Sunday, July 20, 2014

planning meals

I've played with two diet experiments so far this year - the $3 Diet and a 30 day vegan challenge. Both of them helped me lose weight and, in some ways at least, improve my health status. They couldn't be much more different, though. Vegan was relatively expensive, allowing, or really forcing me, to eat many more fresh fruits and vegetables; the $3 Diet was, by definition cheap, forcing me to eat... well whatever I could afford. Both were effective. I lost about 15 pounds while doing the $3 Diet (30 days, also), and I lost about 10 pounds doing the (30 day) vegan challenge. Aside from the common denominator of 30 days, the other main commonality was that they both forced me to engage in active meal planning. Upon reflection, I think planning, rather than the specifics of the diet, was key to weight loss.

The modern economy makes it incredibly easy to spontaneously eat. Within 100 meters of my office are a Coke machine and a snack machine - the latter mostly packed with salty or sweet, calorically dense foods. The coke machine is packed with acidic, corn syrup filled drinks, of course. For most of the work day there is also a Subway, Starbucks, and convenience store in the basement. I don't have to plan my eating at work - I can just roll in hungry and eat all day. At a minimum, the machines are there 24/7. But the amazing thing is that continuous weight gain doesn't happen from a single day binge - it comes from a continuous process of grazing. And the modern economy makes it soooo easy to graze. On garbage. Constantly. Like my building, there are snack machines in most places where people work. Like where I work, there are convenience stores and fast food joints near where most people live. It's soooo easy. And heck, on the way home you pass by gas stations that are convenience stores, too, packed with salty, sweet, or salty-sweet treats that your lizard brain loves, loves, loves.

Weight management is very simple. But just because it's simple doesn't mean it's easy. The simple side is this: there's a formula for weight loss, it's "calories in < calories out". At the margin (meaning if you're really close to calories in = calories out), then maybe it matters a bit about whether those calories are protein or carbs, fat or sugar, but for most of us most of the time, that just isn't true. Because the snack machine will dispense, for about a dollar, 200-300 calories of fat, sugar, carbs, and protein deliciousness that appeals to the lizard brain. And 200-300 calories to the "calories in" side of the equation each day is all it takes to start packing on pound after pound.

Which is why planning was so key for weight loss. When I planned my meals, and disciplined myself to staying with the plan, I lost weight. Now "planning" a meal at McDonald's with a Big Mac, large fries, and a large Coke, isn't going to help you lose weight. Unless that's all you plan to eat all day, because that meal is about all the calories an adult male needs for a day. But most of us would plan better than that. Caloric literacy isn't that hard to achieve. It takes a little bit of effort, and it comes loaded with surprising disappointments (yes, if you're an average American, everything you like is bad for you - get over it). But once you make it past that, you can start planning pretty well. And once you start planning (and mostly sticking with the plan), you will start losing weight. At least that appears to be what has worked for me. I dropped from 198 to 163 over the last 6 months. I've bounced back up to 172 because I stopped planning. So now Kandie and I are officially planning our meals. I've got lunch and dinner planned for the whole week. Mostly vegetarian or vegan, but with some meat. And I think it's going to work.

I encourage you to plan, too. I think it works. If you're worried about weight loss, forget about South Beach, Paleo, Blood Type, shakes at lunch, and start planning and packing.

income inequality is falling

According to my former professor, Tyler Cowen - 

The message from groups like Occupy Wall Street has been that inequality is up and that capitalism is failing us. A more correct and nuanced message is this: Although significant economic problems remain, we have been living in equalizing times for the world — a change that has been largely for the good. That may not make for convincing sloganeering, but it’s the truth.
Maybe temporarily income inequality is rising in the US, but globally it is falling because of economic development. A little more:

Many egalitarians push for policies to redistribute some income within nations, including the United States. That’s worth considering, but with a cautionary note. Such initiatives will prove more beneficial on the global level if there is more wealth to redistribute. In the United States, greater wealth would maintain the nation’s ability to invest abroad, buy foreign products, absorb immigrants and generate innovation, with significant benefit for global income and equality.
In other words, the true egalitarian should follow the economist’s inclination to seek wealth-maximizing policies, and that means worrying less about inequality within the nation.
Rest here: 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

a habit of creativity, creativity as a habit

I grilled a plantain today.

grilled plantain

Plantains are like an oversized, hard banana. I first had one way back in the early 90's when I was sharing a suite with a roommate from Puerto Rico. One night he showed me how he was frying plantains with beans and serving it over rice. I tried some and I've been hooked ever since.

So over the years I've mostly fried my plantains, eating them alone or with beans.

But today I thought I would try something different. I was grilling chicken for lunch, so I decided to throw a plantain on the top rack of the grill. I let it cook for about 20 minutes with the skin on. The skin browned, and the meat of the plantain eventually expanded and burst through the skin. Kandie and I simply cut it in half and ate it as a side with the chicken. It was terrific.

It got me thinking as I was going back and forth out to the grill about cooking. Eating is something we have to do. Cooking, however, is largely optional in middle class America. Restaurant foods and prepared foods in grocery stores have become so inexpensive, it almost doesn't make sense to cook. That's kind of a shame, I've discovered (for myself, at least) on several levels.

First of all, I discovered when I did the $3 Diet that eating in restaurants was a major contributor to my state of poor health and a major contributor to my weight gain. When I cut out eating restaurant and processed food, my weight started falling away, and my health measures (cholesterol, glucose) went way down.

Secondly, and the point of this post, cooking is one of the areas in our lives where the cost of experimentation is very low, and the opportunities to experiment are continuous. Today I thought to myself, I wonder what would happen if I throw a plantain on the grill. The worst thing that could have happened was I ruined the plantain (less than a dollar lost). Had that happened, I would have gained some knowledge in the process - maybe I should have looked for how to grill a plantain on the internet; maybe I should have cooked it longer/shorter/not in the skin/etc. It worked out great though - the skin protected the meat, and the skin peeled right off when I took the plantain off the grill.

Even more important than successfully discovering a new way to cook plantains was the exercise of discovery - the following through on the question, "I wonder what would happen if..."

I taught a course in innovation last year and one of the themes of all the books and articles we read and discussed, the overarching characteristic of all the organizations we studied, was that innovation can be learned, and it comes from developing a habit of wondering, "I wonder what would happen if..." followed by an experiment of some sort.

Innovation grows out of a habit of wonder and experimentation. Most innovations in organizations are not the result of a single attempt, but many hundreds and thousands of questions and attempts, and failures. One of my favorite Harvard Business cases is W.L. Gore - about the culture of innovation at the Gore - the maker of Goretex. Gore started out by licensing the patent for teflon from DuPont, and has been stretching, twisting, heating, cooling, bending, and blasting it ever since. They've come up with all sorts of amazing innovations from a product that DuPont saw as a dead end.

Every person I know who has read the Gore case has universally said they would like to work in an environment as playful, curious, and creative as Gore. And not only do most of us fantasize about work like that, we fantasize about a life that is full of playful curiosity.

I think a playful, exploratory attitude is not something you can check at the door on your way out of the office. I think you have to embrace it and pursue it constantly. If you are a creative person in your personal life, you will probably be a creative person in your work life. And here by creative I don't necessarily mean artistic - I mean a curious soul willing to experiment and take chances.

If you want to be more creative, there is really only one way to do it - start asking, "I wonder what would happen if..." and testing it out. That said, there are safety rails. Gore requires a review of any experiment that will cost above a certain threshold dollar amount. My friend Jeff, a very creative person at work and outside work, used the analogy of a tree. You can experiment all day with the leaves. A tree loses leaves all the time. A few leaves lost is no real harm. Experiments that risk branches should take more thought and be attempted with more caution. But a trunk experiment - that requires very careful consideration. A failure at the trunk is catastrophic for the tree, and so experiments that risk the trunk should be attempted only when catastrophe is worth risking.

Which brings me back to cooking. Cooking is mostly a leaf opportunity. Make a bad meal? No worries - there's another opportunity in a few hours to try again. In the meantime, I believe these habits of creativity are generalizable. It's hard to turn off curiosity, especially once it gets to be a habit.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Nye on Inequality

Nice essay on inequality from my former professor, John Nye. He makes the same point Adam Smith made in the 18th century - wealth is not measured in money, but in what you can get with your money.
Thus in the long run, technology tends to favor the poor. Contrary to common wisdom, current research suggests that the 19th century saw a decrease in inequality when measured in consumption terms. Before industrialization, the rich had silks, where the poor might not have had underwear at all. Cheap cotton and then wool and then synthetics made it possible for all to have more than ample clothing.
rest here:

I share his concern - that all the efforts Progressives want to make towards greater equality of outcomes will result in a tilting of the competitive landscape toward those who have political power. It's not what they (the Progressives) intend, but one must look carefully for unintended consequences when launching new policies.

Tyler Cowen makes the point in his recent book, Average Is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation , that rates of inequality tend to cycle in a free economy. So even if there seems to be a widening gap between those who are well-positioned for the post industrial economy and those who are not, given time things tend to equalize - they are solved by the "Servant Problem" expressed by Nye.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

competitive eating and innovation

I taught an innovation course in the spring to a couple of audiences, and I've been playing around with different diets for the last several months, so when i heard this podcast from Freakonomics about competitive eating, I had to share it.

Freakonomics interviews Takeru Kobayashi, a competitive eater who, after careful planning and practice, nearly doubled the world record for most hotdogs eaten at the Nathan's Famous Hotdogs International Hot Dog Eating Contest ( ). The previous record had been 26 - he ate 50.

He ate 50 by completely redefining the problem, and re-envisioning it. One of the books I use,Inside the Box: A Proven System of Creativity for Breakthrough Results , uses the term "structural fixedness" to describe when we stop seeing the components of a problem and only see it as a whole. Koayashi broke through that structural fixedness and completely reimagined how to consume so many hotdogs. One of the things he had to become unstuck from was the idea that this was eating. It's really not eating, and it's helpful to escape that idea.

I love this podcast - will use it next time I teach creativity.

a failed poem

I shot off a Facebook status on Wednesday night, "beautiful night sitting out on the deck. Sun gone down, listening to the birds and the pool waterfall."

I had been sitting out on the back deck, listening to the birds and the sound of the pool waterfall as the sun was setting. Last year I hung up an outdoor curtain under our covered deck because the deck faces southwest, and the sun in Texas is brutal to endure, so the deck was essentially unusable for any length of time after about 3 pm when the sun would dip below the roof and begin to shine in on the chairs. With the curtain, you can sit on the deck in the shade and enjoy the evening. It's still wicked hot (Kandie went in eventually because of the heat), but at least you can be out of the sun.

Part of what I had been enjoying, though, was the play of the breeze across the curtain. Every now and then the wind would move the curtain and separate the two panels I have hanging and the sun would peek in - like it was saying, "just checking to see if you're still there". I was.

It's moments like these that I feel the muse stir and often something comes out of those moments. This image of the curtains shifting in the breeze, the sun penetrating, but only momentarily, seemed to invoke... something. But the something never came. I sat there for a time after the sun was gone, which is when I mentioned it briefly on Facebook. But the physical moment was too complicated to translate into a few words, and so I set it aside, a memory that should have been a poem, but was not.

"let your life speak"

I came across this quote in an interview about the founder and CEO of New Belgium Brewing company. Apparently she is a Quaker and she mentions this Quaker advice "Let your life speak" in the article (here: ).

I Googled the phrase and found this web site about Quakerism where the phrase is identified as a Quaker "advice" that is given for how to live your life:

Another "advice" that is mentioned and that I like is "Live adventurously." 

I like these.

Also listed are the Quaker "testimonies" or values that they seek to live by. They have an acronym - SPICES:

Peace and nonviolence
Integrity and truth

read more about them here:

Obviously these "advice" and "testimonies" are not exclusive to Quakers. They are good values for us all to practice. Probably if we all tried to integrate them into our lives more the world would be a better place.

They are worthy of contemplation.