Creating a focus

In high school, our drafting program competed in competitions. The program was built to win competitions. And it did. Disproportionately to other schools, we had a number of national competition winners over 20 years. That’s unusual for a small school in the middle of nowhere.

I was watching a documentary called Science Fair on Disney Plus and they mention a school that also punches above their weight in this regard for international science competitions.

It’s amazing what a little focus can do. This school and the high school I went to decided, “we are going to be good at this competition.” From there, they create plans, curriculum and exercises that make it happen. Over years of doing that, they create a culture. As the culture is created, role models emerge, traditions form and over-achieving in this area becomes the norm.

If you want to really produce great results, starting with what your focus is is a great place.

Why do people say “for the rest of us”?

Engineering management for the rest of us

Organization for the rest of us

Boat navigation for the rest of us

Those are a few lines that are titles of books.

Why are they, “for the rest of us?”

It’s an attempt to capture people who aren’t naturals, or wouldn’t normally be super-interested in that kind of thing. It can also be for people who don’t speak the lingo that is normally associated with the topic.

Marketing is filled with people trying to serve audiences and sometimes everyone is so focused on a specific archetype, they forget “the rest of us”. Perhaps you need your marketing to be “for the rest of us” as well.

Think about it.

How do I strengthen my community?

I recently wrote the blog, Understanding Someone. In that blog, it mentions TV being a shared experience. While TV is not the only option for shared experience, there are all sorts of things around us that no longer have programming. Like a community.

Community programming? Sure, TV programming didn’t exist until someone created it. Someone made the decisions of what would go on. You just need to create your community’s programming. Coordinating events. Crafting a community newsletter. Sharing the local news. Spreading the good word about the town. These are all options to strengthen the community.

The beginning of strengthening a community begins by making a decision about what exactly needs to be strengthened, what shared experience will strengthen that factor, then making it happen and spreading the word about it.

Community is important, and it doesn’t happen on its own.

There isn’t always a new direction to go.

It’s easy to feel stuck. There doesn’t have to be a new direction to go at all points in time. You can sit and improve what you’ve made in the past. You can enjoy life in the moment. There generally will be another path to take at a future point in time.

Some times you may feel like you need a new direction include but aren’t limited to:

  • Writer’s block
  • Career satisfaction
  • Personal growth
  • Art

There are many more that can be added.

The point is sometimes a stay of “cleaning house” or “keeping things tidy” for a while until the next opportunity appears is the way to go about things.

Keep your head up. Keep your life on course and keep your eyes on the horizon for when a new opportunity presents itself, but you don’t always have to be actively searching for it.

Hamsters on a wheel.

A wheel that sets it speed precisely

A wheel that rotates smoothly

A wheel that sticks and operates roughly

A bigger wheel that takes longer to complete a cycle

A tiny wheel that goes around quick

A wheel that is rough on the feet

A wheel that is nice on the feet

A wheel that allows others on

A wheel that moves forward

A wheel that’s stationary

A golden wheel

Living life puts us all on metaphorical wheels. The differentiation is that people have better choices of our metaphorical wheels instead of the hamster that is stuck with whatever he is given.

Pick your wheel carefully, you’re going to go around a bunch, so you might as well enjoy it.

Understanding someone

Right after the invention of the TV, huge swaths of a population were watching the same shows on what few channels there were. Being exposed to the same stories, the same values on display, there was a shared understanding.

Now, it’s difficult for me to even get my wife to watch the same thing as me. There are multiple TV’s in each house, all with on-demand programming in the form of streaming services. Add in the available media online and the world is significantly fractured in understanding each other.

Don’t get me wrong, watching the same show as someone isn’t the only one way to understand each other, but it offers a way to connect with someone who isn’t present in a certain time and place, but is sharing the same experience. Like a coworker for example watching the same show at his house you are at yours, with the opportunity to talk about it tomorrow.

Perhaps, even though it seems like it’s a waste to not watch exactly the thing you want to watch, watching something someone else recommends is a way to connect or understand. It may not be what you want, or what you think is good, but perhaps being exposed to what others think is different can open up the mind to new possibilities.

P.S. Without a small number of shows on a fixed schedule it is harder than ever to find something in common culturally with people, and instead the world is turning to non-stop political bickering instead as the only source of discussion that is always available.

How do I work the least amount possible?

Outside of the psychopathic, this question is what everyone is trying to figure out as they wind their way through life.

Is going to college up front, making more money and then retiring earlier the definition of working the least?

Is working the least hours each week with just enough left to scrape by working the least?

Is getting paid for something you love that doesn’t feel like work at all working the least?

The answer is different for each individual and it is also a bit of a gamble with no single solution.

What happens if you go to college and salaries don’t keep up proportional to what you paid in comparison to someone who didn’t go?

What if what you love doing is disrupted by a new piece of technology and you can no longer do that?

The only thing you can do is think about, “What is acceptable to me right now?” Then as you work, you figure out what you don’t like and what you do and find work that is more and more acceptable as time goes by.

One thing people point out generationally is, “Boomers seem to love to work.”

The reality is as you age, most people are naturally figuring out what they are good at, what wears them out, and what they are willing to sacrifice. As a result, by the time you are late in your career, if you’re doing it correctly, you shouldn’t be hating your work life. I’m mid-career and while things aren’t perfect, they are much more enjoyable than my early career.

It’s all decisions all the time. You have to know yourself and make decisions about what is best for you, no one else can do that.

Some may consider work to be an expenditure of energy. That’s certainly a physics definition. Often amongst people, work comes with a connotation of effort against your own will. I enjoy running, I don’t find it to be work, but it is an expenditure of energy. So depending on your definition, running for me is work or it isn’t.

When I’m “working” hard at the thing I want, it doesn’t feel like work. It’s not fighting against myself to want to do it. For me the paperwork, taxes, the IT fixes that I don’t feel add value are the “work” and I always do my best to minimize that. To someone else, those things are easy and not the work. To them the work is the sales, the marketing, the strategizing.

Nearly everyone wants to minimize “work” and maximize fun. Plenty of people can have fun getting good at a skill, such as sales, that may come along with a job. I don’t know nearly as many people who have fun digging ditches for example, or scrubbing toilets.

If you think anything you are paid for your time is work, then you will want to work as few hours as possible (either every week, or by retiring as early as possible).

If you think certain administrative tasks are work, and the other hours you spend are enjoyable you’ll focus on minimizing those.

Nearly everyone is trying to minimize the stuff that they don’t get satisfaction for doing, and most often we call that work.

Getting past the wording and the semantics, everybody is trying to do more of what they like and less of what they don’t. You should routinely question if you’re doing too much you don’t like and what the fix is.

Tinkering with thumbholes

I’m having the worst bowling season in a decade or more. My average is down. My confidence is down. I don’t find much time to practice. Due to some of my equipment getting so old, I had to replace much of it all in one season which I don’t usually do.

The other night I was bowling, and after finally feeling like my mechanics were back, it was obvious, I’ve forgotten the feeling and the skill of tinkering with my thumbholes to make them perfect. Since my grip isn’t right, it effects the mechanics. It’s a feedback loop.

How did I overlook this? Well, first, I don’t usually buy a lot of bowling balls, but for the last 5-7 years I’ve purchased 1 a year on average. That’s because I like a specific feel, something that has been dialed into the extreme. Something that I know exactly how it works. This year, I had to purchase five (six is a standard competitive set) because a couple cracked, and a couple reached a stage that was too worn out to continue and I needed one to round things out. I don’t bowl as much as I used to. I took the balls from the pro shop, and mostly threw them as is, without spending the significant amount of time tinkering the sanding the thumbholes to the perfect fit. Somehow, I forgot the necessity of this because I usually only buy one a year and don’t have to put that much effort in.

Now that I’m working on all the thumbholes, making sure they feel perfect after each session and if not adjusting as necessary, everything is coming back together.

This isn’t unique to me and my bowling. There are a few key factors in every endeavor that affect the amount of success. Is there anything you’re overlooking the importance of today, especially something you did in the past?

Contribution vs. Association of the United States

I’ve written about contribution vs association before. Something interest to me is how people seem to think America is becoming fundamentally different than it was in the past.

To that I say, “Of course!” If you look at the population of the American colonies by year at the bottom of this, you’ll notice early on there were many decades where the number of people arriving was likely equal to the number of people already in America. These people all wanted to be contributors. They were leaving homelands and heading to a place they thought was full of opportunity and a better life.

I’m in the camp that an organization, or in this case a nation, will always thrive when people who want to contribute something significant are let in not because of who they are, or what their background is, but because of their willingness to do what they can to make things better.

Raising the amount of people who want to contribute and skewing the contributors-to-associators ratio higher is what great leaders do. It is what America is missing as a nation currently.

American Colonies Population by Decade

1610: 350
1620: 2,302
1630: 4,646
1640: 26,634
1650: 50,368
1660: 75,058
1670: 111,935
1680: 151,507
1690: 210,372
1700: 250,888
1710: 331,711
1720: 466,185
1730: 629,445
1740: 905,563
1750: 1,170,760
1760: 1,593,625
1770: 2,148,076
1780: 2,780, 369
1790: 3,929,214
1800: 5,308,483
1810: 7,239,881
1820: 9,638,453
1830: 12,866,020
1840: 17,069,453
1850: 23,191,876
1860: 31,443,321
1870: 38,558,371
1880: 50,189,209
1890: 62,979,766
1900: 76,212,168
1910: 92,228,496
1920: 106,021,537
1930: 123,202,624
1940: 132,164,569
1950: 151,325,798
1960: 179,323,175
1970: 203,302,031
1980: 226,542,199
1990: 248,709,873
2000: 281,421,906
2010: 307,745,538
2017: 323,148,586

Discretization

What a mouthful.

This is the process of turning a solid model in engineering, which is smooth and defined by a continuous function, into one made up of set of discrete and finite points.

While it seems impossible to prove, the world looks continuous, but is actually discrete in nature. It seems as if your hand is solid, yet it is made up of cells, that are made up of atoms that are made up of a nucleus surrounded by an electron cloud. The electron cloud, consisting mostly of empty space, is a gap holding the nuclei in place. Each nucleus is what we would recognize as the solid version of ourselves. Taken together, that means a human is a discrete set of trillions of nuclei that when zoomed out looks like us.

Taking this into consideration, it should be obvious that in our finite lives, there is a discrete set of risks that we can take, but the amount of them depends on the scope, scale and timelines. It also means that later after success, someone may draw a line through and say, “Look at this model. This is what should we should all strive for.” However, that is fitting the data after the fact, it wasn’t recognizable at all while the points were being created through action.

Every endeavor is unique, and only by taking a risk, putting in the effort, can something be achieved that looks recognizable, after all, it would take a huge number of discrete points to make a model that looked like you, but only four to make a pyramid shape. If you want to do something big, something unique, or something valuable, you need to create a lot of points and often in the moment, it feels like a struggle.

Doing the work while struggling to understand if it will amount to anything is the struggle. We have to fill in these huge gaps of doubt with something, it might as well be the work.

The future is decentralization

All around us, decentralization is happening. Gatekeepers have left the building.

There are systems being built that will allow the possibility for mortgages to be contracts between person and multiple other individuals who are willing to loan to certain credit scores for a certain interest rate.

The idea of a company is being redefined as many positions are moving remote, so if we all aren’t in the same building, why not be consultants and a company is nothing but a collection of consultants that are easy to flex, move around, discontinue and more.

Software and IT systems are heading to the cloud. Instead of a specific server in a specific building, the information is distributed all over all sorts of places so that it has resiliency.

What are some carry on effects from all of this?

Here are my guesses:

  • The availability and cost of resources goes down rapidly. If individuals are their own banks due to crypto/blockchain/NFT technologies, interest rates will stay incredibly low as the amount of “banks” skyrocket competing for business, so even debt is cheaper.
  • The value of creativity and organizing resources in a unique way rises higher than ever.
  • Institutional power decreases as no one controls such enormous market forces as they do today.

That’s my guess anyway.

Leverage

Many people build their wealth by owning their own home. While they most likely sought out a house as a place to live that wasn’t throwing their money away at rent, what a home is for most people is a leveraged financial instrument. If you put down a 20% downpayment then your house is offering 5:1 leverage. When a house that cost $300,000 required a $60,000 downpayment goes up in value 3%, you just made $9,000 on a $60,000 investment, which is 15%. That’s the leverage, of course it ignores the cost of interest and realtor fees if you were to try to get that money out. However, the point still stands. A significant amount of people gain wealth this way by buying a home, yet at the same time, many of them wouldn’t use 5:1 leverage in the stock market, which is why I say some people don’t realize it.

However, what are two other forms of leverage you can develop in life:

  • Where you work you could develop documentation, standards, values, and best practices that as long as not proprietary allow you to be the best employee, manager, director or any other position possible and when looking for another position you can bring this documentation you already created along with you.
  • You can develop an audience. You can take time to share things that relevant and valuable to the audience so that you can keep your access to them, opening up opportunities to you.

The thing about these pieces of leverage, you’re not going to come by it unknowingly like the person who purchases a house needing a place to live without understanding the financial repercussions of it entirely. These two require you to be intentional.

Serving a specific audience. A soccer bar.

I don’t know where this is, it probably says in the comments. However, I do know one thing, If I was a soccer fan, this bar is where I would watch soccer. When a bar decides to serve an audience like “Soccer Fans”, it is one thing to say it and put up TVs that have soccer on. It’s another to create tables that let the patrons play soccer while sitting there. This is the next level of serving a specific audience and differentiating from your competition. If you were a soccer fan, and given the choice between watching at a bar that has soccer pictures on the wall and soccer on the TVs, and the same kind of stuff at this one plus this table, which are you going to?

I know my answer. Do you know yours?

Extrapolate this to your own endeavors as necessary.

Time is the measurement of change.

The Big Bang is the theory of how the universe began. Asking questions like, “What existed before the Big Bang?” the discussion becomes metaphysical quickly. Some people believe that before the Big Bang there was no concept of spacetime. That means that time was invented when things started to change. It means that time itself is the measurement unit of change. A position at a certain time is different at a later time. A velocity at a certain time is different at a later time. Acceleration too.

Once, you understand this concept, it’s quite simple to make a decision:

  • How fast or slow am I going to change?

It is not possible to stay exactly the same, but certainly changing extremely slowly can seem that way.

The decision to change into a better version of yourself is a choice. So is the decision to slide into a worse version of yourself.

Time allows us to measure change, but we determine the change that happens.

Writing as a tool.

I don’t often think of writing as part of our toolset like I do math for an engineer, or programming for a software developer. Somehow, because it’s one of the oldest skillsets since the dawn of civilization, and since most people in society can now do it, it seems less valuable.

However, it’s the biggest tool you have and it’s the biggest tool I have.

Lately, I’ve been asked to make presentations for how we should do certain things, the presentations have been a snap because I’ve already written all the ideas down here. All I have to do is sort them, order them, and add imagery if needed.

I’ve also been building out internal documentation for the work I do, that way if we scale our team, then things are down on paper and I’m not constantly answering questions, or wondering who to ask. For things that don’t come up so often, it’s a useful reminder for myself too.

Lastly, the application I don’t use writing for enough is finding the others. The people who want to go on the same journey. The people who want to contribute to something the same way you do. It’s there for anyone with the internet and the ability to write.

Don’t discount writing’s usefulness as a tool.

TinyMachinery

I’ve written about:

All of these things taken together come to the conclusion that choosing to start doing something and getting really good at it creates opportunity for yourself. I can’t think of anyone who illustrates all of these pieces together better than TinyMachinery on Etsy.

As an engineer and a father, I love this artwork. They post new stuff on reddit and instagram all the time. If you told your parents, “When I grow up, I’m going to draw tiny machinery for a living.” they would look at you as crazy. Yet, here were are, with someone doing exactly that.

TinyMachinery truly is in the illustration business, for their products, and for the concepts I write about here.

TinyMachinery, you do great work! Keep it up!

Monopolies of Ideas

The internet has created an entirely new economy. It created the opportunity for small brewers to compete against big brewers. It created new channels of advertising and information sharing that allowed so many people to create something for themselves again.

With so many channels for information, we created algorithms to find them. The combination of opening the flood gates of creators and algorithms, is it possible that we are going to setup people that own monopolies not on a product or service, but on an idea?

Is that a good thing?

Is that a bad thing?

Does it have the same problem as a monopoly on a product where prices are gouged, service gets worse, and the customer suffers service quality as a result?

My initial thought is no. The algorithms are rewarding those who do the most, so to maintain the monopoly means doing the most for the idea. That is the inverse of traditional monopolies. The real problem would come (if it hasn’t already) when the algorithms get captured by money to achieve ranking rather than the best information. Then we all lose.

We’re in the age of learning what a digital strike looks like. This is just an extension of that idea, what sort of past issues will we have to revisit in the new (relative to industrial revolution) digital landscape?

Opening weekend at the box office

While it seems to be fading as streaming services take over, the box office opening weekend ticket sales of any movie used to be something you would hear about often. A measure of social proof of a movie’s success.

In reality, it was two things:

  1. The measure of the marketing success, rather than theatrical success
  2. The studio and producer’s measure of how much effort it would take to get the rest of their money back and turn a profit.

The first is because if everyone went on opening weekend, only some of that traction was coming from people sharing how good it was. Especially, before the age of the internet, cell phones, social media and texting.

The second because they created an asset. They made a movie that could be sold repeatedly. A soundtrack that could be marketed. The movie release is just the first part of their earning potential from the efforts put in.

There is no start and finish on these things. Disney still has people marketing videos that were produced 30, 50, and even 85 years ago. They may not bring in as much money as the newer stuff, but they still bring in something.

There is work all around us. Waiting to be done. Once you’ve finished building your asset, that is when you can start working towards profitability.

The signal a divider sends.

I built a 9 foot long desk for myself. Being that long, it needed a middle leg to support the span. That middle leg made it look like it was divided into two and my wife quickly took the other half over. That was 5 years ago and we’ve been sharing since! That wasn’t my intent, and I’ll share until I build another one in the future, but at times I find myself longing for my space like I had originally envisioned!

The point is we have to be careful the intent different signals can send. Just like that leg that was meant to be solely a support for desk, it was quickly interpreted as a divider creating a his and her situation. If I had designed the desk to instead have structural members under the top to stiffen it across the span with no middle support, I may be working in a spread out and relaxed environment at my own enormous desk! In the future, I’ll watch the signals I’m sending more closely! You should too, since everything is a signal even if most pick it up as noise.

P.S. This extends far beyond misinterpreted furniture.

The quantum leap

Engineering mathematics evolved significantly over 150 years span starting with Newton and continuing with many others. This spanned from the fact that developing calculus was a major leap and that allowed all sorts of new mathematical ideas to arrive. Then, calculating these complex mathematics that were iterative in nature was slow, so it wasn’t practical to solve too many problems even though the math to do so existed.

Then along came computers which automated the iterative nature of these problems at rates millions (as a low estimation) of times faster than they can be done by hand. Currently, we are probably pushing the limits of accuracy that our current models can hope to achieve by brute forcing small and smaller iterations.

The next step from today isn’t a little improvement or further step along the current curve, it’s a quantum leap. The next step is the invention of the next calculus. We’re all waiting for the next quantum leap to show up. While we can’t be sure on the timeline for the next revolutionary idea in mathematics, we can be sure that there are all sorts of industries out there that are waiting for someone to show them their quantum leap. It might as well be you.

Are you treating your profession like a trade or vice versa?

While nearly everything has nuance to it, I’ve often defined a trade as something that can you learn in near entirety, while a profession is something that continually evolves and has to be kept up with.

Entrepreneurship done well is a profession. As you keep up with industry trends, labor market conditions, update offerings and more you have to stay in the ever changing knowledge loop.

Painting is closer to a trade. There are only so many techniques, situations, and materials to learn. It may change a bit over time, but there is little that is critical that will put you at a massive disadvantage if you don’t know it.

As it turns out, you can be both in some ways, though often the path moves from trade to profession. The painter who starts his own business may be doing both at first, however, if successful enough at the business, they will become primarily an entrepreneur and much less of a painter as they hire people to do the actual painting.

I’ve seen people on both sides behave like they are the other. I’ve seen tradesman treat their craft as something that hasn’t yet found every opportunity to deliver the highest quality. I’ve seen these people create some beautiful new state-of-the-art in their craft as they try to push the envelope.

I’ve also seen professionals treat their industry as a trade. They choose not to learn more, and not to evolve with the times. They stagnate as everyone else is learning and sharing. They fall behind.

Understand the situation your career is in, it will help you know the responsibility that rests on your shoulders.

Sharing first and the value it brings.

Think about a time you were in a class, at an event, or in a work meeting and people were asked to share experiences, stories, themselves, or knowledge. Most everyone is hesitant to go first. Why? There is no structure. The first person who goes creates the bulk of the structure. Usually, after the first person goes, the next people add on more structure and by the fourth person, the structure from person to person doesn’t change much.

This phenomenon has an unintended consequence, the person who went first did the most heavy lifting to build the structure, yet the people who followed after were better as they were able to add things from the participants that preceded them. This holds people back from going first. This is what is holding you back from taking action today on something you know you can do, even though you’ve never seen anyone else do it. There is fear that if you do it, someone will improve on what you’ve done, then you’ll be back to nothing.

Thinking in that mindset is wrong. The people who go first aren’t devalued, and the people who run the show, often times they understand this phenomenon. It’s why they ask their most senior people or top performers to share first. If the person with the best structure goes first, every successive person’s sharing will be better for it as they will all see the example and add the appropriate pieces they never even thought about sharing. If that best person goes last, everyone will share a worse version than what they would have if they had a better example to start.

If you have a talent, go first more often. You’ll improve things just by doing so.

The work of a professional

It’s been documented many times that the difference between professionals and amateurs is usually the quantity of the work. An amateur photographer takes a few pictures and skillfully tries to enhance them with lighting and saturation choices. A professional photographer may take thousands of pictures pick his top 100, then touch those up, then decide on the best 10 to represent his skill.

Often times, the problem is that we don’t see the discarded work by the professionals, so we don’t have role models. The video below is an example. In the video, we see a successful attempt. They could have shot this for days trying to get this shot. It could have been 1000s of attempts to get it right. Then, having recorded it, it lives on infamy forever.

Recognize that there is work to be done. Recognize that tinkering and failing is part of the deal. Recognize that landing that 1 in 1000 shot and being able to show it in your portfolio is enough to be valuable. You’ll get there, but you need to have faith that eventually your metaphorical pool shot will land correctly.

Advantages and Disadvantages – Fast and Slow

I mentioned previously a thought about how advantages change over times.

I’ll point out a real-life example in the stock market. Once upon a time, it was important to get the information faster. The earnings reports, who is joining the company, etc. Having that info before the competition meant you could figure out the new price adjustment and but or sell accordingly.

The internet made the ascertainment of this info possible in milliseconds. Programs and algorithms can be written to check for company updates, tweets, online advertisements, google trends and more and adjust accordingly. People who understood this first when the internet came along received a major advantage and made piles of money.

Now, something new is happening. As the finance world is figuring this out, we are being bombarded with every which narrative possible. If an article is posted that a new CEO is coming on board, another one will be made that says that’s not the case. There is a need to throw the competition’s “faster than human” algorithms off track in order to beat them.

With that in mind, fake narratives that a computer can’t decide between and responding too quick may become a disadvantage. What if a computer makes a disastrous decision for you at lightning speed on intentionally incorrect data?

Advantages and disadvantages change over time. Recognize it. Check in with what you think you know. A mathematical function that changes slowly over long periods of time may seem like a constant, but that isn’t necessarily the true reality. Same is true with your assumptions about the world.

The transition is the hardest

Think about a song you like. There is often a calmer, slower or quiet period. There is later a tenser, louder or faster period. It’s often easy to get your voice into the mode to deliver each of these while sounding good. The transition between the two is often where the masters live.

This is true in all sort of things beyond music:

  • Transitioning a conversation from small talk to business without feeling abrupt or giving the feeling you are uninterested
  • Transitioning from a ramp to in the air and back to the landing (ski jumping for example)
  • Transitioning from your current role to the one that utilizes more of your skillset and extends your opportunity
  • Transitioning from learning about a topic to developing new ideas on the subject
  • Transitioning from following to leading

The transition makes and breaks everything. It’s where we spend the most time agonizing, debating ourselves, understanding what we want to do, learning what is possible and where nearly all opportunity lies. We often have to leave our past identities behind.

The transition is the place where magic happens , watch it closely, learn to thrive in it and you will grow as a person.

Advantages and disadvantages change with the times

If you take a skill like reading and you look at it over time, you’ll see that the value and the leverage it creates change over time.

In 1820 only about 12% of the world was literate.

Today, it’s estimated that 86% of the world is literate. 95%+ is common in more developed countries.

Two hundred years and the percentage of people who are literate vs. illiterate has flipped. Two hundred years ago it was rare to be able to read and write, but now it’s rare to not to be able to.

Think about how this changes a dynamic. Learning to read and write in 1820 was an advantage. You could read books. You could correspond with friends, business associates, politicians, etc. This created extra opportunity and ability to connect with people not in your vicinity.

Today, most people can read. It alone is no longer an advantage. In fact, it’s a basic requirement that many of society’s jobs require. Not being able to read and write is a disadvantage.

The most profound part is that in 1900 we were still only at ~20% literacy in 1900, in 1960 we were at ~40%, and today we’re at 86%. That’s remarkably fast progress on a global scale.

This along with the connection of information in everyone’s pocket is going to mean the last 100 years of societal progress will look like nothing in comparison to the next 100 years. As a result, I’m wondering, and you should too, what are the skills today that seem like an advantage, but in the future will be a disadvantage if you don’t know them?

Meta Advertising

Expand the video before watching or else you won’t catch the funny part.

It’s likely this post was made by a person who wanted to market their gold foil business, so they created a “meta” scenario. It’s likely they did the following:

  • Created a post on r/askreddit asking “What is the dumbest thing that people spend absurd amounts of money on?”
  • They then changed accounts and posted the gold foil comment.
  • Then screen shotted it, printed it in gold foil and posted it on r/oddlysatisfying

It creates a meta situation that is funny and some people will inevitable inquire with the user who posted the gold foil video if they need that kind of work done.

While some would lament this as lazy marketing, I beg to differ. It’s a decent amount of effort, it’s funny and it shows off the product being marketed without just “bragging” about it.

How to get good at something. A language as an example

I’m learning a new language for the new year. I took 3 years of Spanish in high school as a requirement for college. I never reached conversationally fluent. Part of it was the fact that I was taking it for a requirement for something else rather than genuine interest.

Contrast those high school days with my current endeavor, and it feels like my progress has been significantly faster in this new language than my learning ever was for Spanish. It’s amazing the difference that is made when you are enrolled in something.

All those things you did in school, those were all hopes the school system placed on you. Hopes that you would learn that you enjoyed essay writing. Hopes that you would learn you liked art. Hopes that you would learn that you liked fixing cars. Hopes that you would learn you liked mathematics.

Once you figure yourself out. Once you know what it is you would like to learn, you can actually start to get really good in your chosen field. That’s where the magic happens.

Have we traded helping for hustle?

Has everything as an economic transaction instead of a community helping each other?

“Not making enough money? Start a side hustle!” That’s a chorus on many areas of the internet. While I think bootstrapping a business is certainly a thing for some, it feels like we’re losing community.

Is the side hustle so we can hire a painter instead of help our brother, sister, cousin, or friend paint?

Is the side hustle so we can pay an Uber to take us to the airport instead of have a close friend drop us off?

Is the side hustle so that we can go out to eat with someone else cooking for us, instead of heading to a neighbor’s house for dinner who you exchange meals with frequently?

Is the “side hustle” culture a breakdown of community?

I’m not sure, but I’m going to think about it deeper and you should too.

A very messy house and improving your life.

When things are a little disorganized, it takes a bit of effort to straighten things out. Nothing crazy, just some time. When things are very disorganized, it’s easy for a mind to go blank and not know where to start. Life, and the world around us is always messy. Since most people have seen a messy home before, it’s a reasonable analogy even if it isn’t always messy…for some of us.

You may not know the next step in your life or have a perfect plan, however just like a house that has become overwhelming cluttered for any set of circumstances, the only thing you can do is start with what is closest to you, until it reaches the manageable stage of disorganized. Once there start to decide which tasks make sense and prioritize. It starts with just an effort until things become clearer.

This seems easy, but it is a significant challenge because when we can’t see the plan, and calculate the effort, our brains go haywire. I’ve written about that here: A theory on the feeling of anxiety.

Coming from the house analogy to life, most of us feel stuck. It may happen at different levels of careers, different ages, different amounts of responsibility, but that feeling of being stuck is happening to everyone at some point. The tactic for getting out of it is always the same. Start with something that feels close and easy. Then the next thing. Gain some momentum, and eventually a moment of clarity will come, but you need to maintain faith until then.

An example might be a young person without much career direction. They are working in a restaurant as a bus boy and don’t know what to do next. They aren’t making enough money for a house, and can’t support a family. They may talk to the waiters and the chefs and decide what to do next. Perhaps the steady stability of cooking is appealing to them and comes with a pay bump. Or perhaps, waiters that hustle kill it with tips and make plenty of money, and they want to do that next. Keep following the progression, and perhaps owning a restaurant is in their future, or that experience may uncover what they hate doing and point them in the right direction. That’s the beauty of experience, there are few wrong answers, only things that get you closer to your goal and things that recalibrate your direction. One thing is certain, it never happens on the timelines we’d like it to.

Focus and short-sightedness.

For any positive trait you can think of, there is a downside. Vice versa as well.

Focus is nearly always associated as a positive trait to have. However, if someone is focused entirely on one aspect of their life, they can end up incredibly short-sighted in other aspects of their lives. The person who restlessly builds their business may be neglecting the attention their child needs as one example.

Even without a glaringly-obvious, skewed focus, this natural occurrence can be seen in kids vs. adults. As a responsible adult, you have tasks that must be done. Food that must be made. A job that must be attended to. A home that must be cleaned and more. Naturally, these responsibilities become foci that a 4 year old child for example doesn’t have.

What is the natural result?

Going out to get some exercise, like a walk, you may chastise your child who keeps stopping to smell the flowers, look at the leaves on the ground, stare at some insects, or any other display of wonder. It’s not that you don’t find those things nice, but the dishes are still waiting for you at home, followed by the bedtime routine of your daughter and then the preparations for tomorrow. How will you achieve all that with your nose in the flowers?

As adults, our focus has made us short-sighted in a way that a child isn’t.

This can be extrapolated to many more important topics in the world:

  • Taking care of our community
  • Thinking about what the future will be like for generations behind us
  • Making things better

A singular goal is the same as a deep focus, which is the same as being short-sighted in everything but one item. Of course the mortgage must be paid, the dishes must be done and food needs to be on the table, that doesn’t mean a conscious effort to keep our focus wide outside of those things can’t be attempted.

Braveheart

The title is referencing the 1995 movie.

In the beginning of the movie is William Wallace’s education. He leaves his home after his father is killed, gets educated with his uncle, then comes back as a man. He’s likely the most educated man in his town. He becomes the rebellion leader after his love is murdered.

Most people having watched the movie think of him for his actions, his fighting, and his bravery, yet the movie shows many times over its his planning and smarts that make him great.

No army has ever survived a charge of the English heavy cavalry. How about crafting spears twice as long as a man to stop them before they can charge through the ranks? Wallace thought of that.

Thinking, not fighting, was Wallace’s skill that made him a leader. Not to forget his skill with oration to inspire his men that no doubt was improved through his study of language and reading.

Despite this fact that education, knowledge and brainpower are critical for improving a situation in life, we seem to be in an era where most who watch this movie only recognize him “kicking ass.” Action is the only take away.

Action is amplified by knowledge. It’s important not to forget that.

Social media and the (un)level playing field.

The demand for attention has shot way up with all the content being created. The supply is limited by the population. We’ve skewed the supply-demand curve significantly.

What has always shown up when there is skewed supply and demand curve? The market!

There is now a market for the attention. Not only is crafting great content not enough, but you have to pay to be put in prime spaces for attention. Not paying means no amount of hardwork can overcome that. That may be hyperbole to an extent, but the amount of organic effort certainly isn’t what it was twenty years ago when a basic blog could attract millions of people.

What can be done about this?

Have a high value item that is targeted at a specific group of people. Create a great piece of content whose goal isn’t to go viral, but to be shared with specific people and groups you know it could benefit. If social media is a billboard, you need to think of a direct mailer, and not one scattered over a zip code, but targeted to specific names, and backgrounds that you know can get use out of the offering.

Social media is still a great tool for building social proof and showing up daily. Some industries still have room to adopt it, but for many, the field is too unlevel. That’s okay, you just have to go about things a bit differently. Instead of a mic drop piece of content posted once. Sending it out to 100 interested parties manually may be the way to go. Nothing wrong with being specific and high value, rather than mass.

Learning a new language and what it means to learn a new skill

Many times in a new year, people want to learn a new skill. However, often times what they are doing is looking for something that is expanding on a skillset they may already have.

One example is learning a new language. If you know English, and perhaps you learned some Spanish or French in high school, choosing to learn Italian may not be all that hard. You are building on the same latin roots the other two languages you already know are built on. That makes it easier, but it will still deepen your skill in the latin languages.

If you choose to learn Arabic, Chinese, Korean or Japanese, you may find it much harder. You aren’t building from the same base you already know. They have completely different characters that your brain has to become wired for. However, once you learn one of these new languages, your mental model of what a language is will be broadened.

Recognizing this fact, not just for language, but all skills is an opportunity to understand everyday we have an opportunity for improvement, but not just any improvement, a choice between broadening and deepening. Choosing which comes down to whether you want to be an expert called on for your specific skill, or whether you want to be a connector for people who aren’t capable of understanding each other because you have a broad mental model to do so.

Choose accordingly.

Cymatics

The study of particles moving to reveal the resonant structures of a plate at different frequencies. It’s an interesting field, and searching for it in youtube, I can watch many of the videos over and over because they are mesmerizing.

Nigel Stanford apparently took notice of this and he created a music video that is mesmerizing involving a number of different physical phenomenon. I highly recommend you watch the video. It’s a study of what you can do by taking something that is mesmerizing (Cymatics in the field of science) and applying it to another field, in this case music.

Picky Eater or Parent with bad cooking skills.

I saw a post online today that said, “After moving out of your parent’s house, try every food you never liked again.” The premise was that not every parent is a tremendous cook.

It’s a true statement.

Often times, we believe we don’t like something, when what we have actually experienced is a bad version of something. Just like we don’t expect children to have good judgment because of limited life experience, that can be true in “niche” experiences for adults as well.

This concept extends far past food.

It could be the work you do.

It could be the art you make.

It could be the books you choose to read after school.

It could be the shows you watch.

It could be the people you choose to be friends with.

So many things in our worldview are based on limited experience, we often make incorrect conclusions from it. It’s always worth testing things out again after a significant period of time, you never know when your “tastes” have changed.

The Giver

What an incredible book. Also, an incredible movie.

A group of people, a society, an organization, or even a nation, doesn’t have a collective memory. The memories are the sum of the individual’s experiences that make it up. As a result, society doesn’t always make the decisions it should because if the majority could recall experiences that happened to a minority of people, perhaps they would decide differently about things.

The Giver is about a society that places all of its memories in one person, the Receiver of Memories. The old, retiring Receiver of Memories becomes the Giver of Memories. Together, they read old literature, history, and share experiences. They are the only person in their society who understands emotions, war, death and more.

Extrapolating this to something more useful in your current life, recognize that the sum of your experiences are valuable. If you have specialized knowledge, experience, or even customer relationships, those things aren’t contained by your company, they are owned by you, on loan to the company. This isn’t because you are greedy, but because there is no other scalable mechanism to make this paradigm not true. It’s possible to make videos, write blogs, create standard operating procedures, and make introductions to people, but that all takes effort away from the tasks that produce for the company.

No matter where you are at in life, you are like the Receiver of Memory, gaining knowledge and experience that benefits you and can benefit others. The only question is what you’ll do with it.

P.S. If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, The Giver, I highly recommend it. Pick the medium you like best.

Why waking up from short-sightedness is hard

I’m not referring to individually, but culturally.

The people around you have likely been short-sighted too. Society is notoriously short-sighted. Most companies are too.

The struggle is when you wake up from short-sightedness, after you have your epiphany, others aren’t in the same mindset, and jostling them startles them and makes them feel bad. Protection of their ego comes into place and it’s hard to get them to align with the vision.

A simple example that many people have probably been through is when life gets rocky for a period. Maybe work is demanding, a car breaks down, someone is sick, or all of those at the same time. We fall into shortcuts to deal with it all. Perhaps we skip cleaning the bathroom. The laundry doesn’t get done. The dishes are piling up. One day, even after everything is over, one of the family members looks around, and thinks, “When did we start living in a dump?” Seeing the Herculean task to get “back to normal” they try to rally the family, who feel attacked rather than enlivened, even if it was never meant to be that way.

As a society, nearly all our issues boil down to this type of situation. Things have extended far past where they should be in all sorts of ways, anyone who points it out, is attacked.

What is the alternative?

The only one I can think of is to start cleaning the house. Literally, in the scenario I described, and metaphorically in the societal example. Then make sure other people see what you are doing, and hopefully see the value in joining in. Eventually, the behavior becomes the new normal, or “back to normal” if that is the way things were before.

What you can learn from the fractal vice

The pictures below are fractal vice.

A Morphing Fractal Vise Pivots to Grasp Irregular Shapes ...

They are made up of two small, pivoting half circles inside a larger half circle. Layer this three times as fractals do in nature and you have a vice that can grip anything.

Nearly any creative work you can think of works the same way. Small components that build into a bigger work.

Take a play like Hamilton:

  • Lin Manuel Miranda wrote songs
  • Those songs arranged into acts
  • Those acts arranged into Hamilton

Take a furniture maker:

  • They make some chairs and sell them
  • The most popular chair styles get copied
  • Then a table is made and you have a dining set

Take this blog:

  • I write daily posts
  • Those daily posts are aggregated into longer articles with more flair
  • Eventually, those articles will be aggregated into a book

Our smaller works, lead to our bigger works, which lead to the biggest works.

When you want to do something creative, it’s not often you can start with the biggest works, and if you do, likely it won’t work out. However, you can start with the smallest pieces, those are the ones that touch the audience directly, just like the small pieces in the vices touching the object.

Creativity is decision-making

Creativity is the process of making a huge number of seemingly trivial decisions, all of which add up to something non-trivial in nature.

A painting for example starts as a blank canvas, then decisions are made about:

  • The color palette
  • The background color(s)
  • The subjects of the painting and where to put them
  • The brushstrokes to use to get the proper texture effects
  • The blending techniques
  • When to stop

All in all, if someone is making a painting from scratch, they are making thousands of small decisions, each one itself likely having a minor impact, but all taken together, they are responsible for the significance of the entire project.

I’ve written about decision-making before, it’s a critical concept for anyone to understand in their life. You can read some of them here:

Ashamed

I haven’t posted in a week because I’ve been ill. While I posted about Unity vs. Civility as my last post, I haven’t necessarily behaved civilly towards a certain person in my life. Part of it is they have always been antagonistic in their own behaviors, and but mostly it is I’ve lost my patience with them in particular.

Perhaps it’s not a bad thing to start a New Year feeling like you are at your lowest point. That’s how I’m feeling right now. It means I can only do better for the remainder of the year. For tons of people out there, the feeling could be the same. This can be a year for change and growth. The question is “How do we make it happen?”

Here’s the steps regardless of the issue:

  1. Awareness of the issue.
  2. Keeping it at the forefront of your mind.
  3. Doing your best to avoid the triggers.

This could be for weight loss and eating. It could be for anger. It could be for procrastination.

The hard part is #2. Keeping your awareness at the forefront of your mind. A human brain is fickle with its attention. Do your best.

Unity vs. Civility

Unity

  1. The state or quality of being one or united into a whole.
  2. The state or quality of being in accord; harmony.

Civility

  1. Courteous behavior; politeness.
  2. A courteous act or utterance.

If you follow politics in the last year or so, there have been calls for unity. Of course, unity in politics isn’t actually possible. If it was politics would disappear as there would be no debate at all about how things should be, we’d all be in agreement and simply behave appropriately.

Civility on the other hand is how we deal with others and engage with ideas that don’t fit our worldview.

Nearly everywhere you find people passionate about how things should be, such as at work, in your town, how to run a charity, how to organize an event, there will never be perfect unity, however, there can always be civility. Without civility, things breakdown. It’s the lubrication that keeps a complex machine of interpersonal interactions running.

Civility is something you should always strive for in your interactions.

The world tends to be a mirror

The world tends to reflect back to you what you put out into it.

If you put out kind words, helpfulness, and generosity, you get back the respect you gave others when you said the nice words of advice.

If you put out brash, harsh criticisms of everyone, then usually there is strong, harsh criticism lobbied back at you.

If you believe that higher pay makes people happier, enjoy their work more, and do better at their job and approach business in that manner, you end up with productive employees who are happy with what they do.

Alternatively, if you believe that no one does great work, and that an employee should be negotiated down on salary as much as possible, then you’ll end up with employees who believe in doing the bare minimum.

The problem is that this reflection often shows us that are belief is justified. It can show us that the world is a better place than it actually is when we approach with generosity, kindness, and gratitude. It can also show us the world is a worse place than it actually is when we approach it with contempt, selfishness and greed. Reality is always in the middle.

Whenever there is a perceived shift in the world, perhaps it is always best to first question should be, “Have I changed?” After all, the world is a mirror and may just be reflecting back what you are putting into it. The road to understanding always starts with ourselves.

Best-selling fiction authors.

Here is a link to the best selling fiction authors: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_best-selling_fiction_authors

Here are some unique stats from this:

  • The top one is Shakespeare, who while a prolific writer, also has 400+ years of people marketing his works post-mortem.
  • The average number of books written by each writer on the list is 170.
  • The top 8 are all dead already, their entire careers have passed.

What do these facts taken together lead us to?

A body of work is important. Waiting to create a single masterpiece isn’t the answer. The average writer on that list created 170 books. That’s 3-5 books a year depending on the length of their career. Most people think it would take a year or two of their lives to write a book. While you could argue that everyone on this list is talented, I’m sure we could find plenty of talented writers who stopped after a book or two, and as a result aren’t on this list. Each successive work we do builds on the previous. Alongside that, time is a critical piece of success. When doing the work, time becomes an ally.

The final take is this, “If you really commit to something, the rewards and impact increase even after you are gone, so the best thing you can be in this world is committed.”

The Start and The Finish

Many people love the idea of races of various types. NASCAR, various events in the Olympics, boats, motorcycles, and more.

The concept that there is a starting line and finish line and that everyone knows the rules and the best wins is a great way to test the mettle of competitors.

However, life isn’t so cut and clean. There is no start. There is no finish. If you’re a twenty year old pastry chef who is skilled, but has much to learn, that’s far from being a 60 year old pastry chef who was just as talented, started just as young, but has been at it for four decades, working in all kinds of kitchens, saving their money, meeting investors, opening up their own bakeries and sitting at the top of the pastry world.

While it seems obvious that the sixty year old and the twenty year old didn’t start at the same time and won’t finish at the same time, we often apply a different criteria to those who we see as privileged.

The privileged would be those starting with more connections, more money, better education, or any other item we could put a metric to, but at the same point in time. There is more obsession with the difference between those starting at the same time with different advantages than there is for those starting at different times. However, 40 years of experience is a far bigger advantage than some additional resources. And that’s the entire problem.

There is a lack of faith in results that happen slowly over time. At a young age, we’re afraid the decisions we are making, the skills we are developing, the options we have aren’t going to come to fruition into something significant. As a result, there is resentment for those who can make something more “visible” in compressed time scales because they were handed some extra starting resources.

There is no start and no end. Life isn’t even a race, so treating it as one only ends in misery. Someday you will be the person with a 40 year head start, what will you think about your advantage then?

A good euphemism for short-sightedness.

“I’ve been busy.” That’s a good euphemism to explain short-sighted.

We leave ourselves off the hook often with that line when we don’t think ahead, or drop care in some other aspect of our life like health or family.

It happens to me fairly often, but never in the places I’m thinking of, which is why it happens in the first place. A mind moving quickly must know its course or else it will fly by the turns it needs to make. While busy, a swift but relaxed pace is appropriate to alleviate the short-sightedness and enable us to work efficiently towards goals, while not being short-sighted in other endeavors.

While it is hard to give an example of this for family, it has some easy analogies for tasks. Imagine you are working feverishly to close the biggest deal of your life. You realize you are tremendously parched from not even stopping for some water for hours on end. That is your first short-sightedness, ignoring your physiological needs. On the way downstairs, from the office to the kitchen, there is an office trash bin you see overflowing that you ignore. On your way back, there is a pile of laundry on the ground that you walk by instead of dropping in the hamper on the way by your room and back to your office. Missing both are short-sighted, and start to create all that “business” we so often tout. Each one could have been done already, but short-sightedness and tunnel vision set in and we began to see only one task as worth completing.

Short-sightedness, not busyness should be what we stay on the lookout for. Vigilant to keep it away. However, a partner is needed for this more often than not, and even that is a tricky endeavor to not come off insulting.

Stop that banging…

Actually don’t, just make it more rhythmic. Brighter. Prettier.

Make it music instead of banging.

Most people stop too early at a stage when they have minimal skill. It’s possible from another person’s vantage point, they have zero skill at all. Like a child banging away on a pot with a wooden spoon. It seems like their goal is random noise, but perhaps they are so unskilled at making music that no one can see their musical interests yet. This stage is the most fragile and usually deters people before they even know consciously there is an interest there.

Here’s a reminder, this doesn’t stop in childhood. Adults are talked out of trying new things or even talk themselves out of trying new things. Consider my post about adults at the community pool. Here’s another one about developing skills and the timeline. Finally, one about how a craft evolves.

Banging to rhythm to tone to volume to music. Most people will try to stop you at the banging. Bang on anyways, though try to keep their annoyance with you to a minimum, and try to turn it into increasingly share it to gain acceptance over time as your skill increases.

A system so complex no one understands it.

It is possible to create a system so complex no one understands it. The world economy is one such system. That’s why there is so much debate about it.

Another system is a modern car. Likely no one understands everything about each part of the car. Some understand the engine. Some understand the software. Some understand the structural design. Some understand the interior choices. No one individual understands it entirely.

In your company, there are likely systems that evolved over time that are so complex that no one understands them either. Perhaps a database with different fields and options that were added over a decade by different people and no one knows what they mean any longer.

What is important is to understand when the system is so complex that no one can function with it. The car, for example, is complex, but it is easy enough to use it and extract value from it. That’s not necessarily true for certain systems and functions in our work.

If they are both complex, and not providing enough value, then simplify them.

Good Days and Bad Days

It seems like on the surface a good day would be a relaxing one.

It seems like on the surface a bad day would be a stressful one.

Yet, I’ve had days that didn’t have many urgent deadlines or pressing issues that I seem to find myself not satisfied after.

I’ve also had days where I was working only on highly stressful tasks and I was in a good mood at the end of the day.

Perhaps, the measure of a good and bad day that many people think of is wrong.

Perhaps a good day is measured by reducing stressful items on your list. While a bad day is measured by increasing the stressful items. It’s an interesting shift when you think more deeply about it.

It means that good days are made possible more often by people who add stressful items to their list, then get them done.

It means people that avoid the stressful items on their list and focus on the easy stuff have the most stress in their lives.

It’s possible this is just how stress affects me and not the population as a whole, but give it some time in your brain. Think about it for yourself and adjust your behavior accordingly to maximize the good days.