Manage By Walking Around http://jonathanbecher.com Aligning Execution With Strategy Sun, 13 Sep 2020 20:55:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.3.4 https://i1.wp.com/jonathanbecher.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/cropped-jb-logo.jpg?fit=32%2C32 Manage By Walking Around http://jonathanbecher.com 32 32 56894116 It Is What It Is http://jonathanbecher.com/2020/09/13/it-is-what-it-is/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2020/09/13/it-is-what-it-is/#comments Sun, 13 Sep 2020 20:07:42 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=7738 The phrase ‘it is what it is’ has exploded in popularity. I might not have noticed except it’s a phrase my Mom has been using my whole life; I may be overly-sensitized to it. I first noticed a surge in popularity towards the beginning of the US pandemic-related shutdown when it became a popular meme....

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The phrase ‘it is what it is’ has exploded in popularity.

I might not have noticed except it’s a phrase my Mom has been using my whole life; I may be overly-sensitized to it. I first noticed a surge in popularity towards the beginning of the US pandemic-related shutdown when it became a popular meme. True to many memes, people were using the phrase in everyday life – without knowing it had gone viral on TikTok.

The phrase underwent its own exponential growth when the U.S. President controversially used it to describe the death toll from the COVID pandemic. Political allegiances aside, uncommon phrases often become more popular when a President says them. In fact, ‘it is what it is’ got a bump in popularity when Al Gore used it to describe his loss to George W. Bush.

A similar bump in usage came as a result of the 2001 film by Billy Frolick titled – you guessed it – It Is What It Is.

According to no less an authority as William Safire, the earliest known reference to the phrase happened in the Nebraska State Journal in 1949:

New land is harsh, and vigorous, and sturdy. It scorns evidence of weakness. There is nothing of sham or hypocrisy in it. It is what it is, without an apology.

Although there’s no definition in most dictionaries, the essence of ‘it is what it is’ is a sense of frustration or resigned acceptance. In most cases, it’s used as an answer to a question that can’t adequately be answered. I always imagine the speaker is sighing or shrugging when they say it.

It’s this sense of helplessness which has always bothered me about the phrase. (That, and the fact I heard it hundreds of times growing up.) Saying ‘it is what it is’ is tantamount to giving up. In this sense, it’s surprising that the phrase is popular here in the US, as we tend to be optimistic about the future.

Since language influences culture, I would expect English would have a phrase closer to the Spanish “que será, será” which means ‘what will be, will be.’ While it’s similar, the Spanish phrase is written in the future tense and suggests a more hopeful outcome. I’m hopeful the English language will evolve to have a similar optimistic phrase but it probably won’t.

After all, it is what it is.

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Directionally Accurate But Not Precise http://jonathanbecher.com/2020/09/06/directionally-accurate-but-not-precise/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2020/09/06/directionally-accurate-but-not-precise/#respond Sun, 06 Sep 2020 19:37:04 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=7714 Sometimes I’m directionally accurate but not precise. My lack of precision isn’t an attempt to mislead or misinform. After all, my motto is words matter so I usually choose my words carefully. Instead, this imprecision stems from the desire to tell a compelling story or when my memory is cloudy. Here’s a recent real-life example:...

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Sometimes I’m directionally accurate but not precise.

My lack of precision isn’t an attempt to mislead or misinform. After all, my motto is words matter so I usually choose my words carefully. Instead, this imprecision stems from the desire to tell a compelling story or when my memory is cloudy.

Here’s a recent real-life example:

I was invited to a meeting with a large number of people to discuss several critical and complicated topics. Early on, I was asked my opinion on one of the most complicated topics. Rather than wasting peoples’ time on a potentially unnecessary and lengthy discussion, I responded: “Before we spend time discussing this, I suggest we read the excellent 40-page report another team developed six months ago. We’ll benefit from their work.”

The next day I get a message from someone who was in the meeting complaining: “I read the report you mentioned. It was only 32 pages long.” I asked if the report had been useful. “Yes, but that’s not my point. You said it was 40 pages.”

I acknowledged I had been directionally accurate but not precise. And that had been my point: to get people to read the research before doing potentially unnecessary work. The exact number of pages seemed less important.

A little more background might be instructive. During the meeting, I didn’t remember exactly how long the report was. If you had pushed me to estimate on the spot, I likely would have confidently claimed the report was longer than 20 pages but less than 50.

By picking 40 pages, my hope was the attendees who were passionately interested in the critical topic would be more likely to read it. After all, 40 pages implies significant work went into producing it. On the other hand, less interested people might be put off by that length and might have been more motivated by “a little more than 20 pages.” Of course, all of this happened subconsciously in real time.

Being directionally accurate seems to have worked. When I asked the annoyed attendee if he would have read the report if I had described it as five pages long, he admitted he would not have.

Those of you who value precision might have preferred if my description of the report avoided numbers and used words like “long” or “detailed.” While that would be more accurate, I don’t think those words would have compelled people to read it. To me, they don’t tell a story.

Does it matter that I used the directionally accurate 40 pages rather the precise 32 pages? How would you have handled the situation? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

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The Bring Me A Rock Phenomenon http://jonathanbecher.com/2020/08/30/the-bring-me-a-rock-phenomenon/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2020/08/30/the-bring-me-a-rock-phenomenon/#respond Sun, 30 Aug 2020 21:33:27 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=7691 Early in my career, I was subjected to the so-called “bring me a rock” phenomenon and the experience left me with a sense of frustration which has stuck with me ever since. This phenomenon happens when a manager cannot or will not communicate their goals clearly and succinctly. Subordinates repeatedly try to fulfill their manager’s...

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Early in my career, I was subjected to the so-called “bring me a rock” phenomenon and the experience left me with a sense of frustration which has stuck with me ever since.

This phenomenon happens when a manager cannot or will not communicate their goals clearly and succinctly. Subordinates repeatedly try to fulfill their manager’s expectations through multiple attempts of bringing them a rock (i.e., proposal, product, process, etc.). Each time, the rock isn’t quite right – with the manager producing another requirement. Eventually, the manager becomes satisfied or the subordinates wearily give up.

A bring-me-a-rock sequence might look like this:

Boss: I have an important and urgent project for you. Bring me a rock.

Subordinate: <To her/himself> If I ask too many questions, I will appear stupid and not essential. I’ll do some research on rocks to figure out what’s popular right now. After significant work, Tada! Here’s a really interesting rock.

Boss: What’s this? It isn’t the rock I wanted. It’s much too big.

Subordinate: Speculating to him/herself. Aha, this isn’t a rock to prop open a heavy door. More likely it’s for a paperweight. Let’s make sure I deliver a rock with some color in it so it looks good on the boss’ desk. Excitedly hands rock to boss…

Boss: Why is this rock yellowish? Red would have been a much better choice. Bring me a red rock.

Subordinate: I wonder what would happen if I just painted the rock red. That would be fast and economical but it might not fit with our sustainability push. I will get the team to help me find a non-heavy red rock. Two weeks later…

Boss: Hey, this rock is pretty nice. Thank you. But why isn’t it round?

You get the idea. Incomplete requirements from the manager makes the task much harder for the subordinate, leading to a sense of helplessness and frustration. Even if the subordinate eventually produces an approved result, the manager is likely to complain it took too long and was over budget.

In my experience there are three primary reasons for the bring me a rock phenomenon:

  1. The manager is also unsure about the expectations of the task because his/her own management hasn’t cascaded objectives. As such, the manager doesn’t want to risk failing on the task and is intentionally delaying, hoping for more information.
  2. The manager isn’t sure what they are looking for but is hoping to recognize it when they see it. The ill-defined task might be because they have not set up boundary conditions for how employees should operate.
  3. The manager isn’t decisive and, as time goes on, is influenced by new information or conflicting opinions. In this case, we might call it the shiny rock phenomenon.

As a manager, this simplest thing you can do to avoid the bring me a rock phenomenon is to be clear on your expectations. If you aren’t sure what you want, set up the task as an experiment with rapid iterations. That way, it’s clear that the correct outcome isn’t known in advance and no one feels like they failed. Most importantly, if the requirements change after you first request the task, update the people doing the work as soon as possible and explain why the requirements changed.

If you work for a bring-me-a-rock manager, ask as many questions as you can at the outset. Don’t be afraid it will make you look bad; it might actually help your manager better frame the request. It’s possible your questioning might frustrate this kind of manager but they are going to be frustrated by you not delivering what they asked for anyway.

To riff on the old saying, you’re stuck between a red rock and hard place.

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The Feynman Learning Technique http://jonathanbecher.com/2020/08/09/the-feynman-learning-technique/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2020/08/09/the-feynman-learning-technique/#comments Sun, 09 Aug 2020 20:29:05 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=7597 Have you ever had a co-worker or a teacher try to explain something to you and use words that you didn’t really understand? If so, the confusion might be theirs, not yours. The Feynman Learning Technique suggests that, if you can’t adequately explain something to a twelve-year old, you probably don’t really understand it that...

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Have you ever had a co-worker or a teacher try to explain something to you and use words that you didn’t really understand? If so, the confusion might be theirs, not yours. The Feynman Learning Technique suggests that, if you can’t adequately explain something to a twelve-year old, you probably don’t really understand it that well yourself.

Dr. Richard Feynman was a Nobel prize-winning physicist, author of multiple books, and the subject of a movie, a Broadway play and a graphic novel. To those who are less scientific, Feynman’s name might be recognizable from being frequently referenced in the popular TV show The Big Bang Theory. In addition to his groundbreaking research, Feynman was well-regarded for his ability to synthesize and explain scientific information in simple-to understand terms. This earned him the nickname of “The Great Explainer.”

Richard Feyman’s Caltech lectures were legendary. Apparently, Albert Einstein attended Feynman’s first talk as a graduate student. In a video entitled ‘The Greatest Teacher I Never Had’, Bill Gates marveled at how Feynman could explain complex topics in simple and concise language.

Feynman believed the secret to explaining something well was to deeply understand it yourself. The Feynman Learning Technique was based on his own studying techniques while he was a student at Princeton. His four steps were:

  1. Catalog and review everything you know about a specific subject
  2. Try to explain the concept to someone who doesn’t know about it in language a twelve-year old would understand
  3. Identify the gaps in your explanation so you can focus your leaning
  4. Organize and simplify the information to tell a comprehensive story

Feynman argued that all four steps are necessary to ensure that both you understood the topic and could explain it well to someone else. The four step process works well regardless of whether the topic is science, business, or sports. I usually follow this process when writing articles for this blog, creating keynotes, or just trying to learn something new. In my experience:

  1. I write notes on everything I can remember about the topic and do research to fill in the big blanks. I find the process of writing things down helps me remember new information and starts creating connections to other topics.
  2. Regardless of whether I’m going to explain the topic verbally or in writing, I try to eliminate jargon, useless “filler” words, and typical corporate language. I follow my own advice on being simple and clear.
  3. Creating a story serves the dual purpose of forcing me to organize all of the information consistently and providing a hook for my audience to remember it. This step is where I truly learn about a topic because I’m forced to fill in holes in the story.
  4. When I explain the topic in person, I watch peoples’ faces to see which parts are confusing. Either way, I ask for quick feedback – if they have to think too long, my explanation isn’t intuitive. It may be frustrating but the issue is often in my explanation and sometimes in my own understanding.

It’s not uncommon to have to go through the steps of the Feynman Learning Technique multiple times. Each cycle improves my own understanding (aka learning), especially if I have a growth mindset. It also increases the odds the people I’m explaining it to will understand what I’m saying and learn about the topic.

Whenever you have to explain something, you should try the Feynman Learning Technique. Better yet, the next time someone babbles on about a complicated topic, ask them to explain it to you as if you were a twelve-year old. And give them this blog as a handy guide.

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Resiliency Is The Key To Success http://jonathanbecher.com/2020/07/19/resiliency-is-the-key-to-success/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2020/07/19/resiliency-is-the-key-to-success/#comments Sun, 19 Jul 2020 19:00:21 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=7574 “We are made to persist. That’s how we find out who we are.” ― Tobias Wolff Earlier in my career, I preached the Silicon Valley mantra of “fail fast, fail often” as a way of encouraging incumbents to take more risk. I even catalogued motivational quotes about failure. Over time, I realized that failure was...

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“We are made to persist. That’s how we find out who we are.”
Tobias Wolff

Earlier in my career, I preached the Silicon Valley mantra of “fail fast, fail often” as a way of encouraging incumbents to take more risk. I even catalogued motivational quotes about failure. Over time, I realized that failure was not the outcome I was hoping for and it could even be counterproductive to advocate failure.

Instead, I began encouraging people to experiment more often and to be more resilient when things didn’t work out as expected. Experimentation and resiliency are concepts that people are more likely to accept and are easier to incorporate in an existing culture that may have become stagnant. When reinforcing the importance of resiliency, I use examples of famous people who tried, failed, persisted, and later became successful.

Here are four stories where resiliency was the key to success:

Henry Ford’s first automobile company went out of business and he left the second company after only a few months, even though it was named after him. Ford Motor Company would later become one of the world’s largest and most profitable companies.

Marilyn Monroe’s contract with Twentieth Century-Fox was not renewed, as they believed she wasn’t talented enough to be an actress. 60 years after her death many people still regard her as the quintessential American sex symbol.

R.H. Macy had several failed retail businesses, including a NYC Macy’s in 1858. By 1924, Macy’s Herald Square had become the “World’s Largest Store” with more than 1M square feet.

Dr. Seuss’ first book was rejected by 27 publishers and he was about to burn the manuscript when the rights were bought by a classmate. He is now the most popular children’s book author ever.

As good as these are, my favorite story about resiliency comes from Paul Smith’s book ‘Lead with a Story‘. Here’s an abridged version:

At 22, the company he worked for went bankrupt and he lost his job.
At 23, he ran for state legislature in a field of 13 candidates. He came in eighth.
At 24, he borrowed money to start a business. By the end of the year, the business failed and the local sheriff seized his possessions to pay off his debt.
At 25, he ran for state legislature again. This time he won.
At 26, he was engaged to be married. But his fiancée died before the wedding.
At 29, he sought to become the speaker of the state legislature. He was defeated.
At 34, he campaigned for a U.S. congressional seat. He lost.
At 35, he ran for Congress again. This time he won.
At 39, when his term ended, he was out of a job again. There was a one-term limit rule in his party.
At 40, he tried to get a job as commissioner of the General Land Office. He was rejected.
At 45, he was one of the contenders for the VP nomination at his party’s national convention. He lost.
At 49, he ran for the same U.S. Senate seat a second time. And for the second time, he lost.
At 51, after a lifetime of failure and still relatively unknown outside of his home state of Illinois, Abraham Lincoln was elected the sixteenth president of the United States.

Be resilient. Be successful. Be Abraham Lincoln.

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Shining a light on the Spotlight Effect http://jonathanbecher.com/2020/06/28/the-spotlight-effect/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2020/06/28/the-spotlight-effect/#comments Sun, 28 Jun 2020 22:54:19 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=7535 Have you ever done something completely embarrassing and assumed that everyone is staring at you, only to later discover that no one really noticed? The reality is that other people pay much less attention to you than you think. This is called the Spotlight Effect. The spotlight effect is the tendency for people to overestimate...

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Have you ever done something completely embarrassing and assumed that everyone is staring at you, only to later discover that no one really noticed? The reality is that other people pay much less attention to you than you think. This is called the Spotlight Effect.

The spotlight effect is the tendency for people to overestimate both the degree to which they are observed by others and the degree to which others care about the things they do notice about them. This phenomenon was vividly demonstrated in a classic 1999 study in which student participants were asked to wear a bright yellow t-shirt with a large picture of Barry Manilow’s head to an introductory psychology class. The participants predicted that 50% of the other students in the lecture would notice their embarrassing t-shirt but, in fact, only 25% of their classmates actually remembered seeing it.

The researchers recreated the experiment using t-shirts with less embarrassing faces (i.e. Jerry Seinfeld, Martin Luther King, Jr., or Bob Marley) and found the same results.

Students wearing the shirt greatly overestimated the percentage of others who actually remembered it.

The spotlight effect is not limited to visual memory but equally applies to auditory memory. The same researchers divided student participants into groups to discuss “the problem of inner cities in the U.S.” and to draft a policy statement with their recommendation. Afterwards, the participants were asked to write down the five most remarkable comments made during the discussion – either good or bad. As expected by the spotlight effect, participants mentioned their own good and bad comments much more frequently than other people remembered them.

The spotlight effect is to be expected because we interpret every situation based on our own biases and experiences. If we notice something, we assume that everyone else would notice it as well. And, if we interpret it as bad or embarrassing, we assume that others will also. However, everyone else is a product of their own biases and experiences – they are much more likely paying attention to their world and not noticing yours!

So, the next time you think the world is shining a spotlight on a mistake you have made, relax. It is much more likely that no one noticed.

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The Origin of the Phrase “Bring Home the Bacon” http://jonathanbecher.com/2020/06/14/bring-home-the-bacon/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2020/06/14/bring-home-the-bacon/#respond Sun, 14 Jun 2020 19:48:22 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=7520 The phrase “bring home the bacon” is commonly understood to mean to earn money. But where did the phrase come from? The answer might be surprising. Most on-line sources claim the phrase originated in 1104 in a small town in Essex, England. A local Lord and his wife dressed themselves as common folk and asked...

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The phrase “bring home the bacon” is commonly understood to mean to earn money. But where did the phrase come from? The answer might be surprising.

Most on-line sources claim the phrase originated in 1104 in a small town in Essex, England. A local Lord and his wife dressed themselves as common folk and asked the local Prior for a blessing for not arguing after a year of being married. The Prior, impressed by their devotion, gave them a side of bacon (a ‘flitch’). After revealing his true identity, the Lord gave land to the monastery on the condition they awarded flitches to couples who proved they were similarly devoted.

A regular contest was started with contestants coming from far and wide; the winners would bring home the bacon. This contest, called the Dunmow Flitch, still continues every four years. The tradition was certainly well known in England and therefore a plausible origin for the phrase. Chaucer mentioned it in “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” (circa 1395) and there is a documented list of winners from the 1400’s in the British Museum.

However, I prefer another [sports] origin for bring home the bacon.

Joe Gans, Boxing Hall of Fame

On September 3, 1906 Joe Gans won the world lightweight boxing championship in an epic 42-round battle (still the longest fight in modern boxing history). The next day, the Syracuse NY Post-Standard newspaper reported that Gans’ mother had sent him a telegram before the fight which read:

Joe, the eyes of the world are on you. Everybody says you ought to Win. Peter Jackson will tell me the news. Bring home the bacon.”

(Other newspapers reported the story in a similar fashion.) According to a 1906 New York Times article, Gans replied to his mother that he “had not only the bacon, but the gravy.” Apparently, Gans also later sent his mother $6,000 of the $30,000 prize money.

Given the widespread coverage of the fight, within weeks the phrase became commonly-used by sports writers. At first, the references were limited to boxing but later expanded to other sports like horse racing, baseball, and football. Soon, bringing home the bacon became synonymous with winning and making money.

Joe Gans was the first African-American to win a World Boxing Championship, is in the Boxing Hall of Fame, and was perhaps the greatest lightweight boxer of all time. And, although she probably didn’t invent the phrase, Gans’ mother deserves credit for popularizing “bring home the bacon.” Score a knockout for Mrs. Gans.

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Endowed Progress Effect: When Head Starts Are An Illusion http://jonathanbecher.com/2020/05/24/endowed-progress-effect/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2020/05/24/endowed-progress-effect/#respond Sun, 24 May 2020 23:45:47 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=7509 If you want someone to achieve a goal, you should give them a head start – even if that head start is really just an illusion. Loyalty programs are based on the idea that consumers are more likely to repeat purchase if they are given incentives to reach specific goals with well-defined rewards. A classic...

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If you want someone to achieve a goal, you should give them a head start – even if that head start is really just an illusion.

Loyalty programs are based on the idea that consumers are more likely to repeat purchase if they are given incentives to reach specific goals with well-defined rewards. A classic example is the airline industry: consumers often prefer a specific airline in the hopes of earning enough miles for a free flight, even when lower cost or more convenient options are available.

Researchers Nunes and Drèze showed that people who are provided with artificial advancement towards a goal exhibit greater persistence towards reaching the goal. Artificial advancement means giving a head start towards a goal while simultaneously moving the goal away by the same amount. They dubbed this the endowed progress effect.

Credit: @ianbatterbee

Nunes and Drèze demonstrated the endowed progress effect using a loyalty program at a car wash. There were two versions of the loyalty program which stamped a card for every purchase. The first version required 8 stamps to receive a free car wash while the second required 10 stamps but two stamps were filled in a special sign-up promotion. In the first version, only 19% of the members redeemed a free car wash while 34% redeemed in the second. The difference is despite the fact both versions required eight purchases and provided the exact same reward.

The researchers explained this behavior based on the goal gradient effect – people who perceive they are closer to a goal usually exert more effort. In the first version of the loyalty program, people start off 0% towards an 8-stamp goal; in the second, they start off 20% towards a 10-stamp goal. While the level of effort is the same, the head start stamps provide the illusion that the task is incomplete rather than not yet begun.

Nunes and Drèze experimented with variants of the loyalty program showing that the endowed progress effect increased the likelihood people would join a loyalty program, the perceived attractiveness of the program, and peoples’ subjective assessment of whether they would achieve the rewards. There was one caveat: the endowed progress effect disappeared when there was no reason given for the head start. The reason could but completely arbitrary – for example, a special promotion – but a reason for the head start had to be given.

Clearly, anyone designing a loyalty program should always provide a head start towards the goal. The endowed progress effect shows customers will be more loyal. It’s why you get free miles when you sign up for an airline reward program.

You may be tempted to use the endowed program effect for your company’s performance management goals but you shouldn’t. The research shows the effect is limited to task-oriented goals in which the reward is only granted when the entire task is completed. And it would be a bad idea to make your company’s goals all or another. Right?

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Lockdown Lingo http://jonathanbecher.com/2020/05/03/lockdown-lingo/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2020/05/03/lockdown-lingo/#respond Sun, 03 May 2020 19:40:00 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=7483 The shelter-in-place / stay-at-home orders have triggered new words and phrases in our collective vocabularies. Some of them existed before but have become more commonly used: coronavirus, pandemic, and virtual happy hour. But others are newly created to describe our COVID-19 mandated world. They are descriptive portmanteaus which aren’t likely to stay in our vocabularies...

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Lockdown lingo

The shelter-in-place / stay-at-home orders have triggered new words and phrases in our collective vocabularies. Some of them existed before but have become more commonly used: coronavirus, pandemic, and virtual happy hour. But others are newly created to describe our COVID-19 mandated world. They are descriptive portmanteaus which aren’t likely to stay in our vocabularies long-term.

Here are my favorite examples of lockdown lingo:

Quaranteam
The people you are living with make up your ‘quaranteam’. Whether they are family, housemates, or friends, this is the group of people who need to help get you through the pandemic. If you are by yourself, you’re ‘quaransolo’.

Coronacoaster
The psychological rollercoaster you experience during the coronavirus pandemic. One minute you’re loving being at home and binging TV, and the next minute you’re overcome with anxiety. It’s an emotional ‘coronacoaster’.

Coronadose
This is what happens when you overdose on too much media, filled with bad news about coronavirus. If you’re not careful, this can result in a ‘panicdemic’.

Isobeard
Lots of men have decided to stop shaving, even those who normally don’t have beards. These often straggly patches of facial hair are called ‘isobeards’ (isolation + beards).

Maskara
Putting on makeup, especially eyeshadow, before going out in public – even though you’re wearing a face mask.

COVID-10
Not a previous incarnation of the coronavirus, but rather the 10 pounds we’re all gaining from eating too many comfort foods. Perhaps we all misunderstood the instructions to ‘fatten the curve’.

Quarantinis
Cocktails created from whatever ingredients you might have lying around, not just martinis. The alcoholic version of leftover stew. Quarantinis are drunk during ‘locktail hour’ and contribute to COVID-10.

Quarantoned
While most of us seem to be overeating and drinking, there are a wide variety of fitness challenges and home workouts that try to help you become ‘quarantoned’.

Coronials
The next generation of babies conceived or born during coronavirus shelter-in-place. They aren’t Millenials or Gen-Z, but maybe they will be known as Gen-C.

The elephant in the Zoom
A glaring issue during a videoconferencing call that everyone notices but nobody talks about. For example, no one mentioning that a co-worker has a really bad isobeard or a television broadcaster isn’t wearing pants. Or perhaps being Zoom-bombed by a sports mascot (although that might be called ‘the shark in the Zoom’):

Do you have a favorite coronavirus lockdown lingo to add to the list?

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Surprise! 10,000 steps was a marketing ploy http://jonathanbecher.com/2020/04/19/10000-steps-was-a-marketing-ploy/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2020/04/19/10000-steps-was-a-marketing-ploy/#respond Sun, 19 Apr 2020 23:52:26 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=7470 For many years, my routine was a Sunday hike followed by a Sunday blog. For a variety of reasons, both my hiking and blogging have become erratic. After skipping yet another Sunday hike, I was surprised to find that I still had exceeded 10,000 steps per day for the past week. 10,000 is the number...

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For many years, my routine was a Sunday hike followed by a Sunday blog. For a variety of reasons, both my hiking and blogging have become erratic. After skipping yet another Sunday hike, I was surprised to find that I still had exceeded 10,000 steps per day for the past week. 10,000 is the number the World Health Organization recommends, fitness apps urge us to reach, and that has become conventional wisdom.

Surprisingly, there’s little to no science behind 10,000 steps.

Instead, it appears to be the result of good marketing. To capitalize on the popularity of the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games, a Japanese company called Yamasa Clock created a personal-fitness pedometer called the Manpo-kei. The name derives from the Japanese words “man” meaning 10,000, “po” meaning steps, and “kei” meaning system. (Native speakers, please correct me if I’ve gotten this wrong.)

So, why 10,000 steps? It could be simply an easy number to remember. Research found that the average Japanese person took between 3,500 and 5,000 steps per day. Increasing their daily step count to 10,000 would likely decrease risk of heart disease.

However, another theory – and one that appeals to me – is that the number was chosen because the Japanese character for 10,000 looks like a person walking. The easy-to-remember number and the visual reinforcement worked. The pedometer was hugely successful and the 10,000 number is still in use more than 50 years later.

While 10,000 steps is a memorable target, it can be counter-productive. A Duke University study found that people who tracked their steps enjoyed it less, reporting that walking felt like work. A University of Texas at Austin study showed that one hour of exercise was much less beneficial if the rest of the day was spent sitting and sleeping; 10,000 steps would better split up over multiple periods in the day.

In short, one size doesn’t fit all. There is no magic answer as to how many steps you should take every day. The best answer is whatever personally motivates you – and that might be to not even track how many steps you’re taking.

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