Genius in our midst

Two groups of people among us are certifiable geniuses. They make incredible deductions; have stunning insights and mind boggling leaps of intuition.

These gifted ones expand their learning and ours by formulating hypotheses, performing experiments, synthesizing data, and communicating their findings to average people.

The first group are researchers discovering, analyzing and corroborating information from the world and even the universe. The second group are toddlers examining the nooks, crannies, drawers, and toy boxes in their realm of research. In their pursuit of knowledge, the two groups have more in common than you might suppose. Alison Gopnik, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, reported in the journal “Science” a recent study she and others conducted. She said, “Even babies and very young children learn about the world in many of the ways that scientists do. Only when children do experiments we say ’they’re getting into everything!’”

Scientists formulate hypotheses and test them using investigative instruments including microscopes, test tubes and computers. The toddlers use eyes, fingers, and often tongue, and taste buds. Each makes judgments about the value or usefulness of the discovery, and whether or not it is worth his or her continuing interest and acts accordingly.

Each group borrows from the other’s repertory of skills. The child gradually learns the more sophisticated techniques of the adult world. The best adult researchers remember to keep the open mindedness and excitement in discovery they had as a child.

A little childhood curiosity and wonder can go a long way in a creative, intelligent adult mind. Albert Einstein pondered what the universe would look like if he were riding on a light beam. His answer overturned the world of physics, and now helps guide rocket ships to distant planets. That incredible skill of abstract thinking is shared by children. Babies learn that certain sounds identify objects. Grade school children learn that squiggles of lead or ink on a page can carry messages over distance and preserve them through time. Older children and adults learn to program mathematical formulas and algorithms into computer languages that can paint pictures, record motion pictures, and link the world together in the internet.

In human relationships, children’s moral compass seems naturally set at an early age. If they perceive an ethical disconnect, they are quick to say, “That’s not fair.” Adults deliver the same judgments but usually in more words. In the United States Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson and others proclaimed it to be “self evident that all men are created equal.”  They added that power should flow not from the ruler to the people, but just the opposite. People are “…endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” The people then grant such rights as they choose to their government. The result of that “fair” line of thinking is the favored land we are privileged to live in.

Thank heaven for the truly brilliant minds among us—the old and the young. Average folks like me who are neither brilliant researchers nor children can learn much from both of them.

All that glitters is not goals

Hold on Mom and apple pie, you could be next. One of the most hallowed articles of faith in the personal effectiveness manual is being sliced onto the specimen glass and slid under the microscope. The heretical question is being whispered, “Are goals the only way to make progress?” That is akin to saying, “Is breathing the only way to stay alive” in the minds of most personal improvement gurus.

Few people are ready to throw out the goal baby with the bath water, but some are questioning the approach of throwing the baby into the ocean and calling, “Keep your mental focus on a beach, and you will be fine.”

Some experts are pointing to a darker side of goals.  Just as a hammer can be used to drive a nail or turn your thumb nail into a throbbing black olive, a goal can move you forward, spin your wheels, or send you into a dead end detour.

One potential problem with goals is that we confuse making them with doing them.  Mark Twain said of the cigar that he was attached to (often literally), “It’s easy to quit smoking.  I’ve quit at least a hundred times.”

As a young teenager (teenagers come in many stages of young not necessarily correlated to their number of birthdays)  I read an advertisement proclaiming that playing piano could guarantee being invited to parties, meeting cute girls, boosting your IQ and athletic prowess, clearing up your complexion (OK I made that one up). They had me at “cute girls.”  I was sold. I badgered my mother until she caught the vision, or at least her vision which was me on stage at the keyboard in Carnegie Hall.  My vision was me the life of a party full of future Miss Americas.

Alas neither vision was to be realized.  The magazine ad never mentioned the deal breaker in the promise—practice. I should have known there was a catch to it.  No, what I should have known was a goal without a commitment is a pipe-dream.

A goal should encompass what you will to do to attain it.  The goal should also include what you will not do. You have only so much time and energy, and doing things toward your goal may involve leaving out other things.

Another challenge in using goals is that they are sometimes like computers and prayer. They may give you exactly what you ask for. The financial aid department of a large-university set as their goal to help students get financial aid as quickly and efficiently as possible. They succeeded. The students were borrowing so much money that they were graduating with a future flattening load of debt. The financial office restructured their goal into helping students handle their financial affairs wisely. That was a much better service to their clientele. As the saying goes, “Be careful what you pray for (or set a goal for).  You just might get it.”

After all these disclaimers however, nobody has found a better way to achieve the things we want to accomplish. We are after all goal-driven creatures. Look at babies. (Who can help but look at babies?) They babble, and goo, and cry until people begin to understand and give them what they want, which was their goal in the first place. Toddlers stagger and fall, get up and stagger again until one day they are running, jumping and shooting basketballs, and spinning pirouettes. Babies are goals on wheels. Almost all of us start out that way. It’s only later that obstructions such as embarrassment, laziness, and peer pressure get in the way of our natural born drive to accomplish and move forward.

So I suggest, set a goal to make a goal and see what happens.

Going After (and sometimes getting) a Job

Somewhere in this great land, deep down in a long cave, outside the range of even Google maps there may be a person who doesn’t  know someone who has lost his or her job during this economic downturn.  He himself may have lost his job.  That’s why he’s down in the cave.  But for most of us going underground is not the first option. There are little considerations like roof over head, food on table and bills to pay.

The experts offer several techniques that can help such as:

  1. Try to point yourself toward work that interests you. You and your employer or customers will both be happier if you enjoy your work.
  2. Network every direction you can. Ask family friends, organizations you may belong to, angels, and any influential ancestors who have passed to the other side of the veil to keep an eye out for you.
  3. Look for mentors who can not only instruct you, but also give you a lift up.
  4. When you get an interview, look at it from your potential employer’s point of view. What can you bring him or her that will improve their business, and maybe their life?
  5. Live as good a life as you are able, so that you can be as worthy as possible to receive the help you need.

As I look back at the jobs I have been fortunate enough to receive, I didn’t know these principles. But I stumbled into using some of them. As the country saying goes, “Even a blind pig sometimes roots up an acorn.”  Looking back, mentors and boosters have been important in my job searches.

My first mentor was my older brother Gordon.  He got an adventurous summer job, in the pine forests of the Idaho panhandle. The next year he encouraged me to join him. Part of the summer we fought forest fires. This was big man stuff for a small town boy.  The rest of the job was more hard hiking than glamorous, but I made pretty good money for a high school sophomore, and gathered a well spring of stories to impress my friends back home.

I loved cars, and wanted to work in a service station or garage so in my next summer job I focused on Standard Stations. They were the Cadillac of service stations back then (when that was still a synonym for top of the line). I had no mentor, so I visited the nearest Standard which was in Provo. The manager said, “No openings this summer.”

Showing my authentic interest in helping his business, I said, “In case an opening comes up, how can I prepare to qualify for it?”

He reached under the counter and hefted up what looked to me like the Encyclopedia Britannica in one volume. “This is our business Bible,” he announced. “Memorize what’s in here, and you’ll have a step ahead of the competition, but I’m not promising anything.”

I said, “Where can I get a copy.”

“You can’t.”

“Can I come and read yours?”

He was surprised, but said, “All right. Sometime when you’re in town drop in and read it.”  I made it my business to drive the 20 miles on my bald tires many Saturdays that winter and spring. If nothing else, he would remember my face.  But summer came, and no job. Then a few days later I got the call.

“You still want to work for Standard?”

“Sure do.”

“Be in Salt Lake in an hour.”

“Come on bald tires, get another 65 miles out of those bare threads,” I pleaded. They hung on for me, and even lasted a couple hundred more when I drove to the city they assigned me to.

The big money in our valley was working for Geneva Steel. The pay was good, so the competition was fierce, especially for summer work. My first year out of high school, I hardly got in the door to fill out an application. I’m sure they dropped it into the round file where the janitor could properly attend to it.

But the next year another mentor came through for me. That year I made the Brigham Young University basketball team. The next summer my resume also included a recommendation from Stan Watts the head coach, who was an influential voice in that college town. I breezed past the gatekeepers and onto the payroll.

The Three D’s had an equal number of mentors. Chris Poulos, Jane Thompson, and Karl Engemann. Janie coached us through our college days. Karl, was an executive with Capitol Records one of the three big recording companies in America then. He helped us get signed with that prestigious label. Chris, our manager got us gigs that kept food on our tables.

As for pleasing the boss on our job, we didn’t have one. We had thousands. Every show was a new and exciting challenge to entertain, educate, and hopefully inspire our audience.  To get and keep this job meant working our hearts out to serve the people who honored us with their time and ticket money. It was a privilege, and a joyful way to make a living.

One of my most important job hunting adventures began when Dick Davis and I decided it was time to change career paths. We had had a great run as The Three D’s, then The D’s after Denis Sorenson left the group. Our families were getting bigger and more numerous, however, and the entertainment business was getting tougher. It seemed the right time to shift our focus.

I had no mentor to guide me, so I looked for work I could get excited about. I have been intrigued with radio since I was a kid curled up on the kitchen counter next to our old Philco table top squawk box. With writing and radio you can create worlds in the theater of the mind.  So I set out to hire me a radio station. I hunted down a number of stations. I found one that had a big need although the owner, a Chicago lawyer, didn’t admit it. They were not last in their market. They were outside the market in a homeless shelter for radio stations living on a feeble dribble of advertising life support.

Armed with this knowledge I called the Chicago lawyer. “No radio experience, no job,” he told me bluntly.

How could I make myself a good investment to him?  I did a little research. I called again, “You’re right. I have little experience in radio per se, but I have been a professional entertainer for sixteen years, and I have a degree in journalism. And I can tell you what I am better than. I am better than nothing, and that’s what you’ve got right now.  Nobody is on the street selling your station.  I will be on the street.”

“How much will it cost me?”  I gave him a figure. (Tip: In my enthusiasm I pitched it too low.)  But he bought the proposal.  There were lots of holes to be filled in that station.  I went from account executive to sales manager, to program director and on-air personality in a short time.  It was a fun ride, but with our big family, I was holding down a couple of other jobs, and freelance writing to put food on our table.  I found myself trying to walk through doors that hadn’t been opened.

Dale Valentine, my brother-in-law mentored me into freelance script writing that grew into clients including the Osmonds, The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and a couple of short patriotic speeches for United States presidents.

Meantime, another mentor appeared, Stanley Peterson. The Three D’s had worked hard to help the success of his adult education programs in California. He remembered, and was now dean of Continuing Education at Brigham Young University. He offered me the job that allowed my battered nose to heal from sleep walking into doors.

Of course there were times when I didn’t get the job, or the advertising account, or the million seller record, or the television pilot script I went for, but I’m only giving the good stuff here hoping it will be encouraging to those who need it.

Being between jobs is tough sledding. It’s also a good time to remember that people, some of whom you may not even be aware of, are cheering and praying for you. In the words of the animals in Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book, “Good hunting.”