Friday, February 16, 2007

Death to Blog Widgets!

Is it just me, or is the profusion of blog widgets going to turn the entire Web into an uglier version of MySpace? Here's a business idea for you entrepreneurs out there--how about a FireFox plugin that strips all the frickin' widgets out of the blogs you visit. And don't tell me to use an RSS reader--I still have to visit the damned posts when I want to comment!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Cool Tool of the Day: T-Mobile Edge

I've been waffling for a long time on whether or not to get an EVDO card for my laptop. On the one hand, I rarely travel, and I usually have a WiFi or LAN connection available. On the other hand, when I do travel (several times a year), I'm invariably aggravated by the difficulties I have in getting a decent connection.

I've looked into temporary rentals of EVDO cards and services, but for some reason, the carriers have decided that they can make more money by forcing consumers to commit to long term contracts. The few people who do rent EVDO have outrageous prices like $75/week.

I just discovered, however, that I can use my T-Mobile smartphone as a USB modem for my laptop. Their EDGE service, which provides connection speeds of 144K, costs $29.95 per month, doesn't require any special equipment, and can be activated or deactivated at any time. I can use it for a week, and only pay a pro-rated amount.

I haven't tried it out yet, but if you're looking for a short-term wireless access solution, you might want to check it out.

Capitulation: The Power of Giving Up

The management technique of the day is capitulation, or the art of giving up.

In today's age of choice, it is difficult to force someone to do something they disagree with. I run into this problem all the time at my company, where about 25% of the employees are former founders, co-founders, or CEOs of various businesses. We all like to believe that we're always right.

But the fact is that the need for focus does require startup teams to make tough decisions about what to do (and what not to do).

One of the most powerful techniques you can employ to get your way is capitulation, or simply letting other people do what they want, rather than trying to convince them to your point of view.

This technique has to be used carefully, because you don't want to develop a reputation as a doormat, but can be extremely effective when dealing with the strong-willed and opinionated.

Put simply, sometimes the cost of letting someone else figure out that they're wrong is less than the cost of trying to argue them out of their preferred course of action.

Let's say that you and your partner are considering a project which will take about 4 hours to complete but cost very little cash. You think it's a bad idea; your partner thinks it's a stroke of genius.

You could try to persuade him to your point of view, but you might very well spend more than 4 hours arguing, and even if you won out in the end, he would always feel resentful and think in the back of his head, "Things would be better if only we had done it my way." Regret is a powerful and corrosive force in human psychology; we are far more likely to regret what we didn't do than what we did.

If you capitulate instead (and do so gracefully--a grudging capitulation ruins the technique), one of two things will happen. Either your partner will discover that you're right and he's wrong, which will help persuade him to listen to you the next time you have a disagreement, or you'll discover that you were actually the one who was wrong, in which case your business will be better off.

Either way, you save time, energy, and goodwill, and probably get additional benefits in the bargain.

Capitulation lets you make your point in the only way that really works: Letting the other person discover the truth for themself.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Country Music and the Pursuit of Happiness

I just spent an hour working on a beautiful post on country music, positive psychology, and New Yorkers, and alas, Blogger just ate it without a trace. So I'm afraid you're going to have to connect the dots yourself.

The Economist on country music.
Once they pass a certain age, most Americans stop worrying about being cool. This is often when they start (or go back to) listening to country music. "It's not about sexual innuendo or bling, but the problems and experiences of ordinary people: love, loss, family life, having a good time and a sense of humour," says Joe Galante, head of Sony BMG's country-music division.

Some say country music itself is a better balm for broken hearts. Whereas anguished Manhattanites pay hundreds of dollars an hour to lie on a couch and talk about themselves, country fans put on a Wynonna Judd CD and hear someone sing about problems that sound awfully like theirs. Say you have endured a family break-up or think you might be addicted to food: Wynonna has been there, feels your pain and articulates it far more tunefully than you ever could. As another country singer, Dierks Bentley, once put it: "Country music has always been the best shrink that 15 bucks can buy."

Danielle Peck's "Isn't That Everything" and lyrics. An anthem to positive psychology.

I might not have a million dollars in the bank
But I've got food on my table and gas in my tank
I might not have designer sheets on a king size bed
But I lay down at night with a roof over my head

Yeah, I've got friends that love me
A big blue sky above me
And your two arms around me baby every night

Isn't that everything
I don’t need anything
It's only the simple things I believe
That matter most in life
I’m more than satisfied
All that I have is all I need
Isn’t that everything

A New Yorker muses on positive psychology and why New Yorkers aren't happy.

Like most New Yorkers I know, I can't imagine living in most other places in the world. My troubles would surely be aggravated, rather than solved, by relocating to Branson. But reading the literature of happiness studies, I can't help but wonder whether we aren't all in the grip of some strange false consciousness. From the point of view of the happiness literature, New Yorkers seem to have been mysteriously seduced into a way of life that conspires, in almost every way, against the most basic level of contentment.

Darrin McMahon, the author of Happiness: A History, shrewdly points out that the Big Apple is a perfect moniker for the city: “The apple is the cause of the fall of human happiness," he says. "It's the symbol of that desire for something more. Even though paradise was paradise, they were still restless.”

Which is where the subtle thesis of Barry Schwartz's The Paradox of Choice comes in. He argues, with terrible persuasiveness, that a superabundance of options is not a blessing but a certain recipe for madness. Nowhere do people have more choices than in New York. "New Yorkers should probably be the most unhappy people on the planet," says Schwartz, a psychology professor at Swarthmore. "On every block, there’s a lifetime’s worth of opportunities. And if I'm right, either they won’t be able to choose or they will choose, and they'll be convinced they chose badly."

Chris's Song Picks
Whiskey Lullaby: Brad Paisley/Allison Krauss
Hauntingly beautiful. And yes, that is Ricky Schroeder in the video.

Travelin' Soldier: The Dixie Chicks
Come Home Soon: SheDaisy
More effective commentary on war than any number of protests.

Three Wooden Crosses: Randy Travis
Faith, redemption, and fate.