Walk A Mile In My Moccasins

Before you criticize a man, walk a mile in his moccasins.

— Source: my mom, although usually attributed to Native American sources but could be from ancient Rome and may have roots in Christ’s teaching in the Bible.

Even though this quote is an oldie but a goodie, it seemed fitting for my three day run with aphorisms on empathy. Loosely defined, empathy is the capability to share and understand another person’s emotions and feelings.

I believe that empathy is one of the most powerful tools in leadership, business, and life. By putting yourself in “the other person’s shoes” you can have richer interactions and make better decisions on every front. I am much more effective as a leader if I imagine how my style and actions are perceived by those I am endeavoring to lead. The products that I create or the services that I provide are much more valuable if put myself inside the mind of my customers as I create and deliver them.

Financial Rigor

One of the things you learn in engineering is to be rigorous. If you build a bridge that falls down on a windy day, there’s going to be hell to pay. Financial markets are not like that; they are very noisy. It’s hard to tell who’s skillful and who’s just lucky. And a lot of analyses are done in extremely haphazard, primitive ways, but the investing public doesn’t know any better.

Feb 23, 2009 issue of Wired.

Dan diBartolomeo is the head of Northfield Information Services, a Boston financial analysis firm. He has a long history of analyzing investment strategies and complex securities. His comparison of financial markets to the rigors of engineering is noteworthy.


Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.
Talent will not; nothing is more common
than unsuccessful men with talent.
Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.
Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.
Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

— Calvin Coolidge

This is one of my all-time favorite quotes. I have committed it to memory at various times in my life and had it posted on the wall of my office on many occasions.

I am a firm believer that the tortoise always wins the race in the end. Every worthwhile journey is long and arduous. Determination and persistence compel me to continue to put one foot in front of the other and trod on.

Steinbeck on Writing

I think there is only one book to a man. It is true that a man may change or be so warped that he becomes another man and has another book but I do not think that it is so with me.

— John Steinbeck, Journals of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters

East of Eden was the first book that I read by Steinbeck. It was moving and well written and rich with characters. Then I discovered Journals of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters and suddenly I felt I had been given a back stage pass to the mind of a writer.

Steinbeck had already written Of Mice and Men (1937) and The Grapes of Wrath (1939) when he set out to write East of Eden (1951). In the intervening years he lived through two divorces and served as a war correspondent. Despite the critical success of his earlier works, his standing as a major novelist had faded. As today’s quote reveals, Steinbeck also felt that he had not yet told the one story that was within him. His editor, Pascal Covici, did all that he could to encourage Steinbeck. Covici sent Steinbeck a number of notebooks and instructed Steinbeck to use them to write.

Canada Relations

Geography has made us neighbors, history has made us friends, economics has made us partners, and necessity has made us allies.

— President Robert F. Kennedy on US / Canada relations.

The US President’s first foreign trip is highly symbolic. Yesterday President Obama reinforced a long standing tradition and made Canada the destination for his first foreign trip. President Bush’s first foreign trip was to Mexico. US / Canada relations were strained throughout his entire term. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford never visited Canada at all.

Granted, this trip was more than a pit stop than an extended visit. He arrived in the morning to meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, ate through a working lunch, held a joint news conference, met briefly at the airport with the leader of Canada’s opposition party, and was back home in the White House in time for dinner.

Even though he only had time to pop in for a quick chat, I am glad that my native country is back at the top of the list for our new US President.

Aim for the sea…

Aim for the sea…

A ship is safe in the harbor, but that is not what ships are built for.

— William Shedd (or possibly Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper)

I taught high school in the early 80’s. I had this quote hanging on my classroom wall in one of those inspirational-type posters with a sailboat setting out to sea. I suppose I was trying to inspire my students to reach for adventure as they launched themselves into the world. I still draw inspiration from these words every time I am faced with the choice of a challenge and an adventure or playing it safe.

Don’t make them think

If you make people think they’re thinking, they’ll love you; But if you really make them think, they’ll hate you.

— Don Marquis

I lived in Denver in the late ’80s. At one point I met an acquaintance who invited me to attend his monthly book club. I was in a heavy reading phase and was excited about the prospect of connecting with fellow book lovers. I was encouraged to bring a book and plan on sharing a favorite passage.

The book I happened to be reading at the time was The Death of Ivan Ilyich, and the passage I picked to read turned out to be pretty heavy.

The Illusion of Knowledge

The greatest obstacle to discovering the shape of the earth, the continents and the ocean was not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge.

— Daniel Boorstin

To really appreciate the profundity of this quote you have to think back to Galileo (1564 – 1642) and his epic battle with the Roman Catholic church over the nature of our solar system. Although Copernicus (1473 – 1543) had developed the heliocentric theory a hundred years earlier, the “prevailing wisdom” maintained that the earth was at rest at the center of the universe while the sun and the planets revolved around it.

But Galileo had a telescope — and became convinced that Copernicus was right. He championed the sun-centric “theory” at great personal risk. He was declared a heretic, forced to recant, and spent the last years of his life under house arrest. The church did not lift its ban on the general prohibition against works advocating heliocentrism until 1758.

The Squeaky Wheel – Revisited

The other day I posted how the squeaky wheel doesn’t always get the grease. Sometimes, it gets replaced. I found another variation to this delightful adage on the DesignAday web site.

“Broken gets fixed. Shoddy lasts forever” . . . When deadlines are tight, and there is more work to get done than there are developers or hours in the schedule, it’s not the squeaky wheel, but the jammed one that gets the grease.”

— Jack Moffett

So true. This is my frustration with Apple’s iPods. I have a 3rd generation Nano that has a couple of annoying bugs in the software. I listen to a lot of podcasts and I convert many of them to audiobooks so I can listen in the “faster” mode. Unfortunately, the fat Nano has a hard time remembering that it is set on the “faster” setting. I have to hit menu four times to back out of the current podcast and drill forward two settings menus to remind the Nano that it is still set on “faster.” Then back out two menu settings and drill back into the podcast. I have submitted bug reports to Apple at least a half-dozen times but I am afraid that my little bug isn’t broken enough to warrant a fix.


Suppose you were an idiot and suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.

— Mark Twain

As I watched the latest meltdown from the latest cabinet confirmations I can’t help but think that Mark Twain may have been on to something in his assessment of people who run for political office.

It has been obvious to me for a long time that congress is broken. I couldn’t quite articulate exactly how I thought it was broken but I knew something was wrong. And then I discovered Lawrence Lessig’s latest mission. Partnering with Joe Trippi, he is determined to change congress. He makes a powerful case that lobbying and special interests have eroded the very foundations of the constitution.