Monday, September 16, 2013

Chaotic Resolve

I watched Johnny Manziel dance around and over the Alabama defense on Saturday. He turned in a brilliant performance but lost to a Nick Saban defense that was invariably drilled to stop him. Alabama is the best team in the country by many measures and the secret to Saban's "process" has been widely celebrated and lauded as the reason why. The offense and defense are machined to a finer detail than a luxury supercar and run more precisely than a Rolex. Saban plans for every possible outcome in a game and is seemingly never caught off guard. 

I promise I'm not an Alabama fan, but it is interesting how Manziel was able to defeat Alabama once and come within 15 seconds of another upset. His playing style is chaotic, improvisational. It leads to situations that cause a well-proven and rehearsed process to break down. His two signature plays in the past two years have been broken, lucky, crazy, dumb, stupid, and any other adjective-you-can-use-to-describe-it impossibilities. His play has been described as grown-up playground football. And isn't that the story of life? Chaos almost always defeats a process. No plan can stand the test of real world application. And that got me to thinking...

I work with kids. I spend an hour here and an hour there subbing in at recess, teaching lessons, babysitting, whatever. Most of the time, it's pure chaos. Just maddening craziness. But it's the most amazing thing in the world. Why? Because those children are making something out of nothing. They are using their intrinsic talent to create a structure. And maybe it doesn't make sense to us, but it makes total sense to them. Why can't we do that? I'm on record as saying uncertainty is the solution to solving problems. It lends us intuitive innovation and a perspective we would not normally have thought of in our own worlds. It's an adult's wake-up call but a child's playplace. But what if a child's uncertainty is our chaos? What if we flipped chaos on our heads and used it to innovate? 

I think the best illustration of this point is how Pete Carroll coaches defense. His number one belief is that "it's all about the ball." He instructs his players on defense to play for turnovers, that is, force the other team's offense into making mistakes. Create chaos, as it were. His players are expected to play smart and with great enthusiasm, effort, and toughness. There is not an onus on assignments per se. Make a play, get the ball, and give the offense a chance to score. This wins games. This is not to say there isn't a process. Coach Carroll's fundamental pillar of coaching is practice. His players practice until there is a focus honed in confidence and trust which leads to victory. 

So what am I trying to advocate here? For one, I am certainly not advocating you skimp on preparation and let chaos carry you to victory. Johnny Football ultimately lost to the process. We all will at some point. But if you are faced with a seemingly insurmountable task and have exhausted all of your process options, think about including chaos. Think about blowing a hole in the process and taking a new direction. Think about using that intuitive, intrinsic motivation we all have latent inside of us since childhood and turning the problem upside-down and inside out. Humans do not accomplish anything productive with a lack of structure and rarely do better when adhered to a rigid one. If used correctly, chaos makes us unstoppable. Haven't you seen children at recess?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The World They Saved Has Changed, You Know.

It's the beginning of a new decade. Hope abounds as the country climbs out of an abysmal depression thanks to a new President, who, albeit stricken with polio, has given enough of his energy and resolve to fix the broken systems and tanking economy. Somewhere far away, the metallic pangs of war and frenzied shouts of an autocrat resonate but not close enough for you to hear them. Life is good as the calendar turns to the first year. You have a house, a car, and a family. Then, it happens. The singular event that will forever change your life.

You will forever know where you were when you heard the news. Whether it was driving to work, eating breakfast, or even hearing it over your child's clock radio. Two planes. 3,000 dead. But, but, it's inconcievable! This is America, not the Middle East! Bombers just don't come and fly planes into our towers. It wasn't any place either. It was New York, New York. The city of Sinatra and the Yankees. Where everyone can make it big. Simply put, the center of America. The heart. And we couldn't do a damn thing about it. Those crazy...

...bastards! An American naval base. Pearl Harbor? But, but, that's paradise! Palm trees and pineapples. As far away from that crazy SOB Hitler as you can get! What? The Japanese? Yamamoto? Hirohito? Who are they, villians from a bad ninja movie? A surprise attack. 2,500 dead. Our Pacific Fleet, crippled by some paper airplanes from a country of rice and fish. Why didn't we hear about China and the Philippines, Malay and Australaisa? This is an outrage! The New York Times, in all caps: JAPAN DECLARES WAR ON US. War? Does that mean? 

We're going? Operation Enduring Freedom. Can three words take revenge for 3,000 souls? That Osama bin Laden fellow better know what kind of hole he dug himself into. We have the world's best military and the support of every free nation behind us. Whoever did this just pissed off a lot of firepower. I wonder what the President's going to say. I mean, he was reading to some grade schoolers when this happened. Talk about your bad news days. Wait, he's coming on...

"Yesterday, December 7, 1941 -- a date which will live in infamy..." My head is still spinning. Today they were talking about a draft. Selective Service they called it. Already got me and my son, he was a freshman up the road at LSU. Hope this war ends before it drags in my other boy and, God forbid, my daughter. We're being shipped off to Georgia in a few days for flight school. I don't want to go. I ain't never fired a daggone gun in my life! Now they want me to kill Krauts? I don't think I can do it. But if Uncle Sam wants me, I guess I have to go. Time for two blue stars to hang up in the window...

"...America has stood down enemies before, and we will do so this time. None of us will ever forget this day. Yet, we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world." The President seems together. That's a good sign but man, what a day. I wonder how it was when my paw paw heard of Pearl Harbor. He most likely didn't have a television. Naw, only radios; I remember hearing him tell me about FDR's "Fireside Chats." No Internet either. Good thing though, because I can't stand to see those videos anymore anyways. He said my dad was nineteen, a freshman at LSU, when they called him up. Wonder if they'll call my son up too? He doesn't seem like a person who wants to be in a foxhole anyway. He also told me about the sacrifices they had to make: the Victory Gardens, rationing, recycling. "Make it do or do without" the posters said. He didn't even tell me my mamaw and aunt had to work in a factory making Higgins boats. Heck, my wife would go berserk if I told her we had to trade in the Ford lest send her to work on a production line. 

It's funny how things have changed but then again, they haven't: Americans will always fight for their country, go to church on Sundays to pray for the troops, and support them in every way they can. It just seems like it hasn't been a priority. Sure, 9/11 might change this but you know those anti-war wackos will revert back to picketing and harassing our troops. I remember paw paw saw one of those protesters outside of his VFW and asked him to thank a soldier for the defending the right to run his mouth. Funny man, but that Bronze Star he got in Saipan says otherwise. Still, I wonder sometimes if he looked into the clear night sky all those years ago, in Lafayette or Leyte , and said...

...Japs got my friend today but MacArthur says we're making progress. Even got the island on lockdown. Gotta thank the boys in the skies for that one. Not just the ones flying the Wildcats, the ones with more...heavenly...accouterments. Dugout Doug said he'd be back and here we are in the Philippines. It's been a tough road but thank God I have my Bible. Sure, it got some blood on it back at Guadal and a bullet hole at Rabaul but that one verse is intact. That one verse that'll get me back home. 

"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me." 

That was his favorite verse. Said he dog-eared the hell out of it when he was in the Pacific. I guess that's what we need now. A little hope and a lot of faith. If they did it, we can too. Just gotta learn a little from the past to help us out in the present. Well, the prayer service is about to start and they have a blood drive after. Guess I got to pick up the plants for our Victory Garden tomorrow...

Monday, September 2, 2013

How to WinForever

Always Compete. 

It's the easiest way to describe my life philosophy. Everything is a game to me and the best way to get my best is to challenge me in something. Even if it's entirely insignificant, I'll work like hell to beat you at it. Now this doesn't mean I'm a terrible, obsessive person. I love to help others and make everyone around me better. I just love to work at something until I get it right. Until I do at a level it's never been done before.

I was glad to stumble across WinForever by Pete Carroll. In Coach Carroll I found a kindred spirit. A person who lived to compete. Now some people don't like him. That's understandable. Some people don't like me. I don't turn it down a notch. I don't have an off button. It's how people like us survive. Toning down the competition means losing focus on the race we're running. I tried that in college. It didn't work. That actualization is what's fueling me right now. Along with a lot of caffeine. Coach Carroll outlined his philosophy in three rules and three beliefs:

3 Rules to WinForever

1. Always Protect The Team - This one is easy. Protect the ones closest to you. Make your first priority the team. Not yourself. 
2. No Whining, No Complaining, No Excuses - Shut up and do your job. Stick to the assignments. The only thing you're doing while whining is making the task at hand harder. If you put your nose down and finish the job, there simply won't be anything left for you to complain about. 
3. Be Early - I've been following this one my entire life. Show initiative. Set the example. 

3 Beliefs to WinForever

1. It's All About The Ball - To paraphrase Joe Vitt, "When you have the ball, the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of every team member is in your hands." If that's not enough pressure, everyone else that doesn't like is punching like crazy hoping you'll fumble. Don't drop the ball.
2. Everything Counts - There is nothing insignificant about you or your life. Everyone has a God-given talent and the ability to be great. Will you be great?
3. Respect Everyone - I've gotten in trouble with this one. The best thing you can be is humble. You may hate the guy in front of you, but he's there for a reason. Work hard to beat him, but pick up and realize what he's doing to be better than you. That way you gain the respect of your peers and gain a competitive advantage. 

After you figure out the base to your philosophy, it's time to actualize it. Make it happen. Every thing you do outside of your game or job or whatever you do is practice. Practice doesn't make perfect. It makes you realize your strengths and weaknesses and gives you an arena in which to fix them and get better. Nobody's perfect, but that's the joy of competition. You can get as close as humanly possible when you're performing at your best. Also, I don't believe in luck. I believe in practice (talking to you Allen Iverson). Practice is your luck laboratory. If you're getting better, those breaks that always happen to other people will start to happen to you. Don't trick yourself into thinking that clutch manifests itself only in the fourth quarter. Every goal you score leads to that moment. Clutch recognizes clutch. 

When you step into that competition, I want you to think of the final result. Have confidence in yourself and trust in you and your teammates abilities. Get into your own zone. Get the opponent throwed off. I can't guarantee you a victory but I can guarantee you'll play better than you ever have. 


Now play is a key to me as well. In fact, it's my raison d'etre. Take these five things from neuroscientist Beau Lotto, his definition of play:
  • Celebrating uncertainty.
  • Adaptable to change.
  • Open to possibility.
  • Cooperative.
  • Intrinsically motivated.
I love the first bullet. It was hard to come around to but I have learned to embrace uncertainty. If you really believe that God has a plan for your life, why aren't you excited about the unknown? Sure there will be good and there will be bad but God sees you through the bad and to the good. I can't wait for the rest of my life, wherever it takes me.

Play is God's way of celebrating uncertainty, and the best way for us as humans to grow is to step into the unknown. This is where the innovations and imaginations that fuel modern humanity are. And it's as simple as a child's laugh to find. Kids are the most innovative, imaginative humans on the planet. They create something literally out of nothing. That's why I love to work with kids. They teach me more than I teach them. As adults we need to think like children. We are far too wired into our existence to create anything exciting. We love to drone to work, drone to home, drone to the TV. Don't be a drone! We have enough people like that. Be something uncertain. Be something joyous. Be play. And that's my philosophy.

Play + Competition = Paulie.