It has been a wild few days for me. I’ve gotten a lot done in a short period of time.

I had to push myself harder than I normally go, and I had to really prioritize hard. I wasn’t super thrilled with what my “behind the scenes” work looked like. I felt sloppy for a lot of it.

But the end result was excellent. I accomplished my goals, and the end users of my work were really happy.

All these things that I do – they’re marathons. Consistent effort over time. But sometimes within the Greater Marathon you need a burst of speed and energy to get over a hump, and it’s good to remember how to sprint.

Two Hundred

Yesterday I made my 200th post on The Opportunity Machine.

Neat! It feels like approximately five minutes since I posted my 100th post (which I wrote about here, and haha I also said “Neat!” at the beginning of that, I’m so lame). That’s a powerful lesson; don’t try to get to 100 posts, or 200, or any particular number. Of anything. Just take the steps. You’ll get there.

Lofty goals are meaningless alone; daily action makes the world go ’round. Stick to it. Make it a habit, a part of who you are. The results will fall into place around those habits. Put in the big rocks, and treasure the occasional glimpse of your success, but stick to the action goals. Even if your eventual plans are ten years away, make bite sized steps towards them. You’ll face plenty of failures, but you’ll learn from them, and then you’ll let them go.

Incidentally, this happened at the same time as another little milestone – I just passed 20,000 words in my book! They’re very, very raw and the more I write the more I realize just how big of a task the editing process will be. But you can’t edit what isn’t written, so for now I’m just focused on getting the raw clay down. One of the big barriers I used to have was being too much of a perfectionist about my own writing. This blog has REALLY helped me cure that, because when you have to deliver something every day, they won’t all be gold. But they will be valuable none the less.

There is value in virtually anything you choose to do to challenge yourself, anything you do to not just be a passive bystander in your own existence. Pick a thing and do it once. Then twice. From there, it’s all fun.


I often try to categorize behaviors I observe in others in an attempt to understand the patterns of that behavior. My goal is better prediction, so I can get ahead of potential problems or hurdles in order to more effectively manage my relationships with others.

I know that sounded pretty clinical, but really that all just meant “I try to actually think about why people behave the way they do.”

I also draw a lot of connections between observed patterns of behavior and certain results or other behaviors. Today I’m going to write about one such connection I’ve observed.

I’ve worked with a lot of people in my career. I’ve worked in some pretty large corporations and most of my career has been very workforce-focused, so I’ve interacted with an above-average number of people. And I’ve noticed what appears to be a good early indicator of career success.

A lot of people (a disheartening amount, I would say), automatically group everyone employed by the same company into two categories: “people I work with” and “people I work for.” In other words, they class-divide their workforce in their own minds, and treat the two groups as being incredibly distinct, often even adversarial.

(I should note: Though I see this more often in non-managerial employees, the phenomenon absolutely exists in management, in which case the two categories are “people I work with” and “people that work for me.” Just as unhealthy and everything I’m about to write applies to both.)

That’s fundamentally an unhelpful way of looking at the organization of a team, and if you do that (from either side of this imaginary line!) you’re hurting both yourself and your organization. A big early indicator of career success seems to be avoiding this trap.

As soon as you fall into this trap, you’ve put an unnecessary emotional bias into every interaction at work. Organizational hierarchy should exist only as a tool of efficiency, to help solve problems and organize work. It’s not a moral judgement or a relative measure of “worth.” Whether you’re an entry-level employee who sees managers as an unpleasant intrusion into your life, or a manager who sees non-managerial employees as pawns for you to command, you’re up to your ears in a terrible mindset that will rob you of success.

Not only do we all work together and have shared goals, but we aren’t distinct species. Those lines are all made up, and they get plenty blurred as well. As organizational needs change, so may those categories. Even if you don’t consider the relationship adversarial, just thinking of certain co-workers as fundamentally “different” because of their place in the org chart is not the way to succeed.

People who view their co-workers at different managerial levels not as distinct categories but simply as co-workers with a different function do much better in their careers. If you work in the marketing department as an associate, you probably view Jim in IT as just a co-worker with a different job function than you. You should view Sarah, the director of the marketing department, the same way – just a co-worker with a different function than you. If you are Sarah, you should view Steve the marketing associate the same way; not as someone “below” you, but someone who’s job is closely related to yours but different.

What’s strange to me is that the idea that people whose job is to help organize other people would somehow be considered “different” in the first place. This idea is so unusual to me, yet so apparently commonplace, that I started giving serious thought to why the idea seems to be so pervasive, and why people who haven’t even entered the workforce yet seem to have it automatically, so frequently!

Here is my theory: School. Forget about what you do in school, and just think about how it’s organized from a workforce management perspective. In school, there are absolutely two distinct “classes” of people. You have the student body, and the staff. There is no crossover; they are truly distinct. You never have one of your other teachers also sitting as a student in a different class, and no student ever gets “promoted” to teacher mid-way through the school year for good performance. The lines are absolutely rigid.

And of course, they’re often adversarial! Sure, students are ostensibly there to learn and teachers are ostensibly there to teach. But talk to any high school student OR teacher and you’ll hear plenty of stories of conflict. Students try to get over on teachers, teachers try to wrangle students, and the inherent power struggle is a constant, pervasive feature of high school life.

So most people go through years of existing in an environment where there are clear, distinct authority figures who have tons of control over you. Even if you’re a teacher’s pet with no conflict, you’re still viewing teachers as fundamentally “above” you; someone to sidle up to and impress. Your relationship might be adversarial or it might not, but the environment teaches you that in either case it’s not equal. They’re not your peers.

If you go to college, it’s the same scenario, so whether you go to college after high school or don’t, doesn’t matter. What happens is that whenever you’re done school, you’re dumped into the workforce, and you encounter a situation that superficially looks a lot like what you just left.

You see “authority figures,” a small number of elite, usually older, people, and then a larger mass of people under them. This looks a lot like school looked, and since you have plenty of experience there and virtually none in the work force, you automatically start to draw the same conclusions. Since you could never cross the student/staff line, you start by believing you can’t cross the employee/manager line. That those two groups are distinct, that they have totally different goals (not just different functions but serving the same goal), and that they’re probably at least to some degree adversarial.

You learn to view the world by class, in class.

I find that mistake completely understandable, all things considered. But none the less, the people that don’t make that error will do much better.

The Trenches

“Knowledge Proximity” is an important thing when it comes to solving problems.

Heck, it’s important for even knowing the problems exist. To understand why, you have to understand the life cycle of “the problem” as a discrete entity.

Very, very rarely do problems happen all at once, starting out as massive issues. Yeah, every once in a while a jet plane falls out of the sky onto your office building and now you’ve got a big problem, but that’s absolutely the exception.

Problems start small, so small as to be almost invisible. Then they spread like a fire, like a virus, like a ripple in a pond – use your preferred analogy. When they’re that tiny, the same thing is true about them that’s true of any tiny thing: you can only see it if you know to look and you’re looking very closely.

That means you need both a level of knowledge of relevant warning signs, and you need to be close to where the problem can originate. The people with those two qualities in any organization are generally the people in the trenches.

A brilliant leader, manager or CEO can come up with great strategies to solve big problems. But no matter how brilliant they are, they can’t see every small problem before it becomes a big one. And who wants to be a brilliant leader spending all your time putting out fires? You’d rather be building something.

One of the first things you should build, then, is a really good pipeline of knowledge from the trenches about what’s happening out there. In a certain sense, the cashier at a local McDonald’s knows a LOT more than the CEO does, even if they don’t know what to do with that knowledge.

Scale, of course, becomes a problem. One CEO can’t listen to direct first-hand reports from a million employees. So you figure out how many people a good manager can pay attention to, and layer accordingly. But then you run into the problem of all those layers just serving to insulate the top leadership from the trenches even further. You can’t listen to a million people directly, but you also can’t expect to put ten layers of management between you and the trenches and expect to get timely, accurate or honest information.

This is one of the reasons that large-scale organizations, whether they’re corporations, governments, etc., have such inefficiencies when compared to smaller ones. The only real solution is to both layer, and provide autonomy to the greatest extent you can to those layers. That way, the information doesn’t actually have to make its way from a cashier to a CEO before action can be taken.

If you’re a leader, respect the knowledge proximity of the people in the trenches, and build everything you can to get access to it.

Sandwiches, Heaps & Wolves

I warn you in advance that this is going to be a weird post.

First question: What is a sandwich?

This has prompted a fair amount of debate! You might even find yourself, upon reviewing this chart, getting irrationally mad at up to 8 hypothetical groups of people. I’m going to give my answer, but I’m going to give it closer to the end of this post. Hold on to that thought for now!

Next, we have another question that raises some fair amount of debate: How much of something is a “heap” of that thing?

The tricky part of this thought follows basically this idea: If you have 10,000 pennies in one spot, that’s probably a “heap” of pennies (assuming they’re all just piled up and not organized in some other way). If you remove one penny, do you still have a heap? Sure. So that means that “A Heap of Pennies – One Penny = A Heap of Pennies,” which means literally one penny is a heap. Heck, it means zero pennies is a heap!

My solution to that fun little puzzle is that “heaps” aren’t things. They’re descriptors, and descriptors don’t have concrete definitions, even as nouns. They’re just words we use to transmit ideas but that don’t have Platonic Ideals.

A wolf exists. There is a specific kind of thing that is a wolf. We’ve categorized it pretty deeply; there’s a specific type of DNA that tells cells to grow into Canis lupus, and the resulting creature is distinct from other types of creatures. If I ask you “what is a wolf,” you can give me a pretty concrete answer that doesn’t depend on a lot of outside factors.

A “pet,” on the other hand, isn’t a distinct thing. It’s a descriptor. There’s no single definition of a “pet” that doesn’t rely on a relationship to an outside entity. Even though it’s a noun, it describes a thing more than defining it.

I think “heap” is like “pet,” not like “wolf.” It’s a word we use to describe something, and its relationship to other things. A heap describes a penny’s relationship to other pennies (nearby in large amounts!) and also to us (in a pile that’s too inconvenient to count!). There’s a Platonic ideal of a penny or a wolf, but not of a heap or a pet.

Or a Sandwich.

See, I told you I’d give my answer. On that chart above, I’m a “structure purist, ingredient rebel.” I think “sandwich” is a descriptor, and what it’s describing is how food is arranged, relative to other food and relative to the person eating it. I don’t think it matters what the sandwich is made of, in the same sense that a pet can be anything and you can have a heap of anything. But also, I wouldn’t call a flock of birds a “heap” just because there are many of them together, nor would I call a television a “pet” just because it stays in your house and makes noise. For descriptor nouns, form is important but substance isn’t. Therefore, a sandwich can be any food at all, but it must follow the form of something “sandwiched” between something else.

Was there a point to this post? Yes – I’ve now had this discussion at least 3 times, and I never want to have it again. So now I can just link this blog post. Also, I write whatever I want, that’s why!


While I’ve mentioned before that I rarely seek out arguments, sometimes arguments seek you out.

When that time comes, I’m not afraid of conflict. I think one of the most valuable skills you can have is the ability to confront an uncomfortable situation head-on. Many people would rather give away their lives by inches rather than face a potential few minutes of confrontation, and almost no one defends that as a great choice – it’s just the default for them.

I don’t want to diminish anyone’s social anxiety. I have plenty (PLENTY) of my own weird foibles and some people are genuinely terrified of uncomfortable situations like that. But even those people generally want to improve on that metric, and so I’m going to lay out my method for using visualization to get over that barrier.

Let’s say you have a small conflict that has been thrust upon you – your server at a restaurant has brought you the completely incorrect meal. Not a small mistake, but clearly they brought an order probably meant for another table. Some people would think nothing of telling their server, but I also know people who would just eat an entirely incorrect meal rather than bring that up.

(Incidentally, in many cases I would just eat the meal too – but that’s because I would probably view it as an opportunity to try new food! But I’m also the kind of guy to say “surprise me” to servers in restaurants all the time.)

Assuming that you’d really rather have the meal you actually ordered, try this visualization technique. Imagine you politely and considerately, though firmly, called the server over and explained that you’d received an incorrect order. Then imagine the most wild, disproportionate response you can.

Say it out loud to whoever you’re eating with. Say, “I’ll call the server over and let them know that I ordered a chicken salad platter and they brought me shrimp scampi. First, the server will burst into tears, followed immediately by screaming. They’ll yell that I’m an abusive, horrible monster who hurled slanderous insults at them. The entire restaurant will start booing me and even throwing things at us, and the manager will be forced to eject us from the restaurant. They’ll call the police and claim that I assaulted the server physically, and the entire restaurant will back them up and claim they witnessed it. I’ll be arrested and the judge will be the server’s grandmother and she’ll throw the book at me. I’ll do 5 years in state prison for assault, and my cell mate will have been a server and they’ll hate me for what I did and I’ll die in prison.”

See if you can say it with a straight face.

By the time you’re done saying it, you’ll have overshot even your worst (actual) anxieties by a country mile. Compared to that ridiculous hypothetical, anything else will seem small and tame, and it’ll be much easier to just call the server over and ask for your chicken salad.

Try it next time you’re about to live a worse life because of fear of rocking the boat a little. At worst, you’ll give yourself a good laugh. But at best, you’ll see how much of a molehill that mountain really was, and step right over it.

Easy To Help

Make it easy for people to help you.

Imagine a friend asks for a ride to work as a favor. They say, “Hey, you work near me, so could you give me a lift in tomorrow? Just swing by my house and knock on the door; when I hear you knock I’ll get up and get ready. I start 30 minutes after you, so you’ll probably be a little late because I don’t want to have to get up any earlier. And I’ll smoke in your car, cool?”

How likely are you to want to give that person a lift?

Now imagine they ask in a different way. They say, “Hey friend, since you work near me, could I grab a lift with you in the morning? I’ll walk over to your house and I’ll be there before you’re ready to leave; just let me know when and I’ll be there. And you don’t have to take me all the way; you drive right past 5th Street, so if you drop me off there it’s only a few blocks for me to walk so it won’t be out of your way. I’m making sandwiches for my lunch tomorrow; can I make you one?”

You’re probably much more likely to say yes to that very reasonable request! What’s the core difference?

It’s not just politeness. The person in the first scenario could have said “please” and “thank you” all day, but their request was still far less reasonable. The core difference is that in the second scenario the requester made it easy for you to help them.

Too many people miss this lesson. If you’re asking for a favor, make sure that the person you’re asking has to do the absolute minimum amount of work to complete the favor, and you’ll engender far more good will. If you don’t know how to perform some mechanical operation on your car’s engine, and you ask a mechanic buddy to take a look, don’t have him show up and you’re sitting in your house watching TV. Make sure the car is in the garage, the hood is up, there’s a flashlight nearby, you have any tools you own available, etc. Do everything you can right up to the point where you can’t before tagging in a favor.

Asking someone for a reference? Write it for them and ask if they’d be willing to send it. Or even just ask them if you can drop their name, and they don’t have to do anything. Want someone to bake you a cake? Make sure you’ve bought all the ingredients and have all the mixing bowls and pans ready.

Hopefully you get the idea.

This even applies to more passive activity that isn’t direct requests. Make it easy for people to find you, to learn about you, to engage with you. Live in your world and put information about yourself out there that will let people strike up conversations with you. Don’t hide from the world.

Sometimes I see people on social media complaining about their job search frustrations, saying “no one will give me a chance!” But when I dig deeper and try to learn more about them, they’re a ghost – except for every few weeks, a similar post with similar complaints. I have no way of learning more about them to see how I could help, or to promote them to other people. I want to help you – don’t make it hard for me.

Don’t make it hard for anyone.

Notes, October 2019 Edition

Here is some of the music I want to share with you. As always, no particular theme nor reason, other than that it’s super good.

A Night At The Opera, Queen. I definitely don’t have to explain why this album is great, but it’s possible you’ve never listened to it. If that’s the case – do so. Get ready to rock. My oldest daughter, age 7 and notorious critic of everything that carries a shred of nostalgic joy for me, absolutely adores a few small artifacts of the generations before her. Among them are The Neverending Story and all things Queen. If it’s good enough to penetrate her aloof-before-her-time exterior, it’s good enough to melt faces much older.

Norman Fucking Rockwell!, Lana Del Rey. This album is beautiful. The whole album flows together so well that it’s hard for individual tracks to stand out in my memory, but I have a soft spot for long, powerful ballads like “Venice Bitch.” This is worth getting lost in, as I now have several times.

Moment of Glory, The Scorpions/Berliner Philharmoniker. Sadly unavailable on Spotify due to various international rights issues, this album is none the less so freakin’ good it’s worth buying the actual CD. The German glam-metal legends recorded an album of remixed hits and original songs alongside the amazingly talented Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and the end result is one of the greatest works of metal or classical-style music you’ll hear. The entire album is like the musical equivalent of the greatest airbrushed van art ever.

A Perfect Contradiction, Paloma Faith. I discovered Paloma Faith very recently and quite by accident, and I’ve been so blown away. This album is so fantastic from start to finish, but “Only Love Can Hurt Like This” is probably my favorite track. Faith’s vocals are so powerful they have a physical impact on me; I can’t be handling fragile things while I listen. If you were hit hard by the tragic loss of Amy Winehouse, go listen to this album – I’m not saying she’s a replacement, but if you liked one you’ll like the other.

Bombs and Butterflies, Widespread Panic. Widespread Panic has been putting out albums every couple of years for like four decades, and they just consistently rock. They’re old-school cool and now they’re the kind of old guys that are just calcified music down to the core. You could really pick any album to start and have a good time, but one of their best hits, “Hope in a Hopeless World” was off this album, and the rest of the tracks are just as great.

As always, I listen to music like a drowning man, always desperate for the next new life preserver to keep me afloat just a little longer. Throw me one if you’ve got one!


No one belongs anywhere.

Every atom in the universe is in motion. Nothing ever truly rests, no matter how stable or permanent it might seem.

People grow and change. Objects rust and decay. The world spins.

Don’t chase a set of circumstances as if you can hold onto them. You can’t. You’ll run and run and run. Enjoy the moments that are there to be enjoyed, and cultivate a pattern of them. Cultivate the ability to find more, and to be okay with their passing.

Make sure you’re happy in motion.

Invisible Problems

If the FDA is too lenient with its testing or approves a drug too early, dozens or maybe even hundreds of people could die. It would be a national scandal, and if you heard about it you’d likely be at least a little upset. If the FDA is too conservative with its testing or approves a drug too late, many times that number – tens of thousands – could die because of the lack of the drug, but you’d never even notice.

If we take as a given that the FDA attempts to be neither too lenient nor too conservative, but also take as a given that no one is perfect nor has perfect information and sometimes you have to make your best educated guess, which direction do you think the FDA is more likely to lean over time?

This is the concept behind the famous “broken window fallacy.” The fallacy is that breaking a window is actually a good thing for the economy, because look! The store owner has to replace that window, so he spends money! And then the glass-maker gets a new order, so he has more money to spend on tools! And the tool-maker gets a new order, so he has more money to spend on shoes! And so on. The problem is that while it’s easy to see the money spent on the window, it’s very hard to “see” that same money not being spent on whatever it would have been spent on in the absence of a broken window. That money still would have been spent, and still would have created a similar chain of economic activity, just in a different direction. But we never see that happen, so it’s hard to be emotionally affected by it.

In statistics, there are what are called Type I Errors and Type II Errors. A Type I Error is when you have a “false positive” – when you believe something to be true and act accordingly, but it wasn’t. A Type II Error is the reverse, a “false negative” – when you believe something to be false and act accordingly but it was true.

Even though they’re two sides of the same coin, there’s a HUGE difference between them. Did you know that people used to think tomatoes were poisonous? So folks didn’t eat them for a long time. Let’s take a look at two scenarios:

  1. People think a particular food is perfectly fine to eat. They’re wrong; it’s poisonous. Someone eats it and gets sick, maybe even dies – but then the belief is immediately corrected, and no one eats that again.
  2. People think a particular food is poisonous to eat. They’re wrong; it’s perfectly fine. No one eats it, so no one ever shows that it’s fine, and the belief persists.

That’s the difference between Type I Errors and Type II Errors. Type II Errors are Invisible Problems. Now, you might be thinking “okay, so no one eats that food, so what?” But let me expand on scenario 2 a little: What if the food that everyone thinks is poisonous isn’t just fine, it’s actually an incredibly healthy super-food that would double your lifespan if you ate it regularly? It would cut away fat, build muscle, and improve memory. But no one eats it, because they think it’s poisonous. No one ever even thinks to challenge this belief.

Why? Because the belief never challenges you. Falsely believing a poisonous fruit is okay to eat will have a pretty immediate impact on your life. But you could go your whole life and never even realize you’d made a mistake in the other direction.

Invisible Problems.

If you take a bad drug that the FDA approved and get sick, you’ll be pretty mad at the FDA. But if you just get sick from something else, you’ll never think to blame the FDA for holding back a drug you aren’t even aware exists.

Thus we have the second dilemma caused by Invisible Problems. Not only are we losing tremendous personal and societal benefit every day from these kinds of issues, but we’re also forcing each other – and ourselves! – into incentive structures that reward making the problems worse.

If you try something new and it sucks, you’ll be sad. If you don’t try something new that would have been awesome, you won’t even notice – that’s just the status quo. So most people naturally push themselves into a life where they’re way more concerned about avoiding Type I Errors than Type II Errors, even though the reverse might make your life much, much better.

And then we do it not only to ourselves, but to others. The FDA makes decisions that affect lives. Being too lenient might cost dozens of lives; being too conservative likely costs thousands every year. Despite this, they lean in the direction of being too conservative, because no one is going to yell at them for the thousands lost to that strategy, but people will get mad about the dozens that would be lost to the other strategy.

There are invisible problems everywhere. Sometimes there are ways to reveal them, almost always because of an outside perspective that may be less emotionally tied to the risks involved and thus more objective. Seek out those people. Let others examine your choices and live out loud.

Don’t just question your beliefs. Question what you don’t believe, what you haven’t even considered. You may catch a glimpse of an invisible problem, and if you can solve it, there’s tremendous value to be gained.