Tag logic


In February of 2010 I wrote an article entitled Victim of Changes where I explored three contrasting perspectives of how one views positive and negative events as they relate to the broader context of their life.

Since then, I’ve recently discovered a trend; those who say that “everything happens for a reason” has experienced some significant pain or trauma.  While I am sure there are exceptions to this claim, I can’t think of a reason why someone would use this phrase if they had not gone through this type of experience.

From my perspective, it’s an interesting contradiction – by causing pain, God has, in some respect, prompted (forced?) these individuals to believe in him (or at least in some higher authority or plan).  This, I think, has always been a struggle for me.

I mention this particular phrase primarily because it resurfaced the other day in a lunch meeting with a past colleague.  Later on, that comment prompted me to think about what has happened and where I am in my life today.

But is this where I am “supposed” to be? “Supposed” assumes there is a predestined path for me (and for others).

For argument’s sake, if there was truly such a path, does emotion still play a role?  For example, if adversity strikes, does it benefit you (or anyone for that matter) to feel sad or angry about it?  If adversity was part of “the plan” it ultimately doesn’t matter what you feel about it – “it just is.”

Think about it. If you truly believe that there is a higher authority and that “everything happens for a reason” then at some level, negative emotion should not exist in your life.  If something bad should happen to you, “that’s life!” and you should quickly (and naturally) move on to the next chapter, next relationship, etc. void of any negative emotion or lingering concerns / doubt.

At some level it’s a utopian existence.  After all, in this frame of mind you’ll feel good all the time!  (“it’s part of the plan!”)  But of course, the emotional disconnect will be there; when unfortunate events occur, your lack of emotion may prompt the question “Do you even care?” to which you’ll naturally reply “Care about what?”

Using the phrase “everything happens for a reason” is a logical response to a nebulous, confusing and sometimes painful life path.  It’s another example of why the human dynamic is so complex; using logic to rationalize the unexplained, but subsequently claiming that “logic” has no place in one’s life – i.e. “life planning is meaningless”, “don’t analyze, just enjoy ..”, etc.

I can, of course, see the partial foolishness in this argument.  One is going to feel certain emotions regardless of their belief in a higher authority or “master plan.”  And, at some level, you almost have to believe that there is a predefined destiny for you.  Not believing this in some capacity can result in emotional and physical stagnation.

As of me, history will dissuade me from using this particular phrase, but my replacement belief is a combination of the following:

  1. Anything is possible.
  2. A belief in oneself is perhaps the most important religion of them all.

The Easy Button.

The first thing that I think most people think of when they see or hear this phrase is the office supply chain – Staples.  Shira Goodman, Staples’ executive VP for marketing, launched this advertising campaign (and underlying business strategy) in 2006 and the company has reaped the rewards ever since.

Ms. Goodman believed that “Customers wanted an easier shopping experience” and fortunately she was right.

One of the things I’ve learned over the past several years is that a critical factor in one’s success (at least in the workplace) is how easy you make other people’s lives.  For someone who naturally places logic before reason, it’s amazing at just how simple things are when you utilize this principle.

Let me share a few personal examples of past behavior and how I do things today.

Email: It is very easy for me to compile detailed messages to colleagues describing a particular issue / topic, and pointing out exactly what I need from them or how I may need their help.  Logic has always told me it’s more efficient to document one’s thoughts to:

  1. avoid interrupting that individual via phone (i.e. “context switching” reduces efficiency on both sides)
  2. take the necessary time to think about what you are asking for before submitting a formal request
  3. create a record for future reference (i.e. what did I ask for again?).

Fortunately for me, this approach has strengthened my writing and thinking capabilities over time, but guess what?  The recipients of these narratives don’t have time to read what I’ve sent them!  Are they lazy?  Perhaps; in 99% of cases they simply have other things they need to do and reading isn’t high on their priority list.  It’s an unfortunate truth.  I’ve seen countless circumstances where a carefully constructed email (that is actually read and responded to) could have eliminated many hours lost in verbal “crosstalk.”

So, what is my approach now?  There are still times where email narratives are still constructed, but they are few and far between.  Instead, my emails are typically 2-3 sentences in length – any longer, and it’s best to have a phone call or meeting.

Documentation: Similar story here.  Of course, this doesn’t mean that documentation should be immediately classified as non-essential.  Rather, documentation can be written in such a way where it is less verbose and to the point.  Have you ever seen documentation that is full of unnecessary content?  Title page?  Documentation credits?  Heavy formatting?  Seriously. Get rid of the fluff and you’ve reduced the document length by 50%.  Go even further.  Start with a blank page void of formatting / templates; if you can boldface and underline you don’t need the overhead.  Create a mission statement for the document – what are you trying to convey?  Make it your goal to keep the document to as few pages as you possibly can.  Throw content in the appendix where ever possible.

As I alluded to in an earlier post, this reduction strategy is psychologically very powerful.  By reducing the length of the content, it gives the readers a boost of confidence that says “Yes, they can read this!” (to completion of course)

Colleague Interaction: In the past, when I started to work with other project managers or colleagues that were clearly leading a particular initiative, I made it clear that I was there to help them in any way I could.  While I always have a sense of what needs to be done, I like to give the benefit of the doubt and let them set the initial direction (i.e. you don’t need two leaders).  I quickly learned that this approach backfires.  Why?  Because by not immediately suggesting ways to offer assistance you are asking them to do it for you.  Remember, people are lazy; they don’t want to take on more responsibility than they have to.  ”Don’t make me think!” is the underlying message.

So what do I do today?  The first statement I make when meeting new colleagues is that I want to make their lives easy.  I immediately follow-up by suggesting some of the ways to that end.  How can anyone argue with that?

In the book Living with Complexity, the author challenges the notion that people want things (products / services) to be simple.  But when you look at the facts behind product and service design, you’ll find this really isn’t true.  For example, would you like a DVD player that only plays DVDs?  What about when presented with an alternative that also connects to the Internet, streams movies and tells you the latest news headlines?  If you want simple, the first option is your obvious selection but most end up buying the latter.  People want options – even if they don’t end up using 99% of them.  Marketing almost always wins.

A similar situation exists here. When it comes to working with people, reason trumps logic.  People can (and do) say that they think logically and they want very clear interaction paths between others, but they really don’t.  If they did, my lengthy narratives would all be read, and they would respond naturally (and willingly!) to simple gestures of assistance without an explanation of how.

Interpersonal connections and behavior are messy.  People are irrational and basing your working relationship on a foundation of logic is a poor choice in the long-run.  You can try to fight it but you won’t win.

For those who take logic off the shelf when it’s absolutely necessary, you are well ahead of my realization and I admire you.  As for me, I’ve since thrown in the towel and I am starting to see the benefits of stepping out of the ring.

Key Principles

  1. Accept that everyone (including you) is lazy.
  2. Find the path of least resistance and utilize it.
  3. Make it your mission to serve others.
  4. Reap the rewards through stronger partnerships.