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.

What is motivation?

Yesterday, I wrote this blog on the Theorem of Minimum Potential Energy. Of course, it was a actually a blog about people. While writing it, I came to the conclusion that this discussion of Minimum Potential Energy is the primal form of motivation. It’s the one that is deep-wired in us.

That means that it’s powerful. Think about the saying, “Sex sells.” It’s true because sex is primal, instinctual. I once wrote that a presentation I listened to laid out some compelling evidence that Engagement = Competence + Motivation. With this in mind, a better framework for how to lay out the opening lines to a presentation, article or sales pitch is available. All you need to do is answer the question, “How does this minimize the effort of the audience?” Clearly articulate that in your intro and throughout your arguments and you have half the engagement formula down pat.

Motivation is minimizing energy and effort, but when I think about it is probably subject to the following constraint:

P.S. If energy required to learn your info is greater than the energy saved by knowing it, the audience won’t bother. You have to consider that it takes energy to learn into consideration as well.

Theorem of Minimum Potential Energy.

The Theorem of Minimum Potential energy is a physics phenomenon that states a system will move into a configuration that minimizes its potential energy.

That means that there is a reason that holding a string in your hands it will always curve downwards rather than upwards. With gravity acting downward, a downward arch minimizes the potential energy. This is useful to know because it allows mathematics to be derived that can predict the outcome of all sorts of engineering and design problems.

I studied the mathematics relating to the Theorem of Minimum Potential Energy in graduate school quite a bit. One of the things that I always thought about was how it represents people and their behaviors. In general, my presumption is that people seek out the course of actions that require minimal energy. When thinking in these terms, people’s behaviors become much more predictable. It explains why people would rather brush others off, rather than explain their positions. It explains why some people blow up when hit with an unexpected problem. It explains why some people will do anything for money.

The part that makes things still unpredictable is the fact that people can’t actually measuring whether their actions are minimizing the energy needed over their lives. So, they judge it based on different criteria. The young guy looking to hit it big in the stock market is judging that retirement money by 30 years old is minimizing the energy required for his life. However, if he fails at it, loses money, he may alter his criteria in his older age. Finding new ways of measuring what requires “less energy”.

Money is the easiest thing to come by.

When I say that, I’m referring to thinking of money as a “good”. There is more money than there is just about any other good, after all it’s abundance in the form of liquidity is why we use money in the first place. As a result, it’s much more common to come across money, than it is a beautiful art piece. It’s much more common to come across money than it is a consultant who can help you with exactly what your business is missing. It’s much more common to come across money than it is the best tacos you’ve ever had in your life.

The point is the world is driven off of supply and demand, if you want money it’s likely you need to just start with something valuable like great art, smart services, or amazing food, and trade it for something that is less rare, namely money.

I remember as a child having my first thoughts that I could just go out and make money. That there were many different ways to do so. I’ve had a few conversations that have reminded me not everyone has had this epiphany yet, so I thought it might be beneficial to share.

Believing in what isn’t there.

Mythology is crafted because it’s a useful tool for creating behaviors. That could be mythology of how a person got rich where their story is embellished a bit. It could be the mythology of how a country is founded. It could be your own personal mythology of why you do the work that you do.

Mythology doesn’t imply not true in my context. It’s simply that no one can ever prove otherwise. It’s not something that occupies the physical realm. Can someone really tell you otherwise about why you went into medicine if you’re a doctor? I don’t think they can.

For many people, their personal mythology is a source of struggle. The stories they tell themselves about how to behave, their intelligence, their status, and where they belong in the world tends to be more self-limiting then empowering in my experience. If you’re going to believe in something that isn’t there, at least believe in something that lifts you up, not drags you down. Believe positives about yourself that you can will into existence, instead of negatives that do the same.

Bullwhip Griffin

That’s the title of an old time Disney movie.

It’s not that high in production quality, though it has a Disney family feel. It’s a study in watching a company improve and get better, at least it is if you’ve seen Bullwhip Griffin as well as more modern Disney movies.

Disney has a style, you may like it. You may not, but it is certainly there. If you watch a Disney movie, even without seeing the introduction, you likely know who made it. That development of style didn’t happen by accident. It was purposeful. It was practiced. It was likely even documented internally.

Disney knows who they are serving, families. They’ve worked over decades to produce a style that fits an audience making everyone in the family relatively happy watching the movie. They have some humor only adults will get, but they have “lighter” subjects and stories. They have characters and sets that always look a certain way.

It’s likely your work would benefit from the consistent practice of creating and shipping that Disney has done for decades. Look at their Disney Plus offering, it’s filled with nothing but productions from Disney. In fact, Disney has done so much work, they can create new pieces of content from the scraps, things like Disney Zenimation, which is just animation landscapes and music to create a calm feeling in you.

That’s the benefit of creating consistently for long periods of time. Eventually, every piece of work increases the value of the next piece of work because your skill rises. Your reputation rises. Your work is available for reuse and repurposing. People find you and your portfolio is larger for each successive person that discovers you. All of these compound into something amazing over time.

Everyday you have the choice to do some interesting work. To be consistent and develop something that people want to interact with. To get better at a craft. To have some fun. It doesn’t have to feel like work, but you should see that the “Disney Magic” is more like “Disney Patience” after all it’s sticking around for this long that made them a household name. You have this opportunity to if you just pick something to create consistently.

Being smart vs. Powerful

Lately, the world has been producing many different stories of smart vs. powerful for me.

  • There was the GME stock fiasco. Retail investors saw a smart opportunity, but powerful hedge funds shut it down.
  • I’m reading a book about history of humanity, and the apex predators prior to humans didn’t always have the smartest standing at the top.
  • And then I’ve seen debates about whether artificial intelligence will ever be smarter than a person, or simply more powerful. For a wild example, being able to trigger all the nuclear weapons at once doesn’t take as much intelligence as a single person, but it’s more power than a person has.

This has made me reflect on my own thoughts on the subject throughout my life. People always told me I could do anything because I was smart when I was a kid. I believed them. Without any other life experience, what else could I believe?

For me, power has always felt like a dirty word. I don’t particularly want to have power over anyone, but the reality is being smart is a step to having the power to make a change. A smart economist could see the possibilities for policies that would raise the standard of living. Does he have the power to make those changes?

Not likely.

What does that economist need?

Power. Not the rule the world with violence sort of power, but the most basic kind, public support. So, what are skills needed to acquire this?

  • Promoting your ideas through education in order to create the support you need.
  • Having a large network of people that can connect you to the right rooms to be in.
  • Being able to articulate your thoughts to groups with different backgrounds.

Keep in mind when I say “power” it doesn’t have to be at the world-changing level. It doesn’t have to be self-driving cars or climate change technology. It could be the power to change software for an industry that employs 1,000 people. Or it could be smaller than that. Being smart is something, but it’s not everything. Don’t forget to focus on the other aspects needed to make a positive change in the world.

Big business always competes on price.

They are interested in keeping wages low, not necessarily for their own overhead, but because of people had money, they wouldn’t choose things based on price. They may choose it based on artistry, health, service, quality or any other quantity that isn’t easily scalable for a big business.

There is a huge amount of room in the world to compete on something other than price, but not if you are taking notes from a huge company.

I’ve been lucky to work in a mix of companies spanning the range from tiny to huge. Then from there, to work with hundreds of other companies as a consultant. I’ve seen the spectrum and can tell you, doing things on your own terms is possible, but you have to know what the term is. You have to communicate it. You have to link it to the customers problems.

You don’t have to compete on price, but if you don’t it better be super clear about what benefit is being provided that a cheaper option wouldn’t.

Making it through the dips.

In every endeavor that matters the long-term is involved. Anything worth doing takes 5-10 years to grow, and in that timeframe it’s easy to lose faith. To not see the path you are on when the numbers don’t work out at a specific point in time.

The stock market has a good analogy here. Paraphrasing Warren Buffett, the most prolific investor of our era, “The stock market is a tool for transferring wealth from the impatient to the patient.” Warren goes on to say that people panic when a stock they bought drops in value and often end up selling for a loss. Then after taking that loss, often times the stock goes up far beyond what the investor paid for it. There are investment firms that know this psychology and even make moves that influence stock prices to collect money from these people who aren’t patient.

Why are these people who know they should buy low and sell high often doing the opposite?

It’s panic. The availability of data and the ability to see the price at any given time become a tool for leading people to intentionally make bad decisions that don’t make any sense whatsoever. The great analogy Mr. Buffett uses is “If you bought a house, and someone immediately came by after you moved in offering you 75% of the amount you had paid, would you take it just because there was an offer?”

The answer is obviously “No.”

Yet, people panic sell their stocks during a dip.

What does this have to do with the original message?

The work we do today has more measurable data than ever before. That information that may lead you to question what you’re doing. It may lead you to question your assumptions about what will work and what won’t. You have to resist.

I’ve mentioned it before, but I’ve destroyed nearly everything by lacking patience. However, like the stock market, like anything in real life, the journey is not a nice smooth endeavor. When things dip is when your need patience and courage. You need to press on and wait for things to swing back.

P.S. There could be times where external forces lead you to have to get out. That’s okay, but is a huge topic on it’s own for another time. In this case, I’m talking about the natural ebbs and flows of our work. It can create doubt in us that shouldn’t be there.

Your worldview is made up of…

everything you leave out without realizing it.

  • If you ignore negativity, you’re are positive.
  • If you ignore positivity, you’re negative.
  • If you ignore the external, you’re introverted.
  • If you ignore the internal, you’re extraverted.
  • If you ignore the theoretical, you’re practical.
  • If you ignore the practical, you’re theoretical.
  • If you ignore the facts, you’re assuming.
  • If you ignore the assumptions, you’re operating from the facts.

When you look at your own hand, you can see different levels of detail depending on how close you look and how much time you’ve spent learning to “see”. The mental model of that hand is extremely different if looked at by a toddler or a skilled artist. The toddler sees five fingers. The skilled artists sees four fingers, a thumb, rough proportions, the deviations in shape of the fingers, the smooth/roughness of the skin, the wrinkles and lines, the level of manicure on the nails. the skin tone and the hues, the freckles, the veins, the ligaments and shape of the knuckles. By comparison, the toddlers simple model of the hand is defined by all the things he is lacking in comparison to the artist.

The question is, does the artists mental model of a hand lack anything?

The answer is “We can never know.”

For the most complex subjects, no one will ever have a “complete model”. These are things like economics, politics, how to organize a business, how to live your life, your purpose, what is art and more. However, the fact that we know our mental models will never be perfect is an opportunity to reflect on all the things we miss, incorporate new information and disregard outdated concepts. This is a skill in the same way the artist had to teach himself how to see all those details in a hand in order to be able to draw or paint it. Changing your mind isn’t a weakness if it helps you frame the subject in a new way.

The excuse of time and money.

Really likely means money. If you had that, of course you would have the time.

And even the money isn’t it entirely because more often than not, the money you need could be much lower if willing to sacrifice a few things and be a bit resourceful.

At it’s core, it’s an excuse of comfort. If you reframe it that way, it becomes much more truthful and much more easier to move past the cliche excuses.

“I’m not comfortable doing that.”

Great. At least the facts are out there. Do you want the things that come along with doing whatever “that” is? The work? The status? The income? The responsibility? If the answer is yes, then the next step is determining if those things are worth overcoming the discomfort. If not, stop. If so, continue.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever heard:

“Everything you still want lies on the other side of what’s comfortable for you. If it wasn’t you would have it already.”

I don’t know who said it.

If you took take the excuse of time and money and transform it to what it actually is, which is comfort, some real conversations can start to happen to find the courage. You just have to decide if what is on the other side of that comfort is worth the “costs”.

#dedication isn’t much of a thing on social media…

which is sad. In the world of the internet, someone sticking to something long-term doesn’t seem to really be all that important. I personally can’t think of something more important than this.

Dedication is a tool to de-risk most of your “investments”. Remember buying that guitar so that you could learn it and be a rockstar? Dedicating your days to practicing and playing gigs in clubs for years is a great way to build a following. It minimizes the chance that paying good money for that guitar was a bad investment.

Remember that website you paid to have built for your business? Staying in that line of work for a long time so that the website returns the largest possible number of customers is a great way to make sure that the website pays for itself. Quitting a couple months later on that business may find you in the hole financially on the website.

There are many things that are risky in the world. However, if you are building something like your own skills, a business, or even an invention, dedication is a tool for de-risking the investment. You’ll always figure things out if you can stick with them long enough. What that timeframe is however, is anyone’s guess.

#dedication should be a thing. Send a story of dedication if you have one on twitter with #dedication. If you don’t have one, start thinking about one you would like to write a couple years for now and start dedicating yourself to it.

Long-Term or Short-Term

I recently made some short-term investments. The problem is I’m a long-term person. I write this blog not because of what I’ll get out of it tomorrow, but because of what I’ll get out of it in 10, 20, or even 50 years. That’s the kind of long-term thinking that life has taught me works for what I want.

One thing I noticed from the short-term investments I made is how distracted they made me from the long-term goals I have. That by being misaligned even in the timeframes, even if the investments serve the same purpose towards the same goals, one became more urgent than the other and urgency replaced everything else. This happens throughout our lives if we are paying close enough attention.

So something to ponder is how your different goals are aligned. Is everything short-term? If so, that’s probably okay, they will take up equal amounts of your focus because they have similar urgency. Is everything long-term? If so, that’s great because you can continue to peck away at the efforts required to get where you want to go. The problem is the mismatch.

The short-term erodes the long-term. Short-term is great, if it is a fraction of a long-term goal. To give an example of this in relative terms, since long and short are relative by nature, my wife is working on a marketing guide for customers to share what a project looks like and give them expectations about working with her. This is her long-term goal. She’s has many other activities going on so to sit down and write a ten-page guide to this is a significant undertaking it might take 3-6 months. However, she can outline this document, then every week write a single blog for he website that covers one section. Perhaps it’s half a page each week. When she’s covered every section with a blog, she can then edit the document together and have it available. This is the value of short-term goals building to long ones.

A bad example, one where short-term distracts from long-term is an example where a company is struggling financially because they need to rework corporate sales training sessions they provide which no longer are as valued in the marketplace. Sales are dwindling every year, and what they need is a new offering, but it would take a year to create that new training program and they need revenues to go up now. So they focus the company’s efforts on new marketing plans and gimmicks and discounts, and don’t spend enough of the company’s efforts on reworking their offerings. Their short-term ate away their long-term. Every year they will need more gimmicks, more discounts, and their offerings will continue to dwindle.

In the moment, it’s easy to miss the fact that your short-term goals aren’t always aligned with the long-term goals. However, it’s definitely worth checking in with yourself from time to time on them.

P.S. Don’t forget as a mentioned, long and short are relative. A long-term goal for someone could be a month, and their short-term could be a day. That’s okay. Everyone is built differently. Just recognize that in yourself as well.

Computing power eaten by the system and your life.

Once upon a time every increase in computing power and memory allowed more powerful software applications to be written. At some point, it allowed computers to have colored screens, and complex interfaces. Then it allowed for things like Computer Aided Design Tools for engineers, layout tools for publishers, rendering tools for animators, and so much more.

However, it’s often that increased computing power gets eaten up by the operating system. Think about your cell phone. It’s possible that we could be doing much greater things with it in apps every time a new hardware model is released, but what does most of the new computing power go to? Animating emojis rather than leaving them static. They add higher resolution graphics to the backgrounds. They animate things that weren’t before. While it does create some “magic” in the experience, it also shows that we are using what is touted as an increase in power for things that don’t grant increased capability. For many, that is an acceptable tradeoff.

This really makes you question whether you need the “upgrades” you think you do. Those “upgrades” could be increased knowledge, more money, more time, and so on. In reality, it’s likely you need the software to be better. And what is software?

The code that is written down and followed as a set of routines.

You need to do better in the actual work. Resources will always get sucked up by the system, but the core of what you do, the work that only you can do is important. Keep improving that and you’ll do well.

P.S. An example of resources getting sucked up by the system is using your increased monthly surplus from paying off debt to move into a bigger house rather than invest in the work you do. Of course, this is okay as long you realize you are looking for the “magic” rather than the resources to increase the capabilities of the work you do.

Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt.

Typically, abbreviated as FUD.

The whole point is to manipulate you. To harm your confidence. Make no mistake, a large part of marketing is doing this. They are making you think you need to be more, buy more, do more. You don’t.

What you need is to be you. Be confident in your dreams, your goals and your actions to get there.

I think of fear, uncertainty, and doubt as an analogy to driving a car. Let’s say you’re taking a road trip, and on the trip you go through a rural area filled with farmland, with few buildings and lots of roads. All of a sudden, your GPS stops working for a half hour. You start to question whether you should have turned off miles back or keep going after 30 minutes of no GPS. You start to slow down. You may think about pulling out of the direction you are heading and attempt to find some sort of landmark, building, or person to ask, or you could keep going ahead until you get a signal back to tell you whether you messed up or not.

When our destination is known, fear, uncertainty and doubt, are much less likely to distract us. We can swim through the area we aren’t familiar with, continuing towards the destination through the unfamiliar parts until we reach the areas we are familiar with again.

There is something unnoticed by many in this regard. Having even a single point of focus in your life can take away fear, uncertainty and doubt in others. This is why sometimes we see people go all in on certain aspects of life like family, business, hobbies, etc. It grounds them. They know what is awaiting them.

If you’re not sure what your focus is, you might succumb to fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Make some decisions now and you’re more likely to build some resilience against the FUD.

Most problems are the same…

the responses to them are different.

Throughout the arc of mankind we’ve had organizational issues, emotional issues, technological issues, financial issues, relationship issues, health issues and a whole host of other problems.

Our problems are not that unique. What is unique is our strengths, our constraints, our personalities. How we respond to these common challenges are set by our tastes, opinions and behaviors, those are the items that make us human.

Doing the most important work, the work that only a human can do, is the kind of work where the is no correct answer. Computers like to zero in on a number. The work that only a human can do, at least at this point in time is a lot like dividing by zero, it doesn’t compute for a machine.

Do you think a computer is going to tell you the perfect thing to say after your friends husband passes away?

Seek out the work that only humans do, everything else can and ultimately will be automated away.

Those who want to learn, teach.

We have all heard that other line that sounds similar to this one. Of course, it’s false. Plenty of people teach who can also do. I was literally paid for years to both perform engineering analysis work and to train others how to do it. It wasn’t a dichotomy of do it or teach it, as is often portrayed.

Teaching is a way to ensure that you have mastered a subject yourself. The amount of questions needed to be answered, alternate ways of describing complex concepts in a manner that allows different people to grasp them, ideating examples that describe the edge cases, and so on, all lead to mastery of understanding.

Teaching is the act of making a test for yourself in your own understanding. Someone training a new employee is checking that they themselves understanding the workings of the company. Someone teaching economics is constantly checking that they can relate the concepts to world events for their students and that the understanding and principles still hold.

Whatever you teach, you are also a student of. When you teach, your pace of learning may slow down as your approach the pinnacle of available knowledge about the subject, but your students will never let you stop learning entirely.

As my friend and coworker, Sam Hochberg says when being asked how the class he taught went, “Great! I learned a lot!”.

You can learn too. Just teach what you can. Students are everywhere.

Intelligence, Bee Swarms and Resilience.

There is a thought out there that if you’re smart, you can’t lose.

That’s not quite accurate. Of course, being smart is never a bad thing. However, consider a smart person walking by is bored and is kicking rocks. He accidentally kicks a rock into a bees nest, and the bees swarm him. Is being smarter than any one particular be going to save him?

Not likely. He will get stung. He will feel pain. There will be repercussions.

This means many people who are focusing on raising their intelligence think it is the only thing that matters. Of course, resilience is part of the equation as well. Making sure to survive those bee stings is important.

However, resilience is many different things to people. It could be:

  • Financial resilience. Having many different investments, marketable skills and ways of making money.
  • Emotional resilience. Being able to handle the ups and downs of life.
  • Physical resilience. Being able to handle a fall or some other unexpected accident.
  • Organizational resilience. A company being able to handle a change to an industry, or a black swan event and be able to come out the other side.

2020 and early 2021 have shown that resilience is important. Don’t forget to think about preparing yourself in this regard, as much as you do in your intellect.

It’s worth a gamble.

I’ve met plenty of people who aren’t “gamblers.”

I think it’s worth revisiting how we see ourselves. It’s more likely you don’t like gambling with money, if you don’t consider yourself a gambler.

But do you gamble on the following?

  • Eating the leftovers in the back of the fridge that have been there for two weeks?
  • Walking down an icy path?
  • Writing a book, novel, or anything that might not work?
  • Leaving just in the right amount of time to get to work provided nothing goes wrong?
  • Taking out student loans without being sure how much salary you’ll make after college?

There are many types of gambles to take in life, but it’s clear to me that people who get the most out of life tend to take gambles that:

  • Have outcomes rigged in their favor. Limited loss/Unlimited gain.
  • Allow them to try again even after failing.
  • Utilize their skills that “push” the gamble into their favor

It’s not apparent to me that you can go far in life without taking any gambles at all. What is apparent, is you can take the right gambles. The ones that fit you.

The Network Effect of the Stock Market.

Network Effects are powerful. I’ve written about them here, here, and here.

Right now, there is something historical happening in the stock market. A group of retail investors is pushing a stock up against hedge funds who had shorted the stock driving the GameStop company towards bankruptcy. If you’re not into stocks and haven’t heard about it, Google GameStop or GME stock chart and look at it’s multi-year chart, you’ll see something doesn’t look right. This event will no doubt be a lesson taught to finance majors about risk management in the future. It’s also a powerful look at network effects. Before we talk about that though, if you’re not familiar with investing you might ask, what is a hedge fund?

A defintion found online is: A hedge fund is a limited partnership of investors that uses high risk methods, such as investing with borrowed money, in hopes of realizing large capital gains. Basically, they pool a bunch of money together from investors who might be lawyers, doctors, business owners, old money, and possibly roll in some bank loans, then they use that pool of capital to hire smart financial minds to make investments. For their efforts, the hedge fund takes a share of the profits, and returns most to the original investors pockets.

So what is a hedge fund really? It’s a network of money. And when networked together, that pool becomes much bigger, much more powerful and is able to manipulate things against smaller investors. What are some ways they can manipulate things?

  • Stock ratings,
  • tweets by people following these huge pools of money,
  • network shows having them on to share their feelings about which way the market is flowing,
  • and also they can use huge amounts of money to directly manipulate share prices by short selling to drive prices down, which they then buy up again and sell at higher prices.

It’s the huge backing of money that gives the hedge funds so much power to do things even a person with $100,000 or $1,000,000 to invest can’t dream of, let alone people with much smaller amounts than that. For decades, maybe centuries, these companies told the little guy, “You need to invest with us. Sure, we’re going to take fees, but you’ll be protected with us, against the other big players.” Doing so gained them clients, earned them fees that could have gone into a retail investor’s pocket, and kept the wheels turning for them making many of them very rich.

Then the internet happened. Then interactive trading platforms happened. Then commissions and fees started to disappear to stay competitive while social media grew. Then something magical happened, small investors started finding themselves communicating with other small investors. Their collective moves started to have power on the scale of hedge funds. After all, hedge funds are just a network of money. The only difference between a hedge fund and a huge collection of retail investors now is that the hedge funds collect salary for their work, and they have fewer management people making decisions.

It turns out that when normal people connect, share, and put their efforts towards the same goal, they are extremely powerful. Today, the stock market, at least the institutions that have represented it for decades, is learning how powerful a group of like-minded investors can be.

This isn’t limited to stocks. This is everywhere. Institutions are only institutions because people grant them, prestige, power or resources. The ability that exists today to connect with others is allowing everyone to remake the institutions that were previously untouchable or seemed to be something that couldn’t be replaced. Power is always in groups. If you aren’t connecting people, ask yourself, “Why not?”

What is None of This is Right?

I’ve been at this site for over two years. I’ve missed a few days in there, but this week I will hit my 700th blog post.

I feel like that’s quite an accomplishment, but there is still a long way to go. When I started writing this blog, I thought it would focus on a certain topic. I started trying to lay out what it would be, but then I found I didn’t gravitate towards that as much as I thought.

The title has always meant the same thing to me, that there is plenty of room in the world for taste and opinion. That not everything has an answer to it. I could have just as easily called it All of this is Right. Of course, that’s ego-centric, and what happens when it turns out you are actually wrong?

It gets hard to keep going.

The title was partially meant to be a motivator to myself. That just because I may be wrong, doesn’t necessarily mean I should be quite or keep to myself. That debating, pondering, thinking, reading and writing are the necessary steps to grow as a person and as a society. I still believe that.

Today, the tone of this blog has become a bit more clear to me. I have training in engineering, so I believe in being accurate, backing things up in fact, running the numbers, and being confident in your predictions. However, my personality runs counter to that training. Everywhere I look, the biggest problems and challenges have obstacles that aren’t something that can be solved with an equation. These are the challenges that get at the heart of being a human. A challenge that many people shrug off. A problem that is going to be exacerbated in the coming years as technologies like software, AI, self-driving cars, robots, and more push us to find more and more of the work that is human and can only be done by humans. There may come a point, when anything that has a definitive answer will be handled by technology, and only uncertain things are handled by people.

That’s what I’m aiming to show people. Where are the spaces where people can do the work? Where can people be valued? Where can people live and do things they are proud of? Where can people have dignity? Where can people engage with others who are also interested in the same things?

None of this is Right is a blog about taking a chance, using creativity, making tradeoffs, finding a place in the world that is uniquely for you.

P.S. I got more out of writing this blog than you did reading it. After about 700 posts focusing on others, I hope that’s okay.

The Persistence of the Horsepower Unit.

Institutions don’t like to change their standards. When cars and more generally, engines, were invented, measuring in horsepower made sense as a means of comparison. Horses were the means of heavy lifting for things like pulling loads, or plowing fields. Giving the customer a sense for how a car compared to what they knew made sense.

Horsepower isn’t an easily applied unit in engineering. It’s generally converted from something like watts, which is the metric systems unit for power. As a result, horsepower is a remnant of a time gone by. It’s purpose was for the average consumer to understand the comparison to the animal they were replacing. Today, we live in a society where the average person has no horse experience and the comparison only makes sense in horsepower because previous generations of vehicles were measured in them. To compare performance to those older models, keeping the unit makes sense.

Let’s be clear though, measuring things in horsepower these days isn’t because it’s a good unit of measurement. It’s ONLY because institutions resist change. Tradition is holding the horsepower as the standard unit of measurement for vehicles and nothing more.

There are two things to draw from this:

  1. It’s possible to create something that will last because people like things like this, and because it becomes a tradition.
  2. To bring about a better way to do things, at times, it’s important to kill those traditions.

For #2, I won’t say that the horsepower is holding back the vehicle industry, but there are certainly other issues facing the world where tradition holds us back. That only happens if we let it.

Forgetting why

History doesn’t repeat, but it often rhymes. Society, government, and organizations don’t have the same kind of memory as a person. That’s because they are made up of many different minds. Minds that come and go. That live and that die. Eventually, the reasons why certain policies, regulations and political stances were taken in the first place are forgotten.

We are seeing ramifications of this all across society. Britain exiting the European Union was an example of this. The British forgot why the union formed in the first place. Some other spots that are examples of “forgetfulness” of society are:

  • Anti-vax movements forgetting through never experiencing how bad certain diseases were.
  • Hate for the inefficiency of Social Security. Forgetting about people dying in the streets or being completely destitute in old age due to economic and health forces outside their control.

In the future, if the next pandemic hits long after we are gone, it would be nice for society to remember what happened during this one, using that knowledge to their advantage and avoiding the pitfalls that our current society fell into.

It’s easy for a person to remember the reasons why they made certain decisions. It’s next to impossible for an organization to have this type of memory, but it can be valuable to try to institute programs that help maintain it.

I’ve never been upset about cleaning up the kitchen.

After a busy day, it’s easy to feel tired, that you can’t do much more. I definitely think that can be true at times with the heavy critical thinking, or creative type work. However, it’s possible the toll from those tasks is keeping you from realizing there is low effort work that can be done.

Sometimes after a really exhausting day, I leave the dishes for the morning. Generally, it doesn’t help anything. It starts the next day off a little more hectic than it would have been otherwise. In the cases, where I pushed through the malaise of exhaustion, never once have I regretted it or thought, “That extra 15-30 minutes of sleep would have been better than doing those dishes last night.”

Often times it seems like if we only put in more creative time, more of the heavy lifting, then we’ll be happier, get where we want to go, and be successful. More often, it’s actually small acts that are simple, that line up the rest of the time in our lives, that makes us happy, safe, and secure that lead to the powerful outcomes.

If you’re stressed, and overwhelmed, tidying up might be a great place to start. Once your mind is clear of that, it can be easier to move forward.

Assets and liabilities

In finance, it’s clear what is an asset and what is a liability. Assets make you money, liabilities cost you money. In realms outside of finance, particularly when it comes to knowledge and experience, there is a blur where someone thinks an asset exists, there is actually a liability.

Imagine thinking that because 25 years ago electric cars weren’t ready to become mainstream and various initiatives from government and automotive companies failed, that they will fail today. That’s ignoring much of the initial conditions of the problem. 25 years ago, much of the electrical grid was still based on fossil fuels, switching to electric vehicles just moved the source of where the fossil fuel was combusted. Today, solar, wind, and other renewable energy sources are making a larger contribution to the total electricity generation than ever before. Not only that, the cost to produce these technologies has dropped drastically as they have become mainstream.

Yet, there are many that persist believing that things won’t work out this time because they didn’t work out decades ago. As if the world stands still. Experience is something that is usually seen as an asset. You’ve gained wisdom. You are more likely to see your endeavors correctly. However, if your past experience was failure, or something that prevents you moving forward because you can’t correctly identify the changes in the world between that previous experience and now, it is a liability.

The great thing is if you recognize it, you can turn your experience from that liability back into an asset. That’s not true in finance, a debt is an obligation no amount of recognition or wishing will change that.

When cooking Beef Wellington…

chill it in the fridge for a while, maybe even overnight before baking.

Why is that so important?

The starting temperature should be consistent. We aren’t super concerned with the starting temperature of a beef roast, it could be left out for 20 minutes, an hour before roasting, or put in straight from the refrigerator. Why is it different on the Beef Wellington?

Well, you can’t see the beef for one, it’s hidden by pastry. You can’t touch it to check it like you can a roast, it would destroy the pastry it’s wrapped in. You’re relying purely on instinct, how much time you think is correct. A normal roast adds more methods to check and be sure it’s being cooked properly. Most people enjoy that security, the ability to measure something against their instincts and ensure they are correct. There are plenty of life situations that fly in the face of that. Where there are no measurements, and faith is what you have to go by. What can be done in these situations?

The equivalent of chilling the Wellington. Minimize the variables.

  • If you’re starting a project or business, minimize the expenses.
  • If you’re starting a new job, make sure that you take the time to know what the job is.
  • If you’re going move across the country, make sure you know what it’s like there.

Just because you need to rely on instinct, doesn’t mean you can’t minimize your chances of that instinct being wrong. Don’t let the unknown stop you, just figure out the steps that make your instincts more likely to be accurate. Starting from the same temperature all the way through the dough and meat means that your cook time is more likely to be consistent if you repeat a recipe. What’s the equivalent for your situation?

Generalist vs. Specialist – Finding Meaning in Work.

There is a chasm for finding meaning in work. On one side, people want to see the impact of what they do. They want to contribute and make a difference. On the other side is all the things that need to be done, each requiring a specific skillset to make it happen.

At times, it’s fun to be the generalist because all items belong to you. You see the input, you see the work, you see the output and the meaning behind it. This generalist is the one man shop. The business owner who finds clients, sells work, does the job, and repeats for a living. The struggle for most is that this is exhausting. Our brains have to switch between many different tasks, and some of them we are less skilled at then others. Which is why as a society we came up with specialization. A certain job with a certain skillset. One that can mastered, made efficient, and where the worker can bring significant leverage by dealing with the same problems over and over. The problem here is you only see a specific input and a specific output, and finding the meaning in the work may be much harder.

I’ve seen it online, heard it in conversations, and think about it quite a bit. There is a growing discontent with the corporate world of work. It’s a social problem that needs some sort of resolution, or at least acceptance. Most of the discontents don’t even quite understand themselves what they are upset about because when reflecting on these thoughts, the human condition is one of work. If we didn’t live in a society, would we be free of work?

Of course not.

Here’s a list of work to be done:

  • Food to be grown, gathered or hunted
  • Food preparation and cooking
  • Clothing to be made
  • Shelter to be built
  • Materials to be harvested and shaped
  • Weapons/protection to be made
  • Fires to be built

Make no mistake, this is work. However, it seems many people are now daydreaming about this sort of thing. Why? They see the meaning in it. The meaning is, “It allows me to survive.” Somehow their brains aren’t associated specialized work with that same meaning, even though it is. Society is doing all of those things above, it’s just splitting them up over people with different skills.

This chasm is only something that is likely to grow. I see it in the world I’m in. Technology is growing more complex, ever more specialized people are needed to work in narrow fields as it takes more learning to understand the state-of-the-art in these fields. That increases the effect that fewer and fewer people can see the meaning in their work.

What’s the answer?

I don’t think there is only one, but here are a couple of thoughts:

  • Your work is part of a bigger system. You do it so you can survive, and it contributes to the work of others that are part of the same system. That’s okay.
  • If you want to see the meaning, take on a more generalist role. Something that let’s you see it all. This could be a different job, or it could be starting your own business.
  • If you can’t accept those first two points, spend a couple weeks camping with not much by way of materials. It may change your outlook.

Chrysopoeia

That’s the word for the transmutation of metals into gold. It’s what many alchemists throughout history were working on. Don’t get me started on it’s pronunciation.

Chrysopoeia is an interesting study in picking the right problems to work on. What if the alchemists studying Chrysopoeia were successful? They would be rich, right?

Possibly. Maybe even most likely, at first.

However, why is gold valuable in the first place? Well, a few reasons are:

  • It’s has a nice luster
  • It’s very malleable and ductile making it easy to craft.
  • It has good conductive properties and high density.
  • and, most of all, it’s rare.

In fact, for that last point, it’s been estimated that all the gold in the world melted down would fill a 70’x70’x70′ cube. There are many larger than that size. Think about how much iron in the form of steel there is in all the buildings of the world by comparison. It dwarfs gold. What would have happened if alchemists were successful?

They would have devalued gold. Gold would have been able to be produced in quantities much larger than it was mined in, and eventually as the world’s supply increased, the value of gold would come down. Perhaps the first alchemist to discover this method would be obscenely wealthy, but over time if others found out the trick, the value would plummet.

This is a problem where the early and the first successful person get the huge rewards, and after that it fades. It’s the massive speculation type problem that either ends in disappointment, or massive success. Not much room in between.

For most people, this isn’t the type of problem you should be seeking to work on. This is the type of problem that is going to end in heartache and disaster for 99.9% of people.

Compare this method of making money to painting pictures and selling them. Once you land on a subject matter people like, you can sell and make a living. If more people see them and want them, you can scale your sales. If copycats move in, you can create new works to differentiate yourself. That’s not possible with gold, after all gold is gold.

We all pick the types of problems we want to work on, the risk levels, and the rewards that are required for us. Don’t get stuck in a problem that doesn’t fit you. If you are risk-adverse, don’t pick Chrysopoeia to work on. If you are huge reward motivated, give it a try. Pick the problems that work for you. For me, I like ones that are:

  • Workable at any scale
  • Highly differentiable
  • Low cost to entry
  • Have some level of scalability to them

You may have different criteria, adjust appropriately.

Something everybody wants vs. something one person may want.

There is value in making something that’s useful for everyone. Of course, when you see this opportunity and are successful in it, many other businesses will want to serve that market too. Large markets always attract large competition.

It’s ironic because when someone sees an opportunity in a large market, more often then not, they think it is the correct way to go. However, competition tends to balance all markets. Large markets have large competition. Small markets have small competition.

What size market to serve then really doesn’t have to a be a question at all, as long as there is some sort of market for the work you do.

If you are a table maker, you could make a design that is easily reproducible and create hundreds a year to make a living, or you could produce a handful, each with enormous skill involved and many different unique details. The latter kind of tables are the ones that are going to sell for five figures and that require the right eye to appreciate them.

In modern society, we have what is likely an excess of the first category of mass production, and a shortage of the second. One reason for this, is up until about twenty years ago, we didn’t have the medium of connecting those in small audiences with their target audience. Today, we have the internet and social media. The common wisdom hasn’t caught up.

Artists transform data.

When you’re kind of sure about what you want, but you know you don’t have the skills to do it, you go see an artisan. This could be a birthday cake with a theme, you’re not sure how to deliver it, or what you envision entirely, but you want that creative baker down the street to create a masterpiece for your child’s special day.

This is in opposition to the work a computer can do. For example, a computer can take a picture of an eagle and apply filters to make it black-and-white. That’s a shift in data too, but the difference is form. The computer took an input, applied an equation and produced an output that was related to the input in specific terms. In fact, it’s likely the process could be discovered and reversed if desired.

The bakery example isn’t quite the same. The baker took a briefing in the form of a note or conversation and ended up making a cake from it. Someone looking at the cake may not be able to tell you exactly what the input was. It will likely be less obvious then the transformation of the picture by the computer.

The less obvious it is to see how the transformation is applied, the more artistic and the more valuable the person doing that work is. If your work is a simple equation, no one will value it, and someone is definitely working to replace it. It’s better to work in the areas where there aren’t simple answers and known steps.

“I imagine death so much it feels like a memory.”

That’s a line from the Broadway show, Hamilton. It was spoken by Alexander Hamilton himself in the play.

It’s an interesting thought because I’ve often imagined certain aspects of my life so much that when the actual time came it felt like deja vu. To some extent, most people have something they think about over and over again. Reflecting on this applied to a group or organization, there are certain conversations I’ve had in my current company that have come up so many times that when we get there it will feel like a memory.

When something in the future feels like a memory, it shouldn’t be ignored. It should be embraced. Action should be taken towards it. How will you ever stop thinking about it unless you make it come true? These visions are guideposts.

In Hamilton’s case, it was unfortunate that it was related to death, but if he knew how he wanted to die, that still informed him on how he should live.

When you are blessed with foresight such as this, don’t shun it, don’t waste it. Embrace it. That’s hard as an individual, but harder as a group. If you’re part of something bigger than yourself, drive these “memories” forward.

Professionals deal with failure.

No, not their own necessarily, but what happens when something goes wrong.

Building software is about handling the edge cases. When someone learns to write software, the easy part is usually the core functionality. The hard part is stability, edge cases, exception handling, error messages, etc.

A mechanically-inclined high school student could probably weld together a frame, strap on an engine of some sort and build a vehicle. Of course, that design likely would have no safety features built in. No containment for a failing engine. Not much in the crash testing realm. It would likely be lacking in any sort of self-diagnostic capability.

Both of these examples are the work of amateurs. The core function is often the easy part, but that’s not the work of professionals. The work of professionals is where the normal things breakdown. Where the difficult decisions lie. Where the tradeoffs are, and how to handle things that don’t go the way they should.

The Search for Contributors

I’ve always sought to add to others’ endeavors wherever I can. Often times when I had ideas, connections, or skills that could add something to others works that I was made aware, and I would reach out and let them know that if there is any way that I could help them, then I would, usually for free.

Not many people took me up on it.

Today, as my blog readership is growing and there are a few places I participate online, more people are reaching out to me, asking if I’m willing to be part of their group, or their community. While I now would love to, I’m as busy as I’ve ever been with working, blogging, and my family. Time is finite, so all the commitments become impossible.

A difficult thing to do is find people that can add value to the work that you do, or the work that your company does. One of the reasons these people are hard to find is because they either are already busy adding value in other places, or they are busy building something quietly for themselves.

When someone sees the value you bring, it’s a rare and beautiful thing, it should be cherished on both sides and each party should be treated with respect.

Birds aren’t real.

In a certain area of the internet, which shall not be revealed here, there is a group of people who believes that all birds aren’t real. Not that they have never existed, but that since decades ago, the government has been killing and replacing birds with devices meant to spy on people.

I don’t THINK this is a mainstream belief, but I haven’t actually asked many people if they actually believe such a thing. The point here is two-fold:

  1. We live in a time of the largest amount of information being available ever.
  2. Not all information is correct.

Taking great care on what to accept and what to reject is more critical now than it has ever been at any point in history.

I stumbled upon this part of the internet accidentally while researching something else entirely. It appears that it started as an experiment to prove that on that internet nothing can be made satirical enough to not have people start to believe as fact. They were correct.

This is another reminder, how we communicate our ideas and our intent in an era of mass communication is crucial.

What am I optimizing for?

Optimization works well when there is a goal. Optimizing for price is one way to setup a business or project. You want to offer the cheapest, then find the cheapest materials, the cheapest employees, the cheapest location, the cheapest everything and then market it up by the smallest amount that will allow you to stay in business.

Here are some other things you could optimize for:

  • Responsiveness
  • Customization
  • Ease of business
  • Quality
  • Happiness
  • Creativity

Most people never even pick an optimization at all. That makes it hard to make any real decisions.

Football on Nickelodeon.

Nickelodeon is a kids television station. They play cartoons and kids shows. Generally, you wouldn’t think of them broadcasting something like a football game.

Yet, they just broadcasted their first NFL game.

It’s interesting because they used modern technology to broadcast the same game as other big networks but add in graphics, cartoon characters, animations, etc. the appeal to kids. Making the game just a bit more interesting for kids so that they don’t ask daddy to change the channel for cartoons while he is trying to watch.

It’s an interesting experiment. It takes something that we all can watch currently, and offers a differentiation on it. A more whimsical, and fun spin on something that is generally serious and competitive.

It’s interesting where technology and creativity will take us in the future, but one thing is certain, there is room to do much of what we already do, but differentiate in more ways than we ever thought possible.

Programming, Loops and How People think.

If you’re familiar with programming, you’re familiar with loops. Where you loop through an index of items an perform a task or set of tasks in each loop.

Our brains work like this too.

We have a loop for the daily chores.

We have a loop for tasks at the office.

Sometimes, if we’ve focused on improving ourselves and being more balanced we have a loop for exercise, cooking and nutrition, family time, and other interests.

We can also have a loop for our purpose in life.

If you think about a conversation, we even have loops in conversation. We started out debating a single point, as other points are made, we debate those and so on. If you go off on too many of these tangent loops you eventually forget the original point you were debating at all. This is common in unstructured conversations.

Every time we add a new loop we add a significant amount of mental brain power and possible exhaustion to our life. It’s why focusing is so important. For just a little example, let’s say every loop of yours has even 3 items in it. A loop of 3 items each having 3 items in it is 9 items. Adding a higher level loop of 3 makes it 27 items. Another loop makes it 81. This is how people get quickly overwhelmed with too much going on in their lives.

A quick thought on this:

If you can remove an entire loop from someone’s lives, their brain becomes much less exhausted because of the math above. This is where you are seeing food delivery, fresh produce delivery and other nutrition based programs growing in popularity. It’s why apps with exercise routines built-in are becoming hot-sellers. It’s why hiring someone who needs little input and direction has always been in-demand.

If you’re stressed, break some of your loops. If you want to be valued, break the loops of others.