You Are Not A Red Zebra

red zebra

Isn’t it strange how zebra’s stand out so much?

Shouldn’t they have evolved to be a sort of brown colour?  Like the lion, so that they would blend in with their environment and not get eaten?

Interestingly enough when scientists were studying zebra’s, they found it awfully hard to keep track of which zebra was which, so they came up with a solution:

“Why don’t we paint a red spot on the zebra we want to track?!”

Every time the scientists did this, the zebra in question got eaten.

Why?

Because the Zebra with the red-painted spot stood out from the rest of the herd.  It turns out that the herd provide the camouflage for the individual.

But here’s the thing:

You are not a zebra, you don’t move in herds and you don’t need to worry about getting eaten

Can you think of a single person you admire that didn’t stand for something that set them apart from the crowd?

Whether it be Steve Jobs, Mahatma Gandhi or a soldier who fought for their country.  All these people stood for something and most likely would put their life on the line for what they believe in.

At some point it seems, we have to put our foot down, draw the line in the sand and say:

“This is what I believe is right.  This is what I believe in.  This is who I am and what I stand for.”

I don’t fear laying on my death-bed and feeling sad that I didn’t accomplish X,Y or Z.  I am afraid that I will be on my death-bed and look back at my life and realise that I didn’t stand up for what I truly believe in.  That is a life not lived.

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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”.

It’s All Good

Learn to say “good”no matter what and I guarantee your life will improve.

Your diet isn’t going as well as you hoped.

Good, it means you can lift heavier weights for longer.

The development of your app is going slower than you thought.

Good, it means you have longer to get it just right.

You failed that exam.

Good, it means you get to learn more.

People disrespect you.

Good, you have the opportunity to improve yourself.

You didn’t get that job.

Good, you get to use that pain as fuel to get an even better job.

You’re a nobody.

Good, being poor and unknown means you have nothing to lose and that makes you dangerous.

You don’t have time.

Good, you’ll have to stop wasting time on things that really don’t matter.

It’s all good.