Specifically Not Obvious

How do you figure out what advice to listen to?

Most of the advice that you come across from books, courses, teachers, articles etc is very general.

You know the type of advice intuitively as you’ve already heard the answers a million times.

For example, I recently came across an article where the interviewer was asking a successful entrepreneur; “what advice he would give to his twenty year old self”.  The answers he gave were general and obvious; “Work hard, stay close to family, be frugal….”.

The advice was so generalised as to not carry any meaning whatsoever.  It was literally the same as speaking without actually saying anything at all.  It seems that when advice is too generalised it’s too hard to extract any meaning and take any action from it.  This is probably the reason why the vast majority of “self-help” books and books on entrepreneurship are so bad.

The polar opposite of this type of advice is when you sit down with someone really close to you, who really knows you inside out and understands your situation exactly.

I remember when I was thinking about going to medical school.  The first people I went to get advice from was my father and brother.  The advice I got from close family members was certainly 10x better than the general and obvious advice I received from teachers or random doctors that I met.

The problem with family members and ultra close friends is that they give you specific and obvious advice.  Most of the time they say exactly what you thought they would say or give advice which may not be completely the truth, because they might be worried about hurting your feelings.

I think the holy grail of advice though is specific and not obvious.

Sometimes when you get lucky, you can get advice from someone who understands your position well, but is still removed enough to remain objective.  When you speak with someone like this it can lead you to re-examine things through a new lens which you hadn’t worn before.  It can help you re-assess your position and decide what the best way forward will be.

And isn’t this the reason we seek out advice in the first place?

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When It Feels Like You’re Pushing A Rock Uphill

There’s a running gag in “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia”.

One of the main characters keeps getting more and more fat in the name of “cultivating mass”.  He claims that he’s not obese, but muscular and strong.

4Tl7yi3

The reason the gag is funny is because there are so many people out there who claim they’re going to the gym, that they’re eating a healthy diet, that they’re fit.  But in reality they’re still their usual, unhealthy self.

This self-deception seems to come from adopting habits which superficially look like they should lead to a healthier self.  But whereas “Dry January” and grabbing a protein shake from time to time may seem like healthy habits, they often don’t lead to any significant changes in health and well-being.

When you try to reach a goal, whether that be in business or in life, it’s easy to fill your time up with actions which may seem helpful.  Many founders of companies are guilty of this.  They go to “conventions”, to “networking events”, they meet investors “just in case” they need to raise money.  It’s easy to fill your time up with stuff instead of doing the important work which will get s*%t done.

But how to decide what is worth your time and what isn’t?  I think it comes down to this:

Speed ≠ Velocity

The higher the speed, the more it may seem like you’re doing productive work.  But what happens if your speed is in the wrong direction?  What happens if you’re trying to get to London, but you end up in Leeds?

In physics, speed with a direction is called “Velocity”*.  

When you’re trying to get s*%t done, velocity and not mere speed is what counts!

The three points to remember when you’re trying to achieve something are:

  1. When you undertake a specific action you have to be able to measure the specific outputs you are hoping to see.  What specifically were you hoping to achieve by doing actions X, Y and Z?  If there isn’t a measurable, observable, repeatable outcome then it could be that you’re simply wasting your time.
  2. If you do a specific task, which leads to a measurable, observable, repeatable outcome then you’re not wasting your time.
  3. It then follows that if you modify or change your specific task, you will be able to achieve different outcomes if you wish.

So the questions of the day are; What are the tasks that fill up your day?  And what are the outcomes you are hoping to achieve with those tasks?

*Velocity is therefore considered a “Vector” in physics, i.e. movement with a direction.

If It Looks & Swims & Quacks Like A Duck, It Might Not Be A Duck

I was shocked at what the pyramids looked like up close when I went to Egypt.  I always thought that they’d be smooth* on the outside.  But when I got up close to them they were made of very large stones.

Pyramids of Giza

Pyramids of Giza

More recently I found out that many of the Greek and Roman architects tilted columns and spread them out unevenly to give the appearance that the columns were actually spread out evenly and absolutely straight.

parthenon-feature

The Parthenon in Greece uses a technique called “entasis” to make it appear that the columns are absolutely straight when in fact they are slightly curved

The point is that when we observe something superficially, we may be fooled into thinking a certain way.  And sometimes it takes someone to point it out and say; “Hey, look at it this way”, before we ever even notice the truth.

It strikes me that when people talk about “success” and “failure” they are often described as the opposite of one another.  People make it sound like there’s a spectrum like height, where there’s a tallest person and where there’s a shortest person.

The reality is very different.

The reality is that when you set out to accomplish something “failure” and “success” often require the same amount of effort, the same actions, the same thought processes, the same sacrifices, but one has an outcome which we call “failure” and the other has an outcome we call “success”.  Failure and success it seems are just two sides of the same coin.

“Mediocrity” is in fact the real opposite of both “success” and “failure”.  Coming somewhere in the middle, not standing out and fitting in is the path that people who are trying to accomplish something avoid at all costs.

*I am aware that the pyramids in Egypt were in fact smooth on the outside many years ago, but nonetheless they definitely aren’t smooth today.

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.

 

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