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Leadership and the Environment podcast episode #4: My talk, recorded live, June 19, 2017

posted by Joshua on June 21, 2017 in Audio, Awareness, Choosing/Decision-Making, Leadership, Nature
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Leadership And The Environment Title Slide

Still a work in progress, below is my latest keynote on Leadership and the Environment.

I gave it to a live audience, June 19, 2017. Sorry, no video.

Since it’s still a work in progress, so I welcome suggestions for improvements.

Stop congratulating me for not polluting: the Chris Rock perspective [video]

posted by Joshua on June 20, 2017 in Nature
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People keep congratulating me when they learn it takes me six months to accumulate a load of landfill garbage.

It’s still pollution. Just because people produce a lot more garbage doesn’t make mine any less so. Congratulating someone for accumulating garbage slowly is like congratulating them for kicking a puppy lightly. Kicking a puppy doesn’t deserve congratulations at all.

It reminds me of this Chris Rock bit. He curses says a lot of curses and racial epithets, so only watch if you can handle them. It’s very funny, and illustrates another situation where congratulations are not in order.

Raise your expectations, people!

Stop polluting.

I can’t eat all the delicious, healthy food that costs almost nothing fast enough to keep up this spring. And losing fat and gaining muscle.

posted by Joshua on June 19, 2017 in Nature
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I’ve started calling my diet unamerican.

What I eat is

  • Delicious
  • Convenient
  • Cheap
  • Nutritious
  • Local
  • Community building (many guests come over instead of meeting at bars and restaurants)
  • Non-polluting
  • Seasonal
  • Home made

This seems the opposite of how most Americans eat. They go out, spend a lot on stuff reheated after being manufactured in a factory.

This spring, I can’t keep up with how much food I’m getting for so little money, especially with free add-ons I can’t say no to, like the windowsill garden that is exploding with greens and flavor, more than I expected.

My Community Supported Agriculture (aka farm share) weekly pickup

After my first farm share pick up, my fridge was full. I mean completely full. I volunteered that evening so got the leftovers from people who didn’t show up, which included

  • Lettuce, maybe five or six heads
  • Radishes, dozens, in packs of maybe a dozen each
  • Cabbage, maybe five or six heads
  • Bok choy, maybe five or six heads
  • Rhubarb, dozens of stalks
  • Mushrooms, maybe a pound
  • More, but I forget what

I expected a certain amount, but volunteering led to more than double my expectations.

I can’t believe people call eating healthy expensive. I mean, I can because I used to think it might be, except that I didn’t know because I didn’t eat this healthy. In my case, I was wrong. I didn’t know what I was talking about.

Healthy food isn’t expensive. Ignorance of how to shop, prepare, and eat it is.

I think others look at food packaging and believe the packaging that what’s in it is healthy. One, it’s not, not compared to the list above. Two, it’s more expensive, less filling, and less nutritious per calorie.

You can’t beat lots and lots green, leafy vegetables and experience preparing them into mouth-wateringly delicious meals. In my case, that means prepared with lentils, split peas, or other legumes, plus nutritional yeast, herbs, and spices, in the pressure cooker.

What I already had

That added to what I already had, which included

  • Collard greens, several pounds
  • Berries, from local trees
  • Split pea soup
  • Cherries
  • Habaneros

I forget what else. The collard greens were three dollars for several meals worth. Three dollars! For what looks like enough to feed a brontosaurus!

And it’s delicious in my famous vegetable stews. It’s also delicious in salads, as I’ve learned through experiment.

My windowsill garden

Meanwhile, my windowsill garden is growing faster than I can eat from it, including

  • Spicy greens like arugula and mustard greens
  • Mint
  • Basil, about ten plants that people didn’t pick up from the farm share

I’m growing a fig tree from a sapling my sister gave me from her tree. It’s less than a foot tall, so no fruit from it yet.

Eating it all

Eating it all is nearly impossible. I’m inviting people over as much as I have time for to help me eat it. Everyone describes it as surprisingly delicious.

I’m eating to stuffed nearly every meal. I doubt I spend one hundred dollars a week on food.

I’m still losing fat and gaining muscle.

As best I can tell, the ratio of fiber, protein, and other nutrition to calories is low. I have to remind myself to eat enough nuts to make sure I’m getting some fat in my diet. There’s other stuff I didn’t mention, like potatoes, spices, herbs, vinegar, nutritional yeast, and other things that stay in the cupboard longer so I don’t notice them as much.

Non-judgmental Ethics Sunday: Should I Report the Biased Remarks of a Campus Cop?

posted by Joshua on June 18, 2017 in Ethicist, Nonjudgment
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Continuing my series of responses to the New York Times’, The Ethicist, without imposing values, here is my take on today’s post, “Should I Report the Biased Remarks of a Campus Cop?

I am a graduate student at a prestigious university in the rural United States. On a recent evening, I found myself locked out of my campus office after the administrative staff in the building had left for the day. Sheepishly, I called the campus police for help, and soon after, an officer — a white man, probably in his 60s — showed up with the master keys. Because I felt bad about using police resources for such a silly oversight, I was apologetic and very friendly. He opened the door and then asked for two forms of identification, just for the purposes of procedure.

A little bit about my background: Though I am an international student on a student visa, I’ve spent enough time in the United States to have an accent that is barely perceptible. I also happen to be light-skinned (someone who might check “white Hispanic” in a survey) and have been told that I dress and carry myself like an upper-middle-class white American. In other words, problematic as it might be, I can pass as white. I realize the privilege this carries in my encounters with law enforcement. (I was once pulled over for running three red lights in a row, and upon hearing my explanation, the officer let me go without even a warning.)

On the evening in question, it was no different: The campus policeman opened the door before checking my ID. I made conversation, talking about the terrible state of the building, and he commented on the terrible state of the university. He criticized the university’s recent decision to open a campus in a nearby city, which took much-needed jobs and resources from the area. He remarked on how long my name was (as a Latin American, I use both my father and mother’s names) and asked how to pronounce it. I said I was from South America and explained how the names worked. When he replied by asking me if I was going to stay in the country after graduation, I suspected where the conversation might go. I answered that I wasn’t sure, but that if there was one place I would stay, it would be this little town because it is such a lovely community. He proceeded to tell me that this place wasn’t what it used to be — that you could not just say what you thought anymore. I nodded and smiled uncomfortably. He then said it was outrageous that the university was going to put body cameras on campus police officers; it would keep him from doing his job, he said, because he would not be able to have honest conversations with people. Reluctantly, I nodded again. Then he said that he used to work for the local Police Department and that he knew the campus well and how much things had changed. “There used to be stabbings and rapes every night in the dorms,” he assured me. Thinking about recent accusations of rape and campus statistics nationwide, I replied that there were still a lot of rapes. At that point, he said that 80 percent of rape accusations now were “just to get attention” and that the real problem was that “fake accusations” made it worse for the “real ones.” He concluded, “Women don’t like to hear it, but that is true.” I replied, “Including this woman.” Recognizing that we were alone in the building and that, police officer or not, this man had a gun, I decided not to pursue it and was grateful when his phone rang and he finally left.

Though I don’t think of myself as a victim of his bias, I am torn about whether I should do something with the knowledge that a member of the campus police thinks and says these things. I thought about filing a report with the university office that documents bias, which might lead him to be asked to go through some training, but that seems exactly the kind of thing someone like him would resent (he told me how great his son, who is a police officer in Virginia, had it, because he didn’t have to go to any training). Not only do I feel that if he were confronted by an administrator, he would know it was me, but also that it might not help show him the effect of his beliefs. I thought about inviting him out for a coffee and having an honest conversation, but my boyfriend thinks that is silly. Yet given that I benefit so greatly from the unfair privilege of passing as white, I feel that doing nothing leaves others who are more visibly members of minorities, as well as women, at risk, and that seems irresponsible. What to do? Name Withheld

My response: What could a white man have done, if anything, that wouldn’t raise your suspicions?

Recognizing that we were alone in the building and that, police officer or not, this man had a gun” I’m not sure what you’re insinuating, but I don’t imagine you’d say the same about a woman, yet a gun would make her as strong relative to you. Do you consider a man’s mere presence threatening? What do you think about men?

I don’t understand what you meant by all your nodding being reluctant. You talk about bias being something that can make someone a victim, but seem to treat people’s skin color and sex as defining them and how people treat them, which doesn’t sound like treating everyone equally.

He proceeded to tell me that this place wasn’t what it used to be — that you could not just say what you thought anymore.” It sounds like the system where you are gives you ample resources to silence him—that is, that you have more political power than he does.

The New York Times response:

This police officer clearly has attitudes — and dubious beliefs — that could make him respond unsympathetically to the victim of a rape crime. But there’s more going on in your account than this. You talk about “passing” as white and about your responsibility to visible minorities (a commendable sentiment), and you evoke a sense of free-floating bias. Still, you describe nothing that confirms your conclusion that the officer would treat minorities unfairly. When he learned you were a Latin American, you report no sudden chill; what ensued was a conversation about naming customs.

Demographics aside, what do you really know about him? Maybe he goes home to an African-American wife and a couple of mixed-race kids. When you say you “suspected where the conversation might go” after you talked about coming from Latin America, you were going with your stereotypes about middle-aged, rural, white, working-class men. And while a guy with a gun can be scary, you don’t appear to have grounds for supposing you were in danger when you disagreed with him about rape statistics. Your boyfriend is surely right about inviting the fellow out for a coffee: Given your preconceptions (and, perhaps, your air of class privilege), the officer could well experience your attempt to correct him as more condescending than enlightening.

What to do? You’d like police officers on your campus to have sensible, informed views about rape and to recognize the importance of objective records of police-civilian interactions. One option you have is to contact the Title IX coordinator on your campus. Tell the coordinator that you’re not making a formal complaint but that you have reason to think that campus police officers would benefit from more education on sexual assault (and a discussion about the advantages of objective records of police-civilian interactions). Suggest that she bring this up with the campus police chief. Explain why you don’t want the chief to let the officers know that this started with a specific report from a student. While your officer would doubtless resent a special focus on him, proper training for him and his colleagues might improve campus policing a bit.

Why I turned down nearly $10,000 to teach for an Ivy League school for a week in Shanghai

posted by Joshua on June 17, 2017 in Awareness, Choosing/Decision-Making, Freedom, Leadership, Nature
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Columbia University offered me nearly $10,000 to fly to Shanghai to teach an entrepreneurship class, block-week style, meaning a semester in a week, 9-5 each day. I’ve taught that way before and got great results.

I love teaching entrepreneurship. I’m not bragging to say that my reviews say I’m exceptional at it.

I love my alma mater, Columbia, and as an adjunct professor, experience teaching at Ivy League schools helps my career.

I had developed the relationships with the department that offered me to teach with them for years.

I had worked on making this opportunity happen for years and could expect more offers if I did well.

I like making $10,000 doing what I love.

I loved living in Shanghai for a year in 2011-12. I miss my friends in China. I would love to take short trips in Asia after the week.

I love Chinese food in China.

I had the time on my schedule to go.

I could go on, but the point is I had a lot of reasons to accept.

Instead I declined.

Why decline a lot of money to do what you love?

Before continuing, read “I Just Gave Up $4000 Per Month to Keep My Freedom of Speech,” the first post I read in the Mr. Money Mustache blog (which I discovered through a post on Hacker News), which I’ve read ever since.

For him, what looked like giving up money at first was actually keeping his freedom to say what he wanted. If all you see is the money, you don’t see the point.

If all you see about flying is the parts you like, you don’t see the point. If you look at only the good parts of anything, anything is good.

A few years ago, watching this lecture, Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air at Harvard with Cambridge University’s David Mackay, which I highly recommend, I learned that flying across the Atlantic and back polluted about what a year of driving did.

I thought living in New York City without a car meant I polluted a lot less than I was. I didn’t realize how much flying polluted. Looking back, I realize I suspected flying polluted more than I would have felt comfortable with and purposefully didn’t look up the numbers.

In other words, I purposefully kept myself ignorant. I lowered my self-awareness. I’ve never heard anyone suggest lowering self-awareness improved your life.

Learning the numbers meant I could never blissfully ignorantly fly without taking into account my externalities. What I do affects others. I live in a world polluted by people before me. I don’t like the pollution and global warming they left me with and I don’t want to do the same to others.

Responsibility, accountability, empathy, and compassion

As a child I avoided responsibility and accountability. I no longer say “It wasn’t my fault” or “It wasn’t me.” Contrary to what I would have expected as a child, I’ve found that responsibility and accountability improve my life—mainly by improving my emotional well-being and my relationships.

People can trust you more when you’re responsible and accountable. Taking responsibility, enables you to act to improve problems. Accountability motivates you. Figuring out whom to be responsible and accountable to leads you to develop empathy and compassion, looking at the world beyond your own limited perspective.

Isn’t expanding your horizon the point of travel?

Doesn’t reinforcing ignorance undo the point of travel?

Since learning Mackay’s perspective, I’ve since also come to visualize how much flying pollutes in tons of CO2 compared to what the IPCC recommends for each person to keep global warming below 2C. In particular, here are the CO2 emission flying round trip between New York and Shanghai per person, not per flight.

New York Shanghai coach

CO2 emissions per person for a round trip flight between New York and Shanghai, flying coach

That’s for coach: nearly 2.5 times the emissions the IPCC suggests a person should produce per year in just the flying. I looked up the IPCC 2014 report. It recommend 1–2 tons so the graph above shows the upper end of their limit. So it’s nearly 5 times the lower end.

First class would be more since fewer first-class seats fit in a plane:

New York Shanghai first class

CO2 emissions per person for a round trip flight between New York and Shanghai, flying first class

How can you criticize someone for pulling out of the Paris Accords if you did the same?

If you’ve flown across the Atlantic or farther, you’ve gone over the Paris Accords. How can you criticize others for doing what you did?

A better life polluting less

I know the value of $10,000, the value of visiting Shanghai, and the value of everything I declined. I chose something I value more.

If you like something in your life and you choose something you like more over it, that’s nearly the definition of improving your life.

If your first reaction to not flying was to associate it with sacrifice and deprivation, I recommend rereading I Just Gave Up $4000 Per Month to Keep My Freedom of Speech, asking yourself if he sounds like he’s sacrificing or depriving himself. On the contrary, he sounds more happy for living by his values when tested.

In my mind, I didn’t choose to give up the money. I chose to embrace living by my values. Before my experiment of a year without flying, I would have seen not flying as deprivation and sacrifice, but my experience taught me that my happiness, joy, adventure, cultural exploration, and so on didn’t depend on flying. I improved my life more by staying in one place than by traveling.

If you haven’t deliberately tried a year without flying, you haven’t had the experience to learn from.

However you see the situation, from Mr. Money Mustache’s perspective he chose freedom. What price do you have for your freedom?

I’ve put it this way lately:

How much would someone have to pay you to vote against your conscience?

For example, slavery was once the law in the U.S., so

How much would someone have to pay you to vote to reinstate slavery?

or, closer to modern times,

How much would someone have to pay you to vote for Trump or Clinton, whichever you didn’t vote for last time?

I suspect you answered something like, “There isn’t enough money in the world.”

That’s how I feel now about flying. Well, I expect I’ll fly again some time, but only after seriously considering my effects on others.

However you see the situation, from my perspective, I’m acting with responsibility, accountability, empathy, and compassion, all things that have improved my life. For that matter, in the 14 months or so since I started my 365 days without flying, I’ve learned to create more joy, happiness, adventure, cultural exchange, and so on by staying here.

Mr. Money Mustache, who wrote I Just Gave Up $4000 Per Month to Keep My Freedom of Speech, sounds like he improved his life more keeping his freedom than he would have with the money.

I have no doubt I will improve my life more by staying here.

I’m living better, by my values, than ever, and my year-and-counting without flying contributed as much as anything to that improvement, decoupling my emotional well-being from the ignorant craving I succumbed to before, and creating more reward here.

Personal growth happens through overcoming struggle. When you look back after, you’re glad you did.

Other people who didn’t fly

Here are some other people who didn’t fly:

Plato, Aristotle, Buddha, Confucius, Jesus, Muhammad, Joan of Arc, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Cleopatra, Isaac Newton, William Shakespeare, …

Get the picture? They lived pretty good lives by most people’s standards.

I can too. It’s what I’ve chosen to do, all the more so for this choice.

A simple, brazen way to make money in America that works

posted by Joshua on June 16, 2017 in Entrepreneurship
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Here is a simple, brazen way to make money in America that works.

Find something that makes people feel good but is unhealthy or makes their life worse and market it as healthy.

It works:

  • Candies marketed as health food
  • Sugary things in general
  • Restaurants in general
  • Olive oil
  • Things marked “recyclable”
  • Self-indulgent things
  • Shopping unnecessarily
  • Supplements
  • SUVs

Things like that. It makes us complacent and entitled.

Less Talk More Action: The podcast

posted by Joshua on June 15, 2017 in Audio, Leadership
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Erin O’Brien hosts the Less Talk More Action podcast. She just released her interview of me. I recommend listening!

As Erin describes it,

“Less Talk. More Action” is a podcast with a twist. Instead of a talkfest, it’s an action-orientated podcast … you walk away with something tangible and implementable to improve your business (rather than just feel-good inspiration).

That’s accurate. It’s the only podcast I’ve been on that takes time for you, the listener, to practice what the podcast talks about it. You don’t just listen. You act—the most effective way to learn.

In other words, you can improve yourself with this podcast.


From the show notes:

Joshua Spodek is a leadership expert. He’s author of the bestselling Leadership Step by Step, and has been labelled by NBC as an “astrophysicist turned new media whiz”.

In this podcast, Josh shares a personal story of a manager who he didn’t initially like (but who earned his respect). He also talks about why you don’t find TED talks about how to play the piano (and what that’s got to do with his leadership book).

See that blank space in the audio recording? That’s 5 mins of silence where Josh leads us in the 5 Minute Action Challenge (so have pen and paper ready!)

Want to sample one of the Leadership Step by Step exercises? Get your copy here:

From Erin’s online description of herself:

The two words that appear most frequently on my workshop evaluations?

— Interactive — Engaging —

With 14 years experience as a facilitator, coach and consultant, I have presented to over 4000 people. 99.7% of workshop participants at The University of Sydney agree to “The teaching in this workshop helped me learn effectively”.

Currently wearing two hats, I am a:

(1) facilitator with two training organisations, The Frank Team and ABCN (Australian Business and Communities Network). Clients include UTS, Macquarie University, Tertiary Access Group, Ernst & Young and KPMG, running workshops in leadership, organisational development and engagement.

(2) self-employed consultant to online business owners (helping them run better workshops and courses so their customers don’t feel bored or overwhelmed)

My other secret weapon? I have spent the past 7 years helping 900 people to conquer procrastination and develop stronger time management skills. There’s nothing I enjoy more than sinking my teeth into a good project management system, always with the emphasis on “How can we make this more user-friendly?” There’s no point implementing a system that brings someone more stress!