Skill and probability

Art is a chance. A chance that you will make something that resonates with someone. A photograph is a chance. A piece of copywriting is a chance. A painting, a sculpture, and a book, are all chances.

That means that skill is the measure of probability that one of your pieces will work. A screenwriter who makes a hit might be lucky, a screenwriter who makes 7 hits out of 10 attempts is skilled.

This means that chances of success are related to the quantity of your work and the skill level. That lower skill can be made up for with higher quantity. Then as you see success, your work can be calibrated to fit the desired outcome better and better and your skill rises allowing more effort to be placed in each attempt, likely increasing the chances of producing a “masterpiece”.

If you’re an artist, quantity is important at first, later in your career, quality matters. There is no point in spending a huge amount of time and effort in details that don’t matter, developing skill is the same as figuring out which of them do.

P.S. I use the term artist loosely. A salesperson is an artist in gaining interest and negotiation. A doctor is an artist in diagnosing and treating a patient. If you can’t write down the specific, detailed steps to do a piece of work, then you’re likely an artist.

Honored to “fight” alongside you.

Can we change that kind of language? I get it, it’s provocative, but there are better actions to take.

Honored to…

  • …deliberate
  • …debate
  • …brainstorm
  • …message
  • …lead
  • …legislate
  • …represent

Your language represents your thoughts which get converted into actions. In our politics, most politicians campaign on “fighting” for you. Is it any wonder the state we’re in, that no one can agree on anything? I mean in the middle of a fight I’ve never accepted someone else’s viewpoint ever. Doing that is for much calmer situations.

In this case, politics is just a visible example. Think about the verbs you use for yourself and whether they are actually doing you any good in the actions you’re trying to take in the world. If not, perhaps it’s time to up your vocabulary and see how that changes your behaviors and those around you.

Quality control

When thinking about quality control, consistency in the quality and taste of food always comes to mind.

The most basic version of this would be to write down a recipe. That way someone can follow the recipe. However, when writing the recipe there are still variables. This can be seen in baking where often the most consistent recipes are measured in weight rather than volume. This usually separates professionals from amateurs.

Past the weight vs. volume argument and figuring out which measurements of the recipe makes things most consistent, there are still flavor inconsistencies. What if this brown sugar has more molasses contained than the last batch we had? That could change the flavor of the cookies.

The last defense of quality control in the kitchen is someone with a great palette who can adjust to bring each and every batch into consistent levels with the previous. This level of quality control isn’t nearly as scalable. Teaching someone to read a recipe, pretty easy. Teaching someone to zero out a scale and measure exactly, pretty easy. Teaching someone to use their palette to adjust the recipe when it tastes like the molasses content was low, or the salt tasted more minerally than usual or other small imperceptibilities, isn’t very scalable. It’s a skill and a talent.

In your world, in your organization there are probably people controlling the quality of goods and services in ways that you’ve never thought about. Ways that you couldn’t possibly train them to because it’s an ingrained talent. This might be making people enjoy a training class. This might be making customers enjoy a conversation with your organization. This might be a person who does all sorts of double checking after implementing new software. The highest level of quality control is an art, and if you found a great artist, it’s worth letting them know how much they are appreciated.

The world runs on belief.

Consider a bad economy. A restaurant owner wants to do his best to make things better for everyone in the community. People are on bad times, he pays his staff as much as he can, but he lowers his profit margins to nearly nothing to make sure the hard hit community can afford a good meal. He even gives free food away to the needy.

His two goals are at odds with each other, by raising staff wages to give the community and influx of cash by sharing what would normally be his profits, he’s unable to lower his food to his cheapest possible cost. If he went the other way, he’d have cheaper food, but possibly less people with money to buy it as those who work for him aren’t spending as much in the local community. So either way, it seems like the economy can’t turn around, and yet it always does. The economy turns around because it runs on belief. When the pessimism ends and the optimism starts, then the economy turns around. As a result, his actions while contradictory, may spread the most optimism for people and create the economic turnaround he’s looking for.

What’s the point of this parable?

If the world runs on belief, then choosing to be a positive force of optimism and energy in any endeavor your are taking on professionally or as an extra-curricular is a skill, and a valuable one at that. If you can shift others beliefs in the positive direction, you are making an impact.

Failing to experiment enough.

From the outside, bowling appears to be a game of physical prowess, repeat enough shots and your score goes up. Same with picking up spares. This is true up to a certain point of skill level, not at the professional level though.

To put this in perspective, with the way bowling is scored when you’re on a string of strikes and you suddenly get a 9 count, your maximum score loses 21 pins. That means the difference between averaging 219 and 240 is 1 pin that stayed standing in 1 frame per game. A tiny shift, and a huge difference.

Now, the problem with that is the lanes have oil that moves around as well. It moves enough without you noticing, then you’ll leave that pin standing and see that drop. However, bowling balls aren’t static. There are different ways to drill them and different surface finishes you can put on them that produce different reaction shapes. These reaction shapes can minimize or maximize (if using the wrong types) your misses providing better odds that a little miss still gets a strike. If you’re interested in this phenomenon, Luke Rosdahl mentions it in a video below.

I’ve been bowling competitively for 21 years now. Early on without proper coaching and guidance, failing to experiment held me back significantly. My physical game adapted quickly, but not understanding how important surface was to patterns saw me getting beat by people much less skilled physically. There is such a strong life lesson here.

Experimentation is a must. You need to try new things. You need to discover how you work best. You need to discover what maximizes your opportunities and what minimizes them. It’s okay if everyday isn’t an experiment, but something new needs to be there from time to time, else we’ll go on in life underperforming what we are capable of. Would you rather average 240 or 219? A small change could be a massive difference, but you won’t know that without the experimentation.

If you ever forget this, just remember at the top level bowling isn’t just a game of physical prowess, all the pros throw the ball well. It’s a game of matching up, and to learn to do that, you must experiment.

P.S. This applies to companies too. A company that fails to experiment will be a dinosaur in 20-30 years.

The apple fritter is a leftover.

The video above shows how the scraps of the other donuts are mixed with cinnamon, apple, chopped, formed, then sliced and fried. The outcome is a craggly, crunchy, sweet and delicious apple fritter. This was my childhood favorite, even if eating one now makes me feel heart palpitations!

The interesting thing is below is an intentionally made version. One that doesn’t come from scraps, made by Andrew Rea at Binging with Babish (check out his youtube channel). I respect his cooking skills, but in this case, his version doesn’t do the apple fritter justice in my opinion. Where are the nooks? His version doesn’t pull apart in different directions, and to me that is part of the experience of an apple fritter.

This is not the doughnut I’m looking for.

Taken together these videos are an interesting study in reuse, and letting nothing go to waste. The products that we make often have scraps, and using those scraps plus a tiny bit of effort we can create something that exceeds even something that we intentionally chose today.

A few examples of this:

  • Cutting together bloopers of marketing videos to create something funny that delights your customers and gets shares on social media upping your brand awareness.
  • Posting blogs made from pieces of content that didn’t make the “presentation” cut.
  • Melting shavings from bowling ball drillings into ball cups to sell. Saw this at a bowling pro shop before.
  • Turning broken tiles into art sculptures. My friend’s dad who was in the tile business would do this as there were always some broken tiles from every job.

There are countless examples out there. If you’ve never thought about the byproducts of your work, and how you can turn them into something meaningful, perhaps you’re missing a great opportunity.

The 2% rule

2% is a starting point for shooting in the dark with marketing. If you know nothing else, assume a 2% response rate.

It also ends up being the generally accepted value of the number of innovators. People who like to go first on new things.

I’ve mentioned picking an audience and there are a lot of thoughts out there, but as I mentioned recently, no one is really average, and if you apply enough criteria to define your audience, you may find out it’s actually tiny. So how can you flip this on it’s head?

There are a couple thoughts here: first, wouldn’t it be great if we could just engage those 2% and not have to filter out (read: annoy) those other 98% of the population? Why don’t we start there? What if we apply enough criteria to narrow down to 2% of the population.

To give an example if the target audience is women, that’s 51% of the population. If the audience’s age is important too, for example they should be young, but you can’t think of many other criteria, then you should pick what consititutes young. What age range fits that? Well if we’re trying to get to a 2% of the population audience, then the age range should represent 4% of the population because 4% age range*51% women = 2% population target audience.

The average lifespan is 74 years for women, so 74*0.04 = 2.96 years. This assumes an even population distribution across all ages, but it’s fine for this situation. Let’s round to 3 year age range. So perhaps your product is for women aged 22,23,24. This gives you a nice specific audience to think about. They are just out of college. They are likely unmarried. So when you think about marketing, you have something to shoot for, and know who you can ask if it resonates.

Getting a 80% response rate for a 2% audience is much better than a 0.5% response rate for 100% of the population. It’s worth at least thinking a bit about.

Holding onto too many drafts.

It’s tempting to try every change someone can design, write, or iterate. However, it’s a trap. The best work requires constant revision, but if you try to hold onto hundreds of drafts, it’s possible you may never get out of the logistical mess of trying to figure out which parts, for which drafts need to be combined to complete the project.

There is a balance to this, but it’s difficult to find. It’s personal. One observation is that it’s okay to let some drafts go completely even if you think they are good. You don’t have a limit on great work, you’ll find the right combination eventually, but too many drafts will only bog you down limiting the new work you can do. One of the reasons I write daily on this blog is so that I don’t have to think of each writing as a draft. After all, I’m publishing each one. Not every piece is equal, but they all are good practice, and all clarify thinking a bit more.

If you were a painter, would you have ten canvasses going of the same picture? No. Of course not. You would paint one full picture. If you weren’t happy with the quality, you may paint a similar picture again. You can repeat this on and on, each time completing something. This extends to inventing products, writing, business plans, presentations, and more.

Too many drafts is a dead end. Publish, share, tweak and publish again. Don’t be embarrassed of your less works, not every song is Hey Jude, some are just Norwegian Wood, but we can let our audience decide and take that anguish off our plates. All creative works can benefit from this mode of operation.

The average

If you take someone who is the average income, and the average age, and average looking, and average athleticism, and average height, all of a sudden, you’ll find there isn’t many people that fit all that criteria. By average age criteria alone, you are looking at <2% of the population, add in all the other criteria and you are way below even 0.01% of the population.

The average is a good tool for making sense of data. It’s a terrible tool for judging groups of people. Think about specific people you know, or specific groups you know. Don’t serve an “average” as an audience. It never makes sense.

Saxsquatch

One day I accidentally stumbled across Saxsquatch on one of his free Sunday night concerts. At that point in my life, I didn’t ever put on saxophone music, or jazz or anything similar. After having a stressful week, Saxsquatch was the mood that I never knew I needed to take the edge off. His renditions of popular tunes are made soothing by his skill and the silky, slow, smooth sounds of the saxophone, while his outfit and moves just leave you to having a good time listening.

Plenty of people are looking for something to delight them , possibly in a way they never anticipated before. Can you bring good humor to a serious job in a way that makes things better for everyone? Can you bring sensitivity to a cutthroat industry in a way that makes workers stick it out. There are so many possibilities and it’s quite often that we don’t notice them until someone shows us. Taking it upon ourselves, we have the opportunity to show our thoughts on what’s possible to others everyday, except we don’t. We think no one will care. We think we’re not that great. We think it’s not our place.

That’s the wrong way to think.

Saxsquatch shows us something different is possible. I mean the saxophone already isn’t mainstream music for most people, but the outfit on top of it?!?! Turns out, I love it. He plays a lot of great music for free, yeti never complains, so he probably loves it too(Pun intentional and stolen from a joke I saw recently on reddit).

Saxsquatch is the Sunday evening I never knew I needed, until he showed me. Check him out some time and perhaps while watching, think about how you could do something to delight people too.

Now hiring comedians

If you search indeed.com for comedian jobs as I did in the image below, you’ll find in the entirety of the United States not a single soul is hiring a comedian. More than three hundred million people and not a single comedian job?

Sheesh. That’s brutal. Forget about comedy.

Except we all love comedy. Humor helps us through the hard times. It’s makes the good times even better and when someone can consistently deliver it to us in the form of standup, TV series or movie, it makes us happy.

The world is quickly shifting in a way that the jobs we need, the most interesting work, the work that can’t be replaced by software, can only be done by those who create their own role. Even if you have a job, there might be new paths forward for you internally, but only if you take their effort to show others what you can do, or what you see for the future.

Jokes don’t write themselves, and we’re ready to consume them when they’re good, but nobody is going to hire you from a job listing from them. They are going to hire someone who already picked themselves, already writes funny jokes, and already has an audience who enjoys them.

Just like comedy, if you have something interesting to show the world, stop waiting, it’s time to create something to show us. Even internally at your company, you may want to stop waiting for someone to give you a certain role, and start creating the role that only you can do.

The sliding scale.

I recently came across the image below online. It’s a reminder how as new players enter an industry, the scale changes. Early on in an industry, intuitively a consumer can understand the 1-10 scale of quality. However, what happens as more innovations come along? What happens when the game that used to be the greatest of all-time, a 10 out of 10, is now the 30th best game ever?

Obviously, the scale shifts. We end up with what we see below. The lower end of the scale becomes entirely useless because games that used to get those scores don’t even rank as the skill level rises commensurate with the amount of competition in the industry.

Over time we have to be careful with the sliding scale, by not paying attention it can become entirely meaningless, and from time to time may even need redefinition. The world isn’t static, and neither is your way of judging it. Don’t forget that.

You have to be extreme on some axis.

Without that, it’s not clear that anyone will even notice you. Of course, “extreme” sounds like over the top. Yesterday, I posted Alvin Zhou, his cooking videos are the “calmest”. “Calmest” doesn’t exactly sound “extreme” yet it is on the axis of calm vs. energetic.

We all need to understand the axes that we are playing on. Even if we didn’t pick them, our consumers, audience or customers see us on some spectrum against our peers. Being specific in those cases can help.

Alvin Zhou

Alvin has a youtube channel about cooking. It only has a few videos currently, likely because all his recipes generally take multiple days, and his video seem to have high quality music to them. I imagine between trying out these recipes and producing the video each takes a while, and who knows what other commitments Alvin has.

The thing that stands out about Alvin’s videos is how calm they are. It’s like he invented a new axis on the cooking show. One that wouldn’t have been possible on a normal network where they need sound and engagement. It’s just smooth, slow music on Alvin’s channel and some subtitles. It’s a new way to take in a cooking show and just what someone stress out might need. His food looks excellent too.

If you haven’t seen his work, I highly recommend checking it out, even if just for an exercise in seeing a different way to present similar work to your contemporaries.

Here’s Alvin’s Brownie Video.

“If only I didn’t…

have a job. Then I could work on my dreams.” Except most people’s dreams actually involve teams of people. Like making furniture. I’ve talked to a couple people who would love to build furniture all day. That’s great, except building all day, doesn’t pay the bills. You would need to have additional team to help you. Someone to do the sales/marketing. Someone to ship orders.

You don’t need to ditch the job. That’s only the perceived obstacle of the moment. You have so much infrastructure to build:

  • A portfolio of work
  • A website for sharing the portfolio
  • A marketing plan for getting people to the website
  • A system for selling things to people who want to buy them
  • A system for managing the work and the materials that need to be done.
  • A system for updating that portfolio of work, marketing, sales approaches, and the work itself.

The job isn’t your problem, if anything at this point, the job is an asset that pays the bills while the other stuff gets put in place. Once the business is functioning, the job becomes a liability holding you back from doing the best work of your life, then it is time to switch.

P.S. This also applies to launching things inside an existing company. It always feels like the existing responsibilities need to be dropped if we want to move forward, but really what is need is a plan, a direction, motivation, and a rhythm even if it’s not full-time yet.

If you don’t know what you value, you’re not ready.

It’s likely that “success” that you envision for yourself isn’t ready to happen yet. If so, the driving factor is possibly that you don’t know what you value you yet.

There are stories of people who built successful businesses, sold for more money than could be spent in a lifetime and are miserable. Money wasn’t what they actually valued, they just didn’t realize it. Perhaps they valued contributing to something that continued to grow. Or the camaraderie they built alongside their employees. Or the ability to lead people on a significant endeavor. After trading all that for money, they didn’t feel right any more.

I recently wrote a blog post called, How Others Judge You, and it’s about how often it comes down to values that are misaligned.

Everything has room for improvement

Above is a guide teaching someone how to draw a realistic looking water droplet. Look at how well it is done. It shows the whole picture, highlighting the key components. Then it shows the stages it should go through in order, and lays out tips to help the user. In the bottom right corner it shows an advanced version of the principle applied to a heart-shaped water droplet.

If a guide this good can be made for water droplets, certainly we can create operating procedures, lectures, instructions, recipes that step things up significantly. There is always room for improvement.

A tool to get us out of this mess.

I have tools I’ve built to assist me in being efficient in following up at work. A spreadsheet that I built programmatically to allowing checking boxes and then automatically building an email template from those, then I add any non-routine stuff and customization and send it off.

When I find myself running behind on customer follow-ups for long periods of time due to too many customers to follow up with, and too many new items I haven’t dealt with before, I find myself needing to take a deep breath, and instead of getting so trapped in the idea of “having to get caught up,” I start to ask, “How can I make my tool better to get me out of this situation?”

Generally, when I think about it that way, I start to realize I’m being asked many new, but similar questions, and thinking through standard responses and information to send over about those questions and integrating that into my toolset allows me to respond faster. It feels counterintuitive, that my focus should be on getting caught up first, then building the tool to prevent it in the future, but without the right tools get caught up is a pipe dream.

It’s the old, “If I had 8 hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six sharpening my axe.” It might be dated advice, but it’s still worth revisiting.

Huge thanks to the momentary slump of the last couple of weeks that reminded me of this. Without you, there would be no blog post today.

Breaking down boxes.

In addition to my article yesterday, about the shift to online retailing having unintended consequences, another is breaking down of boxes. In my younger days, I spent time working at a retailer, unloading trucks, cutting open boxes, stocking shelf, a bailing cardboard into bundles to be hauled away.

Breaking down boxes was a significant amount of the work. Now, that work has been passed onto the consumer. Wasn’t online retailing supposed to be about convenience?’

It was at first billed that way. When I received one box online every few months, it was unnoticeable. Cutting open and breaking down a box once every few months isn’t a problem. Now, I have box breaking down time in the week. A new chore.

The consequences of a paradigm shift.

The pandemic created many shifts in our society. Work from home being one of them. More online shopping being a second one. My wife and I both work from home, as a result, we spend many hours home with our young daughter who isn’t yet in school. Many times throughout the day, we have to tell her to go do something without us so that we can do our work. It’s heart-breaking at times as she’s a bundle of energy and fun. Sometimes too much energy!

This created a new problem that I never thought too much about before. After working all day and keeping our daughter occupied in a myriad of ways, there are other tasks that need to be done. Like ordering her clothes, or something else she needs. With a bigger push to online, this adds to our problem. It’s hard to include a young child in online shopping. They are tactile. They like to touch stuff. Stores are filled with all kinds of things they’ve never seen. They get to stroll through the store alongside mom and dad and are part of the experience. Online shopping adds more work that we can’t involve them in.

While I have doubts long-term about keeping up the pace of consumerism we are at, if I was a long-term thinking executive, I would be worried that the lack of in-store exposure leads to people not knowing about other thing they need. How much of society learned about products they didn’t know they needed by walking through a store? Online doesn’t have that nearly as much. You search for what you need, find it, order it, receive it. Sure, they might show a few ads of what they think you want, but that’s not the same as true discovery.

So, two things have come out of this paradigm shift that’s been on-going for decades now:

  • Parents further disengaged from kids in day-to-day life
  • Lower future consumerism in the coming decades likely

When online shopping was getting going, it’s doubtful the people starting it would have predicted these kinds of consequences, but that what’s makes it a paradigm shift, the fact that it is so different that the old rules no longer apply. So predicting the outcomes becomes impossible. We have to start adjusting after being presented with new information.

Stand Up Comedy

I’m a fan of Jerry Seinfeld. I like the way he approaches creative work. I like his philosophies on it. One thing that always sticks with me is “The audience is all the feedback you need.” He talks about comedy being “self-correcting” in this regard. If it’s not funny, crosses a line, or makes people mad, the joke certainly won’t be in the next show. There is a strong feedback loop in that industry.

So many of us, myself often included, naturally pull back from that feedback loop. Someone may tell us something that bruises our ego. Then our skills, something that we are so proud of, will feel diminished. Of course, the reality is different. The reality is that feedback improves our skills, since the goal is to make work that people enjoy.

It’s important to seek these feedback loops out, though in stand up comedy, it’s built right in. You may even have to create your own system.

Let’s think about a writer. They produce books for a living, but they also have a blog and a twitter following. How would you produce this feedback loop?

Well on Twitter you could type short tweets that are basically introductory statements to things you will be using in your writings. The ones that get massive engagement are likely better to go into the book than the ones that don’t. Taking those winners, you could expand them into multiple different blog posts to further delve into the idea. If it gets good engagement or likes there, it likely makes the book. Of not, rework it until it does.

Once you have a large list of liked topics and writings, stringing them together with a theme makes sense. So you can take those stories and put together a presentation (think TEDTalk) and then share that with an audience. If it doesn’t seem to resonate, change the story or theme that ties it together and try again. Eventually, you’ll land on something.

Now you have a unifying/theme, a set of well-written articles that pull people in and get read. All you have to do is bundle it all up, package it, and go promote it.

This method is likely to produce a best-seller, at least much better odds than an average sample. Why? Because it was literally testing what people engage with and like at every step of the way. Notice that there was no timeframes listed here. A book can be powered through in 2 weeks or less if it’s just about the number of words on the page, but that likely won’t be interesting to many people. The methodology outlined here could take years, but here is the secret, just like you know Jerry Seinfeld, but haven’t heard of the guy who writes jokes at home, but doesn’t get feedback in front of audiences and on tour, the same is true in this case. The audience determines which of our works is great. When you use them to pair out the lesser quality of your work, you end up with a portfolio of gold and that great quality works brings in outsized returns.

Would you rather work 4 years producing one book that sells millions of copies, or would you rather produce 200 books in that timespan that each sell 200 copies?

Engaging in a way to get feedback is important, and I know I certainly don’t do enough of it. Most of us don’t. It’s time to rethink that.

Your special world…

is the part of the world that only you and your peers see. It’s in contrast to the “ordinary world” that we all see.

  • Professional bowling
  • Writers
  • Bakers

Each of those professions, and likely all professions, have a “special world” that only they understand. The professional bowler may not have many people who can understand traveling around the country or world and having to lug a huge amount of bowling balls around, or even understand why they need more than one in the first place. They won’t have many people that can understand what it’s like to release a ball off their hand with a huge paycheck on the line.

Quite often it’s not the work itself, but the world that surrounds it that draws people to it. If that’s the case, it’s worth thinking about how you craft that “special world” in your profession.

The most important actions…

are simple but difficult.

In the movie, Hidden Figures, Katherine Johnson is gone from her desk for 40 minutes a day. When confronted by her boss, he reprimands her. Eventually, she explodes on him and the rest of the office revealing that the segregated bathroom situation for colored people is the issue. There is no bathroom nearby that she can use. When confronted with this fact, the boss ends the segregated bathroom policies and solves the problems.

While the problem was eventually resolved, the boss made all kinds of assumptions about the situation, about Katherine’s character, about the workplace, and he didn’t have all the facts. He came at her aggressively, and while he resolved the challenges, it took a collision of forces to do so.

It wouldn’t have been difficult to ask, “Is there something going on that’s keeping your from your desk? And can I help?” However, it’s hard to constantly assume that the issues we’re looking at have causes that we aren’t aware of. Asking people why is easy, but doing it consistently is hard.

Simple but difficult. That’s the most important work in a nutshell. It generally goes against human nature. We have to train for it. Remind ourselves. Improve. It pays off in the end if you do, though you’ll have to accept there will always be room for improvement.

Working on the right problems.

It’s important to work on the right problems. Below is an example of working on the wrong problem. The gentlemen jumping in could have solved the real problem of grabbing the sandals, that problem had value in saving the cost of the sandals. Instead, he solved the problem of getting the stick used to get the sandals back. The stick has no value.

Plenty of people spend their time solving similar problems that equate to fetching the stick, but the same effort spent solving retrieving the sandals would produce more value in the world and be rewarded more.

I thought this video was funny. Perhaps there was context not shown, but on it’s surface it’s certainly humorous.

Nintendo is a great company.

It was founded as a playing card company, yet with technological changes, they found themselves adapting and eventually releasing a game console. A certain famous plumber character later, and the rest is history. It’s easy to take for granted that Nintendo would make the pivot that it did, however, that is far more rare than common. Nintendo seeing where the winds were blowing and seeing themselves as something less narrowly defined than playing cards gave them the ability to make that shift.

In a world filled with Playstations and XBox consoles, which tend to compete on better graphics, more power, sound, etc., Nintendo always seems to maintain it’s focus on something different, perpendicular to the rest of the industry. That focus keeps them relevant. I’m not sure how they ingrained this so strongly in the company, where other companies constantly fail in this regard.

One contradiction that I notice in life consistently is that your actions need a laser focus to benefit from maximizing your efforts and the rewards from them, yet your vision needs to be flexible to recognize when the rules, structures, and systems of the world around you have changed. If not, you can’t take advantage of the newly available information. Nintendo is a great company because somehow, they’ve been able to ingrain this into the company. Over decades, people have come and left the company and yet it seems to have the same spirit intact. They don’t seem to have any Ship of Theseus issues as a company.

Maintaining consistent thought patterns and actions, while recognizing a changing world and taking advantage of that isn’t common, but it’s definitely worth seeking out.

If you were founding a town…

what needs to be done?

Here’s some thoughts:

  • Houses need to be built
  • People need to be convinced to move there
  • Businesses and institutions need to be created to distribute goods and create jobs

Of course, each of those influences the others. Which people are going to move here? What kind of houses do they want? How many of them are coming? The houses and the number of people are going to determine the infrastructure that is needed. The people and their tastes also influence the businesses that are going to exist there. The businesses going to influence who moves there.

This interconnection of problems and challenges is an opportunity in a few ways:

  1. There is no such thing as perfect in this problem. That’s freeing because you don’t have to bother with it.
  2. There is infinite room for experimentation. Making the perfect town can be a “life’s work” filled with purpose of making life better for the people who decide to move to your town.
  3. Your experiences, skills, expertise, and choices will help form the basis of the town no matter what decisions you choose, and that’s alright.

These complex problems are the ones that are future proof. There won’t be a software that comes in and takes the work away (if there is, we’re living in some fully-automated society). These problems are also fun, engaging, and endlessly improvable. Perhaps, it’s time to rethink about the problems you are choosing to spend your time on. Choosing the right problems to work on is important (click this link to read more).

Does your industry have breaking news?

In the stock market, there is always “Breaking News”. This stock is moving. That stock is tanking. Politics. Laws. Technology. It’s all constantly in flux. As a result, it’s pretty easy to build a following if you have something insightful to say routinely about those issues. People are constantly looking for what’s changing.

However, comparing stocks and financial advice to copywriting, you’ll find there isn’t a whole lot of breaking news in the copywriting industry. People are still people. They are still motivated by the same things. While the products and services copywriting sells may change, they copywriting industry doesn’t all that much.

That leaves two options if you’re a copywriter:

  1. Be patient and wait for only those who are looking for a copywriter at that exact moment.
  2. Attach yourself to a different industry that has breaking news and tie it back to what you do.

For #1, it’s simple, keep building your portfolio, put it on the web. Get better clients, do better work, show up where people looking for copywriting show up. This is the patient path.

For #2, you may want to get your name out to a broader audience so that your name comes up more often in general. You could tie your work to the stock market. Talk about why you think an up-and-coming e-commerce site is going to be big because of the elements of their copywriting and how great it is. You are connecting your knowledge and understanding to a different industry where people are looking for great insight. The hope is someone those people know will be talking about looking for a writer and your name will come up as someone they’ve seen talking about that online.

We aren’t all in industries where it’s easy to spread the word, but there is opportunities to find workarounds for that daily.

Testing the wording.

I follow many writers on twitter. They always throw out pithy one liner pieces of wisdom. This is an opportunity to test out wordings and how they resonate with audiences.

Ones that get high interaction are likely more engaging than ones that don’t. This level of being able to testing the effects of wording on engagement easily, quickly, and continuously, didn’t exist at any point in history. Yet, most people don’t see the opportunities that are presented.

There are similarities to be found in your industry if you look at the modern technology that exists. Even if you just take the method I just presented, all industries have writing after all.

Testing has never been this easy, you need to see it. You also need a following to benefit from it.

Structure and Hierarchy

While reading the book Sapiens the author mentions that the rise of agriculture coincided with the rise of rulers and elites classes of people. As land now needed protecting, politics became a stronger need in the world. Negotiating and fighting against those who would come in and steal all the work put into the land.

This didn’t exist to the same extent for hunter-gatherers who would just move on to new lands since they hadn’t “invested” in the land.

This leads to the question, “When we build structure, we inevitably are giving power and potential to the system being “hacked”. Is it possible to have structure without having unequal power?”

To me a ruler is someone who has essentially hacked the system in someway, so that the rules of the system don’t apply to them. This is our political class where things that get a normal person arrested are just frowned on. The “hacks” they use are deriving power from mass popularity, extortion, bribery, manipulation through media. On the surface it seems to me everything negative behavior we associate with power is essentially that, a “hack of the system.”

If we seek to build structure, we have to assume that is going to be exploited in some way. This is the middle manager who takes credit from the great work of his subordinates while not pulling his own weight. Without getting credit for that work, and associated rewards, that middle manager will drive out the most productive members of the company. The whole system then suffers.

Obviously, structure like the assembly line is built to make things more efficient. However, it’s always good to make sure the structure doesn’t lead to exploitation that weakens it or has the potential to. Which means, don’t put in structure for it’s own sake. Put it in only when absolutely necessary.

Where do you have empathy that others don’t?

There are many project management applications out there because everyone has worked on projects of some type, and the basic management principles don’t change all that much from industry to industry. So many software companies can conceptualize, design and program an application in this space, it’s not a unique source of empathy.

What about mechanical engineering software tools? How many programmers have empathy for the challenges that mechanical engineers face? It’s a small subset. Those that do have empathy that is unique for that unique career. As a result, they are the ones suited for writing software and solving challenges that the rest of the software industry doesn’t see.

This extends far beyond software. The world is now seeking people who find these connections and gaps in empathy and fill the need. Before the modern digital age, this wasn’t possible because finding these small groups was incredibly hard. Today, it’s much easier. If you want to be part of something special, all you have to ask yourself is, “Where do I have empathy for problems that others don’t register at all?”

So many hidden people involved.

Technology tends to provide a mirage of “simplicity”.

In fact, there is a network of people involved with making your software work and the information from it shareable. Internet service providers that have thousands of people managing the infrastructure of cables across the planet, IT people handling servers, programmers writing the software, possibly an administrator (if at a company) and definitely a user. Most times it seems like a person and their computer. This blog is an example of this.

This isn’t like a factory worker on an assembly line. If the upstream parts on an assembly line keep showing up mounted incorrectly, it’s easy to notify someone or walk down the line and correct the person doing so. That’s not so easy when things go wrong in our technology situation.

What happens when something goes wrong? Internet Service Providers are separate entities from the IT people, who are separate from the programmers, who are separate from the administrator or user. With so many points of failure, it’s hard to pinpoint who is at fault sometimes, and no one is particularly interested in digging deep to find out if it’s them because it’s highly likely it’s someone else in the chain.

This technological simplicity is an illusion. It’s one of the most complicated works mankind has ever undertaken, and while technology, not just internet, keeps progressing this is likely to become the norm. As fields of study become more complicated, requiring more years to fully understand them, specialists become narrower. That means that more people are needed for each project. One engineer could probably understand everything about the Model T car, but I doubt any single engineer understands every aspect of the modern Tesla electric vehicles because now you have software, batteries, mechanical aspects, etc. It’s just not that simple anymore.

There is a value that has always been there, but has been losing ground for decades due to the race to the bottom on most items, ownership. Someone to stepping up to say, this is really complex, but it’s mine. I own the results to the customer. I own the problems that are created, and though I can’t resolve them on my own, it’s far too complex for that, I’ll organize the team needed to figure them out. Someone needs to get those hidden people out in the open and get them talking to each other. It won’t happen by itself, organizing things has value.

Give me a new model of the world.

When people are blown away by a presentation or idea, it seems to me it comes down to one thing, “Give a new model of the world.”

When you present a story, an invention, a movie, or an idea, the thing that people are looking for is something that fundamentally shifts the way they see and operate in the world.

A good example of this is “Building a Story Brand” by Donald Miller. Donald applies the structure of the “Hero’s Journey”, a time honored storytelling tradition, to making your customer the hero. This produces a new framework for companies to be clear about stating their mission, services, and what they do. It creates a new model of what marketing is in their head.

I’ve written a few articles and while each focused on a specific topic that solved a challenge, when I tried to put them together for a short e-book format, it just wasn’t coming together for me, and that’s a head scratcher because:

  • Each article solves a problem.
  • All the problems are relevant to the same audience.
  • All the articles lead into each other.

Yet, for me the book was missing what I enjoy about the books I like. Reflecting on what was missing led me to this idea. Reading an article we expect to pick up something useful, but we don’t expect our world to change. It’s a small investment. Reading a book is a larger investment, so we expect a bigger pay off.

“Give me a new model.” That’s the payoff we want.

After reflecting for the book, I realize this is true for just about any idea that really blows us away. Anything that changes what we think is possible, creates a new model, and gets us excited.

What can you give someone a new model of today?

Frying things in black sand.

There is more than one way to do anything.

Consider the fact that we consider frying things to only be done in oil. Want to make some puffed rice, drop it in some oil, it puffs up. What if I told you that the oil was unnecessary? I saw this done with sand! That’s right SAND!

You can fry rice in sands and then sieve out the sand! This is so far from anything I’ve ever thought of, it blew my mind. Yet, everyday there is an opportunity to explore. To do something unconventional. To surprise people in the best way possible.

Life can be more playful than we can imagine, and often when it is we find ourselves more content that we would have imagined. Don’t forget that no matter how serious your work is, there is always room for delighting people in an unexpected way.

When the waves turn minutes to hours

Gordon Lightfoot sang it best in “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” The dilation or expansion of time is perceived based on the situation. Patience is a great thing, however not every situation allows it.

So what can someone do to be more patient if they are in a situation that doesn’t allow it?

First, get out of that situation. The situations that don’t allow it are emergencies. Natural disasters. Financial distress. Failing health. Start by doing nothing but getting out of the disaster. You wouldn’t stand in the path of the tornado and be patient for it to go away. You CREATE the distance between you and the tornado with any means available.

After that, and only after that, can you be patient and figure out the next steps to going where you want.

Patience is a virtue, but when staring down a disaster, it’s unaffordable. Fix the disaster or protect yourself first.

Animagraffs

I’ve been recently looking for some graphic designers. Eventually, I’d like to add some more visual appeal to the writings and articles I’ve been putting together. Unfortunately, like most things in life, finding the best talent is hard. Looking for it when you need it can leave you searching for a long time, so it’s best to remember talent when you spot it. I recently saw a tweet that promoted this site: Animagraffs.com

The work looks a lot like technical illustrations with great visualization. On this site, I’m not putting together products, so it may not fit, but I’m an engineer by training so I love the look of these. Perhaps there is a way we can find a way to do something that overlaps between his work and mine. I’m not sure, but either way, the quality of the work is worth sharing. And to be clear, I don’t know this person, but I saw their work on twitter and it spoke to me. Looking through his site, Jacob is definitely doing great work at Animagraffs and you can see an expanded portfolio at his own site: jacoboneal.com

I don’t know what Jacob’s prices are, I just know that I like his work. The best way to remember someone is to share them. Then it’s documented for you, and they get exposure. Generosity wins for everyone. If you have some interest in graphic designs that require 3D animations, I definitely recommend taking a look at his work, it’s really stunning.

I’m going to be reaching out in the near future to see if we can work together on something. Work that good is hard to ignore.

How a craft evolves

Anyone who has a craft they are committed to, or is in the marketing to find one, should be aware of how a craft evolves. If you have this awareness, then it’s easier to stick to it. To find the patience in yourself as you develop and to find the courage in yourself that you can create something special…eventually. No one is the world’s greatest anything overnight, so that patience and courage is a necessity. To boost that in you, I’ve put together a short summary of this blogs evolution below.

This is the start of year three of this blog. Something interesting is the average word count is increasing. Average word count looks like this for the past years.

YearAverage Word Count Per Post
2019187
2020216
2021 so far289

From 2019 to 2020 word count increased by 15.5%. So far in 2021, word count per post has increased by 34% from 2020! From 2019 to 2021, that’s a whopping 55% increase in word count!

I don’t think writing more always equals writing better, and I certainly didn’t set out to say, “I’m going to write longer posts.” It was a natural evolution of thinking deeper about topics and connecting them with previous ideas. This is illustrative of how artists evolve in writing, cooking, painting, sculpting, video game making, or any other craft. The first step is take notice of more and more fine details that can be included to make the subject more interesting or fascinating and to craft those details with ever increasing skill. Eventually, there is a peak formed where more details don’t necessarily add more interest, and eventually the artist finds themselves looking for “the essence”. Not more details, but the correct ones.

This is the fun of commitment. You don’t evolve this way by being a passerby. You do so by committing to a craft and making a portfolio of work. That portfolio allows others to both see what you are capable of, and show yourself your personal evolution. It’s a beautiful thing, and it’s worth anyone’s time to find a craft and create a body of work.

P.S. You can see this kind of evolution of more detailed, then strip down to “essence” in Picasso’s work timeline found at this link: https://www.pablo-ruiz-picasso.net/periods.php

Golden Tickets, Thousand Dollar Checks and Selling Goods.

I recently saw an advertisement for a book where the author was placing thousand dollar checks in some of the books that would be mailed out to fill orders. If you were lucky enough to buy the books, then you might find it a profitable venture. Of course, most won’t win, or else selling the books would be unprofitable in the first place. This reminds me of Willy Wonka and his golden tickets. Just find the 5 golden tickets in my Wonka Bars, and you’ll be one of only 5 people in the world to have toured the magical factory. Selling chocolate Wonka Bars, or selling book by creating a gamble aspect to something. a chance to get a higher perceived value than what the purchaser will spend, can be a really great way to sell something. However, like anything, you should know your audience.

If I was selling a book on Blackjack, this might be the best marketing ever. I’m marketing to gamblers, so my marketing being gambling is great. If this was selling a book on gambling addiction, it could go either way. Using the failed gamble of the check in the book to illustrate why they should quit in the book might make for an illustrative example that anyone who purchased the book can share. However, for the few that one, you may have done harm by giving encouragement to a gambling addict who should be quitting.

Something that has hit me over the head again and again has been that marketing ideas can always sound good, but they have inherent assumptions in each of them, and if those don’t fit the audience, then they won’t work well. I had a few social media ideas for LinkedIn for getting engineers’ attention. I quickly realized, out of all professional groups, engineers seem to spend the smallest amount of time on LinkedIn. If this was for salespeople, it probably would have worked. Salespeople spend all day sometimes on LinkedIn.

Generosity works when its the kind of generosity your audience is looking for in the way they are looking for it. If it’s not, you may need to try again. That’s okay. That’s how we learn.

Refusal of the Call

There is a story telling framework called “The Hero’s Journey”. It’s contained in many different media formats that we consume such as books, TV, movies, etc.

One interesting thing about the “Hero’s Journey” that we see over and over in movies is that the hero always refuses the call to action at first. It illustrates the mental resistance that everyone faces in their lives. Hero’s are made, not born after all. Without the resistance, there isn’t much of a story because the development of a hero is the strengthening of oneself internally through conflict. Naturally, we all face this. However, it’s interesting to note, unlike a movie, where we know the hero is going to overcome the refusal eventually, in our lives, it’s much easier to refuse the call and never think twice about going back.

The refusal stems from insecurity and fear. That the hero doesn’t have what it takes.

Depending on your age, you’ve probably gone through this at least once, but maybe multiple times in life already. The important thing is to think about when you’re being called to action, and recognizing the part it plays in your own life. It’s easy to see a call to action in a movie that’s been framed specifically to see it, it’s much harder to see it in our own life when the events aren’t perfectly framed.

A call to action in our own lives could be:

  • An internal nagging in our minds
  • A job offer
  • A crisis

Mental resistance is always there, it’s a useful to for not fooling leaping into every problem, but it might also be a distraction. A way to avoid doing something important for yourself or for others. Having the courage to overcome it is an important step in growth in work, character and life.

Download vs. Upload Speeds

In my observation, download speeds are generally 5 times faster than upload speeds. I won’t presume that I know that much about why that is, but my assumption is that is the ratio that is allotted by service providers. After all, data can travel just as fast in either direction through the same cable, it’s seems to me that someone decided this is the correct ratio.

Which makes me ask, “Are we consuming that much more than creating?”

When we download a movie, or stream a YouTube channel, we’re downloading. When we are creating that video, we’re uploading. So is a 5:1 ratio really representative of how much the average person consumes compared to what they create?

Is that a problem? Is it an opportunity? Is it just a random thought? I’m not sure, but I’m certain I’ll think about it more in the future.

The competition changes the landscape

If you do difficult, important work, you may understand the value in differentiating it. A painter that creates unique works can be valued much higher than one who paints copies of images. An engineer who invents entirely new things may be valued more than an engineer who tweaks designs of bookshelves to fit different rooms. One way to differentiate is to identify your competition in a way outside the norm, by doing so, you figure out how to compete in a new way, and if you’re lucky your customers love you for it. When customers love you, more work comes in, and more works means higher rates. That’s always healthy. The only thing you need to understand here is some basic thoughts about evolution.

Bacteria becomes resistant to anti-bacterial soaps because those soaps kill 99% of bacteria. The 1% that aren’t killed then become the new basis for the next generation of bacteria which means the next group will have more than 1% survive the soaps and that will perpetuate in future generations. This is how species change over time. The interesting thing to think about is that the “competition” changes the species. In the example above, “competition” would be the anti-bacterial soap and the game would be survival.

When thinking about your work, it’s possible that a worthy competitor seems like something worth fearing, however it’s also possible that the right competition is going to change the landscape and create something entirely new about the way things are done that percolates everything. If those bacteria were instead facing heat as the competition, a new set of bacteria would arise instead of the anti-bacterial soap set.

We’re all trying to figure out, or should be, what competition frames our work correctly so that we can create magic that grows. If you’re a photographer, it may not just be other photographers you compete with but also, painters and caricaturists. If you identify your competition differently than the rest of the industry, it’s possible to create an entirely new model, and if done correctly, that new model should thrive.

Creativity and reframing how you think of yourself is an asset. Use it.

If they cared that much about _______, they must care about _______ too.

Above are some bars of chocolate. The scenery on them was painted on inside of a mold prior to the chocolate being poured inside. There is artistry here. Someone decided what every aspect of these bars should look like, taste, and eventually, how they will be packaged. A thousand decisions about something that is almost inconsequential in the grand scope of life. However, by not treating it that way, by treating it’s quality as something important, they created something worth taking notice of. Something that makes everyone look at it and say I want that.

Thinking through the psychology of it, it comes down to:

"If they cared that much about _________. They must care about _________ too."

In this case, it’s if they cared that much about how the chocolates looked. They must care about how it tastes/the quality of the ingredients/the care in preparation too.

When making someone else care about something that matters to you, showing how you care is an important step. We can see it in these chocolate bars by the time we can imagine the decoration taking, but it’s not always as easy to see it in other areas of life. It’s on you to show it to someone.

Omission Bias

Everyone sees bad actions that didn’t turn out as planned. No one sees the actions you didn’t do that could have failed. As a result, it’s easy to decide doing nothing is better than sticking your neck out. Over the long run, in my experience, that’s a false assertion. It’s better to fail while trying with that neck way out there than not. The reason this is true even though it feels “dangerous” is because patience and experience compound over time. The safe play that others choose to “omit” or not doing anything on, doesn’t calibrate any judgment capabilities they have on what will be successful and what won’t in the future. As a result, the person who doesn’t take action doesn’t learn anything. The person who sticks their neck out over and over inevitably has some failures, but also some successes. The great thing about that is their asymmetry. Failure is usually much lower down side than the upside of success, if it’s not, why take the risk in the first place?

Most people are biased to not failing, to omit the bad experiences. Of course, when it comes to learning, building a robust model in your mind of what a great story is, or what a good painting looks like, it pays to know what a bad story and an ugly painting is. Omitting those wouldn’t allow you to pick out a good painting because your mental model only contains good paintings, so any painting will be categorized that way. Without those failures, the picture of success is equally reduced. We need to know what failure looks like, so we can know success when we see it.

Rhythms of success

When reflecting on the best days I have, it seems to me that there is more with how the day felt, rather than how much was accomplished. Don’t get me wrong, accomplishing something each day is important, but some days those accomplishments feel chaotic, and others feel more orderly and rhythmic. Those orderly, rhythmic accomplished days feel like success more than the chaotic ones, even with similar levels of accomplishment.

This gets to an important matter, success has a feel to it. If you want to achieve something, knowing that feel is important. Knowing what rhythm you need is important and for different tasks, those rhythms may be different. Some people have an hourly rhythm, doing their tasks, getting in the flow, going on for a long time. Some people have a daily rhythm, each day brings something different but day-to-day the days are similar.

Some people have no rhythm at all. That is each and everyday is unique, and they like that.

If you haven’t thought about what kind of rhythm it takes for you to be successful at your endeavors, perhaps you should.

Shakespeare’s quantity and quality.

You may not be an interior design, but your work may require the same tools set to make an impact, taste, skill, and awareness of your work. It often seems like the easiest way to get there is to create one amazing piece of work. That may work better in architecture than in painting, but even in interior design it falls flat. While it seems like making one piece of work is the easy way, the problem is there is no way to know that one piece of work will be enjoyed by many people.

There is a reason Shakespeare’s works are still studied today. He wrote some of the most amazing pieces of literature the world has ever known, however the ones we often study in public schools like Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet, are his masterworks. Do you think when he sat down to write them he thought, “This time I’m going to write something GOOD!”

Of course not!

Shakespeare was a prolific writer, excluding other works, he wrote 39 different plays. The everyday person doesn’t know all of these, but they likely know Romeo and Juliet. That’s because doing the work is important. The audience, not the creator chooses the masterpiece. Doing work where taste, opinion, and skill matters, requires courage and patience. First, the courage that you will eventually reach the skill level where people take notice and second patience because it takes time to build a portfolio of work. It’s unknown the order of Shakespeare’s plays were created, but there is some consensus of opinion, and many of the famous ones are not his early plays. He had to develop too.

In the case of most people, portfolios are best measured by the decade. Doing the work will hone your taste, opinion and skill, that’s why the easiest way to success will always be creating more, not less.

Serious work and memes

So many people want to do work that they can be proud. Work that is off the beaten path. Work that is different than the industry. That’s what the world needs, yet there is a struggle. Spreading the word about something that’s not currently on the menu is a tough job whether you’re an artist, an IT professional, a doctor, a lawyer or something else. To do this, spreading the message through network effects is something many marketers think about. I’ve been a follower of Seth Godin on this for a long-time. Yet, everyday when I’m on social media I see far more people sharing memes other people have made much more often than I see stories/articles/podcasts reshared. The rate is astronomically higher! Why is that?

I have a few ideas:

  1. The people I follow are just more prevalent meme lords. It’s a theory, but I follow a huge number of authors, and those people are reading and writing constantly, so that doesn’t add up. When I look in most forums that contain a mix of people from the general population, memes outnumber article shares even more.
  2. Memes are generally funny. People like to share a good feeling. This also seems true, but there are plenty of stories that are feel good that don’t seem to be shared as often.
  3. Memes can’t be stolen as easily and are hard to communicate through writing or speaking. To me, this is the one. You hear a good story story. You use it in your speeches, conversations, etc. You can easily share it back if it was memorable and clearly communicated. How do you do that with a meme? You need to show someone. Are you going to remake it? Of course, not! So, you share it. These days it only takes a couple of clicks.

The way that we communicate can influence how much our ideas are shared. When I consider how much memes are impacting culture, it’s quite amazing. Lil Nas X made his name in music by creating a little track and putting it over a bunch of different memes. Certain stocks are being bought because people are making memes about them. Certain products get amazing amounts of attention because their marketing teams made good memes.

Memes are the next level of complexity. They require visual thinking, words, communication skills, humor, and more. If wanting to do serious work, it doesn’t seems like memes are the way to go, but perhaps that’s foolish thinking. Perhaps we need the courage to accept that this is the new normal in society, while at the same time realizing that important work still needs the longer formats like articles, books, podcasts, etc. Memes can be a tool to bring awareness to those.

Extrapolation anxiety

Extrapolating your current trajectory, if it’s not where you want to be heading will give you anxiety. Your brain is working from the data you have. If you’re in a job you don’t like, or have clients that aren’t who you want, it’s easy to think that’s the way things will always be. Of course, it’s delusion. If anyone could predict the future with absolute certainty they would be rich, secure, confident, and likely the luckiest person on the planet.

Extrapolation always needs to be weighed against facts uncovered through experimentation to confirm. Thinking that because a steel bracket in your garage deflects only a 1/4″ under 200lbs, and that 1/2″ deflection won’t see stuff sliding off it, so it can handle 400lbs is folly. Steel isn’t infinitely elastic, and that’s what extrapolation comes down to, assumptions. Put that 400lbs on that bracket and you may find out just how wrong you were.

When you have anxiety from thinking about your future, quit making so many assumptions, and simply take action to either make your positive assumptions come true, or your negative assumptions become false. That’s all there is to it.

A theory on the feeling of anxiety

Anxiety is a real struggle. Eliminating it is like lifting a weight of your shoulders. It makes your life much easier. My recent thoughts on the Theorem of Minimum Potential Energy and how it applies to people also relates to anxiety and how you can ease your or others’ anxiety, which makes life easier for everyone. To execute on what I’m about to tell you only requires the ability to self-reflect, to take action, and recognize progress. Anyone can do those!

My theory is that anxiety at its core is the expenditure of energy while seeing no progress towards a goal. Think about the financially anxious, someone who is trying to pay off debt. They are working 40+ hours a week, but falling deeper behind on interest, or other emergencies arise that dig them deeper into debt. They are expending energy working, but their efforts aren’t moving towards the goal. Perhaps they’ve tried other ways of making money like selling things they own that have also failed. This is the mental equivalent in our society of hunting for days, chasing down animals, but not bagging any food. Your mind starts to throw out “Warning! Something is wrong, you better do something different! Get better, or if not you’ll perish!” That’s what anxiety is. It may not be those words in your mind, but it’s that feeling your mind is creating and we recognize it as anxiety.

If I was applying this theory to a physics or engineering problem in mathematical terms, this would be the point of divergence. Where the results can no longer be accurately predicted. That’s what your mind is occupied with. That based on it’s current trajectory, it can’t predict a positive outcome. The outcome it is predicting from the current conditions is the energy completely spent and exhausted before any amount of reasonable results comes in. It may not be true, but your mind is extrapolating based on circumstance.

Following that theory on anxiety, it seems to me that a solution for anxiety is three parts:

  1. Have a plan
  2. Execute some of the plan
  3. Get some results

Is it no wonder the world seems so anxious? Can anyone agree on a plan? We’re at an inflection point where long-standing institutions and cultures are changing due to the interconnectedness of the internet. Inflection points are scary where the old rules change, the new rules are yet to be established and no one knows what’s going on.

For a while, I had no idea what I wanted, how to get it, where to start looking. My wife had some dangling notions of what she wanted to do, but we were moving a lot and getting nowhere, and we felt a bit overwhelmed. As we’ve aged, we’ve become more clear about our goals and life intentions (we have a plan), we’ve been taking efforts at executing that plan, and we are starting to see modest results for both of us. Our anxiety has dropped tremendously.

The thing is, the results don’t have to be instantaneous to lower the anxiety, they can be slow. Someone who always wanted their own business selling pottery, can keep their day job, make pottery and sell it on weekends. Eventually, when they save those pottery earnings, and can project how much they will earn if they went full-time they can find the courage to make the leap to full-time. At every step of that, they are lowering the anxiety towards their dreams. Keep in mind that just getting enough results to be rid of the anxiety is a win itself. For that pottery example, just starting to practice pottery daily can feel like you are moving towards your goal. Selling your first piece can feel that movement towards the goal. Then all the sales after that too.

If you or someone you know is feeling anxious, describe it. What is the anxiety? What is the goal you aren’t moving towards? Just identifying it may lower it. After that, check with yourself, are you actually making progress and you are just ignoring it? That happens too. I never write on this blog enough to get rid of all anxiety, but then if I take time to look at all the work I’m doing, it definitely seems like progress is there and the feeling shrinks. Recognize your progress. If neither of those is there, then make a plan, do some work, get some results towards a goal. Each piece of that will help the anxiety.

Anxiety doesn’t have to rule our lives if we don’t want it to. In fact, it’s often just our own programming being hijacked by a world that no longer requires it as much. With some self-reflection it goes away, or reduces. Do what you can to minimize it for yourself and others and you’ll find yourself going where you want to be naturally, after all minimizing anxiety comes through seeing progress towards a goal.

Laziness is not equivalent to the Theorem of Minimum Potential Energy

I’ve been writing about my Theorem of Minimum Potential Energy the last couple of days. I’d like to be clear about one thing on it, it’s not necessarily the same as laziness. Sure, a person who is having all of their needs met by being provided for and living in their mom’s basement may not seek out more work because he is minimizing his efforts and still getting the goals he wants to achieve, but that is only one form.

For different people the goals can be eating, a house, a certain car, toys, status or any other thing that people desire. The Theorem of Minimum Potential Energy as I describe it isn’t saying the people don’t want to do more than the minimum, it’s that in order to get the things they want, they will choose that path that minimizes their energy. In that regard, if someone is a skilled writer and can craft compelling copy to sell products quickly, they will likely leverage that in order to reach the goals they have if it is possible to do so in that manner. It wouldn’t make sense for them to leverage phone skills as a salesperson to reach them if those skills were weak in comparison to the writing.

This makes sense since motivation is essentially understanding that if we do this it moves closer to our goals, and that by working this way we will make progress.

Generally, what we call laziness in regards to this theorem would be having goals that are really low, not much more than survival. That’s entirely different than taking the path that minimizes the effort required to reach your goals by finding the maximum leverage of your personality, skillset, and experiences.