Analysis, Decision-Making, and Commitment

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

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

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

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

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

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

Closed form solutions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iterative Design

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

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

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

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

Truth vs. Reality

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

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

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

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

No. It’s not.

It can’t possibly be.

Doing so would would be the act of being omniscient.

No one knows all.

What can we do about it?

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

Normal, large, and larger.

Words can manipulate people and its unavoidable in many ways.

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

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

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

Why does our form change for running?

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

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

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

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

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

Off-Brand

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

Being established and staying accountable to customers.

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

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

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

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

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

Tempering yourself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you plan on improving yourself?

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

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

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

It’s at least something to think about.

The Power of Expectations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Expectations are powerful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone is looking for someone who can bring data.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recognizing dread

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

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

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

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

Watching a guy eat food.

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

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

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

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

Why can’t we open our minds to others?

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

Because we’re all irrational.

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

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

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

Hitting resistance.

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

That’s foolish thinking.

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

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

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

Never noticing the training.

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

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

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

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

The Great Depression and Information.

Post image

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

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

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

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

The Power of Context and Asking Questions.

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

Beyond that, context is powerful.

It’s also fluid.

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

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

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

The market for players.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Outsider” Persona

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

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

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

How does someone become smart?

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

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

Wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fermented Peppers and long-term skills.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To give a couple examples:

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

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

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

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

The noise an incoming email makes.

Once upon a time when the internet was young, getting an email was a magical experience. It was something someone you knew sent you because spam wasn’t yet a thing. Connecting a noise notification to an email by default made sense. It made people excited about the medium and made sure people didn’t forget about it since those rare emails alerted you of their presence.

Over the last 20 years, email has become commonplace. Most people send multiple emails a day, and likely receive dozens. It’s no longer a rare event, nor something people forget about. Yet, we still have that annoying default noise of an incoming message. If you receive similar email quantities as me and you don’t turn your sound off, or turn off the alert noise, you’ll be hearing it every few minutes throughout the day.

The average person is engaged in a battle for their attention. These notifications are a remnant of a past era. They were integrated into the system for a reason, then the reason was long forgotten. They simply exist as an irritation these days.

If a system is built to make you behave a certain way, it doesn’t mean you have to obey it. You can bend it. Of course, it’s important to bend it in a way that others participating in the system expect. If your coworkers expect responses within a day, it’s not a great idea to check email once per week, but it may be a great idea to check once per day instead of every 5 minutes. Systems get adapted to the current needs, though they were often put in place based on past needs. That’s okay, just make sure expectations about those changes are clear.

Sort by size vs sort by color

Someone I know had a container that had sorted 1000s of different beads and they dropped it on the ground. It was heartbreaking because they became all mixed up, but all of the beads were exactly the same size, only varying in color. Had they been varying only in size, a system of making some wires at different spacing could have easily been made to quickly sort the 1000s of beads back into their original places, but instead, color requires the human eye and a huge amount of effort and time. There is no easy, quick to rig up solution for sorting by color.

The world has more ways to sort things that we can possibly count. In fact, no matter the job you have or the work you do in some way you are sorting information, whether there is a physical good attached or not. If you own a restaurant you may be sorting who you should hire, or what should go on the menu, or which tables need to the gum scraped off the bottom.

The difficult part is that we (and by we, I mean everyone) don’t know how the most important things should be sorted. There is no perfect solution.

If you’re in sales you’re sorting requirements, objections, agreements, and resources in order to package them all together into a presentation and create deal. If you’re in the recycling business you’re sorting things that are plastic vs. glass, but what happens when a cat ends up there? How do we deal with that not fitting our classifications?

If you want to find a way to add value to someone, be in the business of sorting in a way that there isn’t already an elegant system for. The harder it is to design a system to do, the closer to “human” that task is, and the more likely it is to be valued. Many of these items, like the sales example, are “intangible” and there is no efficient way to train someone to do this work. That’s why there is value to it.

A song cutting out

I was sitting in a parking lot while my wife ran into a store to pick a few things up, when an old favorite song of mine came on the radio. I was excited to hear it, and it put me in the right feeling, but then it started cutting out every few seconds. After ten such breaks in the song, it became nearly impossible to continue listening.

Everything has a natural rhythm. A pace that allows operation and harmony. When it’s disrupted it becomes a fight to get through it. It takes a beautiful song and turns it into simply noise. This is happening all over the place in your life. Social media competing with the books you should be reading. Text messages interrupting the conversation you should be having. Calls that chop up your day.

We’re interrupted in every way imaginable. Our lives are not as calm, rhythmic, and organized as they should be as a result of technology literally trying to figure out pattern interrupts so that they can sell you more goods you didn’t care to notice before.

There is a huge tension between how you want your days to be and how they are, and technology both enables and disables them from happening. Figure out your own rhythms. When they work stick with them, when they stop working change them.

A few ideas that have worked for me:

  • Deleting specific apps from my phone
  • Only looking at certain websites on a computer
  • Keeping my phone in another room at specific times or when working on specific tasks
  • Attempting to always have a book that I’m interested in finishing instead of wandering to social media for entertainment
  • Finding a schedule that works, and knowing when I’m most likely to be able to do certain types of work.

Hopefully you’ll think about this for yourself.

Showing up in search

When people think about starting a new business, one of the things that comes up is marketing. How will I stand out, how will someone find me? Will I be able to be found at all?

The answer to all of these is yes provided you do the work. I’ve been working on this blog for about 22 months blogging nearly everyday with a few sporadic periods where I missed some days as life got hectic. I’ve seen traffic grow steadily, but not in consistent ways. It was exponential, then it plateaued a bit for a couple months, then it rose linearly, now it looks like it’s going to be exponential for a little while again.

There is a huge number of factors involved here. The quantity of work being done. People finding your work and sharing it. The algorithms Google is using to rank you in searches.

When I started out, you could search “noneofthisisright.com” and even something that direct wouldn’t come up. It took over 12 months for that search to come up.

This likely applies to just about anything that you do. Showing up daily, doing the work, documenting it, talking about, is how you get your name out there. It will work, but only if you do.

The Average and The Distribution

The average tells you nothing about the distribution.

Imagine two bowlers bowling in 10 tournaments, both average 220, but one averages between 215-225 every event, while another averages 190 in some but 250 in the others. Which one actually made more money? Likely, the less consistent guy because he likely won the events where he averaged 250 and a disproportionate amount of money goes to 1st place.

Depending on the way the rewards are distributed, it may make sense to take a risk rather than to focus on consistency. Sure you may fail at times, but if the upside is skewed heavily compared to the downside, then risk-taking rather than consistency is likely the best bet mathematically.

Taking this to a different context, when it comes to ideology, extremism on both sides leads to the same average as everyone huddled in the center. However, the huddled center distribution has shared vision allowing us all to move forward without too much friction, while the divided extremist division leads to shouting, emotions, violence, and overall bad behavior. It leads to every conversation being either an echo chamber or a fight, no actual discussion. It leads to “I don’t want to understand you. You’re a nut job.” This sounds like politics, but I’ve seen it at companies too, and it’s not a good culture.

Here are some things that are likely distributed differently than you may think:

  • Responsibility
  • Knowledge
  • Relationships
  • Opportunity
  • Courage
  • Athleticism
  • Intelligence

Figuring out where you stand on these may help you realize where you can relate to the masses and where you stand out. Then you can figure out how to maximize that to optimize your success.

A Company of Well-Rounded People.

An entire company of well-rounded people. What a great company that would be, right?

Wrong.

Well-rounded people are needed in every company. People that can be the common linchpin amongst groups. However, too many of these types leads to all breadth and no-depth. It leads to not being so interesting.

A study of personality types such as MBTI or enneagram and you’ll quickly find that personality types to tend flock to themselves and a couple other complementary types. This leads to uniformity. Teams where everyone is mostly the same, not filling in the gaps of each other, but acting as clones. This may be good for specialized teams, who have narrow foci of tasks, but not if the team has to do a broad range of work.

When I looked at the group I was in at work through the perspective of Myers-Briggs and the associated cognitive functions, I found an interesting correlation, we all had the same functions in our stacks, though in different orders, representing three different personality types. Perhaps those are the functions needed for the role. Or perhaps that’s what the people who put us there thought was needed for the role. The combination of empathy, quick thinking, and handling things in the moment. However, while my group was good at their role, none of us would have been good in the administrator roles at the company. There are a number of people in the company that handle that work much better.

A struggle at times when putting a team together is hiring people with the right skills for the role, rather than the people like us.

Working together.

In school there are many team assignments, they teach people how to work together. Of course, there is not standard definition of what “working together” means.

My wife is an interior designer, as a result, we have a number of projects around our house that we want to do, but we don’t make much progress on them. Why does that have to be the case? We’re working together after all.

Part of the reason is because in her normal work, there is a designer/client relationship. One is here to do the work, the other to approve it. It’s clear cut. In my case, I’m sort of a co-collaborator and client at the same time. I’m taking part in the design, but I’m also approving it, but my wife is also the client and the designer herself. Add to it that since we aren’t being hired by someone there is no in-and-out situation. The deadlines drag on forever. Unlimited revisions. It tends to be a combination of no clear authority, no clear worker, no clear timelines equals no progress.

This is something we all internalize easily, but it’s something that we don’t often pay attention to as the reason why improvements don’t get made at companies. Or the reason we have the same conversations 100 times because the dynamic doesn’t change.

Here’s some questions to attempt to overcome this scenario.

  • What is the project?
  • What are the domains of expertise required?
  • Who is responsible is assigned to the different domains?
  • What are the deadlines?
  • Who makes the final decisions (is this domain dependent?)?
  • Who decides the budget?
  • Who has authority to spend the money and how much?
  • Who is responsible if things fall apart, someone leaves or is incapacitated and needs to be replaced mid-project?

If you can’t answer all of these, you probably aren’t ready for your project.

Fire is a non-linear problem.

The initial temperature. The airflow. The humidity. The stacking geometry. These are all variables that affect whether the wood will ignite and how hot it will get.

The thing about non-linear problems is they are often counter-intuitive.

Taking the fire example, you place a small log in the fire place, and some crumpled newspaper below it, you light the newspaper, it chars the wood, and before you know it, the newspaper has burnt up, and the log isn’t burning. The fire is dead.

It seems as if you can’t light a single small log, you wouldn’t be able to light MORE wood. However, if the wood is stacked, a reaction on the surface is happening as the air rises up, as the flame from the newspaper hits the lowest log, more energy is released heating the air more, which makes that air hit the logs stacked higher and ignite them more as well. As they do, they release tiny little embers that fall down the stack, which makes the air at the bottom start out warmer every time, and eventually you have a self-perpetuating combustion cycle.

There are many things that run counter-intuitive in life some, but not all of them may be:

  • Trying to keep a business too small thinking it will be easier.
  • Talking about yourself instead of talking about others.
  • Showing up in the right places, which may run counter to where you believe those places are.

We extrapolate our experiences constantly to areas where we have less expertise, but more often than not the world is non-linear in nature, which means our assumptions, beliefs and expectations are more likely to be wrong than right. That’s why doing the work is so important, it fills in the data and the parts of the curve that are missing so that we can see things more clearly.

Overestimating abilities.

It turns out people are good at identifying what happiness looks like on someone’s face. A big smile, and eyes wide, it looks hopeful. However, that doesn’t translate to whether the person making that face is happy or trying to look happy.

Mismatched emotions and expressions are more common than most people think. That also means that over time, we give ourselves “credit” for being able to read people. However, this is simply not accurate, at least not for people we are unfamiliar with.

When trying to figure out what we think is the correct about people there is no answer key, so it typically ends with people determining that whatever we think is correct.

It’s entirely possible you aren’t correct, and the skill level you think you have in determining that you are isn’t near the level you believe. This is just one example of where people can trick themselves into thinking they are better than reality would show them if it could.

There are plenty of places where we overestimate our abilities, it’s worth giving a thought to where this applies in your life.

Try this one life hack.

If you hate your job, figure out a way to make your job obsolete. Do you think others like doing it? Do you think your company likes paying you to do it?

What if you built (or architected if you don’t have programming skills) software, standardized presentations, built forms, created automated email responses, recorded videos, and did any combination of those items that make your job no longer necessary.

Would it be scalable? Are there other companies that could benefit from the same? Can you use that skillset to build a company of consulting in that domain?

Everyday there is an opportunity to go beyond the spec of your position and do something in a new way. If you’re looking to simply pass the time away in your role, you may not see the opportunity, but it’s no doubt there.

Mortal Kombat…

was a video game that came out when I was a kid. Today, they are still making Mortal Kombat games. Starting from 1992, they released a number of games and just recently there was an announcement that their latest game which was released last year reach 8,000,000 sales at $50 a piece, that’s a lot of revenue. Unbelievable really, and that doesn’t even count licensing, merchandising, books, etc.

There are many fighting games out there, many with similar controls and gameplay to Mortal Kombat, so what made them such an amazing franchise, while others faded to obscurity?

Originality.

Mortal Kombat was gruesome. As the fights happened it showed blood flying which was new for the video game medium. There were debates on TV about whether the game was suitable for children. They introduced “Finish Him!” and the performance of “Fatalities” after beating a character. This was how word of mouth about the franchise spread. Those other fighting games were also good, but they didn’t have that shock factor, and with adults wondering about suitability for the children of the ’90s, word was spreading through both children and adults.

The second thing was also back stories and and world building. Mortal Kombat started creating stories for their characters. Some of them were rivals. Some were police. Some were criminals. The original boss was a sorcerer. As the series went on, an entire world of myths, gods, different worlds and a huge amount of characters and their motivations was introduced. There was more to the game then fighting. The fighting was just the game mechanics, there was actually a story. This part likely didn’t increase the word of mouth as much, but it hooked people in more. It created bigger fans. People who wanted the newer releases to continue the story and learning about the Mortal Kombat world.

These two things different from other fighting games that focused more effort on character design, fighting mechanics, etc. These two things taken together built an empire that has sold billions of dollars. They did it with originality.

The Portfolio of Photography vs. Engineering

I’ve known a few photographers, they almost never get hired without having a portfolio of work that they can show off.

Engineers on the other hand are almost never asked for a portfolio, they are asked about projects, ut having pictures of them isn’t requisite to landing the job.

There’s a couple different reasons for this. A photographer is being paid for their “eye”, how they see lighting, composition, scenery, etc. It’s impossible to know how they “see” without seeing a portfolio.

An engineer is hired to design something that is likely proprietary. Provided you weren’t fired from the last job, we’ll have to assume that your work was adequate because it’s understood your last employer doesn’t want you showing your work off around town risking their proprietary knowledge. There also tends to be other qualifying criteria such as a Bachelor’s Degree that shows you have a certain knowledge level.

In today’s world, a portfolio of work is the easiest it’s ever been to curate. Build a website, start adding projects, photos, thoughts and anything else to it over the years, and edit it from time to time.

While other professions follow engineering in some regards, it never hurts your chances to have a portfolio of work. To be able to say, “Here is what I did, and what I can do, what do you think?” It makes for a much more concrete conversation.

If you’re an engineer and you built a sofa for your house, that’s probably worth documenting. If you’re a baker and you made a full-size cake of Darth Vader, that’s worth documenting. If you’re in the hair styling business and you have ten different people who you made look better through a radical change in hair style, it’s worth documenting.

There are so many places where a portfolio is the piece of marketing you’re missing, that it’s worth thinking about what you can do to document your work.

Who’s working on the complex problems.

After Isaac Newton, there was a few centuries where mathematics and physics solved an enormous amount of problems. They did so by making assumptions that simplified the problems drastically. Deriving these formulas were a boon for engineers and scientists everywhere.

Take Bernoulli’s equation, many engineers use it frequently. When it was derived it made the following assumptions:

  • Laminar and steady
  • Inviscid
  • Incompressible

These assumptions greatly simplified the mathematics of the more general conditions. Now nearly any engineer can apply Bernoulli’s equation to a system that moves water. But what about a system that move supercritical CO2, or melted chocolate. In those cases, the assumptions break down.

We have technology far more advanced than Bernoulli had. We can now make fewer assumptions but in involves doing the hard work of understanding our own assumptions in the problems of our choosing. Doing the hard work in these spaces without the easy answers and simplifying assumptions is the work that’s rewarded.

This doesn’t have to be applied to engineering. We make assumptions about how stories are told, how food is cooked, how presentations are created, and how we handle our lives. Think about the assumptions in your life and apply accordingly.

Ideas for avoiding associators.

Hosting a conference is a good thing, but is a bigger conference more successful than a small one?

I’m not so sure. If it is about profit only, then more tickets is better. If it’s about dissemination of knowledge, then not so much.

A conference is a great place to share knowledge. The more people that attend the bigger each seminar has to be, or the more seminars there has to be. That makes either the information more one directional as it’s harder to have a conversation with a room of 500 people, or it makes the presentations have less shared experiences amongst the attendees as there is more to choose from.

What ends up happening at larger conferences is that there are a number of people who just want to associate instead of contribute. People who want to sit back and listen, put the conference as a feather in their cap, but not ask many questions, interact with the room, nor challenge the presenter.

Here are some ideas to avoid associators:

  • Price appropriately so only the most interested will attend.
  • Questionnaires/Applications required for attendees, the longer it is, the more likely you are to be dealing with someone who will contribute.
  • A location that isn’t particularly desirable on it’s own. People won’t go for the vacation.

A room full of contributors is a powerful thing, if that’s what you’re seeking, these may help.

Revolutions vs. Usurpation.

Of those terms in the title, one is the language of the oppressed and the other is the language of the ones in power. This doesn’t just have to be political, it could also be technology, business, or ideas.

The point is perspective is only found from the spot we are currently standing in. Einstein said it best, “It’s all relative.” That may not be an exact quote, but that was his idea in physics and it’s true today. Everyone is judging the world based on what is happening to them, not what’s happening out in the world in absolute terms.

Trying to meet people in the world as it relates to them is a challenge. It requires empathy. It requires a broad perspective. It requires caring enough to do the hard work of understanding how they reached the worldview they are at today.

A simple example, one person leads a revolution. Another tries to put down an usurpation of his political system. A third persons the “same old, same old” with new names. All three are witnessing the same events. All three are in different advantageous, disadvantageous and neutral positions. Each one has a different story about what is happening. This leads to the most confounding thing about the world, it’s possible that all three stories are correct. Like Einstein said, “It’s all relative.” Observing an astrological motion, three different observers standing on different planets could measure the speed differently and they would all be right.

Perhaps if we spent just a bit more time not assuming that the conclusions of others who disagree with us are wrong, but rather that we simply lack the worldview to measure the world in their way, we will all be better off.

Choosing where to live.

There is no single answer on where to live. Some people choose to follow their careers, moving wherever the jobs take them. Others choose to follow scenery, and go to the most beautiful place that they’ve ever travelled. Some may be looking for towns with opportunities to start a business, like a coffee shop.

While that makes it sound like each of those decisions has a single criteria, it’s likely there are many such as:

  • vicinity to family
  • taxes
  • culture of the area
  • scenery
  • jobs
  • schools
  • friends in the area
  • proximity to airports
  • availability of goods

I’m sure you can think of your own additional criteria to add to that list.

Choosing where to live is a problem that no one can “solve”. It’s simply a pick that we make balancing the constraints that we want to put on it.

This may apply to a company choosing where to put their headquarters as well. There are many problems like this in the world, the ones that we can’t tell someone how to do, or what the optimal solution is. These are the problems that are valuable and irreplaceable by computers.

Putting Boeing out of business.

An idea won’t put Boeing out of business. At least, not an idea alone.

Boeing is a big defense contractor. They have salespeople. They have political connections. They have factories and infrastructure. They have a supply chain.

Boeing isn’t Boeing simply because they have ideas for planes. They are Boeing because they’ve built the processes, put in place the systems, hired the people to do all the work. There is no person, no matter how skilled, who could do all of that alone.

Big things require many minds working on them. Many minds means being a collaborator to accomplish tasks. For anyone who is extremely ambitious, it’s good to internalize this. You can’t do it alone, you need others, start looking for them.

The sum of your work.

I recently just hit 600 posts on this blog.

I’m not happy with many of them.

There are spelling and grammar errors. I don’t always have as clear of an idea as I would like. I don’t always present things with the best possible stories and illustrations. However, there are many pieces here who have helped people. I’ve been told so directly.

The sum of your work isn’t lowered by low quality pieces. It may bring down your average a bit, but no one cares about average. They care about your hits. If doing more work raises the chance of putting out another hit and the only thing you have to risk is that the next attempt might lower your average, it’s a no-brainer, take that swing.

A small little dot as a signal.

When you look at your phone, small little red dots draw your attention to all the things you missed. It’s a signal for your attention. It’s so simple, yet so effective.

When I’m on other webpages, their logos in the tabs sometimes have small little dots next to them that make it seem like there is a notification that I’m missing, but really it’s just them giving off that feel so I spend time on their site.

There is a growing amount of signals out there, but they are mostly noise. As everyone is seeking a shortcut, a way to hack the human attention system, the system itself begins to shift. Perhaps one of the best ways to not need to send so many signals is to show up in the right place, with the right message that makes it seem like you aren’t just more noise.

When making a pizza…

there are many ways to arrange the toppings and bake it to give different effects with the exact same ingredients. This is the power of technique.

To give a recent example, I made pizza yesterday and today at home. The dough batch always makes two small pizzas that we split over two days. The first day I laid it out dough, sauce, cheese then popped it into a 500F oven with a pizza stone and baked until the crust browned. It created your typical pizza, with crispy crust and a software center as the sauce kept the bread in the middle soft.

The second day, I flipped things. I did dough then the cheese, then after being mostly baked, I added dollops of sauce and then put it back in the oven for a few minutes to warm the sauces. I pulled it out and let it cool.

After asking my wife which she liked better, she said she enjoyed the crispier crust of the second day since the sauce didn’t keep the center as soft. However, she liked how the sauce and the cheese melds together when you put the cheese on top of the sauce. The latter pizza leaves the impression of cheese bread with sauce on it more than pizza.

Next time, I could add more complexity, dough and cheese, baked partially, add sauce on top of that with cheese on top of that. Finish baking. Then I should have pizza with crispy crust and a cheesy, saucy mix on top.

There is some much to be done with technique alone. Applying this to your life, it’s easy to think you need resources you don’t have to get the desired effect that you’re looking for, but make sure that it’s not your technique that’s holding you back.

Default to Truth and Debates

“Default to Truth” is something that was crystallized in my mind by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Talking to Strangers.

Something interesting about why debates, especially presidential ones, hold some much anticipation is because of the drama that is present when “Default to Truth” breaks down. If defaulting to think that everyone is telling the truth is most people’s natural state, then someone has to be wrong or lying when debate contests argue opposites on a specific point. This is what creates the tension. People are looking to see that the person they “Default to Truth” with is the one that is actually trustworthy.

A good presentation, or at least a good way to create excitement, is to create tension (which I’ve written about before here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.)to Breaking the “Default to Truth” is another way of creating that tension. It doesn’t have to be you calling someone else out. It can be showing two clips of others with opposite thoughts. It could be showing a counter example after showing someone make a claim opposite to your example.

“Default to truth” is a powerful function that almost all humans have. Sometimes to make our case, what someone previously held as the truth has to be broken, and to do that requires at least a bit of tension.

Habits and standards.

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

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

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

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

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

Who should lead?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Standards for Your Life

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

Think about the following examples:

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

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

Making bad decisions anonymously.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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