Neil Tambe

I'm a Detroiter who happens to enjoy writing, national parks, orange juice, the performing arts, and fanciful socks. More than anything though, I aspire to be a good husband, father, and citizen.

Filtering by Category: Life

The best words (of my life, so far)

 “Good morning.”

“I do.”

 ”Welcome.”

”I forgive you.” 

”I love you.” 

“Om, shanti, shanti, shanti...” 

”You are a very capable person (son).” 

“Sweet dreams.” 

”See you soon.” 

“We’re home.” 

”...amen.” 

 “You make me wanna roll my windows down, and cruise.”

”Kush raho.” 

And for the first time, as of yesterday, “Mum mum mumma.”

These have been some of the best words of my life, so far.  

My take on "How will you measure your life?"

I've been taking a class with Bob Quinn called Transformative Leadership, and I've been reflecting on how I live my life. Here are three observations - two truths and a lie, if you will - that I've been thinking about. Two Truths

Lately, I've been captivated by a question that Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School talks about, "How will you measure your life?"

You should definitely watch Professor Christensen's talk, but this is my take on his question.

In the biggest sense, the largest outcome we impact with our lives is the trajectory of human history. The way I think about this is simple - we can either help humanity move closer toward good (which I think of as God's glory) or we can help it move closer to evil (which I think of as wickedness).

And really, we each have a micro-impact on this very large thing. There are very few people (I'd argue none) on the planet who will ever make an aggregated, measurable impact on the trajectory of human history. That said, I do think that we each influence humanity's trajectory and that impact, however small, does matter in aggregate.

That is this idea's brilliance. By looking at our impact on the trajectory of humanity, something none of us can cause a measurable blip on, we don't have to focus on whether we outperformed somebody else. We are freed from comparing ourselves to others. Rather, we can focus on fully utilizing our own potential. We can put all our efforts into being good people, instead of worrying about being more good than others.

So that's the first truth - the biggest "measurable" in our life is whether we influence the trajectory of humanity toward good or evil. In practice, I ask myself the following question: today, did I move humanity toward good, toward evil, or was it a wash? I try to log more days in the "good" category than the "evil" and "wash" categories.

In any case, that's how I'm starting to measure my life.

But, thinking about measuring your life in terms of the trajectory of humanity is unbelievably impractical on a day-to-day basis. After all, how the heck do you know whether you are inching humanity closer to good or to evil? The short answer is, we can't. There's no way for us to know whether we are spreading good or evil.

Given this practical quandary, I thought about what a good, practical, indicator that is a good proxy for whether I'm influencing humanity toward good or toward evil. After all, if you list out your values, you can look at them every day and reflect on whether you lived them out.

It seems to me that if I choose a strong set of values to live by, and have integrity to them, I feel pretty confident that I'm positively affecting the trajectory of humanity. So more practically, that's what I try to ask myself and practice on a day-to-day basis - whether or not I'm living my values.

To be sure, living my own values is not a trivial matter. It's very hard. In fact, it's probably the single hardest thing to do on a day-to-day basis. But that brings me to the second truth - living your values is the hardest challenge we have every day, but it's also one of the things we have the most control over. As John Steinbeck talks about in East of Eden, we have timshel - we have the choice of conquering our sins (see an excerpt below). We have a choice.

This argument is why I'm starting to think character is the most important thing we can teach. If you do that, I believe, everything else starts falling into place.

A Lie

In this scenario I've created - centered on living our values as the practical proxy of positively influencing the trajectory of humanity, it becomes very disillusioning if you feel like you don't have character or agency. After all, if life comes down to living out your values and you don't feel like you can, then that's the ball game. If you can't live your values, you might as well hide under your bed and give up.

But that brings me to the lie, that we can't change. We can change. We can live our values. We can be less wicked. It's hard, but we can.

Hope (or lack of) is a powerful narrative. If you have hope you can change, and therefore become more good than wicked, and therefore positively impact the trajectory of humanity. If you don't have hope, you don't think you can change and you regress yourself into destructive behavior. To me hope is the belief that we can change into being better than we are.

I think it's a lie to believe that we can't change. Why? Because we do, all the time.

In any case, this is what I've been thinking about over the past few weeks.

----

On timshel, excerpted from East of Eden, pulled from: http://timshel.org/timshel.php

“After two years we felt that we could approach your sixteen verses of the fourth chapter of Genesis. My old gentlemen felt that these words were very important too—‘Thou shalt’ and ‘Do thou.’ And this was the gold from our mining: ‘Thou mayest.’ ‘Thou mayest rule over sin.’ The old gentlemen smiled and nodded and felt the years were well spent. It brought them out of their Chinese shells too, and right now they are studying Greek.”

Samuel said, “It’s a fantastic story. And I’ve tried to follow and maybe I’ve missed somewhere. Why is this word so important?”

Lee’s hand shook as he filled the delicate cups. He drank his down in one gulp. “Don’t you see?” he cried. “The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance. The King James translation makes a promise in ‘Thou shalt,’ meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.’ Don’t you see?”

“Yes, I see. I do see. But you do not believe this is divine law. Why do you feel its importance?”

“Ah!” said Lee. “I’ve wanted to tell you this for a long time. I even anticipated your questions and I am well prepared. Any writing which has influenced the thinking and the lives of innumerable people is important. Now, there are many millions in their sects and churches who feel the order, ‘Do thou,’ and throw their weight into obedience. And there are millions more who feel predestination in ‘Thou shalt.’ Nothing they may do can interfere with what will be. But ‘Thou mayest’! Why, that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win.” Lee’s voice was a chant of triumph.

To whom would your life's work be dedicated?

To Nakul, who in death teaches me every day how to live. If I were to ever write a book of significance, Nakul is who I would dedicate it to. He is my brother, my teacher, and my inspiration.

If you were to write a book of significance - meaning one that you put your heart and soul into - to whom would you dedicate it?

---

A friend from school, Heather, pointed out the dedication in our Professor's text book. The dedication in his textbook is here:

Afuah_Textbook

Afuah_Dedication

Remembering the Airplane Landed

VIENNA, AUSTRIA - I arrived in Vienna yesterday, and had the worst travel day I've ever had, starting with finding my luggage to be lost upon landing in Austria. Over the course of the day, though, I did learn a very important about placing value on the things that really matter. As a bit of context, here's why my day was so difficult:

- My luggage was lost - It took me almost 1.5 hours to find my hostel after getting off the subway - I couldn't check into my hostel until 2pm (I landed at around 10am) - I don't speak a lick of German, so It was very hard to talk with people - I found out late in the day that the following day was a holiday, so I had to make my limited amount of Euros last until I could go to the bank. (I'm trying to avoid ATMs because of the fees) - The internet connection in the hostel was crummy so it was hard to communicate back home and wrap-up the school-related things I needed to do. Beyond that, it was difficult to communicate with the airline about my lost luggage - The lobby of my hostel was smokey - I lost my map, and had to scrape it together with a poorly drawn map in a tourist magazine and maps at bus stops to get back to my hostel - Like a buffoon, I didn't pack my toiletries in my carry-on bag, so all I had was a travel toothbrush - It wasn't worth it to take a shower, because I didn't have clean clothes or a towel - After all this, for dinner I ordered a pizza with anchovies on it, without realizing it. This would've been fine, except as it turns out, I can't stand the taste of anchovies

But I learned a lesson while talking to one of my bunk-mates, an 18 year old Russian girl taking a trip before starting college. She was surprised that I was in fairly good spirits, even though I was in a less-than-ideal situation.

Losing my luggage was out of my control, I told her, so why worry? But as she asked me more questions, I realized the real reason why I wasn't too stressed:

Despite every frustration I had yesterday, my plane still landed safely, and that was the only outcome of the day that truly mattered.

It was an important lesson in life and leadership. You always have to remember to focus on what matters and put your effort toward that. It's easy to get caught up in the small stuff, but you can't let it distract you from what truly matters.

In the case of an airline, it doesn't matter if you're luggage is never lost if you're planes aren't safe. As a husband, it doesn't matter if you can provide your family the money to live lavishly if what they truly need is your love and your time.

Focusing on the outcomes that truly matter and seeing beyond the outcomes that don't is an important lesson. It's also a valuable skill that the greatest leaders I've ever met all possess.

The PhD Topic List

Being the nerd that I am, I have a list in wherever I keep lists that's particularly nerdy. It's titled "PhD Topics." This is the list of long term research and/or entrepreneurship projects that I have at the ready in case I ever have the opportunity to swing for the fences on a cool topic.

Since I have a lot of time to do some thinking and research this summer, I figured I'd share them publicly. Please do steal them, riff on them, or otherwise lift them. All I'd ask is that if you end up pursuing something (though I'm not arrogant enough to think any of these is particularly great), please let me at least holler at you to talk about it and/or convince you to let me join you!

If you have any comments, I'd love to chat about them with you.

Okay, here's the list. I hope it's interesting...it's a window into the sorts of things I think about when nobody's watching:

Creating Effective Narratives
Narratives are hugely important in public life and are critical tools leaders use to convey meaning and facilitate collective action across large portions of the population. How are narratives created in public life? What makes a powerful and effective narrative? It would be interesting to study successful narratives created in public life (e.g., Manifest Destiny, The American Dream, The Space Race, Bush Doctrine) to see what could be learned and theorized about how leaders and the public can successfully seed and shape narratives to motivate collective action.

Applying Talent Strategies to Ecosystems
There are a lot of "talent" frameworks used by consultancies and HR business units on how to think about and develop talent. These frameworks, however, apply to a single organization and how that organizations manages and develops its talent. In public life, however, there seems to be an increasing need to think about "ecosystems" of talent are managed and developed to improve performance. These ecosystems could be municipalities, industries, regions, or even nation-states. How can we apply, adapt, or build talent frameworks to successfully develop and manage talent at the level of ecosystems? For example, if the State of Michigan, Automotive Industry, or United States of America wanted to develop a "talent strategy" for it's constituency, what might it look like? How cool would that be to figure out?

Reimagining Institutions (I) - Rethinking Forms of Government
This one is a really cool / simple, yet powerful thought exercise: if we were to start from scratch with creating a system of government, what would we build? Would it be democracy, or would it be something entirely new?

Reimagining Institutions (II) - Defining Government's Purpose and Scope
What sort of impact is government supposed to have in our lives? The Constitution, the governing document where you would expect to find such direction, is largely silent on the issue - the preamble sort of gets at this (e.g., "In order to form a more perfect union...") but the rest of the document is a framework, more than anything. So, what's the purpose of the US Government, why should it exist? Once we define a purpose for Government, how does that translate into a "scope" of programs and initiatives?

Why Organizations Exist
From the beginning of human history, why have we formed organizations? What are the major innovations in organizational formation (e.g., the social contract, limited liability corporation, currency / markets, 501c (3)s). Why have we needed organizations and how have they evolved? Looking into the future, how is what we need from organizations changing and what will we need organizations to do in the future?

Purpose-driven Organization
This merits its own post (this is one of my summer projects), but what does it look like if you put a clearly defined purpose at the center of why an organization exists, rather than putting shareholder value creation at the center of why an organization exists? How do you build, operate, and improve such organizations? There's so much to this one...it's basically articulating an alternative to hierarchical bureaucracy...which has ruled organizational life for several decades.

Leadership?
In purpose-driven organizations (see above), what does "leadership" look like? Is leadership the construct that's even needed to have high-performing organizations of this type? If not, what instead?

Teamership - http://www.michigandaily.com/content/making-teamership-important-leadership
How do you have high-performing teams, and how do you measure and predict whether teams will be successful?

Orienting Ecosystems
There's a new leadership discipline emerging as more and more organizations work collaboratively to deliver public value - ecosystem leadership. How does a group of disparate partners work together with constituencies to define a purpose and vision for an ecosystem and then create systems to manage and improve that ecosystem's performance. This is another summer project, stay tuned.

Measuring Impact
There are three types of measurement required for all organizations - internal operations metrics, customer feedback/value metrics, and customer impact metrics. How do you do all three effectively and leverage technology to go through the "metrics lifecycle" (defining impact, setting metrics, collecting data, organizing it, analyzing it, and sharing the results)?