogs while making her owners proud.

Teaching us – again – just how precious life is.


Be Grateful for What You Have!


With Thanksgiving upon us, I wanted to share a very simple concept that might improve your happiness quotient. I know it does mine. This is the idea of showing gratitude for what you have.

But like so many great ideas, it only works when I remember to do it.

How do I do this?

It starts with the simple act of pausing and looking for opportunities to apply gratitude. Gratitude is one of five clinically researched and proven ingredients to a happy life. It might even be the most important one because a grateful person has an easier time engaging in the other four behaviors.

So it begins with consciously paying attention (both internally and externally) to start getting in touch with gratitude. Once you start looking around, you’ll b be surprised with all you can see around you to be grateful for.

U.C. Davis Psychology professor Robert Emmons did a study showing that people who jotted down a list of 5 simple things to be grateful for, once a week, were much happier than those who did not.

They also found it was easier for folks to find examples of things to be grateful for once they began writing them down.

To me what is interesting about this study is the only thing that changed to bring about more happiness was the person’s perception. They didn’t have to get a new job, family or other “stuff” to be happier. They just needed a slight recalibration on how they view the world.

Change your perception, change your world.

So with Thanksgiving around the corner perhaps now is a good time to try this practice and pause, look around, and see all that is around you that you can be grateful for.  You’ll be surprised how much there is.

Then, jot them down. In a couple of weeks, you’ll surprise yourself with a list of hundreds of things to be grateful for, that you never paid attention to before.

In case you don’t know it, the world loves happy people.

Happy Thanksgiving!