January 24, 2011

Deliberate Mom

Posted in Life tagged , , , , , , , , , at 10:55 am by lindaslongview

I feel that I must add to the Tiger Mom discussion…

When I read the WSJ article Why Chinese Mothers are Superior by Amy Chua, I had an immediate negative visceral response.  I was simply aghast after the snippet on the actions that Chua took to get her 7-year-old prepared for a piano recital.

Although I didn’t read Chua’s book, I collected more information by soliciting two of my very successful Chinese-American friends and by reading other related blogs/opinions/comments.  I learned that there is a range of behaviors within the extreme parenting advocated (described? lamented?) by Chua. Both of my Chinese-American friends agreed with some of Chua’s observations but not all.  There is also a range of reactions to the behaviors.  Many kids became successful (as shown by the statistics) and some became scarred for life (see opinion by Lac Su who also wrote a book on Tiger Mothers).

What I have realized is that parenting methods derive from parenting priorities, whether stated explicitly or not.  What you choose as your priorities determine your methods and your metrics.  There can be endless argument in favor of differing priorities, but as a parent, you get to choose the investment priorities in the extremely complex and multi-fauceted task of raising a child.

If you narrowly focus on a few factors (academics and music) you can achieve success in those domains, but potentially at the expense of other factors.  David Brooks make an excellent case for the value of social factors in his NYT piece, Amy Chua is a Wimp.

Amy Chua deliberately chose academics and music as her priorities for teaching her children.   Her metrics were GPA, class rank, and recital success (piano or violin only).  By her own admission, her methods were often shame, humiliation and coercion. To her credit, her daughters succeeded in both of these domains.

With two teenagers of my own, I have deliberatley chosen:

  • Impart the ability to make good decisions, and
  • Create a caring and generous soul.

The metrics for my priorities are much more difficult to quantify and my primary method is to capitalize on teachable moments. The jury is still out with regard to success because my children have not reached matriculation.

I have given and continue to give both my son and daughter opportunities in diverse environments (social, music, academic, domestic, athletic, etc.) trying to amplify what interests them while providing them safety in the background.  Although I do require a minimum of proficiency across all domains, in their early years especially, I supported just trying stuff with a minimum level of commitment.  My kids tried languages (Japanese!), music (flute and piano), and many sports.  Even though my husband would have liked our son to play baseball, our son found his soul in soccer.  I dreamed that my daughter might be a swimmer, but her passion is cheerleading.  By allowing them to choose, we have nurtured self-directed drive for accomplishment.  I never tell my son to practice his soccer footwork, but I do have to tell him occasionally that it’s driving me crazy and that he needs to give it a rest.

Like Brooks, I tend to think that the trickiest stuff to learn is the social factors – there is no road map or easy measurements.  Yet the next generation will have to navigate a more complex world than we live in today, thus it is super important to ensure that my kids be fully competent in this capacity.  Disallowing media, sleepovers, and friends avoids the issue and does not allow for development, so it is imperative (to my husband and I) to thoughtfully allow all of these complex interactions to ensure that they achieve excellence in social collaboration without becoming lost.

To that end, my husband and I hold fast to the, “trust but verify” method of teaching.  We give our kids sufficient rope to try stuff (what friends they will choose, what media they will consume, and how they spend their leisure time), but we pay very close attention to what they say they are doing and the congruence to the signals that they send.  We don’t allow them to go just anywhere, we require knowing:  the who, the what, the where, and the when, of their choices and then we observe.  For example, does their style of dress match the social situation they told us that they were attending?  If stuff does not match, we hold them accountable taking each breach as a teaching opportunity.

My kids hate reading books or writing essays on the subject of scrutiny, but we have found that such methods instill the required reflection for incremental maturation.   One time after a particularly egregious transgression of trust, I required my daughter to read with me, girls gone MILD by Wendy Shalit and then write an essay on selected themes from the book.  Her essay was excellent and I know that it made a difference from the perceptible changes than manifested.

To Chua my priorities and methods might look like over-indulgence in media, friends, and leisure, but the reality is instilling my priorities in my kids is just as excrutiating as instilling her priorities in her kids, mine are not as visible.

Thus, after much reflection, I do respect Chua’s priorities; I only question some of her specific methods (she also questions them in her memoir, but not necessarily for the same reasons).  Specifically, I object to the strategy of extreme shame, humiliaiton, and coercion because it does not scale effectively.  When I consider the parenting arms-race, if everyone were to adopt this superior method, it would stop being superior simply because not everyone can be 1st in their class — the necessary escalation goes up considerably with increasing competition.  Can you imagine the consequences if every child had to withstand escalating levels of shame, humiliation, and coercion to be 1st in their class when by definition only ONE person could achieve that pinnacle?  At some point it crosses the line from instilling discipline to abuse.  It’s a slippery slope…

Everyone agrees that parenting is hard. Depending on the age of the children, it can be physically hard, emotionally hard, or psychologically hard, and there are no days off.  My long view advice on parenting:

  • Know your priorities, act with intention
  • Be deliberate in your method, understand how your tactics scale
  • Love and nurture because children are our most precious gift.

In the end, only the children can truly decide if the job we did was proper.  I guess I’ll find out in a few years…

Can you articulate your priorities?

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January 7, 2011

Blue Feet

Posted in Life tagged , , , at 11:21 am by lindaslongview

I have decided that I want to learn to run barefoot/minimalist.  Why?

A few years ago, I had to sit out a local Valentine’s Day 10k because I sprained my ankle and couldn’t run.  Because my friends ran, me and my black-n-blue puffy ankle went and cheered them on.  One thing I learned while watching all those runners is that unlike elite runners, very few recreational runners have a beautiful gait.  I couldn’t help but wonder how mine looked…that observation planted a seed:

Do I have biomechanical gait errors that could be corrected and that might improve my running and potentially reduce future injuries?

Having flipper shaped feet (very wide toe area and narrow heel), I am challenged to find shoes that fit comfortably enough to allow my toes sufficient freedom.  Currently, I wear orthotics to reduce bunionization (due to insufficient toe freedom).  Last year, I saw some folks running in the Vibram Five Fingers (VFF) and I was intruiged enough to buy a pair…

As you might imagine, I immediately loved my first pair of VFFs even though they are really UGLY.  I am as comfortable walking in VFFs as I am with my orthotics.  Although my family doesn’t want to be been seen with me in VFFs, I LOVE them.  I wear them everywhere; it’s like going everywhere barefoot but without the acute (puncture) risks!  When I first bought them, I was sure that I’d NEVER try running in them, until…

I read Born to Run (McDougall).  The concept of barefoot running to improve my gait (and potentially reduce injuries) by improving biomechnical feedback seemed sufficiently compelling that I wanted to try it (remember the seed?).  I immediately LOVED how running felt in my VFFs (more relaxed and much more comfortable).  Then…

I discovered that I did Too-Much-Too-Soon (TMTS) by acquiring the dreaded newbie barefoot runner Top-Of-Foot-Pain (TOFP).  So….

I learned about TOFP on the web, realized my overzealousness and went back to my running shoes.  While I healed, I again walked aroud in my VFF’s everywhere until there was no more pain.  Then…

I purchased Jason Robillard’s The Barefoot Running Book, to figure out how to get back to that wonderful feeling of minimalist (VFF) running (his running 101 guidance is also on his website) and hopefully learn to improve my gait.  Jason recommends that one start very SLOWLY in wholly bare feet because the biomechanical feedback is even more sensitive than in VFFs.  He recommends barefoot running on a track:  slowly, with very little mileage.  So….

I have now run twice (less than a mile) wholly barefoot at my local junior college track.  Jason is correct, you feel much more barefoot — who knew that the blue track had a honeycomb surface underneath the rubber? (I can feel it!)

My running gait barefoot is indeed much better (more relaxed, more comfortable, and more joyful), but my real goal is to habitutate my brain to run with this gait even with with my shoes.

Because I just cannot see myself running any real distances barefoot because of the threat of acute injuries – poison oak, puncture, etc., my goal is to be able to run my regular (shorter) routes by spring in my VFFs, but improve my gait enough to be able to half-marathon much more comfortably by mid-summer in shoes.  For now, I have blue feet and a friction spot (not quite a blister) to show for my effort, but a commitment to improve.  My long-view position on barefoot running:

  • Use barefoot running to harness the highly sensitive biomechanical feedback of my body to improve my gait.
  • Habituate to the improved gait with running shoes.
  • Do no harm – be wary of the perils of barefoot running:  TOFP, puncture hazards, latent poison oak leaves on trails, etc..
  • Prevent injury and preserve my love of running – strive for relaxed, comfortable, and joyful runs forever.

Jason reminds us, “barefoot running is about feeling, not thinking.”  Does your run feel good?

January 4, 2011

Technical Complexity

Posted in Business, Technology tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 3:16 pm by lindaslongview

The management of technical complexity and its evolution is probably my favorite subject.  I am simply fascinated by the challenges created by ever more complex technologies and the processes required to see them to fruition.

I read the book War Made New (Boot) a few years ago.  It was a fascinating read, with the most striking element being the evolution of tactics and strategies as new technologies emerged over 500 years of military history.  Boot captures the evolution of weaponry and concomitant strategies vividly because he covers 500 years of the proverbial arms race in time-lapse drama – it’s easy to see the big changes and the impacts of those changes in his case studies over such a long view.

I have wanted a similar treatise of commercial technology discussing the many innovations needed to manage technical complexity since the emergence of industrialization.  I have not found it yet…

Recently I read three separate books (in succession) that each provide pieces that help create a time-lapse perspective of commercial technology that includes social, structural, and historical contexts.  Although there is significant overlap in the ideas of the three authors, oversimplifying the content of each book allows me to divide them into the three domains:

Defining the trajectory of progress is very important to me because as a freelance participant (consultant) in the technology sector, I must continually update and upgrade my strategies for managing and participating in technology development and commercialization.  I must live at the edge…

From this trio of books, I distilled the following long-view insights:

  • We must develop our ability to collaborate to handle the increasing complexity of our science, products, and operational processes.  This is probably the single hardest task, because individually we struggle to maintain the illusions of “victory,” “control,” and “dignity,” which often get in the way of collective engagement. From Roger Martin:  “Erosion in [productively sharing responsibility] skills is hugely threatening in a world of large, complex networked organizations and coalitions and alliances in which joint choice-making and effective collaboration is a necessity.
  • We must encourage adaptability and options development in worker skills (ourselves, our colleagues, and subordinates) to effectively survive extraordinary futures.  We must really harness the instincts and knowledge of the different members of our teams.  We must encourage everyone to take the wide-view and to over-communicate perspectives.  From Kevin Kelly:  “We have lots of choices.  But those choices are no longer simple, nor obvious.  As Technology increases in complexity, the technium demands more complex responses.  For instance, the number of technologies to choose from so far exceeds our capacity to use them all that these days we define ourselves more by the technologies that we don’t use than by those we do.
  • We must understand, prioritize, and manage inherent conflicting loyalties that arise from the variable time scales (short-, mid-, and long-views) that confer operational system stability.  Because we will constantly face short-term vs. long-term conflicts, we must have strategies to prioritize our actions. From Stewart Brand: “The combination of fast and slow components makes the system resilient.

Are you actively developing collaboration, encouraging adaptability, and prioritizing conflicting loyalties?

January 3, 2011

Unstuck

Posted in Life tagged , , , , , at 12:43 am by lindaslongview

Back in August my blogging waned and by October it was gone.  No real reason except that I was stuck.

Although usually quite reselient, I got stuck when I lost my illustion of victory against osteoporosis.  What did I have to say after I had already declared victory in Moved the Needle by achieving one full standard deviation (from -2.6 to -1.6) of improvement after my first year and then regressing a half a standard deviation (-1.6 to -2.1)?

My battle with osteoporosis had helped me to create this blog, but my too early victory declaration reduced my commitment to my long-view premise and credibility. It was just easy to get involved in other important pursuits…

Yet, I have continued to feel the pull of the long-view, so I am declaring myself unstuck.

My long-view advice to self:

  • Stay confident when faced with a setback.
  • Persist when investing in the future (the long-view).

For the record, I regressed a half a standard deviation after one year of drug holiday (Boniva) but fully compliant load-bearing exercise (increased mineralization) and calcium supplements (increased mineral availability).

In late summer, I will know whether I can achieve -1.1 in 2011 with the assistance of drug therapy (Boniva).

Drip, Drip, Drip!