Habits and standards.

The link above will take you to a page written by James Clear. James has written an entire book on habits. I haven’t read the whole thing but know many people who have, and they have nothing but great things to say. This blog is an example of a good habit. I write it daily, and I would like to do more, but with my current commitments, this is the most I’m capable of at the moment, the future may change that. Habits are often like that, building a muscle for when you reach a new level that requires a new amount of commitment.

If habits build the strength we need, then adding onto that, standards are also important. Standards are about what is acceptable. Can we do 100 pushups? Do we count them if they are sloppy with bad form?

How will we measure our habits without standards? Is the standard of writing daily good? What about the quality? What about the word count? What about picking titles? I’m a bit ashamed to admit this, but I don’t have too many standards for this blog. Not that I don’t want to produce quality, but that I don’t often spellcheck for the daily posts because I see them as drafts for bigger future pieces. However, keeping the spelling and grammar standard a bit lower, enables me to put this work out daily even with a hectic life.

In the future, a guide outlining my personal standards for each piece will be put together. I encourage you to do the same. Setting the standards of your life to paper may just help you think out how things should operate in your world. What’s the most weight you can gain before dieting? What’s the most you’ll let your house get out of control before a cleaning spree? What’s the level of the work you want to do? How much will you put up with at work?

The lists are really endless as to what standards to write down, but I can promise you this, just by doing it, what comes into your head will show you where your priorities are. Give it a shot.

Who should lead?

Yesterday, I wrote this post about The Standards of Your Life. I mentioned that a leader is someone who sets the standards as a basic definition. If you’re trying to decide who should be in charge, the typical way is to look at backgrounds, experience, education and a variety of other work in attempt to figure out who can do the work most appropriately. A different idea would be to look at each person’s standards.

Is punctuality important in the position? Perhaps the person who has never been late is better suited for the position than the person with the Ivy league degree.

Is presentation important in the position such as a restaurant? Perhaps the person who has a home that looks like it should be in Architectural Digest is a fit?

We all have varying standards for different items in our life, but almost no one judges people based on those because they are mostly invisible and no one is asking. It seems like a shame because the typical metrics of hiring leave much to be desired in terms of getting people who actually fit the position.

Think about this, if you were hiring a marketing person, would you rather hire a fresh graduate marketer with a marketing degree and little experience and a tiny portfolio he did for school, or a person who went for an engineering degree, but blogged every day during his 4 years of college and built a following of 10,000 people?

One built a standard of marketing for himself, the other followed the standard set by the industry on how to get a job in marketing. Which one is more likely to set the standard for your organization?

The Standards for Your Life

Leaders are simply people who set the standards. Attending leadership conferences, you’ll find all sorts of conversation about what a leader is or does, but to me this seems like a simple and straight-forward answer.

Think about the following examples:

  • The executive chef is the head of the kitchen. What does he do? Does he do inventory? Does he invent every dish? Does he wash the dishes? Each of those answers depends on the chef and isn’t necessarily specific to the job description. What every executive chef should do is set the standards for the foods and the cleanliness of the kitchen.
  • What does a hotel manager do? Do they answer phones? Clean rooms? Worry about decor? Possibly all of those, and possibly none of those. They set the standards of the experience. How does it feel? How does it smell? How quick is the check-in process? How likely are people to return?

A leader is a person who sets the standards. That means you are the leader of your own life. What standards will you accept for cleanliness in your house? What standards will you accept for fitness? What standards will you accept for pay? What standards will you accept for your finances? The list goes on and on and no one is going to set them for you. Figure out your standards and live to them, if you don’t actively set them, you are passively accepting them.

Making bad decisions anonymously.

There is a certain forum of “investors” that will not be named, but this forum introduces and praises ludicrous betting on the stock market. I’ve seen many on that forum claim if the technology didn’t exist to do these ridiculous bets through their phone, and they had to call up their brokers like decades ago, they would never place these risky bets at all. They would feel too stupid for having to tell someone.

Does this really mean that people will use anonymity to make bad decisions for themselves?

Doesn’t this mean that making people accountable leads to better outcomes?

I’m not sure what parts of society we can flip this phenomenon on, but I’d like to find some. For example, where are people using anonymity to make terrible (but legal) choices? How can we build systems to make their choices better?

The trick is, while many of these people are losing money, some of them enjoy the thrill enough that the monetary loss is worth it. Seems crazy, but that’s their own life choice. Instead, I’m talking about the one that loses their life savings and needs therapy. How could that be prevented?

Extrapolating this to your job or your company, are you making bad decisions because you aren’t accountable in your work? Are others doing it? How can you change the systems so that’s not the case?

Systems can have powerful effects on culture. Don’t look at either in isolation.

“Mistakes” of information in the digital age…

go around the world in an instant. We are now at a stage of history where as things become more and more automated and quicker and quicker to spread, making sure things are accurate and correct needs to be at the forefront of people’s mind.

Never have the details matter so much.

Never has wrong information gone around the world so quickly.

Never have we had so many operations that fall in a row like dominos.

If you’re going to interact in this world, do it with intention, hold yourself to a high standard, and double check everything is truthful. We don’t have room for many informational mistakes when those mistakes travel at lightning speed.

The percentage of things you understand in the world…

is incredibly close to 0%.

You are 1 in 7.5 billion people. That’s 0.00000013% of the world’s life experience belong to you.

Out of all the topics there are to study you know only a small fraction. Engineering, Finance, Medicine, Chemistry, Biology, etc.

Out of all the possibly interactions you can have amongst those several billion people, you’ll only have for all intents and purposes 0% of them. Much smaller than the percentage listed above since there are so many more combinations of people to interact than there are people.

Of all the places in the world it’s likely you’ll see less than 1% of the earth’s surface. Even then it’s likely much less than that as that is almost 2 million square miles since the earth’s surface area is roughly 196 million square miles.

I could go on with more points, but that seems unnecessary. When you realize how little you can know and experience it may help you open your mind and listen to others, they may have experience, knowledge or insight that can help you understand your situation and the world better.

Making a lasting impact.

Perhaps that’s not the right dream. It gives undue weight to your contribution to a future that might not need it, nor want it. A current impact that improves things is definitely a delight.

If you stop an asteroid from destroying the world then obviously you are improving the future and the present and those are the only types of lasting impacts we need.

The only thing improvable is the present because the future isn’t here yet. People in the future will likely know more about their problems than you guessing about them from today. Let them make their impact in their present and you make yours today. Forget about that lasting impact, you’re not smarter than the smart people from the future, and they know more about their realities than you do.

The impression vs. the reality.

There is a reason you don’t see white bowling balls. The oil on the lane makes them dirty looking. This gives the impression that they are much more worn out much quicker than other colored bowling balls. It’s not true at all, it just looks that way, but the way a customer feels is what matters, not necessarily the reality.

I’m reading Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell and something that he mentions (with anecdotes and proof) is how bad people are at reading others when their expressions don’t match their actual feelings or beliefs. The white bowling ball makes you believe it’s dirtier than a red one. You yourself may be giving off vibes that don’t represent you correctly. It may not be fair for others to judge you by them, but they likely are in some way. It’s not an active decision to make, it just happens. If you are conscious of it, you can do your best to convey how you feel by your expressions rather than defaulting to a misrepresentation. Some people are naturally gifted with this, and others aren’t. It might be a skill worth developing, or at least thinking about.

The Earth is always sloping downhill…

yet we’ve all have walked up hill. That’s because while the earth is round, but it’s surface isn’t perfect. We have local depressions that happen at a much smaller scale than the circumference of the earth. While the circumference of earth maybe 24,901 miles, there are peaks and troughs every few miles, no matter which way you go around.

This is similar to any endeavor you choose to take on. While your success is likely to continue a trend of going up, you may start in a depression. Then when you get out of that it may be smooth sailing until you hit another local depression. The global trend is up and up, but over short distances it may not be and most people are wired to pay attention to the local conditions we’re in.

Fight that urge to think in terms of your current conditions being the case forever when things are tough. It’s likely not reality at all. It just requires some grit to get through in the moment.

Low Frequency Events

Stock trading is a high frequency event. How frequent, well an eye blink takes about 300 milliseconds, in that time 10 trades have been made due to programmed algorithms. Imagine how many trades are happening per day. It’s enormous!

Pandemics are low frequency events. The last major pandemic was 102 years ago.

For people who are in the world of stock trading, they have a good understanding of the mechanics of the system because they are able to observe the trades so often, everyday.

For low frequency events, our brains aren’t equipped with a strong model for dealing with them. They come along so infrequently, we don’t have experience. While there was probably a handful of people alive today that lived through the 1918 Spanish Flu, it’s such a small percentage, and they were likely so young at that time that they don’t have much insight.

Our minds build mental models by interacting with certain experiences. Low frequency events don’t lend themselves to have a useful model, as a result, predicting a reaction to one is nearly impossible. Contrast that with a rising stock price, which based on plenty of past data can predict how the fluctuation in price will affect future purchases and for low frequency events it can be seen that we are shooting in the dark.

Applying this to people and their jobs, there is a preference in each individual for low vs. high frequency events. Personally, I like dealing with low frequency events. The challenge of how to solve something I’m not experienced in gets me into the flow. However, based on study of personality types and conversations with others, this is an exception. Many people prefer working in tasks that are high frequency. Tasks that they can practice and practice and become extremely skilled in.

It’s worth understanding where you stand on this spectrum and what you enjoy dealing in.

Collecting Early, Paying Late…

is the second rule of capitalism. The first is buy low, sell high.

  • Your mortgage. You collect the house first, and pay the bill later.
  • Payment terms in a company for services. You get the service, then pay the bill later.
  • Your paycheck. Your employer is the one collecting early on your labor and paying late.
  • A dinner out. You eat the meal, then pay the check.

The world is filled with people collecting early and paying later. This can be a powerful tool. It can build a business that you don’t have all the capital for up front. It can help you survive in a world where your cashflow isn’t always steady.

However, for many important things, the kind that generally don’t involve cash, we don’t get this sort of benefit. If you’re trying to become a well-known writer, you have to write first, and get the followers second. If you’re trying to get fit, you have to put in the effort and pain first and get the fitness later.

While there are many things, like a house, that can benefit from you collecting early and paying late, don’t get trapped in a cycle of it. Some things are too good to be true, and the best things don’t happen this way at all.

The scale of your life.

Minimaterials.com is a unique site that I found a couple of years back. It’s a fun idea. Toys that you build with at small scales. When I originally found it they only had some cinder blocks and palettes. now they have many different pieces of furniture and building materials.

How fun is that table? As my daughter gets a bit older, I may buy some of these things for her, but I’ll probably buy the materials and build the pieces myself to teach her how to build things in a scale that’s built for her.

Scale is something most people underestimate. I’ve found when talking to people they tend to only think in one scale. That scale is unique to the individual, but still singular in vision. Some people only think in the biggest. I want to make big cookies. I want to build a big business. All of that. Some people think in the most common scale, a normal size table, a regular sized cookie. Some people think in tiny scales, a tiny table, and a bite size cookie.

Your life has scales to it. These tables are perfectly fun to play with at their small size. Equally fun might be a table made for giants, which is likely why my young daughter has so much fun crawling under a table made for adults.

If everything in your life isn’t going the way you expected to perhaps you’re thinking in the wrong scale adjusting that correctly may make all the differences.

Sunk cost is a way to trap you as a customer.

It’s likely that if you charge a lot of money, and make things expensive to maintain, years later when a cheaper, more efficient alternative comes along as a competitor, your customer is so entrenched and has spent so much, they won’t be able to overcome the idea of the sunk cost they’ve put into your solution.

This is a way to trap a customer. While many companies do it, it doesn’t particularly move society forward. It’s a single-minded thought process, good for bottom lines, but not actually good for customers.

Another way to think is how to build something that doesn’t trap customers through the idea they have sunk too much cost in, but instead how to build something that they want to use because it is the best solution. How do you stay on top of the industry to make sure your solution is the solution of choice based on capabilities not sunk costs?

Not every company is out there seeking to trap people purposefully in this way, but sometimes this just occurs naturally. That’s okay, there isn’t much to do about it. What there is to be done is the work to make sure if they were making the decision today against your competitors they would still go with your offerings because they are the best choice.

Not every cause needs you to take a side.

It seems that pre-internet/social media, there were activists and causes, however, many of them were only being engaged with by those who had direct experience and could see the reasons of why to fall on one side or the other. It was a debate between people on both sides of the spectrum with little interaction from people in the middle.

Today, these debates are piped directly to us via social media on our phones, via email, via round the clock news. The average person has too many causes, to the point it’s becoming harder to just enjoy life.

Obviously, there is a balance, fixing injustice is a good cause, however, that’s a job that will never be complete. We also need to see the side of the world where things are working. Where we can relax and just be.

Can we recognize that this is so difficult…

because we’re arguing in a gray area.

Nothing functions in a pure form. The reason the arguments look so complicated is because we are balancing on the top of a steep hill, down either side is a quick descent towards the “pure” form of the each argument that leads to a less optimal society. We’re all finding how much we can move the needle without damaging the total operation of things.

This is a balance and it requires being able to see both where we are at and the hill itself. I we aren’t standing on top of the hill, we can’t see both sides and that leads towards extremism. While extremism gets more attention, it’s not usually the best place to operate from.

The complexity of the model in your head.

We all have them, models in our head that tell us how an interaction is going to go, when it’s our turn at a stop light, and any other interaction we have in the world. It isn’t the same as the one in the other person’s head. That’s where the constant miscommunication of the world happens.

Your model may be complex, seeing the subtlety or the gray areas of the world. Someone else’s may be simple, black and white. Trying to communicate a gray area from a complex model to someone with a simple black and white is a complicated endeavor. While people can learn new facts, changing the structure of their model is something dramatic. If there isn’t a space in their mental model for what you are trying to convey, you may not be able to convince them no matter the persuasiveness used or the facts.

The World as a brain.

I’ve often thought of a country as a brain, and a government as the structure of that brain. Each person is a “neuron”, and the sum of the “neurons” coupled with the structure determine the choices that brain makes. Recently, I found out Nikola Tesla thought along similar lines:

-Nikola Tesla

When scaling things down in physics, looking at just a few particles, things behave differently than at the macro level. Take a cloud of gas, the whole cloud volume may be drifting along at 10mph while the individual particles are moving at 10 times that. The macro behavior is significantly different than the micro behavior that makes it up.

This seems to be the case with society. The problem is we are looking a bit closer at the micro level than ever before due to social media. We are amplifying certain “neurons” importance and voice far more significantly than we should, as a result our macro behavior is starting to shift.

This is only an observation, and something to ponder. The total repercussions can’t be known entirely yet.

The power of memes…

is highly underrated. There are certain memes that have made people laugh. There are memes that have started a movement. There are memes that have sold products.

What makes memes so powerful when done well?

  • They are illustrative, showing the concept vs. explaining the concept.
  • They are quick to consume by comparison to reading.
  • They are easily shareable with others.

Those three items taken together make something that started as funny jokes, but is now shaping a significant portion of our culture.

Online attention.

If you want someone’s full attention it’s probably best to do something to connect with them through their phone. We’ve all been in the meeting where people are looking at their phones. So, if you do an online meeting, running it through the phones may keep everyone from losing focus.

Another example, people now watch streaming services and still browse the internet with their phone at the same time. Do you really think they are taking in that movie in it’s full glory? How about if your title was only available on the app on their phone? That way if they watch it, their phone is already tied up.

If you want someone’s full attention to your online meeting, video, etc., the best chance you have is making it consumable through their cellphone. It eliminates the browsing habit that many have developed.

Focusing on the difference vs. the overlap.

It’s often easy to look at the world and say here is how we are different. When judging a product, a service, a restaurant, all you need to make your decision is on how they are different. Some differences include, appearance, price, speed, durability, craftsmanship, taste, and quantity. However, when interacting with others it’s easy to see the differences and not the overlap.

I watched an interview with Ricky Gervais recently talking about atheism (Please ignore the religious undertone here, it’s just a good example) and to paraphrase he said, “There are around 3,000 gods across all religions in the world, the difference between an atheist and a Christian is that the atheist believes in 1 less god than the Christian does.” They both agree that the other 2,999 gods don’t exist, but on the last one the disagree.

While some people get heated over that kind of stuff, it’s actually a healthy way of looking at it, Mathematically, when it comes to deities they worship those two are actually in agreement on 99.9% of the worlds deities. However, that 0.1% can be a sticking point for a lot of people.

It takes significant thought, reflection, and perspective to see the overlap, and that’s precisely why it’s so valuable. Differences are easy to spot, it’s why we use them as a shortcut, seeing the similarities is much harder and likely, much more valuable when trying to make sense of the world.

One way to get attention…

is to show up the most, for the longest period of time.

I recently wrote about Sensationalism and Attention, and it’s how people get millions of YouTube followers over a matter of a few years. Outrageous stuff gets attention.

What about important messages that aren’t outrageous? What alternative do they have?

Show up. Again and again. For years or decades. Doing so, in itself is sensational, but not only that, you then get to write true, but sensational headlines such as “Man spends 30 years trying to change the world.” “Woman writes blog daily about climate change for 40 years.” Those are sensational headlines in their own right, but they are also true.

You don’t have to sacrifice everything you believe to get the right attention, but it’s likely that you will have to be patient. Are you okay with that?

Why do so many blockbuster movies come from America?

It’s the ecosystem:

  • Wealthy society for raising big money for production
  • Wealthy society for paying big ticket prices
  • Capitalist structure to incentivize making a better movie than the competition
  • A large population sharing the same language compared to Europe

All of these things come together in order to build a strong movie industry in America.

If you’re in a field where things just don’t seem to be going your way. The work you want to do just isn’t available. It’s perhaps you’re not a failure, you’re just not in the right ecosystem. Certain plants will fail to grow in certain climates and soils. It’s not that they are failures, but that the conditions aren’t right.

This can be commonly seen in restaurants. Putting a sushi restaurant in an area where everyone loves hamburgers isn’t a recipe for success. While there are certain fields and industries that can produce opportunities anywhere such as repairman, doctors, lawyers, etc, there is another class of industries that have their best chance when in the right place. If you haven’t thought much about that, it’s time to do so.

If you think negatively of a certain trait you have…

…and it’s been around for a while in society, ask why natural selection didn’t extinguish it.

It seems like selfishness maybe an entirely negative trait. I had a few friends who I used to consider selfish when I was younger, but later realized there is actually a social benefit at times to it.

Ever go out with a bunch of easy-going people? “Where should we go to eat?” is a common refrain.

“I don’t care.”

“I’m good with whatever.”

“Whatever anyone wants is fine by me.”

That’s great that everyone is in agreement, but who is actually going to decide?

One guy says, “We’ll go to my favorite pizza place.”

In this situation, if there is one and only one person with a recommendation, no one seems selfish. It’s when there are multiple of these types in the group, and neither wants to budge, then the selfishness seems more apparent.

The point is, these traits are situational. If you are thinking negatively about certain traits you have, it’s more likely that you’re not putting yourself in the right situations for them to be assets. Take some time to think through what those situations might be and use them to make yourself the best possible version.

We’re looking for something impressive.

  • An iPhone.
  • A few hot days.
  • A sidewalk.
  • A basketball and hoop.

Mix all of those together with a little creativity and some editing software, and you have something interesting like the video above. My wife said, “Oh my god.” when she first saw it.

There are plenty of new discoveries left out there. Plenty of new inventions. Plenty of new stories to be told in a way we aren’t expecting.

There is a wide open world for you to explore, though you have to be willing to enjoy the journey more than the pay day. Do you have the patience it takes to explore something new?

Prisons of the mind.

It’s possible you’re so tuned into a specific thing, that you miss something else. In fact, not only is it possible, people are almost entirely defined by what they ignore.

We’ve all seen the trope of the guy who can’t ever seem to be aware of the time. Someone like the Absent-Minded Professor. This guy missed his own wedding three times!

We’ve all met that person who is extremely blunt and ignores the feelings of others.

We’ve all seen the companies who live in the past, not adapting to the current wants and ignoring growing trends.

We’re all trapped in mental prisons of sorts. The key is to figure out what it is that you are ignoring the most and becoming aware of it. That way you know when you can accept criticism of the part of the world you are missing taking in.

We all have limited memory, limited bandwidth, limit sensory capability, as a result, any change of taking in the thing we are currently excluding, will only lead to leave out something we are currently including. We can never be perfect, but perhaps we can be aware of our imperfections.

Sensationalism and Attention

Sensationalism is what gets attention. The more people compete for attention, the more sensational the claims have to be in order to show up on anyone’s radar. In a world, with ever-growing competition for attention this leads down the path of picking how you want to get your attention.

Do you want to do the outlandish, over-the-top stuff, like celebrities with bad boy images who get arrested because it is good for their image? Do you want to make the most outrageous claims anyone has ever made? Or do you want to do the most amazing charitable work that anyone has ever seen? Or do you want to invent world-changing technologies that investors line up for?

All of these are choices in how we show up, and some are much better for society than others. Be sure that you show up in the way that you would like to in order to get the attention you deserve from those you are seeking an audience with.

What if intelligence doesn’t exist?

What if everyone is equally intelligent and that intelligence as a construct isn’t something that actually exists?

Consider the situation where everyone we consider intelligent is actually just lucky. Maybe Einstein just consumed the right information and experiences to discover the work that he did.

I often read posts about the future talking about what will happen when mankind builds and AI super intelligence and the ramifications of that. The premise is often that we can build something that there is no way we can out-think.

What if intelligence is simply 7 billion (or whatever the population is) guesses at what data and experiences are needed to make someone “smart”? What if it’s not something that is designed, but something lucked into every once in a while.

It’s not that I’m actually sure either way on this, whether or not intelligence is an actual thing, or whether it’s simply receiving the right data, and weighting it appropriately, or whether it’s luck.

With that being said, if we can never be sure of our actual intelligence, maybe consideration of it isn’t a useful construct in our work. Perhaps there is only doing the work, and not doing work, with the former being preferable.

Hiding behind the housing.

My wife and I were talking about espresso machines, and I was explaining the basic premise of how they work to her. She thought they were much more complex than they actually are.

At their core, they are a container that heats up water into steam, a valve the lets the steam flow and container that holds the coffee and filter. While there are additional settings complexities possible such as precise temperature control, pressure control, and all sorts of fail safes built in to make them safe for the home, the actual concept isn’t that difficult.

The reason most people don’t realize the simplicity is because all of the internal workings are put inside a nice, shiny metal box. That housing hides how things work.

Of course, there is often new ways to make things better, like being able to clean the water reservoir, but when it’s placed behind the housing, you can’t see it.

This is true in endeavors with people as well. We can hide behind the housing, obscure company processes, and make sure no one knows how everything works, or transparency can be sought so that others can see opportunities to make things better.

Wearing a suit is to inspire authority.

A marriage therapist in a suit looks like an authority to the two plainly dressed clients.

A salesperson in a suit looks like he’s been successful in helping other clients.

Wearing a suit is just one way to inspire authority. There is plenty of other things that we can inspire in different ways as well. Have you put any thought into what you inspire in others?

Where do you put your trust?

One of the defining characteristics of who we are is where we put our trust.

Do you put your trust in people?

Do you put your trust into business?

Do you put your trust into your family?

Do you put your trust into money?

All of these things shape who we are and who we want to be.

A business may drastically change depending on which employees it trusts the most.

Your relationships may change depending on how much you trust others.

At the end of the day, have you decided if you trust the right amount, and if you’re placing your trust in the right spots?

Seeking validation.

It’s easy to seek validation for the ideas we have and the work we do in our immediate vicinity. In our friends, our family, or our coworkers. The struggle is that proximity isn’t a great measure of who the work is for.

For example, if you built your wife a jewelry box for her birthday present. If she thought it was hideous, perhaps you don’t know how to craft something in the style she likes.

This is a huge hurdle in doing something new. Making your life’s work. Changing careers. Talking about ideas. Those people that are closest to us may not be the right audience, even though they are the ones available to run things by. This creates the doubt of success, the seed of the idea that we’ll fail.

The world is a big place, your audience is out there, but in addition to the work you want to do of writing, building, programming, educating, making art, you’ll also have to do the work of finding your audience. Guaranteed, finding the audience is the more terrifying part of your endeavor.

Power of Context

In Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, he points to the power of context as being one of the key factors in whether things tip or not.

I often think about a failing restaurant. How does someone who realizes the error of their ways turn it around if they have already lost the trust of the people in town?

One way is to change the name, and change the look. This is essentially changing the context. By removing the previous look, you’re also removing the previous context which was a negative stigma.

Additional items to flip the context could be new menu, new staff, and new location.

The Power of Context is worth thinking about in your endeavors, or even your home in order to promote the right habits.