Your User Manual

As a technical writer, anything that mentions “manual” (or “documentation”, for that matter) tends to catch my eye. I suppose it’s an occupational hazard. But when I saw this post from my friend, Steve Jones, it made me take notice.

I’m reblogging this for my own personal reference as much as anything else. Suppose you had a set of instructions for yourself? How would it read?

I might try this exercise for myself at some point, but for the moment, read Steve’s article, and see if you can come up with your own manual for yourself.

Voice of the DBA

Many of us have spent time looking through manuals or the documentation for some software or product. I know I’m on the MS docs site regularly for work, and there is no shortage of times I’ve used various manuals to help me fix something around the house. We usually use a manual when we want to learn how something is supposed to work, or how to get it to do what we want.

I saw a post on a personal user manual that I thought was a good idea for some people, maybe many people. This isn’t a manual for how you should live your life or work, but rather, how others might interact with you. This manual describes how you work, what motivates you, stimulates you, what pleases you, and even the environment in which are most productive.

Whether or not this is something you might give to co-workers…

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Make time for your art

This pic above showed up in a Facebook meme, and it spoke volumes to me. To sum up my thoughts in only a few words, I’m an artist.

Okay, I suppose some context is in order; after all, I am writing this as a ‘blog article.

For the benefit of those of you who don’t know me, I’m a musician in my spare time. I started playing the piano when I was seven, the clarinet when I was eight, and I taught myself how to play mallet percussion and the saxophone when I was in high school. I grew up learning how to play classical piano, and I picked up a taste for jazz and classic rock along the way. I played well enough that I easily could have been a music major had I chosen to do so; alas, my parents wouldn’t let me.

I also started writing my own music when I was in high school. I started out writing piano compositions (think John Tesh-like new age piano music) without lyrics. One day, I said to myself, “what would happen if I wrote lyrics for my music?” The result was a song called If She Only Knew. I ended up writing more songs; you can hear many of them on my songwriter’s page (you can even purchase my music on the page or on iTunes). I still have more music that I haven’t finished recording (alas, trying to coordinate time with friends who can actually sing is a major blocker, not to mention that life happens), and it’s only within the past few years that I’ve started writing again, after a long layoff of many years (like I said, life happens).

When I first started writing, I was an isolated, naïve, and lonely kid who hadn’t been exposed to a lot in the big wide world. As such, much of what I wrote was stuff that was on my mind that I was unable to express in words. Music was — and still is — the perfect outlet for me; it enabled me to convey what I was otherwise unable to express.

The pandemic over the past few years has stressed me out in many different ways, as I’m sure it has for many people. Under these circumstances, it’s especially important to maintain your mental health; indeed, it was why I ended up in the hospital last year. We are not robots, so it’s important to maintain some kind of relief valve to release the pressure. This is a huge (although not the only) reason why the arts are important. (I could also talk about how art trains us to think critically and creatively, but that goes beyond the scope of this article.) The arts allow us to express ourselves in ways that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to in the corporate, business, and high-tech world.

Art can take many forms. For me, it’s in my music. For others, it can involve drawing, sculpture, painting, glass-blowing, creative writing, poetry, sewing, video production, theater, collecting, cooking, and so on. (You could also make the case that sports and athletics are an art.) You don’t necessarily even have to be good at it. I once got into a lengthy argument with a friend who said that a picture created with animal feces was not art. What he didn’t understand was that art doesn’t necessarily have to be good or tasteful; it just has to be something that’s expressed, even if it’s (literally, in this case) a piece of crap.

I think art is critically important (I’ve argued that we should be teaching STEAM, not STEM). It’s important for us to develop as well-rounded individuals. And it provides us with a creative outlet that we desperately need to release stress, especially in our current world that is full of it.

Going crazy (in a good way)

Every once in a while, I’ll start thinking random thoughts. For whatever reason this morning, on the last day of 2021, my brain randomly started thinking about one of my favorite movies, Field Of Dreams. At the beginning of the movie, Ray Kinsella (played by Kevin Costner) said this: “And until I heard the Voice, I’d never done a crazy thing in my whole life.”

Even Billy Joel once sang, “…said he couldn’t go on the American way… now he gives them a stand-up routine in LA…”

And again, my (dangerously) wandering mind started thinking: how many crazy things have I done in my life?

A little perspective is in order here. When I say “crazy,” I don’t mean psychotic, dangerous, or harmful. I’m not talking about a dangerously unhinged person who decided to injure large numbers of people because “the little voices in the head told him or her to do so.” Rather, how often have you done something that’s out of character for you, something you ordinarily wouldn’t do, taken some kind of calculated risk, decided to do something random because “it sounded like fun,” decided to jump in your car to travel somewhere, stepped out of your comfort zone, and so on?

I’ve had my share, some of them significant, some of them trivial. I’ve driven two or more hours to concerts or sporting events on nights where I had some kind of commitment early the next morning. (I’m finding that as I get older, I can’t do those things like I used to.) I’ve submitted presentations to various major conferences, with varying levels of success. I’ve written music that I’ve submitted to publishers and contests. I once randomly stopped by a gym to ask for advice about getting into shape. And I once drove five hours on a whim to meet up with my then-girlfriend.

How have they turned out? Well, let’s start with my music. I had a publisher tell me (and I’m paraphrasing here), “I can’t use your stuff right now, but definitely keep at it, because you definitely have talent!” (The main reason why I haven’t kept up with it is because — well, life happened.) I even got honorable mention recognition for a song contest to which I submitted. For my presentations, I’ve spoken three times at PASS Summit (or its equivalent), and I’ve spoken at many SQL Saturday and Data Saturday events. There are a couple of non-PASS conferences where I’ve submitted (I was recently picked to speak at one, and I was rejected for another). That gym where I stopped? It was a CrossFit gym. That was in 2015, and I’m still going! As for those late night concerts and sporting events? Well, I had to drink extra coffee the next morning, but I enjoyed myself at the events, and I had very few regrets about attending them!

And my five-hour trip to see my then-(now ex-)girlfriend? Okay, so they don’t always work out. Win some, lose some. That said, I have no regrets about that trip.

Many of those calculated risks have bore fruit. Friends and colleagues have told me that I’m a good speaker; Grant Fritchey, a rockstar in the PASS SQL community and a person whom I greatly respect, once told me that “you’re a good speaker, and you deserve the PASS Summit slot” when I was selected to speak this year. That statement from him meant a lot to me. And while I haven’t become a rockstar (I mean that literally — an actual music rockstar), I’ve found that I’ve gained a measure of respect for what I do from other musicians. I’ve gained a lot of confidence in what I do, and I think it’s done a lot to help me advance my career, as well as my extracurricular activities.

There are a number of other friends who’ve had similar experiences. Off the top of my head, one friend decided to audition for an acting part; he is now active with his local community theater. Another friend actually got married on the Today show. (Yes, seriously — the groom is a friend of mine from high school!) While those are two that immediately come to mind, I’m sure there are others. How many of you randomly decided to go skydiving, sing karaoke, speak in front of an audience, write a poem or a song, sent a resume to a job listing for which you thought you had “no chance,” asked out the girl or guy you liked, or tried out for a part? And how did they turn out?

The thing is, if you want to get ahead in life, you need to step out of your comfort zone. This isn’t to say there’s anything wrong with just maintaining the status quo. If you only aspire to sitting on the couch watching TV, so be it. But if you want to get ahead, make something of yourself, and maybe even make yourself better (and possibly, happier), sometimes, you just have to do something a little crazy.

Hope you all have a happy and healthy New Year. And I hope you all do something a little crazy in 2022.

Getting my music heard

As some of you may know, when I’m not coming up with ideas for professional development ‘blogs, I’m a musician on the side. I’m a classically-trained pianist, and I also play the clarinet, saxophone, and mallet percussion instruments as well. I perform in a large symphonic concert band, I accompany a local church choir, I play in a wind quintet, and earlier this year, I joined a local classic rock band.

In addition to all that, I’m also a songwriter. I started writing when I was in high school, wrote for several years, recorded a few things (and had a few friends help me with the vocals — singing is one of the musical tasks that I don’t pretend I can do), stopped writing for several more years (life happened), and only relatively recently started getting back into it again.

If you’re interested in hearing my music, you can go to my artist’s page here.

During the past year of the COVID pandemic, I reworked my recordings. I had my MIDI sequences that I had stowed away and recorded all the instrumental tracks. I had to get somewhat creative with the vocals (like I said, I can’t sing worth a damn), so I poked around some online sites where you can upload songs and extract vocals from them (here are a few that I tried: Splitter.AI, Vocali.se, Vocal Remover and Isolation, Acapella Extractor). I took my “crappy” demos that I’d created years ago and used these sites to extract the vocal parts from them. The extracted vocals weren’t great — there was still a lot of noise on them that I couldn’t clear — but for my purposes (at the time), they did the job, and I was happy with the results. When I applied the extracted vocals to my instrumentals, I thought they sounded pretty good. I’m sure music professionals who are better at mixing and mastering than I am can hear the lousy quality, but to those who don’t have discerning ears, you hardly notice them.

I took my computer recording studio and went to work polishing my recordings. I kept remixing and editing them, and with each subsequent edit, I felt that I was getting better and better at it — to the point that I told other music friends that if they ever wanted to do any multitrack work, let me know.

What I’m not good at doing is mastering. Mastering music recordings is an art and a skill in which I don’t have the expertise. After all, I don’t do this for a living, and I consider myself merely a hobbyist. Nevertheless, I did the best I could given my limited skill set and what I learned from doing this on my own. While my recordings aren’t mastered (and likely won’t be, unless I can re-record the vocal parts), I created the best-quality music recordings I could on my own.

I managed to get them to the point where I was happy with the results. Granted, they’re not commercial-grade recordings, but I gladly and happily listen to them.

I decided to take the next step and distribute my recordings (even though they’re not mastered). I figured, I’m sure there are other hobbyists in the same boat who likely do the same thing, so I had nothing to lose. I came across a couple of articles about creating my own album (including this and that), and came across a music distribution service called DistroKid, which was highly recommended by several articles that I read. Once I got my recordings to the point that I was happy with distributing them, I signed up for a DistroKid account and uploaded my album.

That was about a week ago. Last I checked, my album is now available on iTunes/Apple Music, Spotify, and Amazon Music! And there are more to come, I’m sure; these are only the first ones! (And, of course, you can always listen to my stuff on my Soundclick site!)

Let me say this again. I consider myself a hobbyist, not a professional. Yes, I know my recordings are not mastered and probably not professional-quality. I work hard at what I do, and while I’m not the best at it, I’ve gotten considerably better. For all the trolls out there, save me your diatribe about how these don’t sound professional and are not the best quality recordings.

That said, I’m a hobbyist who takes his hobby seriously, and is highly passionate about it — enough that I am willing to spend time and money on it. That said, I believe that my music is good music, and it deserves to be heard, which is why I did what I did. Honestly, I really don’t give a crap if I never sell a single album. The entire point of this exercise is to get my material out there and heard, and earn some measure of respect for myself as a musician and songwriter who is extremely passionate about his craft.

You don’t have to be in a management position to be a leader

For years, I used to think that in order for me to become a leader, I would need to land a management position of some type. Indeed, for a long time, our culture taught us that you needed to obtain some kind of leadership or management position in order to be a leader. So I strived for climbing the corporate ladder, trying to get myself into the upper ranks and getting into a position where I could be the one calling most (but not necessarily all) of the shots. I even contemplated pursuing an MBA (and, to a small extent, I am still entertaining the idea).

Now that I’m older (and, hopefully, wiser), I no longer have such ambitions. At this point in my career, I am happy where I am, management position be damned. Climbing the corporate ladder is no longer a priority for me (that said, if such an opportunity arises, it doesn’t necessarily mean I would turn it down, but it would depend on the opportunity). If I ever haven an opportunity to be promoted, that’d be great, but it is no longer a priority for me, and if it never happens, I won’t lose sleep over it.

This seems to correspond with a change in my mindset as I advance in my career (and my age). When I was younger and more brash, I wanted to be the center of attention, the rock star. But now that I’m older and have some more experience under my belt, being the rock star is no longer a priority.

What I discovered is that I very much get just as much of a high by helping someone else become the rock star. I frequently take part in mentoring opportunities — through my alma mater, my fraternity, my job, or my extracurricular activities. Whenever I see someone struggling with something, and if I am able to assist (which I’m not always able to do), I’ll offer my advice or my hand. And I get a great deal of satisfaction whenever the light bulb goes off in my student’s or mentee’s head, and (s)he suddenly says, “oh, NOW I get it!”

I was reminded of this last Saturday when I spoke at Data Geeks Saturday. I signed into the virtual room in which I was doing my own presentation, and I caught the tail end of Mark Runyon‘s presentation titled “Elevating Your Career into IT Leadership.” I had seen his presentation before — it was either at PASS Summit or another SQL Saturday — I don’t remember which — but one of the takeaways was that there are many ways to become a leader, and it doesn’t necessarily involve becoming a manager.

There are many ways to be a leader. Be a mentor or a teacher. Volunteer to take the reigns whenever an opportunity arises. If you see someone struggling, help him or her out. Leadership takes many forms. You don’t necessarily have to climb the ladder to attain it.

Enemies and adversaries

I stumbled across this article today. I won’t get into the politics behind it (those of you who know me know how much I despise politics), but I wanted to write about it because of a quote by one of the perpetrators I read in the article — one that I found to be extremely disturbing.

The quote: “We need to hit the enemy in the mouth.”

When one political side — any side — refers to the other as “the enemy,” we have a major problem.

Most of the time, when I use the word “enemy” (and I’ll admit that I might use it occasionally), I use it tongue-in-cheek. As a sports fan, I’ll sometimes jokingly refer to our archrival as “the enemy.” But I also keep things in context. At the end of the day, it’s still just a game.

That wasn’t the case here. The perpetrators used it maliciously, with intent to harm. It became a matter of life and death. This is how wars and armed standoffs happen.

I do remember one point during the presidential elections in 1996, when Bob Dole talked about his contentious campaign against Bill Clinton, when Dole said, “we are adversaries. We are not enemies.”

Like everyone else, I have my own perspective of the world. As such, I have my own biases. I’m a registered Democrat, yet I have many friends — including many whom I love dearly — who are Republican. Heck, I’m a Yankee fan whose wife is a Red Sox fan. I was born and raised in the US, yet I embrace cultural differences; indeed, I have an appreciation for environments, traditions, mores, and foods that are not my own. I encourage people to send me good karma, to pray for me, to send me a Mazeltov or a Barakallahu fiikum (I hope I used that context correctly), or whatever best wishes their culture or tradition dictates. Not only would I not be offended, I’m actually flattered that you would think enough of me that you would offer me best wishes from the standpoint of your own culture.

Conflict is everywhere. We as humans will never completely agree with everyone else (nor should we). Conflict is important; it allows us to see things more critically, and it’s an important source of feedback. By using conflict productively, anything and everything we do gets better.

However, if we start thinking about the other side — whatever the “other side” is — as the “enemy,” then we’ve just crossed the line. We reach the point where we are intolerant of other opinions and viewpoints — enough that we’d be willing to cause harm to the others with differing views. And in my mind, that is unacceptable.

Everyone sees things differently. While I think it might be too much to ask to embrace opposing views, at least understand the perspective from the other side. When we understand views from the other side, we can hammer out our differences and come to a better resolution.

The things we do for free stuff

This morning, I’ll be sitting in on a 10:00 webinar by some company called 36Software. I have no idea what the webinar is about, and since I’ll be working during the webinar, I’ll be sitting in my home office working on documentation with the webinar on in the background.

Why am I sitting in on this webinar? The title of it says it all: “36Software Wants to Send you to STC Summit 2022 in Chicago!”

I joined (or, more accurately, rejoined) STC last year. I had been a member years ago when I was working as a full-time technical writer, but I moved on to other things, and I let my membership lapse. Last year, during my unemployment and my search for technical writer positions, I decided it was worth it to rejoin. It’s an organization that can help me with my endeavors, and, I figured, it looks good on my resume.

What held me up from doing so for so long is that, unlike PASS membership, STC is not free. The lowest-tiered annual membership level is somewhere in the ballpark of around $200, and I wasn’t sure if it was worth the investment. Now that I am, once again, a full-time technical writer, I decided that it was. (I was also awarded a grant that allowed me to cover the cost.) Now that I’m working again (and in a field directly related to the organization), I have little trepidation about paying the $200 annual membership dues.

But, back to the webinar. I’ll admit that sitting in on this webinar isn’t really something that’s high on my priority list for the day, but as the saying goes, nothing in life is free. And so-called “free stuff” is no exception. There are all types of things that say they’re “free,” but there’s always some kind of trade-off. When they say “free,” they are usually talking about money. Usually, you end up paying in other ways, and not necessarily with money.

STC Summit is an event that I would love to attend. I’ve attended PASS Summit twice, and I found it to be a great experience. I think STC Summit would be similar. However, there are costs involved: the registration fee, airfare, and accommodations being the biggest ones. These are not cheap, and they usually preclude people, myself included, from attending.

I had said that the only way I’d be able to attend PASS Summit was if I was selected to speak at one. Lo and behold, it happened! Being selected to speak waived the registration fee, and I was able to attend! Of course, it wasn’t entirely “free” — I was put to work, after all, by serving as a speaker!

Those of you who attend SQL Saturday know about the sponsors and vendors, all of whom are integral to user groups and conferences such as SQL Saturday. They’ll have their booths set up, advertising their products and services. They’ll have door prizes — expensive electronic toys such as Xboxes, free software, gift cards, etc. — that they’ll raffle off at the end of the event. Of course, there’s a catch: in order to be eligible for prizes, you need to submit your name and email to each vendor, after which you’ll be inundated with emails from that vendor.

It’s been said that “free” isn’t “free.” Sure, you might not be paying for something with money, but money isn’t always used to pay for things. Are you willing to pay a cost in terms of your time or your email? It often depends on the product and the cost. I often am unable to pay for a product I’d like out of my bank account, but I’m sometimes willing to pay with my time or my bandwidth. Hey, for an opportunity to attend a conference whose registration fee will likely cost over a thousand dollars, sure, I’ll take an hour to sit in on a webinar.

The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 26: The evolution of emergency services — #EMS #EMT #Paramedic #Television #COVID19

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve been spending a lot of time — probably too much time — at home. As such, one of the pitfalls is that I’m probably watching way too much TV. Yes, I know, I really need to get out of the house more.

With that, one of my more recent addictions is old Emergency! reruns on COZI TV. I have childhood memories of this being one of my favorite shows; I remember riding around on my bike as a kid, making a siren noise and pretending I was a paramedic. Outside of watching sports, I seem to have a thing for medical dramas — I’ve been watching shows like Transplant and the Chicago series, and I’ve also been a fan of M*A*S*H for many years.

Watching these old Emergency! reruns and comparing them against current Chicago Fire episodes makes me think about how much EMT, EMS, and paramedic services have evolved throughout the years. I think that evolution is fascinating — enough to the point that I’m writing a ‘blog article about it.

First, let me start with a little background information. Emergency! is largely credited with raising awareness of emergency medical services. The show also traces its roots to a report titled Accidental Death and Disability: The Neglected Disease of Modern Society (a.k.a. “the white paper”). The show takes place in the 1970s, and it’s a far cry from the EMS and EMT services with which we’re familiar today.

The pilot episode talks about the Wedsworth-Townsend Act (which is also the name of the episode). The episode largely focuses on the origins of the paramedic program in LA. In the episode, Dr. Brackett (played by Robert Fuller) makes a plea for passage of the bill to allow paramedics to provide emergency services. In the same episode, Firefigher John Gage (Randolph Mantooth) expresses his frustration after losing a patient largely due to not being able to get him the help he needed in time.

Emergency services changed all that. Before those days, an ambulance was nothing more than a station wagon with a stretcher; the idea was to get an injured person to medical help as fast as possible. Unfortunately, many people died before they could get the help they needed.

(I should note that the idea of getting medical help before transport was actually depicted in M*A*S*H — injured personnel often went to a battalion aid station before being sent to a M*A*S*H unit.)

In the show, the idea was to provide medical assistance — more than basic first aid, but less than a doctor’s services — to make the patient stable enough to transport him or her to the hospital. Johnny and Roy, the paramedics, were trained to apply those services, but in order to do so, they needed to contact the hospital (using the famous biophone) to obtain both instructions and authorization to administer medical services. Additionally, the paramedics served a dual role; while they were licensed to provide medical assistance, they were (I’m guessing first and foremost) firefighters whose primary role was search and rescue. They drove a truck mostly designed for search and rescue operations; it was not capable of patient transport. They had to call for an ambulance separately in order to get the patient to the hospital.

These days, these roles are different (Chicago Fire does a good job of depicting this — I should also note that, as far as I understand, Chicago Fire and Emergency! are actually technically accurate; they aren’t just medical gobbledygook). In many locales (it may differ in different jurisdictions — I’m mostly generalizing this description), fire department paramedics are themselves medical professionals; they no longer require instructions or authorization from doctors (again, to my knowledge, this depends on the jurisdiction). They themselves drive the ambulances, and the ambulances themselves are often emergency rooms on wheels, a far cry from the vehicles where their only function was to transport patients as fast as possible. And the roles of paramedic and search/rescue personnel are mostly different, not combined as in Emergency! (in Chicago Fire, these different roles are depicted by Ambulance 61 and Squad 3, respectively).

A couple of personal thoughts about the comparison between Emergency! and Chicago Fire: first, although I haven’t been able to find any citations to support this, I don’t think there’s any coincidence in that Chicago Firehouse 51 shares a unit number with LA County Fire Station 51 (which would support the influence that Emergency! had). Second, I would love to see an episode of Chicago Fire in which the characters of John Gage and Roy DeSoto make at least a cameo appearance. (Dick Wolf, if you’re reading this, can you make that happen???)

I hope you had as much fun reading this impromptu history of emergency services as much as I did writing about it (and I apologize for any inaccuracies I might have written — please feel free to correct them in the comments if I did). Funny what pops into your head while you’re watching TV…

The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 25: Taking the “distancing” out of “social distancing” #COVID19

Before I get into this article, I want to make one thing extremely clear. This article has NOTHING to do with circumventing pandemic protocols or ignoring the advice of Dr. Fauci, the CDC, the WHO, or any other medical professionals. That is NOT what I’m about to write. Please, please, PLEASE keep wearing your mask, get your COVID shots, and maintain physical social distancing. Above all, be safe.

Now that that’s out of the way, let me get into what prompted this article.

Earlier today, this random thought popped into my head. I posted it to my Facebook, and I want to share it with all of you as well.

I’m sitting here thinking that possibly the thing I miss most during the pandemic is simply the ability to go out and have a drink with a friend.

Granted, the part about “having a drink” is irrelevant. I say that as a catch-all for going out for a beer, wine, coffee, soda, lunch, dinner, dessert, watching a ballgame, going to a movie, and so on. (I could also say “hanging out in your friend’s living room;” it’s within the same spirit of what I’m writing about, but it’s in a private, not public setting, which people are likely doing, anyway — hopefully, COVID-safely. But I digress.)

I don’t know whether the fact that today is St. Patrick’s Day had anything to do with this thought, but what did prompt it was an urge — and a basic desire — to pick up the phone, call a friend, and tell him or her, “let’s meet up at (some favorite local hangout) this Friday night*.”

(*Before any of my local friends take me up on this, be advised that Syracuse plays San Diego State on Friday night, so my attention will likely be focused on the TV.)

Raise your hand if you miss getting together with friends — and I’m not talking about virtually over Zoom. Yeah, me too. The last in-person social event I remember attending was the after-party for SQL Saturday out in Rochester in February of last year. Since the pandemic began, I’ve had almost no in-person interaction with any of my friends, other than my wife (I’ve had a few, but they’re few and far-between). I would love to get together with friends to talk hours on end about world events, music, sports, family, or even about absolutely nothing. Don’t get me wrong; I love my wife, but there’s something to be said for sharing your thoughts, news, and feelings with someone whom you’re not sharing your lockdown experience 24-7 over a forum other than Zoom. Humans are mostly social animals, and interaction with other humans is therapeutic, even if you’re introverted.

(And if you do consider yourself to be introverted, don’t feel obligated to talk. Just being there is very helpful, too.)

Every now and then, I’ll get on the phone with a friend of mine, and we’ll talk for hours — sometimes, about nothing more than random thoughts that pop into our heads (if he’s reading this, you know who you are). We’re the kind of guys who can spend hours talking about “absolutely nothing.” Regardless of what we talk about, I find our conversations to be therapeutic, and I feel like a lot of stress has dissipated, even if I do have something on my mind.

So, if you’re able to do so COVID-safely, take time to hook up with your BFF. You might find the experience to be rewarding and stress-relieving, especially during this time of pandemic and social distancing.

What the NCAA tournament teaches us about decision bias

It’s that time of year again — when die-hard sports fans (and even some non-sports fans) start filling out their bracket picks as they make their predictions for the NCAA tournament, a.k.a. “March Madness.”

I am an alumnus of a major NCAA Division I basketball school — Syracuse University. Syracuse alumni are well-known for their school spirit and love of their alma mater. As such, SU alums regularly wear their school spirit on their sleeve — often, literally. As an alum, I can relate; much of my wardrobe is orange. Anyone who knows me knows that I bleed Syracuse Orange.

Of course, I am the first to admit that my devotion to my alma mater often influences my decisions when I make my NCAA tournament picks. If I filled out my bracket completely with my heart, I would have Syracuse winning it all every single year (and who cares about the remainder of my picks). As such, each year when I fill out my bracket, my bias toward my beloved Orange often influences my picks. Each year, a part of me starts rationalizing how the Orange will defeat (fill in name of opponent here). I’ll often have thoughts such as, “so-and-so has a hot shooting streak going,” or “our opponent usually struggles against the 2-3 zone,” and so on. More often than not, my heart overrides my head when I pick my Orange to upset their higher-ranked opponent. Of course, I usually end up disappointed as my Orange are sent back home to Syracuse.

The bias works in reverse as well. Anyone who follows college basketball knows about Syracuse’s heated rivalry against the hated Georgetown Hoyas. As such, we Syracuse fans are likely to pick against Georgetown in their part of the bracket. (That said, I watched Georgetown play in this year’s Big East tournament final, and they looked like world-beaters. They’re seeded #12 vs. #5 Colorado in this year’s tournament. I wouldn’t bet against them. If you’re looking for a #12 to upset a #5, you could do worse than this one.)

I believe that there’s a professional lesson to be gleaned from this: our biases often get in the way.

We all have biases of some sort. They come from our worldview, our culture, how we were raised, what we’ve learned, and our belief systems. Everyone has a perspective on how they see the world, and everyone tends to be biased against anything that doesn’t align with that perspective. We’ve seen extreme examples of this throughout the world over the past few years (don’t worry, I will not talk about politics here). At the professional level, our worldview often affects decisions that we make. These biases often establish themselves as blind spots, so no matter how much we claim to be “unbiased,” we often don’t know that they’re there. Probably one of the biggest oxymorons is “unbiased decision.” Realistically, there is no such thing. This isn’t necessarily a deficiency; rather, this is part of what makes us human.

So what can we do to reduce (not eliminate — that is unlikely) bias? For one thing, keep an open mind — no matter what you think, realize that there might be another way. To rattle off a couple of clichés, “there’s more than one way to skin a cat*,” and “minds are like parachutes — they only work when they’re open.” Empathy often goes a long way as well. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes — what would this person think if you were in his or her position? I’ve often found that this approach makes me more successful professionally; it improves my work quality, and it brings projects to a better conclusion. Effective communication (another topic for another time) is crucial here; it adjusts your thought process and helps you to achieve that end.

(*I like cats — I have two of my own — so I tend to not like this saying.)

I would also think about what could happen with a decision. There are some decisions that are okay to make with your heart — proposing to your significant other, for example — but there’s also something to be said about listing the pros and cons of a decision. Do the benefits outweigh the issues? Can you live with the consequences if something goes wrong? And so on it goes.

Making decisions is hard to do — this is why managers often get paid the big bucks. If you’re able to minimize the amount of bias that goes into your decision-making, chances are you’ll do alright.

(And by the way… GO ORANGE!!!)