The shift of knowing to knowing the best.

Just twenty years ago, there was pride in being able to direct people to what they are looking for. Knowing where they could get Chinese food, or the nearest hardware store, or what the hottest Christmas toy was. The internet along with the portable devices that connect to it changed all that. Now, no one needs that information from anyone. It’s searchable in a few seconds.

While knowing where to get Chinese food is no longer valuable, knowing where to get the BEST Chinese food is. If you can be more specific, it’s even better. Who has the best Kung Pao Chicken and why? Who has the spiciest? Who has the crunchiest? Who has one that is unique?

Insight is at a premium now, when in the past awareness was enough to be valuable.

It seems like people arguing over the best video game of the year is trivial, but for those people perhaps figuring it out is how they add value to their social circle.

If you’re a job seeker, a business owner, a creative, or just someone who likes having answers, insight is at a premium. It’s time to do an audit of what insight you have. To be clear, the insight should be something you can’t easily look up an answer to online, if it can, it’s a commodity.

Breaking the loops.

We all have a number of loops in our lives, some are avoidable, some aren’t.

Waking up, eating breakfast and drinking coffee is a loop. Happens everyday.

Getting bored and defaulting to social media is a loop.

Loops in essence are the things we do without thinking. Where the mind and habits inevitably drift.

I’m not a religious scholar, and I only know the basics about Buddhism, but someone recently told me that one interpretation of Buddhism and it’s main goal of enlightenment is “to break loops so that one is only walking forward on their journey.”

That seems like an amazing concept. If that’s enlightenment, it certainly makes sense to me. How many times are there interesting things we’d like to do, but we FEEL too busy, when it reality our life is simply full of loops. Social media scrolling, Netflix binging, shopping, news reading, and all sorts of things that actually don’t end up with us where we want to be.

The journey from where we are to where we want to be, isn’t a mindless one, it’s a thoughtful one. I don’t think enlightenment has to be free of all mistakes and backtracks, instead it is consistently choosing the tasks of the day, and certainly not many people would choose to walk in a circle all day long, yet we find ourselves in them metaphorically all day long.

Think about the loops that you get yourself into. How can they be prevented. Can you add additional steps that make you think about what you’re doing prior? Can you change your attention during times where your mind wanders and focus it on something more important?

At the least, it’s worth thinking about.

Moving too fast.

Even if it weren’t dangerous to people in the area, you wouldn’t drive 100 mph in a neighborhood you weren’t familiar with. You wouldn’t be able to read the signs and figure out where to turn on the streets that you need.

Often times people are moving too fast. Trying to do too much in a day on tasks they aren’t all that familiar with. At the end, they find themselves not actually where they wanted to be. Exactly like the guy doing 100 mph who blew past his turn, he doesn’t actually make it to his destination on time.

When I’m under stress I routinely remind myself that progress at the right pace will dig me out of the pile faster that working at a pace of 150% and making extra mistakes. Instead, I try to work at about 85% of my normal pace, which provides extra care to not make mistakes. It makes sense, just like that car looking for the right street to turn on, going slower affords more time to see the issues. It lowers the stress and everything still gets done.

Human nature under stress seems to be “hurry up”, which may be true if you are a soldier in a war and running from cover, but in a world of modern work, slow down is most likely what you need.

A red pen for markup.

When you’re stuck in deliberation for what tools you need for the task at hand, it’s always good to consider that the world’s most complicated computer, the world’s fastest car, and the world’s tallest building likely all had engineering blueprints and schematics that were reviewed and checked with a red pen for markup.

The red pen isn’t a complex tool. It doesn’t cost a lot of money. It isn’t smart on it’s own. The person wielding the red pen is the one with the insight and the skill to make things better.

You are the intelligence. You are the skills. You are the leader, not the tool. The tool may make it easier to get the results you desire, but in most circumstances, your skill will lead to the results more than the tool.

Analysis, Decision-Making, and Commitment

Analyzing a situation, say your finances, and choosing where to invest your money is a smart move. However, decision-making itself can also be different from the analysis itself. The analysis tells you what makes sense by the numbers, but then you still have to “feel” it. Without that feel, often we fail to commit.

When the analysis and the feeling don’t jive, you end up with no commitment.

Moneyball is an excellent movie because it showcases the gap that exists between analysis and commitment to the decisions we make from it. Billy Beane is facing criticism from everyone for the choices made from Peter Brand’s analysis. He could easily cave, go back to the old ways, and try to recover, but every chance when he finds an opportunity to break the commitment, he finds a way to take away his own ability to do so, even trading his best players away.

Analysis is a powerful tool, but often it requires commitment and rigor to actually follow it. In cases such as applying analysis to engineering, it’s easy to stick to the commitment because physics doesn’t change much. The optimal design for the conditions is going to stay so.

However, what about an economic analysis to determine the right stock pick. Economics aren’t physics, they shift, morph and change. When that stock you pick initially goes in the wrong direction, it’s going to quickly call into question all the faith you put into your analysis. The data is threatening your commitment.

Analyzing the situation is a powerful tool for figuring out the choices to make in the world, but it’s just that a tool. The decisions still have to be executed and committed to, that part is typically much harder than the analysis itself.

Closed form solutions.

It’s easy to wait for someone to present a “closed form solution.”

In mathematics, a closed form solution is the answer to a problem in the form of a single equation. Something that we can take specific known inputs and get known outputs.

When lost seeking out the closed form solution is the first step. In the ages before the internet, this wasn’t easy and we couldn’t be as sure that something was missing due to our own inability to find the right people, businesses, or information.

A few examples of closed form solutions for different problems are:

  • SOLIDWORKS as a solution to being able to model engineering designs and check for issues before building.
  • Zoom as a way to connect with people via video on the other side of the world.
  • An iPhone as a way to browse the internet on the go.

Here are a few examples where there may not be any closed form solutions available:

  • Keeping employees motivated
  • How to communicate a concept to someone
  • The best way to survive an animal attack

When you see something that currently is lacking a closed form solution, and you find one, it’s likely you’ve created a new market. It’s best to keep your eyes open for these.

Iterative Design

Modern vehicles didn’t come about in one go, they came about over a 100 years of iterations. Any endeavor of significant complexity requires iterations. Government, businesses, writing a book, designing a car, building a house, etc. They all require making choices, that affect the choices down the line, that may affect the original choices we made, and on the iterations go.

Many people are scared to work in systems of this level of complexity. Part of the fear comes from the fact that the systems are complex enough that all of the ramifications can’t be completely known or foreseen. Part of the fear comes from the fact that it may not work. Part of the fear is that the next iteration will be worst than the last. And the last part of the fear is fear itself.

Tasks that require iteration are the hardest things to automate. While thinking as an engineer or mathematics, these would be the physics problems that have no closed form solution. When that’s true, judgment and design decisions themselves influence the behavior of the system. There is a feedback loop, and there is also a whole lot of room for experimentation and improving on the existing ideas of what is best.

Projects that are so large and so complex that they don’t have a single solution are the ones that should be celebrated. They are the ones where there is an opportunity to make things better. Seek them out.

Truth vs. Reality

100 events, 50 positive, 50 negative. Show one person the 50 positive. Show another person the 50 negative. You’ve shown both true events, but shown neither reality.

Yet it seems that the way the we consume information is happening this way more and more often.

The amount of events happening in the world every single day is far beyond what any one person can fathom by reading, watching the news, being out in the world, or trying to stay informed. In the United States alone, there is 330,000,000 people with 24 hours in a day, that’s nearly 8 billion hours (~12,500 human lifetimes of experience) of “human experience” every single day in the United States alone.

Is it actually possible for any news story, any source of information, to capture all of that, distill it down and tell everyone else about it in the hour or two they have free to watch the news?

No. It’s not.

It can’t possibly be.

Doing so would would be the act of being omniscient.

No one knows all.

What can we do about it?

I’m not sure, but I do know it starts with awareness of what I’ve posted here.

Normal, large, and larger.

Words can manipulate people and its unavoidable in many ways.

Consider the sizes “small, medium and large”. What if these were meant to tell someone their size based on society. What if someone thinks they are medium, but in reality they are in the smallest 15% of society based on measurement? Small is actually for them, but measurement didn’t show up to correct them.

Now consider “Normal, large and larger”. If we’re talking about soft drinks, it’s possible this will change the sizes ordered compared to “small, medium and large.” If normal is now the small, most people will be ordering that. Most people want to get the normal size.

This is the smallest example I can think of that words have power. That words manipulate situations. There is no opt out for this phenomenon. We’re all involved in it, so it’s best to be aware it’s happening purposefully, or indirectly.

Why does our form change for running?

Turns out it’s more efficient than simply using our normal walk at a faster speed. You don’t need to calculate the biomechanics, your body just knows. If only processes at companies changed as easily and as naturally when the pace starts picking up.

Companies don’t have much instinct and don’t rearrange themselves to better match changes or growth without putting heavy thought into it and significant effort to get people to follow the new methods.

A good owner or a valued employee generally starts by staying vigilant, paying attention, and realizing when the company needs to switch “strides” in order to fit its new products, order quantity, number of employees, or other shifting customer factors.

Is someone in charge of this at every level? Do you have the people that are paying attention in the correct positions? Do the people who want to improve things know that doing so is valued? Is there any headwinds to someone wanting to make a change and not knowing how to go about it?

On a normal day, I stroll, walk briskly, and jog. It’s not likely your company needs to change it’s “stride” that often, but it’s certainly more often than you would expect. If significant changes aren’t taking place annually, it may be time to bring in a fresh pair of eyes.


There is a weird story in the picture below. It’s doesn’t match their business, it’s off-brand. Of course, it’s possible they are renters and they can’t replace these doors. Or there is emergency exit criteria for this particular set of doors. However, there are many instances where we are off=brand ourselves. Where we hold ourselves up as a professional and then fail to deliver. It’s good to minimize those as much as possible, but the reality is some will always slip through.

Being established and staying accountable to customers.

My wife was looking for a roofing company for a homeowner’s association to redo about 60 roofs all at once. The job is likely in the $500,000+ range. She was given a recommendation by her dad who has been in construction for decades. The roofing company owner is an older guy with a lot of money and a few different businesses. My wife called several times to get budgets over a month or two timespan. She never received a return call.

Eventually, a secretary for the roofing company called my wife, and told her, “He didn’t want to return your call because your dad hasn’t been talking to him lately.”

Could you imagine this being a professional reason? Is he not in the business of making money? Is $500,000 such a small amount that you can ignore it for that reason?

This guy has been in the roofing business for decades. I have a hunch that if he was just getting started in the business and he was younger, he was less financial stable, he was looking for a big gig to make a name for himself on and a reference, my wife would have had that budget in hand pretty quick.

This isn’t to say that if you’re more established, you care less automatically. It’s a reminder that accountability to customers should be refreshed routinely. If not, you’ll find your reputation shifting in a bad way.

Tempering yourself.

My wife is in the interior design business. In that industry, there is a tendency towards white, and if not white, using light colors more often than bolder dark ones. Light colors are made by tempering bolder colors with white.

Why is the desire for white so strong in that industry? White is universal. White is timeless. White is symbolic of cleanliness. There are reasons that white will never go out of style, which is true. However, do you need to hire someone to tell you, “Paint it white?”

Tastes change over time, so while you want to make sure your kitchen layout is going to work for you for a long time to come, the color of your living room isn’t that hard to change. A little bit of paint and a day of work and you’ve got a whole new feel and color. That’s in stark contrast to the kitchen which would take tens of thousands of dollars and likely months to change any significant portion of the design.

People generally like to dilute their abilities. To temper them in front of others, scared that if they show off what they can do, what difference they can make, and how they excel beyond the others they will somehow be seen as an outcast. It’s not often that this is true, but it is true that there is a tension of showing what you can do.

It seems silly to say this, but don’t be scared to be different, it might be the only way to be successful. After all, while flipping through my wife’s competitor’s works I can only see so many white walls, white molding, light wood with matte finish and bold colored accessories before I start to wonder what designer was the originator of the style and why they all want to do the same thing as each other.

P.S. My wife is working through some issues in confidence right now as far as being an originator and offering something different. I actually wrote this for her, but I thought it might be useful for you and the work you do to.

How do you plan on improving yourself?

I recently wrote this post on the Power of Expectations. In that post, I listed three items needed for expectations to become a powerful force. One of those was people committed to improving themselves.

Thinking about that, in all my life, in all the job interviews I’ve ever had, not one interviewer ever asked that. Beyond that, I asked a few friends and coworkers, none of them had ever been asked that in an interview either.

It seems like a question that might provide some insight into whether or not a person fits the criteria to be able to rise to high expectations or not.

It’s at least something to think about.

The Power of Expectations

I recently rewatched a movie that required viewing when I was in school. It was called Stand and Deliver. It was from the ’80s and it follows a group at a school in a poor area with low academic achievement. It was based on a true story.

The movie follows a passionate teacher who wants to raise the kids’ self-esteem and skills by teaching them math at a high level. He wants them to start to see college as an option for themselves, rather than just something rich kids do.

A repeated theme throughout the movie is “these kids will rise to the expectations,” and at the time it seemed the other teachers merely accepted low standards, which let the kids off the hook.

Mr. Escalante, the teacher inspiring the kids, was right to lead with his high expectations and oversaw the first group ever at the school through passing the calculus advanced placement exam, where many of them received college credit. The number of kids doing so increased in years following.

Expectations are powerful. However, they do have to be backed up by a few things:

  1. A leader who can guide his students/workers/proteges that the expectations being sought.
  2. Clear goals.
  3. A group committed to improving themselves.

To review how these played out in the movie vs. other realities in life:

  1. Mr. Escalante knew calculus. He knew all the math leading up to calculus. He was capable of teaching them all the gaps in their knowledge. This wouldn’t work with a boss who had huge expectations of a worker to achieve results that the boss had no idea how to achieve himself.
  2. In the movie, the goal was to pass the calculus advanced placement exam and achieve college credit. That’s clear. If it was, “Raise your knowledge of mathematics to a high level.” That’s not clear. No one knows where that finish line is.
  3. There were some students that didn’t participate or dropped out of Mr. Escalante’s challenge. There were also some that were fighting other’s expectations of them to be “more ordinary” or more like the culture of the rest of the school. The way the movie portrayed it, there wasn’t a history of academic achievement at the school, so these kids had no one to look to, other than wanting to better themselves. Those who had that desire, proceeded and succeeded.

The important thing is with all three of these, incredibly high expectations can be met and when they are, the culture is changed. A new bar is set, others see the standards, and a new round of raising the expectations can begin.

Expectations are powerful.

P.S. It’s a feel good movie with a great message. Watch Stand and Deliver if you haven’t seen it and are searching for something.

Who is an album of all the number one hits for?

A number one hit doesn’t mean it’s the most creative song. It doesn’t mean it’s the song with the deepest meaning. It doesn’t mean that it’s the best use of the musician’s talent. It simply means it’s the most popular.

An album filled with all of the songs that made it to the number 1 spot on the Billboard charts is an album that is meant to be the most appealing to the most people. Broad appeal.

For artists who have made a dozen albums, there are many more ways you could create new albums from their past works. You could make an album with positive vibe songs only, or flip that for negative vibes. You could create an album for only their songs involving themes of love. You could create an album of all the songs under a certain length.

You don’t see many anthology albums outside of “Greatest Hits” or “Number 1’s” because no one is sure if they will appeal to many people. Mashing together all the best hits seems like it would do the best, but it’s not actually a certainty that is true. What if those downbeat songs weren’t popular on the other albums because they were “moodkillers” in the middle of an otherwise upbeat album. Yet, mashing them all together means the whole album is for someone in that mood. Many people might be looking for exactly that.

There are plenty of ways to package things. To rework the past and put together in a way that is palatable to a new audience. Often it takes someone willing to do something that might not work to see it.

Everyone is looking for someone who can bring data.

I’m about to talk briefly about book publishing but this applies across many different industries.

Book publishers are looking for someone who can say, I’ve written 10 articles about this topic. The highest viewed article pulled in 10,000 readers, the lowest viewed pulled in 8,500, the average viewers is 9,550. I’d like to turn these articles into a book, and I also have 15,000 people in an email list ready to advertise to the book to, 75% of them read my email list every week.

Those numbers provide the book publisher with data. Hard data. The kind that can be used to start to build models on whether they will get a return on their money from publishing your book. They know their costs. They can use your data to predict a number of purchases from your list alone. How many of those people are likely to tell their friends. Whether that will be enough to reach the best sellers lists which then have additional data about how many books those titles usually sell.

If all you’ve done is written a book, good luck getting it published. Without a following they are taking a guess, and it’s much safer to go with someone who isn’t making them guess.

Moving away from the book publishing example, when you are selling to a company or applying to a job. People are looking for someone who can give them the data they need to move forward in an area they were stalled out before. When you’re not getting responses, you haven’t done enough up front. You haven’t put in the effort. This is effort may take years in order to get the data being sought. That’s good. That makes it valuable and not something a competitor will be able to produce on a whim.

Focus on data that a customer can use to remove uncertainty and you may get them to move from where they are today in grid-lock, to paying attention.

Recognizing dread

When we are dreading something, it means it’s time for a change.

It doesn’t always mean the change has to be huge. It can be that you’ve been on a roll and haven’t take enough time to think. It can be that you’re falling behind and just need to catch your breath. It can be that you’re putting yourself in situations that aren’t good, or don’t fit you as a person.

Sometimes we feel trapped by the feeling, and as a result, behave poorly in response. We don’t talk it out with someone a spouse, a boss, a coworker, a friend, etc. and we keep going along the wheel with a looming sense that something needs to change, but not quite sure what it is.

The most important part is not to bury it and keep going on. It only grows. Keep in mind, dread isn’t a perfect synonym with fear. Dread is caused by anticipation, so the thing that’s bothering you isn’t even there, you are just anticipating it being so. Changing your situation to where you no longer anticipate something bad is the key to removing it. Figure out what that the key to that is, and you’ll know the change you need to make.

Watching a guy eat food.

It’s easy to think that there aren’t many ways to add value to a customer, but consider this, a YouTube channel like Binging with Babish makes money by essentially showing us a guy eating food. While it is a cooking show, it rushes through the cooking pretty quickly to get to the final part, the food and the tasting. The cooking is the value being added, but it’s the plating, taste test, and commentary that is the climax of the episode.

In your business you provide a service or a good, and that is the peak of the story, but to add value, think through what the rest of the story is. What is your inciting incident, the crisis, and the complication? Share those.

To take an example, if you’re a software reseller having many different modules for sale, it’s possible that different modules put together create “solutions”. What is the incident or situation that would find someone needing that solution? What is the crisis they would find themselves running up against without it? What is the complication of going from where they are today, to where they would be with what you offer?

These are all things that tell the story of what your audience is looking for. There is no one medium for doing this. There is no one audience. There is no one crisis. There is no one complication. There are many of them, that can all create a number of different “stories” for your business to tell. There is no end to them. Just more things to add value to your customers.

Why can’t we open our minds to others?

I mean truly open. Showing what we know, why we believe what we believe and how we make decisions. Sometimes it feels like we can, but in reality that’s usually only when the other person is in total agreement. When there is pushback, why does it always feel like an attack?

Because we’re all irrational.

Because the choice of what we value (Efficiency, Empathy, A Better Future, Fun and Freedom, Stimulation, Health, Clear Structure, Good Feelings) above others is arbitrary and may be related to our genetics, our brain’s individual architecture and any host of external factors that we didn’t actually make a choice on. Add to that when someone values efficiency, while another values fun, there are bound to be conflicts even when viewing the same information, events and choices.

These arbitrary things we decide to value is what we could call the “ego.” As a result, someone who thinks they are the most efficient and values efficiency sees themselves in a good light, but someone who thinks fun is the most important may simply see them as arrogant. After all, they don’t seem to be having much fun. When people have the same “ego” they tend to see the world the same. It’s easier to open our minds to those types. It’s just a matter of sharing the facts and information. When our “egos” conflict, that’s generally when we get the name calling, the “I can’t believe this…”, the “Why” questions, and for nearly all of it, when we drill all the way down, it’s just unanswerable or unreconcilable.

This is why you can’t convince everyone of everything. Being persuasive is about maximizing who you can convince, but if our “egos” are too far apart and what we value at a base level doesn’t match, there is no convincing to be done. There is simply arguments about a worldview which even if you could win would mean shattering the other person’s perception of the world. That’s not a positive event in most cases for the relationship between the two people conversing.

Hitting resistance.

In just about any creative endeavor there is resistance. It could be running a business. It could be creating art of a certain style. Eventually, you run into the wall. It feels like you’ve said everything, or put everything you can out there. That no more ideas exists for your work.

That’s foolish thinking.

If infinity is a real number, then the number of ideas out there is infinite; if it’s not then the number is much larger than any normal person can comprehend.

I’ve been struggling lately with the blog. I’m not posting as much because lately I’ve found myself struggling to pull out the things to say. It’s been made worse by the fact that previously, more often than not, I would sit down with a growing list of ideas I had to write about and take a pick from one that inspired me the most, allowing the words to flow out. That hasn’t happened the last few months. I sit down with no list, and feel a struggle to put out the words. This isn’t the first spell of this kind that has happened to me, but it is the longest. Any endeavor goes through this. One thing I’m starting to find that helps is rereading my past work. Finding old topics and connecting them with newer thoughts. Not every project has to be entirely new, some can be developing branches off of old work, or deepening those works by adding more to them.

Many times when we’re hitting resistance it’s because we’re trying to find the next thing, which is likely to come anyway. While you’re waiting to see that, it’s not bad to revisit the past things for a little inspiration and reminder of what your work is.

Never noticing the training.

A background a young track star might have is growing up running from the day she could first walk. Did she notice the effort she was putting in and how it made her faster than most everyone else? Probably not, until she reached the point of joining the track team and competing. Then her “natural” talent, which was more likely practice without considering it to be anything but fun, was used to motivate her to put in more effort to be the best in the county/state/nation/world.

The things we do well are often the things we practice without ever thinking of them in that manner. It’s the baking done every week or two for decades. It’s the nightly meal making for a family. It’s the basketball games with friends. It’s the mountain biking every weekend. It’s the blogging daily. It’s the photographs we take of our lives.

At work it can be a different set of things. It’s the presentations produced, relationships managed, knowledge uncovered, and a million other things, but they are there too.

The complication is realizing what you’ve been practicing at for years without feeling it to be a burden, giving yourself credit for the skill, while also not suddenly making it feel like practice. Many skilled people are unaware of how skilled they actually are and sell themselves short over and over in life.

The Great Depression and Information.

Post image

It was common to see signs like this during the Great Depression. People didn’t know where to find work. Information flowed slowly. If a company went bust, it wasn’t readily apparent where to find more work, especially if those skills only applied to companies in other cities.

Today the information flows much more quickly. If you find yourself unemployed it’s easy to jump online and find places that need work with your skillset. This has shifted the level of resilience in our economic system. It’s much less likely that we’ll go through a depression, though recessions are still a strong part of the economy.

The way that information flows is something that can change many systems. It can change the way a business does sales. It can change the way employees interact with each other. It can change the way collaboration happens.

Connecting the right bits of information between the right people is extremely important, it’s likely you need to spend some time thinking about this internally.

The Power of Context and Asking Questions.

An idea that has always stuck with me has been the “Power of Context.” I’ve felt it. High-energy from working in the right place, low-energy from bad weather, and then reading works by Malcolm Gladwell provided more data proving the phenomenon is real to me.

Beyond that, context is powerful.

It’s also fluid.

Interacting with different people can change the context. It’s up to you to try to maintain yourself and your behavior regardless of what is shifted. In my career, having many conversations with people, questioning and understanding more than talking has been vital. I continue to hone that skillset, but there are other situations where it seemingly falls apart.

Talking with my family about politics, it all goes out the window. I don’t behave the same way. I don’t seek to understand nearly as much. These are the people I grew up with and may see me different than professional acquaintances. Still, it should be on me to behave the same way, seek to first understand, then seek to be understood. Perhaps the context is “I have known these people all my life, I do understand them.” However, it’s not true. I’m misleading myself by believing it. No one shares a 100% life experience with anyone. No one has the entirely same background to draw on.

Next time you are working with someone you think you understand, whether family, friend, colleague, or customer, make sure the context is one of understanding.

The market for players.

The film “Moneyball” was a movie about baseball, but more than that it was a movie about seeing what others don’t and finding the undervalued assets of the world. I don’t like calling people “assets” it doesn’t sit right with me, but in this context that’s what baseball players are to baseball teams. They are the good that creates value.

Here are some things that are assets, or items that make you a financial return:

  • Yourself
  • Sports Stars and other employees
  • Real Estate
  • Businesses and Stocks
  • Art
  • Classic Cars
  • Bonds
  • Education

The lists go on. In the movie “Moneyball”, Billy Beane used a statistician to build a “team asset” with his desired characteristics rather than buying a bunch of talented “player assets”. This flipped the value proposition of individual players and as a result he was able to create a better team on a smaller budget as up until then baseball teams were competing for the best all around players which made their prices sky high.

There are plenty of places besides baseball where if you’re willing to try something new, to see what others don’t you have an opportunity to pull off what others can’t. Here are a few things that can change provide you an economic advantage if you see something others don’t:

  • Technology applied in a new way to an existing industry
  • Employees that others can’t see the potential in
  • Bringing together creativity and the right materials to create something no one ever thought of before that has a demand.

“The Outsider” Persona

We’re in election season, and while looking up local candidates, I’ve seen again and again, “I’m an outsider, I bring fresh perspective.” While looking at so many different versions of these lines at once makes it seem repetitive and unoriginal. However, it’s a good reminder that no matter what you think you are lacking, it’s possible to sell that as a strength.

  • I don’t have enough experience = I’m not tied to the dogma of the industry.
  • I don’t have enough cash for this project = I’m resourceful and can figure it out.
  • I’m not confident = I don’t overestimate myself.

While it’s not great to “spin” everything too far from reality, we obviously have to compete in life and not turning the narrative into something positive just leads to a loss to someone who does, even if your skills are actually equal or better. “I’m not tied to the dogma of the industry,” is much more honest than inflating your years of experience by doubling them. Don’t lie, just make sure the “spin” is actually the truth.

How does someone become smart?

You may not be an expert on Artificial Intelligence (AI), which I will reference in this post, but that’s okay. You are a human and I reference that too, and that’s the more important part.

It seems like there should be an answer to the title of this post. Every technologically advanced country in the world is working on Artificial Intelligence (AI). If we’re going to make something artificial that’s smart, surely we know how to make people smart? Or even what smart is, right?


If society knew exactly the subjects to read, the experiences to have, the skills to develop to make someone “super smart” or “super successful”, then we would have subjected most of society to them.

How does this relate to Artificial Intelligence (AI) and humans?

AI has two components, it has architecture, which is how it “weighs” different decisions and data, and it has training data, the pieces of information that are stored as knowledge. People have this same phenomenon. Your brain has an architecture to it. Studies in personality types are the studies of the architecture of the brain. While we don’t know everything about this field, we certainly know that there are different architectures out there. Two different architectures fed the same data will draw different conclusions. From there, no two people have the exact same life experiences. So all training sets for all humans to ever exist throughout history is entirely unique. That’s 107 BILLION experiments with training data sets. Out of that huge number of humans, many of them died young. A very small percentage of them were “successful” by any measure other than surviving. In fact, through most of history, most people didn’t even make it to their natural lifespans.

The only conclusion that can be drawn, or at least the only one I see, is that it’s impossible for an outside observer to know what someone should learn, experience, or value in order to become smart. Add on to that, one person’s “smart” is making the most money, another’s is scientific breakthroughs, a third person’s is being able to motivate people . It’s all subjective.

Plenty of people (with a healthy brain/good architecture) don’t become “successful” by the measures of their own choosing because they are fed the wrong data, look to the wrong role models, fill up on incorrect information, or don’t know how to discern true from false, deterministic events from probabilistic ones and any other type of interpretation/extrapolation errors. This is why so many people look at the same events in the world and draw different conclusions about good vs. evil, motivations, intentions, outcomes, etc.

That leaves us all with a question, “How can you figure out the right data?”

That’s the answer no one really knows. At least not in advance. “Fail early, fail often”, “Try, try again”, there are many different sayings that address this same fact. Trying is the only way to know if your assumptions are correct or incorrect.

You’re facing a world filled with random events and trying to draw solid conclusions. It can’t be done, but that doesn’t mean we don’t often declare ourselves “correct” even if there is no data to support it.

The only way one becomes “smart” is to first choose what “smart” means to them. Then work hard to try things that may lead to an outcome that makes them feel “smart.” Then if the world shows you that you were wrong, go gather up new data and experience before trying again.

“Smart” is a journey. It’s not a state of being.

Fermented Peppers and long-term skills.

If you need to make a great cake, you could try a recipe. Taste the results, determine what you like and don’t and try again. For the time it takes you can try a few different options in a day. In a few days, you could develop your own “Ultimate Chocolate Cake” recipe if you wanted to.

The same statement becomes less true with art forms where the outcomes take significantly longer to realize. I was talking to a friend that makes salsa with fermented peppers. Some of them take 3-6 months to ferment. If you needed a great recipe for fermented peppers, it’s not likely you’re going to run experiments for 3-6 months to find it. Then another 3-6 month experiment for any tweaks. It would take years. Instead, you’ll find an authority and defer to their expertise and recipes.

It’s possible that you can sell the consulting equivalent of making a cake recipe, but it’s much more likely for fermented peppers.

This post isn’t about food, that’s just the metaphor. If you want to find opportunities as a consultant it’s best to focus on areas with the following attributes:

  • Little reusability of the skill gained by someone doing the work themselves.
  • Long timeframes needed to successfully gain the skillset.
  • Risk that is mitigated by experience. (Fermentation could breed the wrong bacterias and make you sick if not careful.

Tell me your strength, I’ll tell you your weakness

The older I get, the more that I can see the unique abilities of each person I meet. Doing a significant amount of reading on psychology, brain functions, and some different personality type frameworks helped me significantly in this regard.

One thing that should be obvious, but for many of my younger years wasn’t, is that everyone’s strength is the flip side of their weakness, there just isn’t a way around this. When your brain is focused on it’s strength it has to not being doing the thing that is your weakness. There is only so much processing power available.

To give a couple examples:

  • Someone who is good at staying alert is bad at day dreaming. I want them standing guard as a soldier or security guard, but they may not be great at imagining and writing a play.
  • Someone who is good at understanding others and empathy is not going to be as good as doing things “by the numbers” as someone who isn’t.

This is by nature. You can work on your weaknesses, but by default your strengths create your weaknesses. The real trick is finding positions where your strengths are valued. I want someone who is alert and doesn’t daydream flying the plane I’m on. If I’m in theater production I want daydreamers all day.

Here’s one thing I’ve noticed about this in a personal anecdote. I’ve spent a good amount of time overcoming the weaknesses that I have. While now most people don’t think of them as my weaknesses, what they are to me is exhausting. They aren’t a liability in that I’m unable to do the work, but they are significantly more draining then the things I’m strong in.

Think about this for yourself, it’s a great exercise in self-awareness and as a side-thought, if you see someone you work with who seems competent in their work, but burned out, they may have developed and are using their natural weakness in their job role, and it’s burning them out. Figuring out what their natural strengths are and playing to that may increase their satisfaction and their production at the same time.