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.

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.

Are You Stupid, Mature Or Brave?

The only thing between where you are now and where you want to be are a series of hurdles.

Few people overcome these hurdles to reach the goal. Few people push through to become the person they want to become.

Stupid people start something while full well knowing, from the very beginning, that they’re never going to push through to the end.

Mature people realise that there are too many hurdles and don’t even start.

Brave people, the very few, decide that they’re going to fight to the end and reach the goal.

When you started your project, your business, your university course, your fitness regime you signed up for a series of hurdles.

Being mature is fine.

Being brave is fine.

Being stupid is inexcusable.

Businesses Only Make Sense After The Fact

It’s always in the news: “Eating X, causes Y Disease!!”.

We all know that these types of statements do not prove what the cause is. Does red meat cause bowel cancer? Or is it that people who eat more red meat are also more likely to be sedentary, smoke and drink a lot more alcohol? Perhaps one of these other variables is actually what causes bowel cancer.

When people see these types of news articles, they generally are aware that “correlation doesn’t prove causation”.

So why are we so bad at detecting BS when it comes to so many other things?

Let’s look at the education system.

Does education cause economic prosperity for a country? Most people would say “Of course it does!”. However, it is interesting to note that countries get wealthy despite not being educated. Look at India, Bangladesh and China. Their economic growth has been incredibly high despite their lack of “education”.

In fact as they are getting more wealthy they are building more and more schools and Universities.

No!

Rich countries do have schools but, countries get rich first!

So what about businesses and entrepreneurship? The narrative is always there. “Solve a problem!”, “help a million people and make a million dollars!”, “be at the cutting edge of technology!”.

Well, I think this is all BS. It’s a narrative that’s created after the fact.

Tell me, what “problem” in the market place did Facebook and AirBnB solve?

If you ask the founders they will give you an answer: “We wanted to make the world more connected”, or “all of this space was being left unused and we figured out a way to use it”.

But, these are insights that are thought of after the fact. The founders of these companies weren’t trying to solve problems – they were being lead by their curiosity and a sense that what they were creating “should exist”.

I genuinely think that the best businesses / business ideas are things that the founder feel like “should exist”.

Many people say that the definition of an entrepreneur is “someone who solves problems”.

I think that the definition is more like; “someone who creates the change they want to see in the world via commerce”.

If You Keep Doing More Stuff, You Will End Up Poorer, Less Healthy And Less Smart

Subtraction

I would say that around two-thirds of the patients I see in my clinic every day have problems related to something that they are choosing to do.

Chest infections caused by smoking.

Back pain as a result of sitting down all day and even after work.

Diabetes due to poor diet.

I seem to be locked in an eternal battle with my patients. I am continually trying to get them to come off of unnecessary medications, stop taking part in harmful habits and to stop taking antibiotics for viral infections.

Patients on the other hand come to me to take yet another pill for their ailments, seek yet another additional action they can take part in so that they can continue taking part in harmful habits.

I have come to realise that we humans find it much harder to subtract something from our lives than to add something to our lives.

It is easier to take a pill for high blood pressure than to stop doing the activities which has caused the condition.

It is easier to inject yourself with insulin than to stop eating processed foods.

I find it ironic how we take medications, often to mask our problems, which in turn leads to more problems down the line. It is clear that if we were simply to stop doing the harmful activity in question, instead of adding something new into our lives then we would benefit a lot more in the long run.

This got me thinking….

I have noticed that subtracting things from your life more often than not, leads to much greater gains than adding more stuff to it.

This is the type of logic that doesn’t make sense in a class room, but is empirically true.  Say for example you were tasked with building a wall.  In a maths book if a team of three people worked hard for 12 hours a day, you would be able to calculate how quickly each portion of the wall could be built.  Therefore if twelve people were put to the same task who could work at the same rate, you wold expect this team of people to build the wall at four times the speed.

In reality, if you were put in a team with eleven other people, with all the arguments, the organisational problems, the egos etc, it is likely that the wall would take much longer to build.  (If the government were put in charge with building the wall, it is likely that the wall would never get built.  I am sure there would also, at some point be allegations that the wall can be considered discriminatory against blacks/women/immigrants/insert a poorly defined group of people here…..)

I’ve been thinking of three examples in particular which I want to write about.  These three examples have given me more mental energy, made me fitter and made me financially better off.  I’m sure that these principles and concepts can be applied to anyone’s life.

The News & Social Media

Over the last couple of months I’ve stopped reading and listening to the news.  I haven’t used any social media since 2012 when I got rid of my FaceBook account, so I thought I was being smart by only using the Internet for learning, business and keeping up to date with the news.

It’s been an odd sensation since I stopped reading the news. I used to wake up in the morning, grab my smart phone and flick through a bunch of new sites. During lunch time I would revisit these sites to see if anything else was going on. I’d probably check again in the evening time at some point as well.

In total, I wasn’t actually spending much time a day reading and consuming news, but it did strike me at some point that I was not learning or gaining anything by reading it. This particularly hit me when I asked myself the question; “If I read last weeks news today, would I have missed out on anything at all?”. It became pretty obvious to me that the news is largely garbage.  In this respect it’s very similar to social media; It’s designed to cause an emotional (negative) reaction, it’s designed to suck out time and attention from its readers and it’s designed to keep you coming back for more for a quick dopamine hit.

At first I didn’t notice much of a difference in my life.  However, after a couple of weeks I felt a massive difference in my mind.  I found that my mind just had to deal with less noise.  I could stay focused on things that really mattered to me for much longer and I had much deeper insights about my startup due to the extra mental clarity.  In particular, my mornings now just feel much more positive and better.  It’s nice to not be bombarded with scare stories and the worlds problems first thing in the morning.

I now go to check out new sites just once a week.  And when I do visit these sites, I have noticed that I only read a tiny fraction of the stories, as most of it really is just non-stories aimed at getting you to have a negative emotional reaction.

There really is a case to be made about stopping oneself from visiting web sites which are known to be damaging to overall well-being and which we all know distract you from doing what you really want to do with your life.

Really worth a watch if you don’t agree with what I’m saying, because it seems that the ex-president and a previous executive working at FaceBook both agree.

Losing Weight

Here’s an interesting one.  Why is it that when people think about getting fit and healthy they immediately think about exercise*?

Why is it that people think about exotic diets?  Avocado and poached eggs on rye bread anyone?  Or how about a gluten-free, vegan “cake”?  No thanks, I don’t like to eat sissy ass food.

I think that it comes back to adding more things to your life, because it’s easier and somehow it seems “more right” to do something new when an existing diet isn’t providing results.  However, the reality is that subtracting bad foods from your life is actually the easiest, best and the most realistic way of losing weight for the majority of people.

Food is such a personal thing.  I wouldn’t expect anyone to enjoy my diet as much as I do or stick to my diet.  The food we all enjoy is likely a combination of social, cultural personal influences.  And it’s silly to think that you can adopt a random persons diet, be able to stick to it and enjoy it for the rest of your life.

Alan Aragon is a well-respected nutritionist who has coached many superstar athletes, including people like Pete Sampras.  The first chapter in his excellent book was: “What if Everything You’ve Been Told Is True?”.  He was trying to point out that for the most part, we all know what healthy food is.  We all know that a chicken breast is healthier than a french fry.

Here’s how to subtract food from your diet.  Some of my patients with a clinical diagnosis of diabetes have managed to completely stop their medications due to this simple method.

  1. Make a list of foods you enjoy eating, that you currently eat.  It’s very likely that there are a ton of foods that you eat that you know are healthy and that you can eat more of.
  2. Eat more of these foods!
  3. Eat less or get rid of the foods you know are unhealthy.
  4. Keep the healthy foods stocked up and get rid of the unhealthy foods at home to make sure you’re not tempted to just have a quick bite of something unhealthy.
  5. Eat healthy foods for 80% of the time and enjoy bad foods for 20% of the time.  The easiest way to do this is to be looser with your diet for one or two meals over the weekend.
  6. Enjoy the weight loss!

One very easy way of knowing if a food is healthy is if it is a single ingredient food that you can point at and name what it is.  For example: “That’s a piece of fish, that’s a potato”.  If you can’t name the food in single ingredient terms then it’s likely not healthy / is calorific.  For example bread and pasta are made up of lots of ingredients – eggs, flour, milk etc.  When foods are processed like this, they become calorically dense and usually end up being pretty bad for you.  For example, two slices of bread is usually 300-400 calories, which is the same as eating 400 grams of boiled potatoes.  Meaning that you would struggle to eat enough boiled potatoes to put on weight.  Single ingredient foods by their very nature have a comparatively small amount of calories for the quantity you can eat!

Subtractive Business Ideas

It never ceases to amaze me how good business ideas all seem to be subtractive.  I have noticed that my own healthcare business is subtractive by its nature, which may go some way to explaining why it has so much traction in such a short period of time.

This is what I mean by subtractive businesses / technologies / services;  They make life simpler and easier than before.  They uncomplicate processes and procedures.

Let’s take Google.  What did people do before Google was around and people needed information?  The used to go all the way to the library and go through books trying to find that single piece of data that they were looking for.  Or they would go and have a look at their own books.  Google is subtractive in that it has massively subtracted the effort needed to find data and it has made it much simpler to find the information that we’re looking for.

Uber did the same thing.  At the click of a button a taxi will appear.  No more trying to find the number for the local taxi firm, no more trying to figure out what the address of your pick up location is, no more wondering how much longer you have to wait for your taxi and no more worrying about having cash on you to pay the taxi driver.

Amazon.  At the click of a button you can order most of the commodities that you used to have to make a trip to the store for.  At the press of a button your chosen item will appear at your house in a day.

When most people try to think of what the future will look like they start to think about flying cars, talking houses and electrified pants.  Most people take the same perspective when they try to come up with new business ideas.  They start to have ideas which are “additive” instead of “subtractive”.  The best business ideas always go more along the lines of “There is this problem, which I could solve in a better and easier way, which people will give me money for.”

If we look at the successful businesses throughout history and the businesses which are going to be big in the future they have been and will be subtractive in their nature.

*Unless you are an Olympic athlete or a marathon runner, going to the gym and working out really won’t burn many calories at all.  Any fit person will say something along the lines of “abs are made in the kitchen” or “80% of results are from diet”.

What Is Your Mind Worth?

Hassendean-farm-615x346

That photo above used to be one of the most valuable commodities in the world.

Land.

Most people used to work in agriculture; growing and harvesting crops.  This type of physical labor was the main source of employment less than a hundred years ago.

Soon after World War II, things began to change.  Quite suddenly we moved to a “Knowledge Society”.  Then all of a sudden people were being paid to sit down to use their mind instead of their physical strength.

It is odd to think, that nowadays your knowledge is considered far more rare and valuable than acres and acres of land.