One of the Reasons to Have Kids: They’re Weird

I’m a big believer that boredom is the greatest evil to be avoided in life.  Fortunately, kids make it hard to be bored if you step back and observe them for a moment.

Kids are weird.  I think they’re a lot weirder than the average human.  It’s best when they’re just doing thier thing unaware of the broader, more normal world.  I was struck with this again today when I finally stopped getting irritated that they pretty much tear up everything in the house and surrounding area and just watched them.

My son was playing Mario Maker and shouting, “This is Sparta!”  by himself in the living room.  I didn’t want to interrupt this important activity, so I stepped outside to see what the girls were up to.  They were selling things.  On the curb.  On a cold, sleepy Saturday morning in late October.

The older was sitting in a chair behind an overturned storage bin that had a display of assorted garbage from the garage and a few leaves and a giant pitcher of water.  The younger was sitting on the wet grass beside her with one arm through the neck hole on her T-shirt.  They were apparently waiting for customers.

No one knows why kids do such weird things.  It’s best not to ask but just take it in.  I won’t find it so interesting and fun later today when I’m trying to negotiate the cleanup.  But right now, I can’t help but marvel at the not-boring oddness of it all.

The Futility of Reform

Don’t run for class president.  Don’t go to HOA meetings.  Don’t join a committee.  Don’t get involved in political campaigns.

All of these activities are about reform.  Get into the institution, play by its rules, and try to make it behave differently than it wants to.

Forget this approach.  It sucks.  Here are four reasons why.

It makes you less happy

Have you ever been to a town hall meeting?  Life’s too short to endure such horrors.  The worst life to live is a boring one.  The machinations of every political institution are stale and boring and full of self-serious processes, procedures, and practitioners.  Your every moment is too valuable to suffer through it.  It’s inhumane.  If Roberts Rules of Order are relevant to any effort you’re involved in, get out and go build something new.

You can’t change the game by playing

Political institutions do one thing best: restrict individual fun and freedom.  It’s natural to want to reduce the role of these rule-happy entities.  But you can’t win playing by their rules.  You can’t vote your way to a system where votes no longer curtail progress.

Trying to reduce the role of the state by engaging in politics is like trying to put a casino out of business by playing blackjack there.  “Oh, I have it figured out.  I’ll beat the house!”  No.  You won’t.  They want you to think that.  They want you to keep playing.  Abiding by house rules is no way to protest or change them.  Especially when the house gets a little richer every time you do.

If you don’t want the casino to keep luring people in don’t go in yourself.  Build something better that people want to go to instead.

Progress always comes from without

Political institutions are reactive.  They wait until the world forces them and then they change.  If humanity is a car these institutions are the brakes, able to stop progress but never create it.  If you want to get to a new destination you need the accelerator.

Accelerators are new ideas and products and services that forge ahead, paying no mind to the consensus-seeking bureaucrats nested in the status quo.  Accelerators don’t care about argument, nor protest.  They care about creation.  They build the world they want to live in instead of hoping to prevent its decay.

There is no permanence

The great thing about innovation is that it only needs to happen once.  That painful, gruelling, child-birth like experience of the creative act or eureka moment is born out of imagination, hard work, and courage.  If the result is of any value to the world it lasts forever and serves as the stepping stone to still greater innovations.

The wheel was invented once.  No one has to re-invent it.  It’s world-improving powers are permanent and irreversible.

Any apparent victory within a political structure is fleeting by definition and design.  You align all the powers and elites and interests just so after years of butt-numbing meetings and pompous proclamations from people you’d never want to have a beer with but now you must woo and coddle.  You have your mandate or constituency or whatever other serious sounding label you slap on the gaggle of interests vying for a win within the house rules.  You get your way.  Hooray!

Until the next month or year or election cycle when the new interests group outmaneuvers you and the tables turn in an instant.  Everything you created in your coalition vanishes, along with all the money you convinced people to throw at it.  The same tiny sliver of ground must be re-won, each time as if from scratch.  Only then do you realize that broader social forces created by the outsiders accelerating humanity are the master, not the servant, to these stale political institutions that apply their rusty brakes against all odds.

Go out and build something

Build something instead.  Exit.  Go your own way.  Forget the suits and speeches and posturing and canvassing and internal climbing and deal-making.  Go build your wildest dream.  Imagine and create things that excite you.  Move to a place that doesn’t suck.  Create a job that’s not boring.  Live a life you want to live.

Don’t wait for the world to change or beg for permission to let it evolve.  Go change your own world.  The rest will follow.

Ask Isaac: Marginal Utility for Beginners

In this episode I answer a very simple but incredibly important question from listener Steve Thomas:

  • Please explain the theory of marginal utility and give a few practical examples.

Through riddles and illustrations I try to make the ideas of value subjectivity and marginal utility easy to understand and recognize in everyday life.

Got a question? Ask here.

This and all episodes are available on SoundCloud, iTunes, and Stitcher.

The Economists Answer for Bad Drivers

I originally posted this as just audio, but then I had someone transcribe it for me on Freelancer.com.  I paid him $10 and he did it from Montenegro in 20 minutes.  Fun!

One of the many things I love about economics is that it helps you understand and make sense of things that otherwise seem irrational and mysterious.

It helps you come up with actual workable solutions, rather than of a bunch feel-good nonsense.

To give a concrete example, there are a lot of bad drivers out there and lots of accidents. It’s really scary, right?

So what’s the normal non-economist response to this? “Let’s produce and buy cars with more safety features, front airbags, side airbags, better brakes, glass that shatters in way that won’t hurt you.”

All these safety features seem like the thing to do, because with all these accidents and dangerous drivers you want to protect people, right?

Ah, but this is where the economic way of thinking sheds some light.  The economist says, “You fools!”

We don’t want to make cars safer, that’s just going to lower the cost of bad driving, let’s mount a spear on the steering wheel of every car at two inches from the driver’s chest. Now let’s see who’s driving recklessly! You don’t want to lower the cost of reckless driving, you want to raise it!

My comedian friend Jeremy McClellan has this great bit about whether you’d want your kids to take driver’s ed from cops, who basically drive as recklessly as they want to because they can turn on their sirens and get away with it, or from drug dealers?

The cost of a drug dealer getting in any kind of traffic accident is very high. If they get pulled over they could go to jail for carrying all these drugs around. You want to learn to drive from drug dealers. They’re going to be the safest on the road.  It’s all about the incentives.

This is the kind of crazy, seemingly barbaric but wonderful insight that economic thinking can bring.

Why in my neighborhood are all these soccer moms such reckless drivers? One of the reasons is because they have such wonderful breaks and safety features on their brand new SUVs.

They know they can scream up behind me at 65mph and slam on their breaks with two inches to spare and their car will come to a gentle halt.  Their latte won’t even spill. Meanwhile I’m terrified.  It’s endangering my heart rate if nothing else.

Then there’s me, driving my 2002 Saturn with a 195,000 miles on it. I’m like a train conductor. I start breaking about two and a half miles before the stop light to just ease into it because I know if I slam on the breaks with just 50 feet to spare my foot will literally go through the floor of my car and I’ll have to use my foot on the pavement as a break. That’s a really high cost. I don’t want to lose my foot.

I’m the most cautious driver you will ever see in my Saturn. I check my blind spot religiously, partly because my car is so low it could fit under other cars, but partly because I have no side mirror.  I lost that in an unfortunate parking incident.

This is just one little illustration of economic thinking and how it can help you develop counterintuitive insights and come up with counterintuitive solutions to common, everyday problems.

Below is the original audio, a note I left myself on Voxer.

Humility Also Means Ignoring Input

Humility is a weird concept.  It’s easily associated with things like meekness, deferential behavior, lack of confidence, and wishy-washiness.  But these are not genuine humility.

Humility is the willingness to see yourself as you truly are.

Valuable humility is simply a recognition of your position in the vast universe.  It is a recognition of your identity separate from your roles or relative ranking to others.

Sometimes that means seeing that you are incorrect, and you’re not a big deal.

Of course, you’re not unimportant to you or those around you or even to the world.  But on the cosmic scene what you eat for breakfast isn’t a big deal.  Neither is who you’re dating or what you’re wearing.  But what’s especially unimportant is what others think of you.  Humility reminds you of this.

Sometimes humility means seeing that you are correct, and you are a big deal.

Humility is not about taking everyone else’s view of you seriously or trusting your own ideas less than others.  Paradoxically, that’s pride (in one of the few ways pride can be negative).  It’s pride because it’s concerned with how you appear to others.  It’s concerned with saving face.  It moves the locus of control and the definition of success from you to external forces and slavishly adapts to those.

Pride wants you to please everyone.  Pride wants you to come off looking good.  Pride always looks for an excuse to hide behind.  “I did it because I had to”, or, “I was giving my customers what they wanted”, or, “I was just following the expert’s advice”.

Humility recognizes that you might be wrong and look a fool, but it doesn’t care.  When you see that you’re not that important, being right or looking cool suddenly don’t much matter.

Humility recognizes that you’re sometimes right and other’s advice could be wrong.  It takes humility to ignore advice or common wisdom and do what you know to be true.  You’re exposed.  You have no fallback and no one to blame.

Humility is knowing who you are and owning it when it’s easy and when it’s not.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re practicing the virtue of humility because you’re denying yourself and your ideas and responding to everyone else’s.  That’s fear.

Be humble enough to see yourself as you truly are, both when you are right and when you are wrong.  Be humble enough to take advice when it’s good and ignore it when it’s not.

Episode 36: Albert Lu on Recycling, Homeschooling, Wal-Mart, and Whole Foods

My good friend Albert Lu, host of “The Economy” podcast guest hosts this episode for me and does a bang-up job!

Albert was the person who got me into podcasting, so he’s the Obi Wan to my Anakin…or something. Enjoy, and check out his work at www.powerandmarket.com.

This and all episodes are available on SoundCloud, iTunes, and Stitcher.

Why I Don’t Read the Comments

Because it makes me less happy.

That’s it. There’s no other deep principle or reason. This is also why I occasionally do read them. It (rarely) can be enjoyable. 

I don’t dislike commenters or discussion. For some reason it detracts from my enjoyment of life to read comments. Maybe that’s a shortcoming of mine. Who knows. All I know is that my life is better and I get more done and am happier when I completely ignore them.

It’s freeing to remind myself that I don’t owe responses to critics or commenters. Realizing I can ignore them actually makes me a little more likely to occasionally engage them.  But it’s still a rare occasion. 

Life’s too short to do things you don’t like doing.

Voice & Exit Interview

An interview I did for the Voice & Exit blog.

1. Isaac, you wrote an article on the V&E blog earlier this year about changing the world through creative entrepreneurship. Can you explain how this mindset informed your decision to start Praxis?

I was tired of talking. Don’t get me wrong, I like to talk. Probably too much. I had some big, radical ideas about the uselessness of the high school-college-career conveyor belt and what kind of alternatives could be better, faster, cheaper, and more fulfilling. Ideas are costless. Anyone can have ideas. If I really believed my theories about the huge opportunities for young people to do something different, why not put my money where my mouth is?

Who cares if professors or experts disagree with me? The market will determine if the idea is valuable. That’s the part I love the most. You don’t need to convince everyone about your theories of a better world in the realm of argument when you can create value for customers in the market. You can ignore the haters and focus on creating value for those who benefit from your idea.

I’m a happy person. I like being happy. I don’t like being grumpy. Arguing about what you want the world to look like is pretty depressing. You never win. Going out and creating it – putting those ideas into a business model – is exhilarating, informative, and has a real chance of changing things.

Entrepreneurship is philosophy in action.

2. How did you know “it was the right time” to launch Praxis? What were some of the risks and upsides involved for you?

I don’t think there’s ever a right time for any big move in life. At least not one that’s identifiable ahead of time. What made the time right for me was that I had an idea burning so intensely inside me I almost felt I didn’t have a choice.

Sure, I’d had ideas before, but none of them had the clarity or plan for execution that I had with Praxis. It was the sum of a decade of smaller ideas and observations, and it came to a head all at once. Without sounding too sensational, I just knew I had to build this thing. I needed to get my question answered by the market. Can this thing work?

I wanted to know the answer so bad that I was totally willing to fail in my effort to find it. I think the “willing to fail” test is good one. If you need some guarantee of success, it’s probably not a good time to launch a venture. It will test you, and have to accept and internalize the possibility of failure up front.

The biggest risk honestly was not the risk of failure. That didn’t scare me as much as the risk of not going after this thing. If I didn’t, I’d regret it.

The biggest upside? Keep an eye on Praxis. You’ll see soon.

3. Much of the buzz around Praxis focuses on education, but education is just a means to a certain end. What is the broader goal you’ve set for Praxis? What has Praxis “exited?”

Education is a boring and stale word. Yes, learning is crucial to any endeavor in life. But textbooks and tests and classrooms and schedules imposed by others and credentials conferred for hoop-jumping are just stupid in most cases.

What Praxis is really about is freedom on a very personal, individual level. We exist to help young people discover what makes them come alive and create a way to do it. We exist to help them find an environment, a mindset, a community, and a set of questions that will enable them to awaken their dreams. We know that for the world to be free and prosperous, individual humans must be. We want young people to take the reins of their own living, learning, working, and building. We want them to be the driving force in their own life. We want them to get a jump on the opportunities exploding around them to be entrepreneurs and innovators, and to live life on their terms.

Whether it’s freedom from the classroom, the cubicle, the expectations of others, or your own fears and doubts, we want to help you achieve it.

We weren’t content to criticize the conveyor belt of debt-fueled classroom credential chasing. We want to help people not just wake up to it, but leave. Praxis is exiting – and helping others exit – the ‘higher education’ industry and the debates about how to reform or improve it. Forget all that. Criticize by creating. And start with creating a tailor made life that you love.

4. What do you think is the single biggest force driving this awakening of thought in education?

Ideas are free. They can’t be chained up. You can’t dam up the stream of information that’s been unleashed by decentralized technology. Now that the information gatekeepers have no special power or privilege the credential gatekeepers will be the next to decline. The best ideas aren’t housed in a single place or owned by a group of elites, and next the signal to the world of an individual’s intelligence and ability won’t be conferred by some big central institution. It will be created and demonstrated by the individual him/herself.

People are realizing they now have the power to be their own credential and let their work speak for itself. That’s a power no one can stop.

5. You’re taking on a leviathan system. What are some of the barriers you’ve had to work around and what are some ways you’ve been able to succeed?

Everything from weird laws and regulations to the obvious financial challenges of a startup from scratch. But there are always workarounds if you’re impatient and determined enough to find or create them.

The biggest barrier to any entrepreneurial endeavor are the mental and emotional challenges. It takes a toll to fight every day for the thing you’re building and pouring your life into, and sometimes it’s easy to underestimate how much stress that can bring. You’ve got to really master your inner life and summon the strength and humility to keep at it.

And you have to ignore the critics who love nothing more than to sit on the sidelines while others create and take potshots or nitpick. Just remember who your customers are and focus entirely on rocking their world. Forget about the rest.

6. How big do you see this community growing? Where is Praxis in five years and what are the opportunities for others who want to enter this space?

There is no limit to the growth of the self-directed learning and entrepreneurial self-starter community. We were all born entrepreneurs and self-directed learners. Anyone can re-awaken that if they’ve got the will. In five years? We’ll be everywhere. I envision Praxis and similar combinations of work and self-created learning structure to be everywhere and not slowing down.

7. Do you have any advice for someone in the V&E network who wants to challenge an existing community and build their own?

Three things:

1) Tighten your pitch. What problem are you solving? How? Why will it work? That should be communicated in a few sentences.
2) Know your market. Who are you solving the problem for? Where are they? Do they care?
3) Be willing to fail, but do everything you can to avoid it. The best way to succeed? Start. The longer your ideas remain ideas, the less likely you are to act.

Should the Poor Be Forcibly Sterilized?

Do you think I could convince you that the US needs a forced sterilization program to prevent poor people from having children?

Before you react, please take a moment to consider my case…

What if I told you that people born into poor families have a higher statistical likelihood of committing some kind of crime during their lifetime?

What if I told you the children of the poor are more likely to have bad grammar and adopt fashions and habits out of the cultural norm?

What if I told you those born to poor parents might end up getting low-paying jobs, meaning they might be competing with the kids of the middle class for entry level work?  It might make it harder for your kid to get a job if all these poor kids are also trying to get jobs!

What if I told you that the children of the poor run a high risk of voting for policies that you don’t like?  They might cause a demographic shift that alters the outcome of the democratic process!

If the poor aren’t stopped by force from procreating, consider these ways in which the world may change in the next few decades!

Would you get on board with my plan?  Would you say yes, given the potential outcomes outlined above, it is imperative that we send armed agents to the homes of everyone in the bottom quintile of earnings so that they can be sterilized?  Would you accept that we must prevent their offspring from entering the world?

Never.

You’d tell me this plan is repugnant.  You’d liken it to eugenics and the greatest human rights violations in history.  It would strike you as deeply disturbing, inhumane, and tyrannical.

You’d tell me that the idea of a human life being forcibly prevented from entering the country simply because of someone’s belief about a statistical probability that the child might be or do things others don’t like is morally reprehensible.

Even if I told you there was a way some poor people were allowed to be born, if they got lawyers and costly licenses and permissions slips and only a limited number and only from certain neighborhoods, you wouldn’t feel better about it.  It would still feel just as icky.

Your moral intuition would be dead on.  You’d be right.

That’s why we should end immigration restrictions.

Special Podcast Episode: What Is Praxis All About?

This is a special episode about Praxis, an amazing one-year experience for entrepreneurial young people who want to take control of their life, education, and career.

Praxis grads and participants talk about what made them choose the program and what the experience is like.

Check out discoverpraxis.com to learn more and apply.
Check out thefutureofschool.com for a free e-book.

This and all episodes are available on SoundCloud, iTunes, and Stitcher.

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