The Efficient Engineer

That’s the name of an engineering youtube channel. On the channel, there are numerous videos outlining complex engineering concepts. The production quality on these are top notch. For any of these videos, I’m not sure there is a reason for someone to make another version. If they want to add an experiment, or they want to do a livestream to answer questions, it makes sense, but the quality of these videos is so high it makes more sense to share them than to reproduce your own video.

This is the essence of the world we now live in.

What can you do that you can produce a quality so high that rather than competing against it, another person would choose to endorse, sell, or market what you have on offer?

Competition can only push so far until the pinnacle is reached. After that, it’s time to add on the next level of complexity and move forward by building something even bigger of which, that previous item was only a small component.

I highly recommend checking The Efficient Engineer youtube channel out if you are looking to learn more about engineering.

Is it worth doing if it doesn’t get likes?

I’ve seen many people post things on LinkedIn that are useful that don’t get likes. After a while, they stop doing them. So, is it worth doing if it doesn’t get likes?

For me the answer is obvious, likes are a bad metric. The presence of them certainly means you are doing something right to get attention, but the absence of them doesn’t mean people are necessarily not seeing you, especially if your work isn’t for the masses.

The percentage of people that click like for any post are tiny compared to the number of people whose feed a certain post is shown in. So, if you are starting with a niche expertise, you already are at a massive disadvantage for seeing the likes rack up. However, if 30 of the right people are seeing your work daily, but aren’t in the habit of clicking that button, it clearly may feel like what you are doing isn’t working. You aren’t getting the quick, measurable feedback you expect. However, this is the way the world was for all of history until the last couple of decades!

Most of the successful people you know today that became so before the social media age, shipped work for years not knowing if it’s working. If you serve the masses these days, and you aren’t getting feedback, then I would be concerned because big markets require big attention and that should equal massive engagement. In smaller, niche areas, this isn’t true. The old model of shipping work for years before knowing if it is working is still the model.

Here’s a secret: many people get discouraged by not understanding what you just read. If you do understand it, you have a massive advantage in doing your work, maintaining motivation, and waiting for years to get the positive results that you know you are achieving even if it’s not getting daily likes to let you know you’re on the right path.

Priming the audience

Simon Sinek is preaching to an audience to demand passion at work. That creates demand for him at a company that doesn’t know how to deliver passion to their workers when their workers are pressuring management for more.

Often times, we don’t prime the audience enough. Doing this, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Is people wanting work to be a better place a bad thing? I don’t think so.

However, it’s often that the status quo comes from acceptance on both sides. If you are someone who knows that things can be better, then priming the audience can create the proper tension for the action and growth to take place.

This isn’t a simple thing today. People like Simon Sinek have taken years to grow their following. They have built a voice. They have people waiting to listen to them that allows them to prime the audience.

If you have an audience and a change that you want to create, calling one side of the equation to action is an opportunity for you.

How to think about where you belong in a career.

If you look to a long-standing organization, the people who built it decades ago, aren’t the same type of people who run it today. The way people’s brains are wired, and the abilities of people aren’t commodities. They are highly differentiated. The people you need to create something new are different then the people you need to run something for decades.

The people you need to build something new generally have the following characteristics:

  • High curiosity
  • Diverse set of skills
  • Resourcefulness
  • Results-driven

The people you need to run something for decades generally look more like this:

  • High focus
  • Specialist set of skills
  • Comfortable with routine
  • Procedural-based

I’m not comfortable with too much routine/task-based work. Obviously, everyone has to do some of it, but the roles I’ve had where that was primary to the work, I was miserable. It took trying different things to open my eyes to it. People aren’t machines. In order to achieve your maximum effectiveness, you need to know where you can be effective and how to put yourself in a position that doesn’t make you miserable while doing it. Some experimentation is necessary to figure this out about yourself.

Our brain iterations.

In some ways, our brain works like a computer. The brain has multiple programming loops that it iterates through, but often times we get stuck in a certain loops.

The loops that I see from outer most to inner most are:

  • self
  • vision
  • goals
  • tasks

The most inner loop is iterating through tasks until complete, then iterating to the next goal and doing those tasks, then when all those goals are completed the brain next iterates vision(s) with a new set of goals and each of those having their own tasks. The final outer loop iterates the components of the self. The components of self I see are the same as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Often times we don’t realize we are inside of a loop, completing task towards a goal without stepping back and thinking about the loop above the one we are in. Is this goal worth achieving? Does it align with the vision? And then stepping out of that a level higher, does it achieve my needs and sense of self. These are things that we often learn to be better as we get older. When we are young, there may not even be a sense of self, and as a result, no visions or goals because everything we are doing is a result of being told to do it.

These loops can explain a significant amount about how we feel when not conscious of them. When you are in a funk for an extended period of time, it’s best to think through these items:

  • Where have I been operating on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and am I ready to move to a different rung?
  • How do the visions for my life align with my needs and sense of self? As an example, getting even more fit or advancing your career further won’t do much if you are missing companionship in every aspect of your life.
  • Does achieving my goals actually achieve my vision? For example, if you want to make more money to buy a house. Your work gives you goals to achieve and you think that if you achieve them you’ll get a raise, yet you achieve the goals, but that doesn’t result in work giving you a raise. There was an aspect that was out of your control, and you didn’t set your goals correctly.
  • Similar to the goals achieving the vision, check in that the tasks achieve the goal.

If you are working hard and getting nowhere, it’s worth revisiting what loop you are stuck in and take a broader perspective.

One way to overcome distraction while trying to learn.

When you are struggling to learn something, it’s likely you need the most distraction-free environment possible. Could you imagine if while at school, deeply engaged in topics you enjoyed learning about, there were commercials? Wouldn’t that break the focus, interrupt your thought and make it harder to continue?

This is now a real-life problem with YouTube. Many people are turning to free videos online at YouTube for their learning, which is great for a documentary, entertainment-flavored learning style. It’s not great for calculus. It’s not great for physics. It’s not great for learning a new piece of software.

Yet, YouTube is the free alternative. Free makes it popular.

Another alternative is a paid for option. One where the education doesn’t need to be paid for by the your distraction from it. However, this requires commitment. It requires investment. The only real question is, “Does it payoff?”

For the right topics, the answer will always be “Yes.” An instructor that knows their stuff and is paid to provide the knowledge you are seeking is valuable. If you have been on either side of that engagement you know that to be true. However, it is becoming more common that the medium is getting in the way of the focus. Paying for that is one way to overcome the problem.

When the world is rooting for you.

America was once a beacon of hope. Other countries were under the rule of a monarch in good cases, and tyrants in worse ones. Yet, America after the revolution was controlled by it’s people. Making their own decisions about laws, taxes, and how society should function.

I’m not saying America is somehow fundamentally different, instead many countries in the 200 years since then have gone through their own revolutions giving more power to the people than previously bestowed upon them. As the result, those people no longer need to look to America for that strength.

The demand for the hope America provided is at its lowest point in history. Along with that means that people aren’t rooting for us as much. It feels like a shift, but in reality it is what success feels like. America as “An experiment in self-governance” was radically successful in that it created many other copycats to follow suit and modified their constitutions. Of course, once success happens, it seems like there should be more magic. Unfortunately, there isn’t. Look to people who became millionaires and how they commonly mention “I thought there would be more to it.” Same with people who reach their dream jobs, only to find out that it’s not as dreamy as they imagined.

America fulfilling the role as a beacon of hope for the world is great, but now it’s time for us as a country to find our next purpose. For me, that seems like what America is missing at the moment. A common, unifying theme that unites the people, reignites the passion and resourcefulness of the country, and gives the world someone else to root for again. I don’t know what that is, but I’m going to be thinking about it, and if you live in America, you should too.

P.S. This doesn’t have to apply to just nations. It could apply to organizations, companies, forums, etc. Sometimes the original purpose is complete and the old loses the luster. A new idea is often needed to bring the shine back.

Tensions

  • Execution vs. Adjustment
  • Possibility vs. Probability
  • Historian vs Artist
  • Urgency vs Patience
  • Empathy vs. Efficiency
  • Belief vs Governance
  • Art vs. Science
  • Action vs. Reaction
  • Touch vs. Consistency
  • Marketing Specificity vs. AI Replacement
  • Smart vs. Powerful
  • Generalist vs. Specialist
  • Linear vs. Non-linear
  • Truth vs. Reality
  • Reality vs. Expectations
  • High Frequency Events vs. Low Frequency Events
  • The difference vs. The Overlap
  • Process vs. Creativity
  • Process-Oriented vs. Results-Oriented
  • Rational vs. Emotional
  • Contribution vs. Association
  • Planning vs. Action
  • Naive vs. Idealism
  • Comedy vs. Drama
  • Standardization vs. Customization
  • Authority vs. Responsibility
  • Referencing Classics vs. Referencing Obscurity

The world is filled with many different tensions. Plenty of different axes are available to optimize for regardless of the endeavor you’re planning.

Comic-Con 1980

It was small. There wasn’t much. It was for nerds.

Now it’s mainstream. People go there because they want to meet others like them. It’s a cultural phenomenon.

This is the story of not quitting. Sticking to something that’s working.

The hard part is when the growth is small because the principal is small, not because the growth rate is small. This is where people give up and stop even when they are on to something. They don’t want to bet on a losing horse. The reality is if you held a conference and the first year 20 people show up. The second year, 26 people show up. It seems like it will never grow into anything. In reality, at that growth rate 276 people are showing up in year 10. In year 20, 3800 people. In year 30, 52000 people.

Here is the Comic-con attendance growth:

File:Graph, San Diego Comic-Con Attendance by year, 1970-2012.png -  Wikimedia Commons

Something interesting to me, this curve doesn’t deviate far from a traditional exponential growth curve followed by the normal tapering your start to see as the total addressable market is nearing saturation even though the advent of the internet changed marketing in the middle of it. Without knowing better, I would have expected a bigger change with the advent of the internet, but this curve is typical representation of growth. It looks possible that from about 1993 to 2000 it was hitting the tapering portion, but then the internet came along and put it back on the growth path with a new tapering being hit around 2005, however without deeper analysis this deviation could be normal statistical variation. What is the interesting conclusion here?

Sticking with something, more than any means and methods is likely to produce the results you are looking for. Unfortunately for most, they don’t understand it and don’t have the patience. Fortunately for you, you can stick with something and be wildly successful just by putting time on your side.

Creativity Inc.

This is a book written by Ed Catmull on how things are done at Pixar and all the learnings that had to go through in order to run a company that is full of creatives. It is full of thoughts on creativity and processes. Those are constantly in tension with each other. I’ve written about those: Here. And here.

Ed Catmull however does paint a good picture of how an industry can evolve from not quite knowing what needs to be done into a powerhouse and the struggles along that journey.

I would recommend Creativity Inc. to anyone who is looking to grow in their creativity, has to manage creative teams, or is just looking for insight into how companies that produce amazing work operate. If you’re even slightly interested, look to your local library, or purchase a copy. It’s worth the read.

Organizing something valuable

If you read my last post, Tomorrowland, you’ll know that I believe the world is running short on organizers. Here are two thoughts for someone who wants to provide valuable services in the coming future:

  • Advertising is ready for a huge shakeup. Marketing companies based entirely around a desired audience and what they are seeking is an opportunity. I follow some science based YouTube channels that have sponsors and they are being sponsored by luggage companies! Does that make sense to you? Why not chemistry kits? Why not Museum advertisements? Organizing these science channels together with common advertising due to their common audience then selling the “network” to companies that could benefit from this target audience is something that could be organized. Creating a profit sharing program for those channels and everybody wins. You organized an advertising sales team for them.
  • There are huge societal problems that science can solve. Why hasn’t science solved them? Organizing the people was incredibly difficult. However, digital technologies, cloud storage tools and the ability to interact through videos makes holding conferences and meetings incredibly cheap. Anyone can go to science forums and engineering forums with a big idea and if they are able to pitch the idea, get support, get people who want to be a part of something, they can form a team, that can then turn into a company, that can get funding and create something world-changing. Organizing this group is a possibility if you see it, and more people should be stepping up to do so.

The tricky part to this is that likely the opportunities for each of these can only be seen by the people who have technical knowledge in both fields. The problem is that most people enter those fields because they like doing the work, not organizing it. However, like millions of people creating TikTok videos, they might be doing great amateur work, if they all banded together they could go pro. We have the opportunity to do better, but we need to organize people together to do so. In fact, doing so, puts one at the top of the ability pyramid.

Tomorrowland

The movie is what I’m talking about. It came out in 2015 and while it is fiction it attempts to address the question, “What happened to the future people dreamed about 50 to 100 years ago?”

It certainly seems that the sentiment of the 1950s and the power of science has changed significantly. Back then, science was the future. It was powering industry. It was increasing longevity. It was solving the world’s problems.

Skipping over the science for a moment, the movie addresses a bigger issue. One of feedback loops. In the movie, they discuss showing people a catastrophic future, but rather than address the challenges needed to overcome that future, society revels in the coming inevitable demise. The end is coming because people are told it is. Breaking this cycle is the key to saving everything.

Social media and the internet is a great weapon in the fight for information that society has battled for centuries, but as a weapon it’s closest analogy would be a double-edge sword. While the internet is filled with all the knowledge anyone could need towards starting down a solution to any problem, it’s even more filled with people to tell you will never be successful. It’s filled with people that will tell you even if you are successful, they’ll never follow you or adopt your solution. It’s filled with people ready to tell you that tomorrow isn’t going to get any better and it’s time to accept it.

What is the problem here?

The problem is the feedback loop is pushing everyone to be more average. Yet, as we can see from history, the average person has never made the major breakthroughs that push society to a better place. The average person didn’t invent the air conditioner, without Willis Carrier you’d wake up thirsty after sweating in bed on summer nights. Without Alexander Graham Bell, you wouldn’t be able to connect to your family easily when living far away. Without Henry Ford, we wouldn’t have the production capabilities of the modern factory to produce enough goods to have a higher standard of living.

Tomorrow offers more opportunity than yesterday ever did because we are wiser, more experienced and more knowledgeable. However, we have to use the tools available, not to push to average, but towards incredible. 100 people making TikTok videos organizing themselves to write, act, direct, and edit a major cinematic piece is no doubt going to be more extraordinary than the sum of their videos individually. This is what social media should push us towards. We need organizers as much as we need creators these days. Tomorrow depends on it.

Talk is cheap.

Armed conflict is costly. That’s where the original saying came from.

That’s why we talk before taking action. That’s why we plan. The action is expensive while the cost is cheap. Somehow, this saying was turned into a bad thing. Most likely because it is used in the political realm.

The reality is that talking is cheap, and so is planning. That’s why planning is important. If you don’t think out the details, the benefits, and the long-term ramifications, you may end up spending money you can’t get back.

It’s always worth doing some level of planning, but the level of specifics required can be lower or higher depending on how much is on the line. Use the low cost of talking to avoid the high cost of the wrong actions.

The bounce of putting from behind the mat.

If you are putting on a practice green in a room, you’ll likely start with the ball on the mat. This let’s you putt without any abrupt changes in the roll of the ball. There is little uncertainty other than your own execution. This is where most people are comfortable.

What if you pull the ball off the mat? Neglecting that you are now putting from further away, there is also usually a 1/2″ lip of mat material that is going to give the ball a more irregular bounce as it hits it. It introduces extra uncertainty that is much more difficult to compensate for. In fact, it’s possible that executing exactly the same every time and due to nothing but the uncertainty introduced results in a much bigger variation in results than executing the exact same every time will on the mat.

The question is, should you practice this putting off the mat or is it a waste?

On one hand, if the point is learning to put on the green, there should never be this abrupt uncertainty on the golf course. Of course, there is also times you may want to put from the fairway or the fringe and then this uncertainty is there again.

At a higher level of philosophical outlook, there is also the factor that while most of life is continuous and smooth, each day mostly like the previous, there can be uncertain “bounces”. No one is expecting it when their child gets sick and needs to stay home. No one expects a car problem like a flat tire or blown head gasket. No one expected a pandemic to shift the world of work so much for nearly every office worker. This isn’t even close to the full spectrum of “bounces” out there.

With this in mind, the answer seems obvious to me. Getting good at judging the uncertainty that can be introduced is a skill and should be practiced as much as possible.

P.S. Here’s a video of me putting from behind a mat to see the bounce. Maybe with practice I’ll get good at this, not just in golf, but in life.

What a “casual conversation” actually is.

If you’re into psychology, informally especially, there are different theories about the functions of the human brain/personality and how to categorize them.

There is:

  • The Big 5
  • Myers-Briggs
  • Enneagram

The science behind them is highly-contested, however, from all of them we can be certain of this, brains have patterns in how they are wired. Patterns that are debatable, but still common enough that most people can see them.

If we think that the human brains has functions handling:

  • Logic
  • Emotions
  • Task-orientation
  • Ethics
  • Taking in data
  • Recalling data
  • Creating ideas
  • Visualizing Concepts

Then in general, in a relaxed state, a person is capable of moving swiftly between these states. If you are having a conversation that shifts the brain between these, but only engages them lightly, you are having a casual conversation.

What if the concept requires teaching someone calculus? You are no longer having a casual conversation with most people. To pick up the calculus topic, the logic functions of the brain as well as concept visualization must kick into overdrive and that requires people to drop the other functions in exchange for the extra processing power.

Take a business meeting where you are discussing future planning. Participants in the meeting have various ideas. The meeting starts off light and cordial, then as the ideas are flowing, past results are being recalled, and each persons’ visions are attempting to be realized, it becomes easy to drop our emotional handling and to start being more adversarial in our conversation. It’s not that people mean to be, but that our brains are requiring the efforts we would normally be using to manage the relationship into the hard task of understanding everything being presented from many different parties and many different directions. It requires more processing power than we have mentally, and so some things start to fall through the cracks. This is where all difficult conversations lie.

In college, I studied the Eames, one of the most famous couples in design. An interesting things about Charles and Ray Eames is that when they made proposals they created videos. Not revolutionary today, but 60-70 years ago it was. People didn’t interrupt videos and saved their questions until the end. Thinking about it, what they were doing was minimizing the energy of the brain that they were trying to persuade. Their audience could stay connected to their emotions, their logic, their ethics and more. Video over a paper proposal has the following benefits:

  • Lowers the need for the brain to visualize the concept since it is presented visually
  • Lowers the need to recall data as it can be presented at the exact time on screen along with the point that is being made by it
  • Lower their task orientation as their brain tries to make sense of what to do with information in a paper proposal, as the video points them in the direction they want to go with time as it goes on.

“It’s just business” is the slogan of many people who turned down offers people put their heart and soul into. It’s said that way to signify emotion was left out of it. But what if you want emotion to be the way to sway someone?

Then you need to lower the cognitive needs of the logical and conceptual parts of the brain to make it easier to appeal to the emotional side. That’s exactly why the Eames were successful.

If you often find yourself in difficult conversation internally or with customers at work, something worth reflecting on is the format of the meeting. Is it bouncing around too much and too open-ended? This can make it hard to follow. Can we submit ideas on paper, then categorize, organize and review them in a conversational format? Can people submit videos of their ideas? Can people write the ideas down into a narrative?

All of these ideas lower the cognition required to understand and up the likelihood that everyone will make better decisions regarding them. I’ve mentioned it before, but “Show, Don’t Tell” (I also recognize that this blog starts with telling, but that is for a reason.) is important for all of the reasons listed above, it lowers the amount of brain power needed to process an idea.

Casual conversations are important parts of doing great work, but the great work comes from finding means and methods to make difficult conversations casual ones.

Execution quality vs. Adjustments

The video above show E.A.R.L., a robot that is used by bowling ball companies to make better balls, by the governing body of bowling to learn if they should limit certain things in equipment, and by lane and oil companies to learn how their products affect the game. E.A.R.L. can repeat shots with far more consistency than any bowler on the planet.

Even the best pros can’t compete on REPETITION. The problem is bowling isn’t just a game of repetition. It’s a game of adjustment and as you can see in this video, E.A.R.L. loses to Chris Barnes. That’s because a trained pro might not repeat exactly the same as E.A.R.L., but as he throws his shot Chris is watching how his ball goes through the pins. That’s because every shot moves oil on the lane changing the playing environment and the ball reaction to it. If more oil moves down the lane, Chris may seeing wiggling ten pins and move his feet right to go higher in the pocket. If he sees, ringing four pins or a later falling 9 pin, he may move his feet to the left instead. Making adjustments as he sees his ball gets closer to undesirable results.

Many companies think they want to be E.A.R.L. They want to execute flawlessly. On time. In the places they are supposed to. In the ways they’ve done it for the last decade. The problem is every execution in the marketplace shifts it. And like E.A.R.L. who repeats but doesn’t adapt to the changing lane, these companies aren’t adapting to the changing ecosystem.

Just to be sure, E.A.R.L. can beat a lot of bowlers. To beat E.A.R.L. Chris Barnes has execution that isn’t as good, but as a top pro, is good enough to read the changes and make the adjustments. Knowing where that execution is and when the adjustments are necessary is the key, and the struggle is in the real world you’ll find they are up for debate.

Failing up.

I’ve heard a number of people lament how some people constantly “fail up”.

I think this is incredibly short-sighted and it stops people from taking risks, even calculated ones that they should be taking. If you want a list of my failures, you can start here: How I Destroyed Everything by Lacking Patience.

After failing plenty in my life, I can truly say that it made me more knowledgeable about my strengths, more aware of my value, and much more insightful. All of these things are “up” in my opinion. None of them will ever be a detriment.

Consider the fact that if Elon Musk fails with Tesla, and there is a huge number of reasons it could be true, it’s possible that another car company could come along that wants him as CEO? Who else is going to understand the missteps? Who else is going to have the expertise of leading those divisions? Plenty of people understand that often failure is out of the hands of the individual, even if they did great work.

This is where those who lament others for “failing up” are missing the point. If you don’t take a chance, working in a valuable manner on something that may or may not work, you likely haven’t made new connections in people, ideas, concepts, that are meaningful or valuable to others. Only by doing work in the spaces that no one else knows can we find opportunities to make ourselves stand out as valuable amongst the crowd.

If your job can be written down step-by-step, anybody can be hired to do it.

It’s important to recognize that “failing up” is an option you have too. That barring a mental breakdown, illegal behavior or something entirely off the rails, those who take risks are rewarded with knowledge that can’t be obtained any other way. And those who have knowledge are rewarded with value.

1000 monkeys…

as the saying goes, “…with a 1,000 typewriters can produce Shakespeare if given enough time.”

It’s possible that’s true. In fact, I believe that most of the famous people we call “creative” are people with high standards and dedication who continuously create work, throw at the bad stuff, and polish the good ones.

With that in mind, it’s possible 1000 monkeys can produce incredible work eventually, the problem is “Whose going to read all the garbage on the way to finding the good stuff?”

Once you realize the answer to that question you can start to do the real work. If you want to be “creative” you’re going to read the garbage. You’re going to figure out what is wrong with it. You’re going to improve it. Over time there is less garbage and more polish.

In this way, the way we write stories, the way we produce art, they way we invent new products, it’s not likely that we can replace this with technology. Technology can only produce in the same manner as the monkeys, but it takes someone to decide which is good and which is bad.

Who owns the “best”…

and why is it so crowded with articles online? Of course I’m referring to if you search “The best <insert any noun here>”.

Most people want to serve the mass audience. So owning the idea of the “best” anything is appealing.

Think about the best pizza. What does that really mean?

Is it the right selection of toppings?

Is it the right ingredients in the sauce?

Is it the right cheese blend?

What about the dough?

What about the cook time?

How crispy is it?

How charred is it?

Is it oily or floured?

Is it thick or thin?

It’s pretty laughable to think that there is an idea of a general “best” when it comes to pizza. There could be the crispiest. The sweetest possibly.

In reality, even pizza is so complex, with so many variables, that the idea of the “best” doesn’t really apply. The “best” to each person is a complex series of tradeoffs that most people couldn’t properly communicate anyway. It’s just “what they like”.

That’s why owning the “best” isn’t a great goal. Much better is to figure out how you are going to be different and own that instead.

Pizza, Possibility and Probability.

Pizza is full of possibility. If you really look, there are endless varietes. There is different crust recipes, thickness, doneness and ways of cooking. Different cheese blends. Different sauce recipes. Different topping types. This is all possibility.

Yet, under all of this is probability. Once a desired pizza is on the menu and ordered, there is a probability of how it will turn out. There is always variables in the rise time of the dough, the heat of the oven, the water content of the vegetables and the skill of the cook.

Pizza is so common that most people can probably relate to this. You have your favorite pizza order, the possibility that most resonates with you, then you have the probability that it comes out the way you like it. We’ve likely all had that one pizza that wasn’t it’s normal crisp, or the one that was overcooked.

It’s often that we find people working in one area of this. Some people focus primarily on possibility. Where can we show up? Where can we find new opportunity? Where can we create something entirely new? Generally, society calls this creativity.

Others focus on probability. How can I be more efficient? How can I increase the odds? How can I hack the system in order to get the best results every time?

Of course, there is no chicken or the egg here. Possibility comes first, then probability follows it. Eventually, when the probability of a great product being produced every time comes around, usually someone comes in with a new possibility that shatters expectations and the cycle begins again.

There is a tension between the possibilities that can be created and the probabilities they can be executed successfully. For those that see this tension, it’s always worth investigating where your focus should lie on the spectrum for your current efforts at the current time.

Where the brain stops having immediate ideas…

That’s the hard work.

It’s likely the important work too.

What I’m talking about is that it’s often assumed that “If you make it they will come” but if it ever was true, it’s not today. There is too much noise. So figuring out how to cut through that noise is a skill.

We make our product or provide our service. And yet the people do not come because they don’t know what we do.

So we make our marketing. And yet the people do not read our website or read our flyers because they don’t know they are there.

So we make an attention-getter so that they know we are there. And yet, that only works on a few people.

So we make a different attention-getter to get a few more different kinds of people.

And this attention-getting work never stops.

Unfortunately, this is hard work. Ask most people to write a social media post, and they could put something down. Ask people how to get attention to it, and half of them will have no answer at all. Their brain stops having immediate ideas.

This is a sign that you are working on both something difficult, and likely something worth doing. You are working on the next level of complexity. The reason we see so many people making noise, being pushy, and not being kind with their attention-getting is because it is so hard. It’s already taxing on the mind to figure out ways to do it, adding more constraints on being polite, being generous makes it even harder.

Difficulty doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing, in fact it is usually precisely the opposite. Take the challenge and run with it.

Plan in the physical world, produce in the digital world

The world is filled with people doing work on computers. That’s just the day and age we live in. However, often I find myself searching from something more in the digital world, thinking I’ll find whatever inspiration it is I’m looking for.

However, it’s just not there. Sitting at the computer all day when you don’t have a specific task in front of you is a bad idea in my eyes. Better to leave the computer and do some deep thinking. Here are some thoughts you could think about away from the keyboard:

  • Who or what kind of person could add something to this project?
  • Where are the people that I serve showing up in the physical world?
  • What is the value I’m trying to provide on this project?
  • Who can I have a conversation with to clarify my thoughts?
  • How can I get the results I’m looking for in a more efficient manner?

These are broad questions that need time and thought. It’s worth stepping away from the computer to answer them or think about them.

The Next Level of Complexity

What happens when a creative industry gets packed with skilled people?

It becomes impossible to stand out by just being the best on the normal axes.

That’s because there are so many people available to do that work at a high level as things become more scientific. Learning the science is much more scalable than when it was art, which was only mastered by a handful.

The result of the crowding is that standing out for those participating must do so by reaching the next level of complexity and skill.

Story was once an oral tradition. Then with the invention of writing people were able to craft, tweak and share amazing works of literature with a wider audience. Today, there are more books than we can read. Go to a library, try to find any one book that stands out to you. While you may find one, if you were a writer, what is the chance that would have been your book selected?

There is now the opportunity to embed videos in a digital writing. There is now opportunity to put in music over a digital writing. There is the ability to add depth of emotion and timing by narrating it in the form of an audiobook that is downloadable from just about anywhere. These are newer developments in the world of literature and they are the next level of complexity adding so many new possibilities to add to the experience. Possibly requiring a team of people to achieve the full, desired effect.

There are other industries reaching this stage:

  • Automotive
  • Space Exploration
  • Music
  • E-mail marketing

And those are just a few off the top of my head.

The internet made just about every industry more crowded by raising awareness for the existence of smaller brands. The next level of complexity being needed to differentiate is a direct result of that.

Architects were historians

Once upon a time, the science of determining the strength of a building didn’t exist. Architects didn’t push boundaries much unless they were asked to by a king or some other wealthy merchant. As a result, Architects of the past all study the great works like the Pantheon, the Parthenon, and the Coliseum. There are others too, those are just what we are familiar with.

Flash forward to 1889 and the completion of the Eiffel tower, the first wide scale use of highly scientific structural engineering principles, and from that day forward, architecture was changed forever. Architecture was no longer about know what came previously because that didn’t matter. Predicting the behavior of an entirely new design was possible. History didn’t hold us down, and the pace of change accelerated far beyond the rate it changed at in the millenia before.

Taller buildings.

Bigger domes.

More open spans.

Curved shapes.

All of this enabled through understanding.

The Architect was released from his shackles and transformed deeper into artistry and further from historian.

This is how many industries function. Complex. Full of applications, but lacking in a depth of understanding. Then, little by little, discoveries are made. Until one day there is an analytical science in the field. After that, we’re no longer bound by the empiricisms of the past. The future is unbounded from the past.

This is happening all around us today in so many fields. Keep vigilant because if you are a historian when the world is looking for artists, you’re not going to like what happens next.

Everywhere I look I see fear.

Of course, most of the places I’m looking are online.

This is intentional of course. Fear is what our brains are wired for. Someone without fear likely doesn’t live very long. Fear keeps us safe.

What about when safety isn’t the goal?

Does fear keep us healthy?

Does fear keep us excited?

Does fear keep us happy?

Does fear keep us free?

Does fear keep us connected?

The answer to those are highly dependent on the situation, but in general, for all of them, I would say, “No. Not as a general rule.”

Fear keeps us distracted, focused on items someone else wants us to worry about, but not our own opportunities, our own happiness, our own lives.

The ironic part is that having this conversation with certain individuals, it becomes clear that when they think they are living without fear, they are simply living with a different fear.

Here’s a recent example:

Vaccines. A group I know is telling people to stop living in fear of the coronavirus. We don’t need the vaccine. These same people have their attention captured by the fear of the vaccine and big government. It’s a different fear than those who are worried about the health aspect, but a fear nonetheless. Breaking this wheel of fear is a major part of leadership. History has had trying times before, but we also had leaders. People who weren’t in feedback loops listening to polls and social media comments. People who were trying to steer instead of surfing on the popular sentiment. I won’t pretend to act as if I know the solution to the predicament mentioned, merely that both sides are presenting opposing fears that fight each other.

The Great Depression was a trying time. I recently read FDR’s first inaugural address and am in awe of how much of this needs to be repeated today, just as we are reaching the point in time that just about everyone who was alive when he said it is gone.

“…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” is true more now than ever. If we could cast aside the fears, then perhaps we could talk. When both sides think that giving in means the literal end, no real conversation can be had. Fear stops the solutions. I’m not sure what to do about it, but one thing is for certain, we need inspiration now more than ever. The difference between FDR’s era and today, is that you don’t need to be president to call for unity. Everyone can do it in their own micro-communities.

P.S. I highly recommend reading the 1st inaugural address of FDR yourself: https://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/fdrfirstinaugural.html

Where is the chaos?

If you’re looking to provide a service that is valuable, one question that is great to ask is “Where is the chaos?”

Chaotic things are by their nature not things that people like to handle.

Judging a group of people against each other is chaotic. Ranking their skills via testing is an opportunity for a service.

Designing and building a kitchen is chaotic. Kitchen remodeling is a big industry.

Figuring out where to find customers online for a business is chaotic. Social media management is one of the fastest growing industries.

Where there is chaos, there is opportunity. If you’re know that you’re looking for opportunities, one of the things you need to ask is “Where is the chaos?”

Fast or Heavy

Last night I was watching a video on musical theory. One thing that came to mind while watching two different riffs being created was that music can be “fast” or “heavy”, but it can’t be both.

This is a good analogy for life. We can do things fast, take every shortcut, skip anything that doesn’t matter immediately in the here and now, or we can do things that are heavy, strong, that make an impact and last. That requires moving slower, thinking ahead, prepping for tomorrow today. It also involves taking on a bit of faith that the seeds you are planting will match the visions you have of them when they finally blossom and mature to full-size and that all the extra effort is more than worth it in the future.

It’s possible to be either fast or heavy, but not both. You could switch at some point, but that requires attention and the realization that you have to decide which one is worth it.

Fast or heavy, it’s your decision.

The tension of urgency and patience.

In commenting on Twitter to a reader of my blog, I wrote what is the essence of this post, which is this:

“Urgency and patience are in a constant tension for anyone seeking to do something meaningful.”

Tasks require urgency. I can’t imagine a diner waiting 4 hours for their food. I can’t imagine someone waiting 15 minutes for a price check at the supermarket. I can’t imagine someone waiting a week for a call back after looking for legal services. All of these are tasks, and they require a quick reaction.

Goals and achievements require patience. Starting a business. Gaining a following. Writing and promoting a book. These all require thousands of tasks to be completed. A huge amount of steps. The individual tasks while urgent, take time to complete. Patience is a must to get through it all.

I’ve found that most young people, including myself in the past, don’t have the right balance of this. They either have the patience and fail to take action on the tasks necessary to achieve their goals, or they have the urgency on the tasks, but not the patience to wait for the big payoff. In fact, on the extreme end of urgency you’ll find neuroticism, and on the extreme end of patience you’ll find associations with laziness. It’s natural to be that way when younger, the world hasn’t yet moved us to the middle. These aren’t ingrained in us entirely and can be changed even if we naturally gravitate towards one end of the spectrum, but it requires effort and experience to do so.

Think about your natural tendencies and calibrate as needed.

Thank you to Clare for the inspiration based on her comments: https://twitter.com/ClareMingins

Difference is the engine of the world.

Take the Stirling Engine. The engine is able to stay in motion due to a temperature difference. As the piston heats up it expands, the air inside it cools it down as a result, lowering the pressure. Then, the wheel brings the piston back down compressing the air in the piston, which heats it up along with the added heat the pressure increases and pushes the piston back up again. These heat and pressure differences make the engine work away until the temperature difference weakens or disappears and frictional losses build up to stop the wheel.

In the same way:

  • The differences between peoples’ skills create the economy.
  • The difference of peoples’ perception of value create markets.
  • The difference of peoples’ tastes, create culture.
  • The difference of peoples’ culture creates politics.
  • The difference in politics creates conflicts.
  • Conflict creates the opportunity to learn new skills, change perceptions of value, update tastes, shift culture and change politics, making tomorrow different and starting the cycle over again.

P.S. In this regard, conflict doesn’t have to mean violence. It can simply mean a tension between ideas that grows until the equilibrium breaks. Sometimes that results in violence and that’s not what we want. Most times, the world shifts and we just don’t recognize it as being newsworthy, but it happens consistently and continuously.

The ability pyramid

  • Disabled – Not in reference to the medical status, simply that they are incapable of working yet. A toddler may fall in this category.
  • Able-bodied – Able to perform labor as directed
  • Learning-abled – Able to learn new things and skills
  • Skilled – Able to work without direction to accomplish a valuable task
  • Expert – Able to train others to do skilled work
  • Strategy/Visionary – Able to coordinate teams of people to accomplish lofty goals in your area of expertise
  • Organizer – The ability to rally people to a cause and get everyone aligned on goals, outcomes, expectations and responsibilities

I put this list together based on my own life experience. Starting from the bottom, I worked in a pizza kitchen, then as an intern/Architectural Draftsman in high school. Then I went to college to become skilled in engineering. I worked in that realm and gained some expertise, starting to train others. In two different ways, I’ve moved into the last groups, but I’ll talk more about that a different day.

In my opinion, going through all of these levels is a valuable set of life experience. In fact, most people are outraged by or envious of the kids born to wealthy families, who are well-connected who seem to skip all the rungs except maybe the last two. However, that’s a trap. As easy as it is to see the privilege, it’s equally hard to see the liability. If someone has expertise and fails at the strategy level, they can always fall back to the expert level and likely still have a viable career. In some cases, when the privileged fail, squander, or risk something they shouldn’t have, they don’t have the previous rungs to fall to. There is a much bigger fall coming.

If you think it’s unfair that other opportunities are handed to people, there is a shortcut in life for anyone to follow. Skip straight to being an organizer. No one has to ask. No one has to tell you what to do. See something that needs to be done, that’s valuable, and organize the people to create it, provide the service, market it, sell it, whatever else. Then no one is your boss. You created the value from nothing by organizing people. Learning to skilled to expert to strategy is almost always the same progression. The only one that offers a different path is that any time you can choose to become an organizer and find all the people you need at the other levels to do what needs to be done. Even organizing financing if you don’t have the money to do this project or business is a skill.

The world always needs more organizers. If you’re tired of putting in job applications, perhaps it’s time to start writing job descriptions.

P.S. You can be an internal organizer at a company, or an entrepreneur, or a non-profit organizer. There is a huge demand for people to organize the actions of others to achieve something meaningful.

Are we behind?

It’s easy to be behind schedule. To not meet the ship date. To not complete the kitchen remodel on a certain date.

In life, or in a bigger vision of things, it’s not particularly possible to be behind.

Escaping that feeling was the most freeing mental constraint I ever had on myself.

There is no timeline for our lives. It’s all arbitrary. Smelling the roses is great. If it sets you back a day, but makes you happy, then it’s an easy tradeoff.

Patience favors those who are willing to train it as a skill. You always arrive where you need to be in life at exactly the time you’re supposed to.

The thing about art…

is that most people don’t know where to begin with it.

I’m not even talking about the techniques. I’m talking about the subject matter.

“What should I paint?” Is a more common struggle than, “How should I paint it?”

The reason that most people struggle is because the world is infinite in scope. As a result, there isn’t any criteria to be applied, and the decision becomes enormous.

Of course, CREATIVES (emphasis because this implies it takes someone special, rather than committed) understand that I can paint this subject today, and tomorrow I’ll have the opportunity to do a different one. Over time, they’ll find a subject matter they like, that matches with their skill and resonates with their audience.

If you are in the business of creativity, this is an opportunity. My wife as an example is an interior designer. Her clients often say “I don’t know where to start.” That’s because they can start with furniture, flooring, lighting, décor, paint, it can be this room, that room, the kitchen. It feels overwhelming. Having someone come in and say “This is where to begin.” is soothing even if that person is making an arbitrary decision. They are sharing what is needed to get the client to start “painting” or whatever the art they are waiting to start is.

Creating art is about putting down the lines in the sand and setting the stage to build on. It’s valuable to be someone who shows up and says “This is what’s possible, and start showing others.”

NASA vs. Industry

There is a belief that free-enterprise is ALWAYS more efficient than government.

In my opinion, NASA shows that to not necessarily be true.

Free enterprise is better at short-term productivity. Sacrificing the long-term for getting things done in the here and now. Which is fine as long as we can recognize that to be the case.

If you go to NASA’s website, you can wade through and find piles of research and even lessons learned. They are all searchable and neatly organized. Having built such a thorough library, knowledge can be shared efficiently from one project to the next. When you are working on large enough projects, it’s incredibly important economically and for productivity to not produce the same errors you did previously.

I’ve been into hundreds, possibly thousands of companies, and nearly none of them had great documentation for best practices, standards, or lessons learned. The worst of them said, “It’s all in our senior people’s head.” For the best it was, “We have them scattered in disparate places. A collection of different improvement projects from different leaders over time.”

The long-term knowledge sharing never became a priority. There was too much to be done now.

After a conversation like this it always makes me wonder, “Why can NASA be so good at this, while free enterprise falls flat?”

I come up with a few answers:

  • Not having to be focused on the bottom line every minute, hour, day, week or month allows NASA to invest in the long-term. These items would only be expenses on the balance sheet of a private company weighing it down from getting loans, paying people more, showing larger profits, getting outside investment or even going public.
  • It’s much more likely NASA is going to be around for decades or centuries since it is backed by the government. No one knows the lifetime of a private company. It can be smashed by competition. It can be ran incompetently. It can be purchased. The founder can die and leave no one to run it. There is just so much that makes the life of it shorter than a government agency that it’s possible taking the time to do all that work won’t pay off if you don’t stay in business long enough to benefit.

There is a definite lesson to be learned here about being committed to something even in private industry. When you are committed, you can invest in the long-term more than a competitor who isn’t. If you pick an industry and build a business that you know you will stay in for 40+ years, you shouldn’t run that business the same as someone looking to start, grow and then sell a business in a 5 year time span. What you can do if your committed is pay people more to find better talent who help grow things more, document more, build better practices. You can invest in training people, developing them, and give them room to grow as people. You can provide whitespace in people’s schedules in order for them to improve the company.

There is value in long-term thinking, but it’s not often seen because rarely do we find people who are in it for the long-term. Most are in it for the short-term, some renew their lease over and over again, and a tiny few start with the vision to stay for decades.

Can you exercise empathy?

Certainly, you can.

Donating your time to listen to others dealt a bad hand in life? Exercising empathy.

Helping those others turn their situations around? Exercising empathy.

Understanding why someone is upset at you even when you haven’t done anything wrong? Exercising empathy.

Here’s the flip side: if you can exercise it, it also means that it can atrophy and get weaker. That means that coasting on good deeds from a decade ago, doesn’t mean that you are still the same person. The muscle can weaken.

Perhaps the internet is the worst place to see this, but it seems apparent that exercising empathy isn’t a practice in most people’s routine, as a result there is a deficit of it in the world.

If someone is in a bad place career-wise not seeing a way to provide for themselves or their family and no path out of their situation, what does a politician do? Call them a communist for wanting more social programs. That’s easy. No energy. No empathy require. It ignores where the current system failed them, or why they can’t see the opportunities that exist. It ignores having a conversation and giving them a different view to think about.

If someone disagrees with you, it’s easy to say “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” Of course, it’s possible that you don’t know what that person has studied, been involved in, or whose experience has shown them something that disagrees with your experience.

The amazing thing about being empathetic in all your engagements is that if you do it long enough, with enough energy and consistency, the world around you starts to shift into the kind of place you want it to be. Not the whole world, but your world. This is measured in years, not days. The opposite is to think that having no empathy is “efficient”. That it takes much less energy to insult someone for their beliefs and to think that doing so achieves what you want. That’s an entirely false worldview. We can see this in areas where there are riots. We can see this in polarized elections. We can see this in communities where group brawls are taking place in the streets. This isn’t “efficient”. This doesn’t get what anyone wants. It’s merely a momentary release of dissatisfaction in the most damaging way possible.

In certain areas online you’ll find people arguing about socialism vs. capitalism. Insulting each other in terrible ways. I won’t link to it because I don’t want to promote it. At the core of the debate of both of these systems is empathy and who is in charge. Whichever has the most empathy wins. If the majority of business owners in a capitalist system use empathy to share profits fairly with employees who can then buy homes, have healthcare, and save for retirement or invest in their own business down the line, then there is a feeling of faith in that system. If not, then an alternative becomes more desirable.

You can take this methodology to nearly any socioeconomic issue and the same will be true. Where there is empathy there is faith. Where there is a lack of it, there is distrust. As a society, when looking at our empathy muscle, we are at our weakest. It’s time to start working out. That takes each person exercising our muscle to understand each other. To withhold initial judgment. To have a conversation in uncomfortable areas. To take a slow path to changing your world.

It’s inside of everyone to have empathy and make the world better, but like working out, it’s best to start small.

What’s something you can do today to make a person’s day just a little better?

Working amongst a group of strangers.

This is a modern phenomenon.

I don’t mean total strangers. I mean you didn’t grow up around these people your entire life. You have no idea what they were like as children. You have no idea all the people they dated. You don’t know what awards they won in school, or their grades necessarily.

You only know the work they do.

If you contrast this with the agriculture economy of a couple hundred years ago, this is a significant shift. Those people lived, worked, and knew each other their entire lives. Then factories developed, and organizations started to develop around skillsets. Rather than a group of people who was in a certain area geographically, people started to rearrange around skillsets. The right set of skills, in the right building, and the production of an amazing amount of quality goods became possible. Today, we’re continuing the trend of nimbleness, which is the ability to reorganize “on-demand”. That may not mean instantly, but with remote technologies and automation, if you need to change an organization to produce new goods, you can rebuild with new skillsets at low costs since relocation isn’t necessary as often as it was in the past.

This is an inflection point. We’ve lifted several constraints off of what companies were capable of even a couple years ago. People can now quit a job in Atlanta, and start a job in California. In a day or so after they are released. Think about the logistics of that previously:

  • Get your house in order (Painted, fix issues, etc.)
  • List house for sale
  • Find place to store your stuff
  • Find new house
  • Drive/have stuff delivered across country
  • Move-in/Unpack

That’s a lot of things to do. Things that take a lot of time. I didn’t even include possible flights back and forth to find the place to live. This was likely a months long endeavor and you really couldn’t be effective for the company until you were done with the place you were currently living and in the location they needed to be in. Now, you can start working remotely, even if long-term they need you in the office.

This is going to up the pace that people switch organizations as geography becomes a smaller reason to stick with where you’re at. Working amongst a group of strangers will feel even more true.

If that scares you, here’s the opportunity:

Strangers don’t have a prejudice of your skills based on your history. Think about your parents, it’s likely they don’t see you as smart, as capable, or as successful as you actually are. Mostly because they were around every time you did dumb things in your life. Those memories of moments of stupidity hold them back from seeing you as you are in the current moment. Same with your current company, you’ve been there for some years, and done some great work and developed in your skills, but you definitely made some mistakes, misspoke a few times and possibly angered people on occasion. While you may be respected, those past issues still hold them back from seeing the current you who is better than the past one.

Working with strangers brings a struggle of communication. No one knows how to talk as well when they haven’t worked together for a period of time, but it also brings the amazing opportunity of no past prejudices, just the skills you have today and the work to be done. I’m interested in what the future holds and how products and services will change based on this phenomenon. One thing is certain, the opportunities we all have are different today. It’s worth recognizing and thinking about.

New, Hot and Controversial.

Those are how certain sites like Reddit sort things on the internet.

Of course, which you prefer starts to create a viewpoint on the world.

Someone who sorts by “new” can see many different pieces of content, each allowing them to develop a different and unique view on the world.

Someone who sort by “hot” can see what is popular. They can become in tune with pop culture.

Someone who sorts by “controversial” can see what gets people going. They can learn how to push people’s buttons. They also will likely see the most extreme arguments at the fringes.

These three seemingly innocuous choices can change your worldview significantly. It’s worth choosing wisely, even if it seems like a decision you don’t need to make.

Telling to find what resonates

I’ve mentioned “Show, don’t tell” many times on this blog including yesterday’s post. Despite this, the blog is full of “telling.” Isn’t that hypocritical?

Not really.

I’ve put together a handful of articles where I “show” more than tell. And all the “telling” isn’t a waste. If something resonates in the telling, then it will blow minds in the showing.

Since there is such a huge gap in the effort needed to show vs. tell, telling creates leverage in the lesser effort needed to find the proper topics that people need to understand and resonate with. This is really no different than the physical advantage that comes from a lever to move a heavy object. Less force required to move the object. The object in this case just happens to be someone’s worldview. Using this methodology, once you find the proper topics, you can then put in the proper effort to show people what they need to understand it expanding the range of the audience who can be influenced by it.

If you spent all the time producing high-quality content that really illustrates your points, you will invest a significant amount of time and will become highly demoralized if those topics weren’t popular after that much energy put into them. Telling fills that gap. Not to mention, by doing the writing or speaking, you are building the future outline for what needs to be illustrated. If you can’t clearly write or speak about a topic, your changes of clearly illustrating are near zero.

“Show don’t tell” is still a great axiom, but it works best after figuring out what is really important and needs to be shown. Telling is a path to getting there.

Dash Cams

I’ve written about Dash Cams before, and how envious of an industry they are in.

Everything that the dash cams themselves do is “Show, don’t tell.” For generations, in court following an accident both parties had to tell what happened. Now, a dash cam can show what happened. As a result, in the marketing for dash cams you can also show others what happened and it’s powerful.

Showing will always be more powerful than telling, however, the struggle is that showing nearly always takes more effort and preparation than telling. Most times it’s at least an order of magnitude, but it can be several more orders of magnitude. After all, a Pixar movie is a significant effort. They could tell you the story in after crafting it for a short period of time, but producing the imagery, looks of characters, sounds, and everything else is an enormous undertaking. Yet, all of that effort has produced amazing results for Pixar.

Long story short, showing is a significant investment, but it pays off because of the power it contains. If you can create a system that constantly shows its value with little human action needed, you’ll have a powerful source of marketing for the future. Those dash cam companies don’t know how good they have it!

Art vs. Science

It seems like everyone in the world constantly tries to define the difference and the overlap between these two.

I myself have written various definitions, distinguished between the two, and tried to get people to understand that what they often think of as science, like chemistry can have an artistic component to it and how things are discovered and how breakthroughs are made.

While things they think of as art, perhaps something like baking, can have a significant science component to it.

For me, I’ve finally nailed down the simplest definition I can think of. If it can be done perfect, it’s a science. If there is no such thing as perfect for what you are doing, it’s art.

Is there such a thing as managing your finances, perfectly? No. What would that even mean, spending no money? Therefore, it’s the art of finance.

Can you bake a cake to the perfect doneness? Not too dry, not under cooked? Yes. Then that part is the science of baking.

Art = perfection isn’t possible.

Science = perfection is the goal

I’m in a dip.

Seriously.

Like a mental dip.

I don’t know what to write about at the moment AND it feels like I never even had anything to write about up until now.

Reading my stuff in August, the physical analogy would be being on a treadmill and getting tired but still managing to fall to the next step even if barely able to keep going. AND THAT’S OKAY!

The reason I’m writing this is because eventually it’ll be easy to look back years from now and say, “Oh yea, I just did the work,” forgetting that there were periods of struggle, while just a couple weeks into a dip and it already feels like I can’t write much more, and that I never had anything to say at all. How quick we give in to our self-pity!

Something that reminded me this is just a dip is that I’m a couple weeks behind on putting up my Best of Blogs for June and July. While going back to read July’s writings, I realize how much I had to convey that month. Quite an amount of blogs to choose a top 3 from. Not every month is that way.

So what happened between the end of July and August?

Life happened.

I started redoing my bedroom with my wife, tearing it apart to fix some holes, repaint, put up new window treatments, etc. In the middle of that, our dishwasher took a dump. As soon as I get the dishwasher removed, but not yet replaced, our only car needed repairs and was unusable. So, while having the normal responsibilities of life still, I couldn’t get anywhere easily for a week, had to wash all of our considerable amount of dishes by hand for two weeks since there was complications in the replacement, have a room that still isn’t done and by extension a house that has quite a bit out of place. All of that took a toll. One that will eventually fade, and the dip will eventually be forgotten, but nonetheless, in any work these kinds of things are inevitable.

During the dip, I didn’t have time to read my normal materials, the kinds that fill me up with questions and ideas, nor did I have time to ponder about improvements, or work on something that gave me insight. It was about getting the tasks done so we could get back to normal.

Enough with the whining, here’s the conclusions:

  • Life happens, and sometimes it sets us back momentarily. The decision to be setback permanently, however is yours alone.
  • When you lose faith, circle back to your past. That’s the minimum amount of skill you are capable of because your best work lies in front of you.
  • Everyone has dips because there is a rhythm to life and the world. Could you imagine music if it was always the same note instead of a mix of lows and highs? Uninteresting.
  • Keep doing the work and your rhythm will naturally get back on track.

Keep these in mind in case you ever enter a dip like this.

Getting good until the differences are imperceptible.

  • The new craft.
  • The improving skillset
  • The indistinguishable differences between each iteration
  • The next revolution.

That’s the order of how a craft evolves.

First, it’s new. We’re low skill. It’s sloppy, or lacking.

Then, it’s getting better. We’re polishing it more. It’s starting to be something marketable.

Next, we’ve mastered it. The differences each time we make the same thing, it comes out exactly as the last.

Finally, it’s time for revolution. Time to expand our abilities and do something different while keeping what we’ve gained in the mix.

People doing important work follow this cycle and it may happen dozens of times in the journey of their lives.

What if you hired a programmer as an administrator?

When I think of administrators at a company, I think of an overworked, often underpaid and under-appreciated person who keeps everything organized and running. In fact, I work with someone who is amazing at this type of work and appreciate everything that they do for me.

However, I’ve often thought about what it would be like if you put different people with different skillsets in these kinds of roles. A programmer is a marketable skill, as a result, you usually don’t find them as administrators, but what if you did?

My initial thoughts is much of the position would quickly disappear. Anything routine would be automated quickly, and with nothing left to be programmed, this person likely wouldn’t like the job any longer, and it would be time to bring in a more typical administrator.

Often a certain role gets filled with archetypes, whether that role is administration, sales, programming, or any other craft. These archetypes then perpetuate the same type of operation that always exist everywhere because they think similarly, which is why they are attracted to similar types of roles. It may be useful to fill a role with someone non-typical to see if they can transform the way the role is seen or operates in a positive way.

A recipe video whose title doesn’t mention the dish.

What good is that?

nYou’re searching for recipes, but can’t find the video because it never references the name of the dish being cooked at all. Instead it references “The best dinner ever” or “A unbelievably simple dinner that tastes amazing”

These videos are significantly different than “The Best Beef Wellington”. They serve a different audience. The Beef Wellington video serves someone who knows a bit about food. Someone who has a direct interest in food. The unnamed recipe videos serve someone who is just looking for something tasty to eat, but likely isn’t interested in food beyond its role as sustenance.

This is an example of marketing and serving the audience you’ve selected. There can be more room in a space then you imagined if you are alert, aware of trends and recognize who is underserved. Of course the product should also match the audience. If the audience isn’t interested in food beyond tonight, you don’t need to teach them all the intricacies of cooking and techniques, just list the steps quickly and efficiently.

It’s always worth reviewing whether you keep to the promises of the group you’re seeking to serve. In the case of a “An unbelievably simple dinner that tastes amazing” It should be efficient, easy to follow the video and should taste good without too much possibility of going wrong.

AI, The Human brain, and Real Trade Offs in Life.

It’s ironically interesting that if you’re not doing work that has tradeoffs, it’s probably not all that interesting.

I have a soft spot for following, but not particularly researching, artificial intelligence (AI) and neuroscience. Something I’ve spent significant time thinking about is whether the human brain could ever be replicated by a purely electrical device. One of the goals of AI research is to try to create a general intelligence, which seems out of reach to researchers currently. They can make software that classifies pictures by who painted them, or recognizes animals and such, but something that does true and generalized “thinking” is elusive.

When I connect this idea to the human brain, it doesn’t function purely in an electrical fashion. There is also chemical reactions that trigger it. What if this architecture of how the brain functions is critical to the operation of general intelligence. Some AI researchers seem to think if they can create generalized intelligence the era of scarcity would end. We would have robots that serve us that don’t need sleep, but if the idea of chemical reactions are needed in the architecture to create generalized intelligence this would defeat the purpose. The chemical reactions that take place in the brain are why we need rest, and what needs time to reverse after too much usage under certain tasks. If this was required for generalized artificial intelligence then those would have all the same issues as humans in this regard. Mental illness possibilities. Fatigue possibilities. Needing breaks. Needing vacations and more.

Both of these are perhaps the most complex research undertakings happening in the world. There is no clue on what the needed architecture for a generalized intelligence is, nor do we understand exactly how the human brain works. However, I do find it a good probability to bet on that if we did understand how the brain works, we would likely understand that a computer made of purely electrical signals can’t replicate it entirely. You would have to make some sort of tradeoff between fatigable and smarter, or less fatigable and less intelligent.

Now that that is out of the way. Here’s another point, when you are stuck, much as both sides of this research is, it may be because you don’t see the tradeoffs that need to be made. Your career may be stalled because you are deciding between money and calmness. Your move may be stalled because you can’t decide between rural, relaxed and lacking attractions, or urban, hectic and never-ending attractions. Your product may be stalled because you can figure out if you want to market it as cheap to the masses, or a premium option to the deep pockets.

Everything interesting, complex, and worth doing has unique trade offs. It’s better if we see them. If we don’t it’s time to look deeper.

First comes the work…

then the mental model to evaluate it.

This is followed by then refinement of the skills and models iteratively.

When I mention models, an example would be the image an artist sees in their mind before they paint. It might be clearer than the image that is actually painted because they don’t have the motor skills or the techniques that match the model in their head.

If you think about kids, they create at random. If their model evolves more rapidly than skill, they are likely to quit in frustration. If their skill evolves more rapidly than their model, then they are either not doing more complex work as time goes on, or they are becoming a highly talented artist.

Whatever we do, there is the mental model and the skill to implement it. In more cases than not, the skill lags the mental model. That’s where the frustration comes from. That’s where the ego despairs. That’s why we quit. All because we can’t produce the work that we know is possible.

This is exacerbated as an adult because you’ve seen more than a child. In nearly every category, your mental models of the world are more complex, but due to the limited time you can spend with nearly any skill, you have a bigger gap between your mental models and your skill. Bigger gap = Bigger frustration.

The only way to overcome this is to accept the reality that skill lags mental models in nearly every case. The only way to allow the skill to catch up is to commit to the work first and stick with it until the skill develops.

Why don’t they just pivot?

I’m referring to oil companies, car companies making internal combustion engines, and other industries facing paradigm shifts.

Oil companies can pivot to clean energy companies.

Internal combustion engines can start making electric motors.

Except, here’s the thing, they can’t.

They are too big. They would need to let nearly everyone go and hire entirely new skillsets. Along with that, these aren’t small companies led by pioneers. They are large, well-established companies led by glorified accountants. They have no idea who would need to be put in place, what systems would need to be rebuilt from scratch, and how an entire workforce could be retrained. These industries are entrenched. That’s why rather than pivoting, they would rather destroy technologies that may be successful to society.

At the end of the day, the CEO has a fiduciary duty to protect shareholder value. If they can’t produce new technologies, and they can’t pivot, the last ammunition is to destroy the others.

As a kid, I always wondered why can’t these companies see the opportunities?

After getting a peak behind the curtain at hundreds of different companies, I finally understand why.

So what’s that mean for you?

It means that if you have that big idea, it’s imperative to act on it. The big companies aren’t going to. Only you can do it, no matter how beyond your comfort zone the size of the idea is.

“Make no little plans…

They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably will not themselves be realized.”

Daniel Burnham said that. He was the Architect of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, a huge undertaking and largely regarded as being a wonder to see.

It’s a reminder that aiming too low can also have negative effects on your plans.

If you don’t think big enough, no one will take notice, even if the goal seems easily achievable.

Infinite Distraction

Once upon a time, there was a set amount of programming. It felt like there was time for diversion, then a pretty clear line of when to get back to our core focus.

Today, that line is no longer clearly drawn.

It’s not always easy to recognize when distractions are piling up, and even after knowing they are it can be hard to resist the inertia of feeding into them.

At some point though, the work is still there regardless of the distractions.

Drawing the lines. Setting the habits. Getting down to the core of the work is a skill, and it’s only growing in value.

With digital technologies we’re still in the 20…

of course I’m referring to the 80/20. The management rule where 80% of the efforts get 20% of the results and 20% of the efforts get 80% of the results.

Elon Musk says self-driving cars are more difficult that he imagined, yet blockchain technology for money or transactions isn’t that hard, though it does have other hurdles like electricity usage.

It seems like the world has endless opportunity and that digital technologies will never slow down until we hit the singularity.

While that may be one outcome, another could be that we hit a wall. That we solve nearly every problem that gets 80% of the results with 20% of the effort. Then comes the remaining problems, that are the last 20% of the results, but 80% of the effort. The slow, heavy problems that are hard won.

We thought we’d have flying cars by now because we extrapolated the growth of technology endlessly. We’re likely doing the same thing, now, in this moment with computers and microchips.

I’m not saying this is a certainty, just that it’s one possible outcome.

The Speed Wobbles

Often times life feels like it accelerates around us without us doing much, like a bike going down a hill. This can be a business expanding quick, or a dishwasher breaking, followed by car problems, followed by a job loss.

As the acceleration happens, it feels like one small thing can set you into a cataclysmic event, but the secret is in most cases you can stay upright by not freaking out and remaining steady until your problems correct and you get back to normalcy.

There are a few exceptions to this. In some extraordinary circumstances, if the bike as a metaphor for your problems accelerates to a certain degree, you get a phenomenon known as “The Speed Wobbles”. In aerodynamics, this is due to what is called vortex shedding. The vortices of the air created by you passing through extremely quickly start alternating side to side creating alternating pressure differences that make you wobble, which if they get strong enough lead to an inevitable crash. Like this situation, if your circumstances reach extraordinary levels, they need extraordinary planning to get out of them.

To alleviate the vortex shedding at certain velocities you would need a custom engineered bike, requiring planning, insight, and money. You’re not going to wing your way out of the speed wobbles.

Enzo Ferrari once said, “Aerodynamics is for people who can’t build engines.” He must have not built an engine fast enough to give a car the speed wobbles.

Aerodynamics is the solution to this issue for the bike, designing a shape that prevents vortex shedding. Accounting may be the solution to your financial woes. Therapy may be the key to resolving mental blocks. A nutritionist or personal training may be the ticket for health and fitness. These things are all specialties. When we find ourselves in extraordinary circumstances, it’s possible we need specialist knowledge to get ourselves through it.

This is a reminder that you don’t have to do things alone. There are people that can help, and we live in a world that is totally connected, making it the easiest it’s ever been to find those skills even if they aren’t in your immediate network. Maybe Enzo Ferrari wouldn’t have thought aerodynamics were so unnecessary if he could easily find specialists in that field, but during his time it was orders of magnitude harder. You don’t have to feel that way. There are untold amounts of resources at your fingertips.