Is Someone Getting The Best Of You?

True story.

I was once working in a hospital that was desperately short of doctors to cover the night shift.  The hospital somehow managed to find a senior doctor to cover one of the night shifts to oversee the work of the junior doctors, admit new patients and ensure patients were safe over night.

Usually the doctors that are hired in short notice get generous hourly pay because the hospital needs the doctor, but the doctor doesn’t need the hospital.

When this particular doctor arrived to start his night shift he was very angry because he was promised hot food and a place to eat.  Because the hospital didn’t organise this for him, he got up and said he was going to leave.  The nurses begged the doctor to stay, but he drove off while all the nurses looked at each other in horror, realising that there was no senior cover for the night.

What’s the lesson?

The person who has the most options always wins.

If you have no or few options in life, then by definition someone has power over you.

boss

A lot of decisions in life come disguised as logical and “safe”.  But they often bring with them hidden pitfalls and loss of optionality.

The person working in a “safe” job in an office making a steady income for example is counter intuitively a lot more vulnerable than an Uber driver.

The Uber driver can earn the same amount as most office workers.  Granted, he may have more variability in his take home pay month to month, thus making his job “unsafe”.  But when the office worker gets fired in his mid 40’s with no transferable skill set he is in a lot of trouble.

The Uber driver by contrast will be able to detect if his livelihood is at stake early and retrain / develop his skill set before getting laid off.  By working with the “safe” company the office worker gave up optionality later in life without realising.

Moral of the story:

In the majority of decisions, the decision which will provide most optionality is the correct one.

*Money is attractive to people as it represents pure optionality.  You can do anything you want with it.  But only if you own the money outright.  Money often has strings attached – either you owe it back, or someone gets a portion of your company or even worse you trade a portion of your life to get a paycheck.

In a startup this matters.  If you take a loan or you raise money, all of a sudden you’ve lost optionality as the people you took money from want it back and often with interest.  This limits your ability to innovate and explore different options.

 

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How To Measure Your Life

It is unusual how when you insist on measuring something, you often end up measuring what actually doesn’t matter.  Often the thing you end up measuring is a distant relative of something meaningful.

Modern medicine is pretty incredible.  We can stick a tube down your air pipe and artificially ventilate you, we can keep your heart pumping artificially to keep the blood flowing, we can introduce an IV line and keep you hydrated by giving you fluids, we can feed you with a tube into your stomach (a PEG feed) and we can catheterise you to make sure you’re peeing properly.

By all measurable metrics we can keep you “alive”.  But by doing all of this are we really keeping the patient “alive” in any meaningful way?

 

Measure

I have a feeling that we often end up measuring things due to the mere fact that they are easy to measure.  The things which actually matter are usually difficult or impossible to measure:

  • “Likes”, “Follows” and “Shares” instead of measuring impact and engagement.
  • Money instead of measuring purpose and fulfillment.
  • Short-term growth instead of “durability”.

So the question becomes; “Are you measuring your life in a meaningful way?”, or are you measuring out of convenience.  Maybe it’s time to buckle down and figure out what actually matters.

Do You Have An Eggshell Skull?

Skull

 

In common law there is a well-known rule called the Eggshell Skull rule.

Say you are having an argument with your friend.  The argument starts to escalate and out of frustration you grab your mobile phone, throw it in your friends general direction and he gets hit on his head.

You didn’t know it, but your friend suffers from a rare bone condition called Osteogenesis Imperfecta, and therefore suffers from a skull fracture and dies.

The law says that it doesn’t matter that you didn’t intend to kill your friend, it doesn’t matter that you didn’t know about his condition.  You threw the phone, it was all your fault.

Physical injury, to which this law applies, is one thing but there are many other types of offence in real life.  And in real life, offence and defence can’t be as clearly divided as you might expect.

In a soccer game for example, when does merely playing defensively become playing offensively?  If the other team starts to behave more and more aggressively, then your team will have to play more defensively and at a certain point, you will become so defensive that you are actually playing offensively.

By putting your work out there into the world every day, by playing things with the right amount of caution, by surviving just another day…

by merely being defensive you are causing an impact.  

What does this mean for you as a writer, a blogger, an entrepreneur or freelancer?

It means you are not as weak as you might think. 

 

What Ever Happened To Belle & The Beast?

Beauty and the Beast is probably my favourite Disney movie of all time. The story of how love and doing the right thing can overcome any adversary is a timeless story.

The end of the story where Belle and the now human-again Prince are dancing in front of their friends and family is the classic “happily ever after” ending we all love.

BeautyAndTheBeast

Happily Ever After…

The thing is that we are always aiming to try to get to our “happily ever after”. Personally, there have been times in my life where I’ve longed to “retire”, get “passive income” and move to a tropical island where I can lay around all day doing nothing.

But something hit me the other day.

No one I truly admire and respect is living “happily ever after”.

The people I admire the most, as Theodore Roosevelt put it, are “In The Arena”:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong
man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena...”

These are the people who are on the edge, in the spotlight, at the limits of their capabilities, truly striving to be something more than they think they can be, straddling the line ever so carefully between triumph and disaster.

Could it be that I was wrong to try to “live happily ever after”?

Perhaps the ultimate goal isn’t to laze around a beach somewhere sunny, but to shoulder the greatest burden I possibly can handle and to productively contribute to society as much as possible.

“It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:

It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
Ulysses by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Sometimes To Make A Difference You Just Need To Ask “Are You OK?”

A friend once told me a story about a flight she was on. She works as part of the cabin crew for an airline.

There was a guy she saw on the plane who was acting strange. Sweating, slightly pale, looking blankly into the seat in front of him.

It didn’t seem that he was paying attention to the safety announcements, he wasn’t wearing his seat-belt, he wasn’t saying anything at all when he was asked what he would like to eat.

“Is this guy on drugs?? Is he going to do something to put others in danger?”, she thought.

My friend decided to do something; she decided to speak to him.

“Are you ok?”, she asked.

The man responded:

“Sorry, my wife just passed away and I just can’t think straight…”

Yes, empathy and caring is important.

But what I found more interesting in this story is how interchangeable our emotions are.

We have the power to choose how we react to a situation.

I have come to learn that instead of getting irritated or angry by someone it is always more productive to be curious instead.

If you can just get curious and find out why someone is behaving the way they are you will have a happier, better life with more honest relationships.

Instead of having a negative reaction and letting things get out of hand, it is always better to lean into the discomfort and get to the bottom of things.

It All Starts With An Idea

Two fish swam past one another. One turns to the other and says:

“The water’s nice today isn’t it?”

After a few minutes the second fish thought to himself:

“What’s water???”

Ideas are valuable. Ideas are the birthplace of innovation, entrepreneurship and value creation.

The problem in today’s world is that many ideas go unquestioned for so long that we forget that we can even question them. The fact is that opportunity surrounds us all if we only take a closer look and examine things a bit deeper.

In this respect we’re all swimming in opportunity, but just like that fish we may be blind to it.

There’s another problem. New ideas, heterodox ideas, the ones that at first instance seem a bit weird are often dismissed too quickly. They aren’t allowed to grow and mature, because just like anything else, ideas change over time and often get better.

So the key is to not only question what already is, but allow new ideas a chance by not interrogating them too much, but exploring them fully.

Ideas Come First

For some reason there is a notion that “science” generates ideas, that science provides the means to bring about spectacular new innovations.

But, it isn’t and never will be.  Science is a method to prove or disprove a theory.  The theory or idea itself came from a person who had a hunch.

I sometimes tell my patients a story about stomach ulcers.  It used to be thought that ulcers could never be caused by bacteria living in the stomach.  The whole scientific community found it preposterous that an organism would be able to live in the stomach and cause ulcers to form.

An Australian doctor had the complete opposite idea.  He had the idea that a bug* could indeed cause stomach ulcers and that a simple course of antibiotics could prevent people needing more invasive operations and reduce the chances of people developing stomach cancer if promptly treated.

“everyone was against me, but I knew I was right.” – Dr Barry Marshall

He used the scientific method to prove himself right – by infecting himself with the bacteria and treating himself.  He went on to win the Nobel Prize in medicine for his work.

How To Know If You’ve Got A Good Idea

I can’t figure out how to develop ideas.  Phrases such as “solve a problem”, don’t quite seem to do the job.

The reason is that “problems” aren’t clearly defined.  Problems – the type that actually matter and are therefore the most valuable are fuzzy and yet to be defined.  So framing a problem in and of itself is very difficult.

The other thing is that to really solve a problem requires you to have an opinion, a view of how things are or should be.  Like Dr Barry Marshall, you need to develop a point of view and then have the balls to stick by it and see it through to the end.

This is very rare indeed.

It is very rare to meet someone who has thought deeply about an issue and come to a conclusion which is unique and well thought out.  Most people not only allow others to define the discussion or the problem, but they rely on other people to provide the solution and thought process behind the reasoning.

I have noticed that if you do have an idea, the best way to figure out if it is a good one, is to put it to the test.  Implement it in the real world and see what happens.  It won’t be perfect and it will get altered, modified and changed** as time goes on and as it comes into contact with resistance.  But if all the signs point to the idea being robust then you owe it to yourself and the world to see it through.

*Helicobacter pylori

** There is an idea called “Hegelian Aufheben” which says that when some ideas come into contact with an opposing idea it is not destroyed.  Nor does the original idea destroy the opposing idea.  There are situations where the opposing ideas enrich each other and they both get better, stronger and more robust.

Fear, Tension, Resistance & Your Best Work

“We got taught for 12 or 16 years at school, that our job was to get an “A”, that if we are defective we fail – we were reprocessed, sent back a grade and had to do it again.  This idea that we better be right, that we better be perfect, that we better get it all correct, goes deep within us.

The industrialists wanted that to happen, because it makes us a better factory worker, it makes us better at following specific instructions.

When something comes along that might not work we feel “The Tension”.  “The Tension” of experiencing two things at the same time:

  • This might work.  That’d be great!
  • This might not work. I’m gonna be doomed!

“The Tension” exists when we feel both of those at the same time.  If you’re not feeling both at the same time then you’re probably not doing your best work, you’re probably not having your most honest relationships, you’re probably not inventing the future, you’re simply a victim of the future.

So, “The Tension” isn’t something to avoid, it’s something to seek out, because that’s what it is to be a professional today.  To go to that place where we feel – as Steve Pressfield calls it; “The Resistance”.  “The Resistance” [think about the tension in a rubber band] pulling us away from the place where we might be able to make a difference.

I think it’s possible to learn that when that tension shows up, we should lean toward it, not away from it.  It’s possible to learn that that’s actually our job, that as a professional or mere writing or speaking or typing or engaging or inventing – “The Tension” – that place where we feel it, that is what we’re getting paid to do.

Thats’ when our chance shows up for us to do our best work. ”

– An excerpt from Seth Godin’s podcast “Akimbo”: https://www.akimbo.me/