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Data Consciousness – Managing Your Life Line

I am convinced that in the next few years, we will run every aspect of our lives in a fundamentally different way than we have done before. We’re going to do that because …. it’s possible. We will manage every aspect of our lives based on our own data which we will be aware of for the first time in history. In order to maximize our convenience in dealing with our data on our activities, plans, environment, and other contexts, this data will be provided as data streams, timelines, or “life lines”.

In 2014, self-tracking and wearables became fashionable, and the advent of the first real smartwatch, the Apple Watch in April 2015 marks the start of our life lines. First thousands, then millions of people will track themselves within the respective contexts and have this data conveniently visualized in timelines. Data tell the stories of their lives, data reflect who they are and what they do. 

Data Discomfort

Today, many people dislike the idea of collecting their own data. Some aren’t comfortable knowing that much about themselves, they don’t want to be confronted with their own data, they don’t want to know how bad they subsist, how lazy they are or what other bad habits they have. Others fear that their data could be hacked, misused or “stolen”. Both are right: we all do things that we would hate seeing them in a mirror – therefore we use make-up, have plastic surgery and more: we try to see ourselves as positive as possible. And the fearsome are right, too: data will be hacked and misused – we don’t have to wait for that, that’s reality, right now.

And, yet. We produce data, day by day. And this data is collected – by our telecom providers, by the administration, by spy cams, by our cars, by shops, etceteraetcetera. The train has begun rolling and it has picked up speed. You won’t stop it, even if you tried hard.

Who has access to your data?

The problem: the only one who does not have acces to your data, is you. But – shouldn’t it be you who has exclusive acces to your complete data set? You bet! Imagine several official and unofficial parties working on your data, creating your profiles without your knowledge. And you relax and tell everyone, that you aren’t interested in this data? 

The inflection point – Data Consciousness

I do not believe you. Or, in other words: you should think twice. It’s you who should be most concerned about your data. And it’s you who’s could make the most of your data. Why wait? Why persist on this standpoint of lack of interest or even refusal?

2015 marks the inflection point: it’s “Year 0″ of our personal data consciousness. Many people start to administer their lives from their personal life lines. Get yourself your life line, the earlier you start knowing yourself  the better.

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If You Understand, You Don’t

Often, I hear people say to one another: “Yes, I understand.” This phrase can be heard in private as well as in business conversations and every time I ask myself if people reflect about what they just said.

From a neurological perspective, to understand something means to match that with what is already known by a human being. If you tell me that something has happened because the earth moves around the sun, I’ll accept that and maybe say “I understand” since this relation between sun and earth is known to me. So, as long as I use “I understand” to express that something approaching me matches something within my knowledge base, that’s ok.

If “I understand” something which is new to me, or inconsistent with my knowledge, I rather don’t understand that. Since it isn’t actually known to me, I can’t understand it, but I rather had to learn it. In other words: understanding means matching with the already known, learning means adding or changing (to) the already known.

Why should this differentiation be of interest for us? Assuming that most people use the expression “I see” or “I understand” in the way used above, we should be careful if we tell something new to somebody who answers with “Ah, I understand”. In this case, I would challenge this ‘understanding’, since either I haven’t told this person something new (opposed to what I thought) or this person hasn’t really grasped what I told him.

We know that most problems between human beings result from communication deficiencies and I’m convinced that especially this ‘understanding thing’ plays a major role by creating a pseudo atmosphere of agreement and shared assumptions, values, etc.. If we express our understanding but have – falsely – matched some potential new knowledge with our existing knowledge and by experiencing the informant bias, we consciously or unconsciously add to more misunderstandings.

I personally try not to fall for that bias by asking myself hard whether I really got what somebody just has told me. And more than once the other one reacted quite irritated when I asked him to repeat what he just said in a different way. Another good idea is to repeat myself what the other told me, what – surprise – shows that in most cases he again rephrased what I repeated. That may sound like a rather philosophical or tiring exercise but I am convinced it does not only help to understand but to learn and to enrich my personal knowledge base.

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The unpleasant discusssion

Today, I had a quite strange and unpleasant discussion. It was about business strategy and sales, and the both of us differed quite clearly in our views on how to ‘do it right’. I wasn’t in the best mood, and from my perspective, the other guy behaved in an egoistic, slightly arrogant and selfish manner. He used typical killer terms, such as “totally clear” or “as I’ve always been saying” to underline his apparently superior line of argumentation.

I’m used to these rhetoric techniques which are popular tools used in many corporate meetings. And normally, I don’t bother at all since I don’t use these techniques myself and I don’t react on them, neither. But today, I couldn’t resist and after a while I found myself in a quite strenuous debate with “rights” and “wrongs” – with both participants looking for winning arguments.

During those 90 minutes, I asked myself a few times to calm down, forget about what the other one just said, start anew, and so on. But it didn’t work. At the end we came to some sort of conclusion which did not satisfy one of us. I left with a bad – or at least very mixed feeling. During the first 2 hours or so after the event, I realized that I was trying to explain myself by (mentally) arguing against his statements.

Luckily, after some coffee and some distraction, I suddenly asked myself: what, if he were right? What, if I put my arguments aside for a moment, and took over his perspective – no matter if his argumentation was flawed or not?

This exercise – to really take on your opponent’s perspective and act respectively – is one of the more demanding ones. To change my spots has been quite difficult, today. But, it worked. I successfully imagined some scenarios based on his arguments. The result: as always, I learned a lot by doing this exercise. First: the anger I felt after having left was anger about myself – not being able to cope with the situation in a good way. And – without going into detail, I now know that I really could – and should – optimize my own views and behavior regarding business strategy and sales. I still regard some of his views as flawed but these are details: my key takeaway from today’s discussion is that I learn most from difficult, unpleasant communications. In a wider sense, that reflects that we all can learn something from anybody.

If you read this, thank you for today’s insight, dear…..!

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The Person You Don’t Like

There is this person you don’t like. You don’t really know her but she behaves in a way which reminds you of your Latin teacher, she’s this tall, over-dressed, SUV-armed hectic housewife type of a woman and although you cross her paths quite often she does not even to have taken notice of you.

We all have at least one or a few individuals we not only ignore but we actively dislike – because of some specific behavior we cannot cope with. I’m not talking of having some real enemies but of judging everybody we see and of those objects of our assessments who couldn’t earn minimum scores to be accepted by us.

There is this woman. She’s a saleswoman in a drugstore nearby. She is a small person with thinning hair. Always having her short breaks when I pass the store, gossiping and chain-smoking her way to lung cancer. I can feel her dismissive glance in my back, passing her for my early morning run. In a word: a person I don’t like.

Last Tuesday evening, we needed a special kind of tea and I went to the drugstore. You know that kind of situation – it’s a few minutes before the shops close and you need something but you don’t have a clue where to find it. First, I tried by myself – after all I had seen this person – and this person only – roaming the store. But after a while, I gave up: I approached her and asked her for help.

I could not have been surprised more: this person approached me in a very friendly way and helped me finding the tea, not without additionally explaining – or rather apologizing – for this tea having been put in a different shell than most of the other teas. I was totally perplexed. I would never had expected this behavior: she approached me in a way which contradicted all of my preconceptions.

I thanked her, still asking myself whether this friendly sympathetic shop assistant really was the same person I previously had learned to dislike. After I had left the store I became aware of my reservations regarding some people – that I thought I had abandoned but that we’re quite alive, at least regarding this woman.

I realized that I thought to know that woman, that I was able to judge her based on some details of her behavior. How wrong I have been. The first time I communicate with her, I get rid of my preconception and I immediately start to like her. What a difference.

My learning: do not (prematurely) judge people! It’s not helpful at all, even if you think it helps you steering yourself through the hundreds or thousands of people you meet during your lifetime. Do not judge people! That’s one of the best words of advice ever.

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From New Year’s Resolutions To New Day’s Resolutions

When it comes to New Year’s Resolutions, there generally are two fractions: most of us make their resolutions on December, 31, and stick to them at least for a few days or weeks. Others deny any positive aspects of these resolutions since people don’t stick to them, anyway. There are numerous scientific approaches of setting goals – even data-driven ones – and some of them even suggest that making resolutions could effect people negatively since it burdens them with unrealistic challenges and thus reduces itself to absurdity.

I have asked some friends of mine whether they make their New Year’s Resolutions and they are quite representative: some do and some don’t. But all of them, during the last days of this year, like to reflect about their achievements, ask themselves what went wrong and what were the success factors, if existing. That shows: we all tend to analyze our performance during a specific period of time.

I personally stopped making New Year’s Resolutions in the narrower sense: I prefer to make them rather

  • on a daily basis and
  • in a more implicit way, as a somewhat internalized behavior.

What do I mean with that?

My goals aren’t as specific or output driven as ‘lose weight’, ‘use smartphone less often’ or ‘spend more time with family’ (technically speaking these goals are quite unspecific since they don’t contain concrete numbers), but more input or conscious-driven, like ‘do what you do in the best possible way’, or more operational, like ‘move 15k steps a day’. I try to internalize both, input-driven and operational goals, as much as possible into my lifestyle – so I don’t really think about them anymore as goals but rather as habits.

If you own a dog you can compare it with walking it – it has to be done, it will be done, and mostly it’s fun. You do it every day and you realize its benefits soon. Moving a lot makes me fitter, happier and more efficient. Focusing on doing things very well brings me satisfaction in terms of doing a lot of work without being stressed, a very good working climate and satisfied customers.

To accomplish my more operational goals I use Quantified Self wearables and apps. After having set up a new goal it takes me a few days to internalize and soon I use my Jawbone Up or other QS tools like our explore app for reassurance that goals have been met. Immediate feedback shows me whether I’ve been successful on a given day or I have to add some steps, for instance.

Sounds (too) good, doesn’t it? Sure, there are days this internalization of goals fails. But overall, I think I’ve been pretty successful fragmenting big goals and making them parts of my daily life. Thus – no New Year’s, but rather New Day’s Resolutions for me.

What about you? Has anyone of you stuck to your resolutions and accomplished small or big goals in 2014? Anyway, I wish you a fantastic 2015 – with or without goals!

PS: You might find those famous resolution lists worth a read.