Anger is More Useful Than it Used to Be

When I had a harder time controlling anger, or rather not being controlled by it, anger was the enemy.  I’ve gotten pretty good at not taking anything personally and redirecting anger into curiosity and dispassionate problem solving.

I don’t read the news, the comments section, or get into online debates.  I ignore politics and heated discussions with zealots in all arenas (except sports, where it’s pure play).  My life improved tenfold as I mastered the art of not getting riled up by the beliefs or actions of others, and looked for cause and effect instead of fair/unfair, right/wrong.

Now that I’ve tamed my fire, it’s become more valuable to selectively stoke it again.

TK Coleman and I do a session for Praxis opening seminars each month called. “Kicking Ass 101” where we share some top tips for success.  One of mine is “don’t take anything personally”, and one of TK’s is, “take everything personally”.  I don’t think they contradict when you know what we mean.  The first means choose to not be controlled by anger or a victim mindset.  The second means selectively choose to manufacturer a chip on your shoulder as motivation.  They work great in tandem.

I just got back from a car dealership to get a new lease on a car.  I’m letting every bit of hatred and rage for the corrupt government created hellhole that is the auto market well up in full force.  I’m cranking classic rock, fuming, and getting shit done.  Come at me.

Luck or Skill?

I once had a conversation with professional poker star Annie Duke about the silliness of bans on betting.  She had an interesting definition of a game of luck vs. a game of skill.

While a lottery is clearly all luck, poker is skill (both people and math skills) and probability, with enough randomness that in any single game a skilled player can lose to a lucky novice.  What about betting on sports?  What about fantasy football?

Annie’s distinction between a game of luck and a game of skill was simple: if you can lose on purpose, it’s a game of skill.

Brilliant really.  If it’s all luck, you can’t control whether you win or lose.  You can’t purposely pick the wrong lottery number.  You can sort of kind of purposely bet on a horrible team, but it’s really out of your hands to ensure a loss.  You can’t 100% guarantee a loss on purpose, so it’s still a game of luck.  Fantasy football is an interesting hybrid, because like sports betting, the game play is out of your hands, but you can purposefully pack your roster with injured players and ensure defeat.

I don’t know why that definition stuck with me, but it always feels like there’s some wisdom in it.

Time Chunks

There’s a newborn in the house again.  Newborns change the default time chunks that I use for assessment and action.  Normally, I think in weeks.  Days are shorter intervals that make up a week, and months are a handful of weeks, but the week is the primary reference unit.

During a particularly busy week, or a week of travel, days become the reference unit.  During phases of planning, months or quarters.

It’s been 455 hours since the baby was born.  Hours are the new base unit, and they will be until he’s on a regular sleep all night and two naps a day kind of schedule.  My whole life is lived in hour-long units now.  Everything slows down.  Each chunk of a few hours is experienced as if it were days.  Days feel like weeks.

It’s interesting how the default resets to sync with the kid.  For him, each hour is a large percentage of his entire life, so it’s sensible that to better care for him, his parents would start to think of and experience life in smaller units.

I’m always kind of in a rush to get out of this phase, where so many variables can change so quickly.  It’s tiring and bad for bigger picture thinking.  But it’s rare and special too.  I remember fondly, as if it was an entire epoch of my life, those small bundles of hours holding those small bundles of baby and rocking them, burping them, changing them, etc.

It’s interesting, too, how other parts of life and work are experienced differently when I’m in this hour-as-the-base-unit phase.  I feel a little more disconnected from all the normal people operating in days, weeks, or months.  But it’s also kind of philosophically curious.  It gives unique vantage point, like in a sci-fi movie when everyone else is in slow motion while the character walks around at normal speed and observes.  You see patterns you normally don’t.

This makes me wonder if I could experiment with deliberately changing my default time chunk, and what it would do.

The Deceptive Power of Your Network

An unknown sphere of influence helped bring down a Communist regime.  It’s the ultimate illustration of the often unseen power of your network.

In this episode of Forward Tilt (subscribe anywhere podcasts are found), I tell two stories about the power of a personal network and social capital.  One is a reminder that kindness to strangers might be more important than you think – you could be “entertaining angels”.  The other inspires me to keep creating everyday, because I never know the extent of the Remnant being reached.  (The latter is a story direct from FEE President Larry Reed.  Learn more about the story here.)

Persuasion Works Better When You Understand Demand and Appeal to Self-Interest

Yesterday, someone shared an article about all the bullshitters filling up the web.  It ripped on the kind of people who call themselves creativity coaches and keynote speakers and pump out advice articles and inspiring Steve Jobs quotes on social media, but have never actually built anything.

It was a fun little bit of cathartic sass.

It was also missing something: any chance of reducing the amount of bullshit in the world.

The article was basically, “Bullshitters exist, here’s what they are, they are idiots and should stop bullshitting.”  Commenters said things like, “Yeah, too bad they’ll never read this and listen.”  But why would they?

It reminded me of attitudes you sometimes here about entrepreneurs in illegal drugs.  “Drug dealers are terrible people and should stop ruining the world.”  Maybe it feels good to say, but it’s totally useless because it misses two key components necessary to generate change.

From where does demand derive?

It’s easy to tell self-help peddlers and drug pushers to stop selling.  But why can they in the first place?  If their stuff is so bad, who keeps buying it?

Like it or not, there is demand for both crack and fluffy creativity crap.  Even if you persuade one dealer to step dealing, another will fill the void as long as demand exists.

The article didn’t discuss the followers and consumers of bullshit.  It just suggested the people meeting the demand should stop doing it.  Why?  It’s clearly valuable to someone.  Wouldn’t it be more effective to tell the users they’d be better off not consuming it, but doing something else instead?

Placing all the blame on suppliers ignores the demand that makes them not only possible, but in the long run, inevitable.

What’s in it for me?

The article made no direct appeal to self-interest.  It was a condemnation of bullshiters and that’s about it.  But if you’re making a living or having fun re-sharing paraphrased quotes about people who built things, why would you want to stop just because some online author said you’re a phony?  What do you lose for stopping, and what do you gain?  Everything and nothing, respectively.

A more effective way to change behavior is to refrain from telling the target how bad they are, and instead tell them (or better yet show them) how much more effective they could be if they did things differently.  What are the downsides and unseen costs of building a “tribe” around fluffy secondhand bullshit?  What other ways could the benefits be better captured?  How might an aspiring “thought leader” build something first, or create rules for what kind of content they’ll share?

Put them both together…

Better yet, combine attention to the demand side with focus on self-interest.  Show the consumers of bullshit how it’s hindering progress toward their goals.  Demonstrate the dangers and present an alternative.  There’s a reason people consume this stuff.  Show them how to meet the need in better ways, just as you might help an addict channel their compulsive behaviors into something less damaging.

I actually liked the article.  It was fun, punchy, and described a real phenomenon that I roll my eyes at often.  Still, it’s too easy to assume idiocy instead of rational self-interest, and to demonize suppliers rather than understand demand and create alternatives.

If the world is awash in bullshit, introduce beauty.

Historians are Too Romantic

Yesterday, my always interesting friend Chris Nelson mentioned a local public works project that struck him as useless.  As we chatted, it struck me how often we give very old things more praise than they are due.

Think of public works projects and boondoggles.  You can probably think of several off the top of your head.  The bridge to nowhere in Alaska, the Big Dig in Boston, Auto World in Flint, ugly windmills dotting southern Ohio, and basically every government project ever in the city of Detroit come to mind.

Give it a few hundred years, and I wouldn’t be surprised if archaeologists and historians treat the crumbled remains of these hideous resource-wasters as brilliant and important stepping stones for humanity.  If you go only by the plaques adorning them and official ceremonies surrounding them, you could conclude nothing else.

Maybe it wouldn’t be as easy to do this now, with so much access to contemporary opinions and information about these dumb projects, but it’s very easy to do with the past.

Watch any documentary about old castles or great tyrant-led serf-funded projects of bygone eras and you might conclude that every cathedral, bridge, wall, and tower was a picture of beauty, ingenuity, and efficiency.  What if many of these remains were the ancient or medieval equivalent of the Motor City’s useless People Mover?  How much graft and architectural error went into these projects?

Knowing what we know about humans, and especially the nature and incentives of force-funded centralized prestige projects, no doubt many of the cherished monuments of the past were big dumb symbols of fatally conceited rulers.  We get to see the remains of buildings, but what we can’t see – and what Frederic Bastiat reminds us we must look for – are all the things that didn’t get built or accomplished because of these massive boondoggles.

All projects are not created equal, all castles are not examples of government waste (many were private endeavors), and perhaps those that survive longest do because they were the most valuable and well-constructed.  Still, we’d do well to take a dose of rational choice realism with our romantic forays into past architecture.

Just as it is naive to assume every practice and belief of the past was dumb superstition, it’s naive to assume every ruin was a brilliant and valuable construction.  It’d be fun to see (and maybe one exists, I don’t pretend to be a history buff) a project that documents great boondoggles through the ages, tallying budget overages, deadlines missed, waste, graft, obsolescence, and idiocy.

If the Great Men approach to history is dangerously simplistic (and it is), so too is the Great Works approach.

Curiosity is Better Than Knowledge

If I could choose to be the most knowledgeable person in the world or the most curious, I’d choose the latter without hesitation.

Every interesting thing I’ve done has been a direct result of curiosity.  Every professional success has stemmed from the fact that I was curious about more than just my role, but every facet of the organization and everyone else’s job, story, process, and motivations.

Curiosity spurs action, knowledge kills it

A burning question drives a relentless pursuit.  A heap of facts cultivates cautious analysis.  I would have never attempted to launch Praxis if I had more knowledge at the start.  Knowing what I know now wouldn’t have been an advantage, but a roadblock.  Instead, I was driven by a question, “What if you could get young people from where they are to a career they love for zero cost in a year or less?  What would that look like?”  I had to find the answer, and the market was the only reliable source.  I had no choice but to build this thing.

This is a common story.  Nearly every entrepreneur will tell you that their early ignorance of the road ahead, coupled with insatiable curiosity, was a more powerful force than a mass of market knowledge.

If knowledge drove innovation, startups would be primarily founded by very old and very knowledgeable intellectuals.  Instead, academics are usually the most risk-averse, inaction-biased people on the planet.  They know too much (or at least they think they do).

Don’t lose the questions.  Don’t lose the curiosity.  Even after pursuit of it rewards you with knowledge.  Never be so knowledgeable that you lose naive optimism that new discoveries are around the corner.

Knowledge is cheap, curiosity is priceless

Google has made factual knowledge all but useless.  Remember when you had to call your music obsessed friend to settle a fight over what year a song debuted?  Knowledge has never been less valuable, which in turn has made penetrating curiosity and ability to ask the best questions more valuable than ever.

But it’s not just about the internet.  Knowledge has always been less valuable than curiosity.  Henry Ford didn’t know how to do almost any specific operation in his business, but he could let his questions drive him to find those who could.  Einstein was famously ignorant several of basic facts, because he wanted to free his mind up for the higher level work of questioning and imagining.

Cultivate curiosity

Doubtless some people are born more curious than others.  But curiosity can be cultivated.

School tries very hard to kill it; in fact, it is designed expressly for that purpose.  Determine what questions are fair game, make kids answer them with threat of punishment, treat all other explorations as wasteful, distracting, or disobedient.  Reward recitation of previously answered questions and shut down new ones.

Formal education won’t do it for you.  You’re going to have to become curious yourself.  Deschool your mind, then begin to ask questions.

Curious games

I play simple games, like trying to calculate how much money a coffee shop is making during the hour I’m sitting there.  Try it.  You’ll soon start wondering how much they’re paying for rent and wages and supplies, and how much profit they’ll pull in (or loss).  Next, you’ll begin to wonder how long they can stick around at this estimated pace.  Before you know it, you’ll have dreamed up the next three most likely businesses to fill the vacated real-estate when the coffee shop flops.

The curious employee > the knowledgeable one

I’ve hired curious people and I’ve hired knowledgeable people.  The latter are generally less fun to work with and have a much lower ceiling, even if they can do their specific task well.  The former are a font of delightful surprises.  They make me better because they ask questions I hadn’t thought of.  They excite me, because every waking hour I know that not only are they doing their job, they are exploring and probing and chasing their curiosity all kinds of places and will bring back cool new ideas that benefit the company.

Even abstract questions that seem at first to have no connection to your daily work will make you better and more valuable. I stumbled upon Rational Choice Theory via myriad rabbit trails started due to my curiosity about how wealth is created, and it’s made me far better at management, product design, sales, and marketing.

Don’t overthink learning

Learning new things is far easier and can be done much faster than everyone thinks.  Possessed by a fit of wild curiosity, a person can learn at breakneck speed.  Possessed of a desire for the prestige or safety that comes with certified knowledge, learning is slow and painful, and the rewards full of stagnant, predictable mediocrity.  Explosive growth is spurred by curiosity, not knowledge.

Be interested.  Be curious.

When You Get Bored, Get Epic

I have a Pandora station built around epic move soundtracks and songs that make me feel like I’m fighting a dragon with a flaming sword.

It works every time.

If I’m a little stale or dull or tired of the same old podcasts or in a work rut, I go for a walk, pop in the headphones, and let Hans Zimmer, Michael Giachinno, or Ennio Morricone pull my body out of the suburbs and into the epic tale of my life, seen from 30,000 feet.

Few things have the same power to remind me why I do things, and inspire me to push through the crap.

There’s a reason stories have been the most effective medium of communication since man’s beginning.  Music that conjures and teases out your story in your mind’s eye is a powerful tool.

This isn’t a blog post, it’s a last ditch volley of flaming arrows to signal the coming charge into destiny.

There Are More Languages Than We Think

My son does a rock climbing class every week. Today, he remarked how funny it is to hear hardcore climbers talk, because their lingo is like a foreign language. 

I just watched a recap of the Kentucky Derby, and had the same thought. The world of horse racing has a language as comfortable to its participants as 80’s power ballads are to me.

Technically, these all share the same language.  But practically, they are as inaccessible to an outsider as a conversation in Spanish or Cantonese to an English-only speaker.

It makes me think about the definition of a language. How many are there?  Is it infinite?  What’s the line betweeen accent, jargon, dialect, and language?