Human Nature in 2011

As 2011 draws to a close, it seems natural to look back on the year that was. What events defined this year and how did they shape us, what did they tell us about us, about who we are and where we are going. At a time when boundaries become less and less relevant, when technology communication threatens to surpass all borders, events take on a new global context. No longer are the days when we could hear of happenings from far away and dismiss them as irrelevant to our lives. We saw that so clearly earlier this year when a handful of events affected so many of us in so many ways. But to provide a proper retrospective, simply regurgitating what took place like an out-of-date almanac won’t do. The true gauge of the impact of what took place is surely how those events affected how we look at ourselves and how we perceive who we are. At base are we evolving from those who once lived in caves or is human nature something so strong, so innate, that no amount of knowledge will fundamentally change the way we are? Human nature is an ephemeral concept. While views may vary (a recent example being the TED conference in November in Amsterdam), there are some definitions of human nature that I think shed more light than others, and all seem to imply there are elements of good and bad, or even good and evil, within us all. While there are far greater minds than mine who are looking at this issue, I cannot help but feel inside that there must be more to being human than just the bad, the selfish, the cruel. With that in mind let’s look back on the year and find out…

The Middle East

It was reported as nothing more than a storm in a tea cup, yet it was the whisper that grew to a roar and brought the greatest change in the Middle East for 60 years. Decades of totalitarian dictatorship fell as the rumble in Egypt rippled east and west across North Africa and up into the Middle East. The people had had enough. Our fundamental human desire for freedom from oppression had finally come out and revolution was the result. While that yearning for freedom might be regarded as part of our human nature, the paradox is that the part of our nature that needs to dominate others, to be the alpha male, was being denied. Two conflicting desires, both existing and non-existing simultaneously. As we look further at 2011, this pattern becomes clearer.

Europe

Further north, Europe continued to spiral into economic crisis. On the level playing field of the European Union, the haves and have-nots still struggled. The few rotten apples threatened to spoil the whole barrel, and the situation remains dire. This one issue raises so many of the questions surrounding what it means to be human and our human nature: to fight to be better, richer, faster than the rest. But at the same time to help the weaker, those in need, the less fortunate. The conundrum of our nature is at least as complex as the finances of 27 countries (Estonia joined the EU this year, bringing the membership countries to 27). And yet some commentators argue that what seems inexplicably complex is actually remarkably simple and understandable once you can make sense of human nature from its core.

Natural disasters

Disasters were not limited to man-made events and Mother Nature always does her best. Earthquakes in Japan, New Zealand and Turkey, and floods in Brazil, Pakistan and Thailand killed thousands and impacted us all, whether we even knew it. The electronics market felt it hard as production factories destroyed by the tsunami in Japan meant our favourite toys (some would argue necessities) evaporated overnight. Ironically it was as if the loss of lives was less important to us than the delay in getting an iPad 2, or iPhone or new camera. In the face of this selfishness though, was immense compassion for our fellow men and women who had died or survived the tragedy. It seemed that the beautiful part of our human nature shone threw as assistance, help and donations of food, welfare and funds to help rebuild rushed to those in need.

Outer space

There were triumphs at what we had achieved. After 30 years of operation, NASA called it a day for the Space Shuttle program. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said “At today’s final landing of the space shuttle, we had the rare opportunity to witness history. We turned the page on a remarkable era and began the next chapter in our nation’s extraordinary story of exploration.” While he may have been referring to Mars, it’s hard not to look deeper and see a reference to the need to explore our nature, and discover more about ourselves. We can put a man on the moon, but we still don’t know who we are.

Royal Wedding

That final space shuttle launch may have been watched by thousands, but 2 billion people tuned in to see the wedding of the century as England’s Prince William married Kate. We allowed ourselves to fall in love all over again, or for the first time, as we could share in the dream. Love must be part of human nature to have that many people watching. Again, the irony, the almost hypocrisy of the problem of not being able to understand who we are, lovers or haters? How can we be in the tenth year of the war on terror and yet all long for love? The answer may be closer than we know.

Passings

For some however, the search to better understand ourselves is over, as 2011 marked the end of their journey. While we were happy to see some of them go, and devastated at the loss of others, they all had some notable views on the perplexing issue of human nature.

The good

Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, no further introduction necessary: “Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Joe Frazier, heavy weight boxer. In possibly the greatest fight in history he was the first to down Muhammad Ali. On learning of Frazier’s death Ali said “The world has lost a great champion. I will always remember Joe with respect and admiration. My sympathy goes out to his family and loved ones.” George Foreman added his own eulogy on Twitter: “Good night Joe Frazier. I love you dear friend.”

The bad

Muammar Gaddafi, who’s view on human nature were as hypocritical and paradoxical as the issue of our nature: “Man’s freedom is lacking if somebody else controls what he needs, for need may result in man’s enslavement of man.” The Green Book (1975)

Bin Laden, the subject of the greatest manhunt in history: “We love death. The US loves life. That is the difference between us two.”

The ugly

Singer and addict Amy Winehouse, who, having refused to attend a clinic established by icon Betty Ford, found herself joining Mrs Ford for the ultimate rehabilitation only days after Betty passed. Well, if only you hadn’t said ‘no, no, no’ to rehab Amy…

Elizabeth Taylor, who in many ways doesn’t belong under the heading ugly, but whose conduct placed her there, said this: “The problem with people who have no vices is that generally you can be pretty sure they’re going to have some pretty annoying virtues.” And that issue of morality, or lack of it, in the human makeup seems poignant in any era.

The Final Word

But finally, I found the following quote from Major Richard “Dick” Winters, who passed away this year, the last living commander of the 101st Airborne in WWII epitomised in the HBO series Band of Brothers, best summed up human nature, some 70 years after he had committed the ultimate sin, but for the ultimate glory: “I cherish the memories of a question my grandson asked me the other day when he said, ‘Grandpa, were you a hero in the war?’ Grandpa said ‘No… but I served in a company of heroes.'”

May 2012 produce more heroes than villains.

Lessons on Cyber Monday Morning

Where you are in your career or where your business and who you are as a person today is exactly where you and the business are supposed to be. Decisions you made yesterday, last month or last year determine where you are now. Steps you didn’t take kept you from being on firmer ground.

All the foolishness of Black Friday with its throngs fighting for “deals” they can easily get December 15 through Christmas shows the lemming-like march of retail and reliance on a consumer economy. I held only one garage sale in my life and learned a valuable lesson. When someone walked up the driveway, to a person there was determination to make a buy. They did not want to leave without a purchase, so I quickly set up a ‘collectible’ table of junk. On this table was stuff we would have tossed in the trash or at best given to Goodwill. You know the Superman glass or milk mug the kids drank from, free wine glasses given as part of membership in a paperback book club, old sports gear, worthless tools… anything with a $1 or 50₵ price tag. My junk flew off that table faster than you can imagine.

So, what can we learn from hysteria marketing like this past weekend? The weak economy is not responsible for your performance any more than are business cycles or phases of the moon. Sure, things are more difficult today than five years ago, but look at others in your profession or industry. If they’re doing better than you, what do they know you don’t? Many millionaires were made last year running businesses started less than five years ago. They are not just lucky. They know their product, their target customers, and aggressively close sales.

My first technology company developed a unique product that amazed everyone in the industry, yet it sold very few units. There simply wasn’t a real or perceived need. Domino’s sells convenience, not pizza. Premium time piece makers sell jewelry and status, not watches. What do you sell? What is your customer/client buying? Customer needs or wants determine your product. Either you have a product few people want or need or your product is positioned poorly in the marketplace. Perhaps your faulty product message is responsible for poor sales.

Why does WD-40 sell so well? The manager of a local Home Depot told me WD-40 is the single most sold item in his inventory. WD-40 never changes other than size or container. It has more uses than a soybean and every home has some. Far from being the best lubricant, WD-40 is easy to use and familiar to us all. The company’s web site lists 2000+ product uses.WD-40 has inspired a SPAM (canned ham) type following of dedicated users and people just having fun with the brand. I even got a giant container of WD-40 as a gift a few years ago, a most useful and thoughtful gag gift if there ever was one.

A couple of decades ago I met someone who asked me to invest in a superior lubricant, something that would do more things much better than WD-40. The manufacturer explained the science and displayed charts galore to convince me how superior his product was. What he didn’t understand was most of the WD-40 sales then and now are to people very satisfied with the product as is and there was no way I would consider going against public opinion as strong as the legion of WD-40 users.

So, what are you doing to develop your brand and customer loyalty? Remember today’s market is the iPad generation. iPad… a product with no reason to exist other than people like it. Wow, they really do like it. Buyers today do not generally care how something is made. Nor do they care what the features and benefits are, or care anything other than what they can do with it. Does your product make them money? Enhance their love life? Let them live longer? Products selling today fall into one of those categories and if a product has enough cachet, the buyer forces a square peg product into one of those round holes.

Today the customer is King or Queen… they have the wallet and determine how the money or plastic is spent to get what they want. Think of the thousands of people doing what you are doing, selling comparable products or services and making big bucks. How are they doing it and you are not. Think about it and if you cannot figure it out buy time from somebody who can. Today’s market is just as vibrant as ever for the top sellers.

If the economy is so bad, why did hoards of manic shoppers leave turkey and family behind to storm retailers on Thanksgiving Day in prelude to Black Friday? Why were so many people fighting, literally, to lay out hard earned bucks for the next generation iPhone or the newest $300 Air Jordans? Our economic pie is ever expanding; the marketplace and consumer mindset is what is changing. It is your job to learn how to deal with these changes.

Best Holiday Games for iPhone in 2010

If you have an iPhone or iPad, then you probably know that the season of games is upon us. More apps are released in November and December than at any other time of the year. Variations on classic games, brand new games, and games that are a combination of both enter the App Store and seem to bolt to the top.

There are already many holiday inspired iPhone games that are attracting attention. Here are 5 of the crowd favorites:

Jive Turkey Shoot: In this classic shooter-style game, Thanksgiving takes over and the only way to stop it is to shoot the items down! The goal is to accurately shoot turkeys, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, leaves, and other fall inspired items. The level of difficulty depends on what level of the game you are on – and as the difficulty rises, so does the number of objects you must shoot. Take your time though; inaccuracy in shooting lowers your score. The player with the highest score wins.

Snowy’s Christmas Pinball: Snowy the snowman is the main character in this action packed pinball game. Like any traditional pinball game, the object is to obtain the highest score by flipping the ball as many times as possible without it falling beyond your reach. There are some holiday twists and turns to this game though – Scrooge will try to steal the ball, and Santa can lose it as well. Flip your way to a high score in this Christmas themed classic.

Santa’s Run: Everyone knows that Santa delivers presents on Christmas Eve, but what happens when there simply isn’t enough time? In Santa’s Run, help Santa deliver presents to the children worldwide before Christmas Eve is over! Fly through the night sky and distribute presents to the houses before you run out of time. Difficulty advances as the game progresses and the time flies by faster and faster. Help save Christmas and fly your way to the high score.

Triazzle Holiday: A variation of the popular app, Triazzle Classic, Triazzle Holiday is a puzzle game in which a player has to complete a 9 piece triangular jigsaw puzzle by twisting, turning, and otherwise manipulating the pieces. So what’s the catch? The pieces look so similar it is hard to tell what goes where! In this holiday version, all the puzzles are pictures of holiday themed things. Flip, twist, and devise your way through each puzzle as they get harder by the level.

Christmas with Weezer: This Christmas themed game is a touch-screen lover’s delight. Similar to the popular game “Dance Dance Revolution,” players tap and shake their devices to the holiday sounds of the popular band, Weezer. A true delight for anyone, this game is the perfect marriage of Christmas spirit and popular culture. The player with the highest score wins.