Walking

I went for a walk early this morning, just past dawn.

A short walk. Cool air, sun on me.

I could have kept on walking, easily. Things to do today, back at the base. Had to head home.

The sun above me was nice. The ground below me was better. Feeling stones, grass, pavement rising up to meet my boots is a good feeling.

I like to feel heavy when I’m walking. Armored; prepared. Thick boots, a sturdy coat. Ready.

Something about the combination of motion and isolation makes you observant. Noting things, people, patterns.

I haven’t walked in a while. It was nice.

Don’t Go That Way

It’s hard to give negative advice. Harder still to take it.

What’s “negative advice?” That’s advice about what not to do. It’s much easier to give, take and evaluate “positive advice,” i.e. advice about an action. I can say, “I did X and got Y result; your situation is similar, and you also want Y, so you should do X.” And you can look at your situation and decide if it is indeed similar and you can examine my result and all that.

It’s harder to say “don’t do X.” For one, it’s harder to evaluate the effects of non-action. “I didn’t do X so Y didn’t happen to me” is harder to prove, simply because you can’t prove a negative. And you have a million possible counter-factuals.

On top of that, it’s harder to compare situations. Let’s say a successful person tells you that they wasted their time in a dead-end job for 2 years, and now they’re trying to tell you not to do that. Okay, but… aren’t they successful now? What if slaving away in that dead-end job contributed to that? If I admire your success, should I do what you say, even if what you say isn’t what you actually did?

Meanwhile, if I meet an unsuccessful person (by whatever standards I’m using for “successful”), and they say, “don’t do X; I did X and now look at me,” should I trust that? Sure, you did X and now you’re in a position I don’t envy, but why should I trust that you’re accurately evaluating your own failures? If you were a better judge of what actually led you down this path, wouldn’t you have avoided it and become successful, or at least recovered?

Whenever I give advice (and I try not to very often), I try to always give “positive advice.” I.e. I advise people to take action, not to avoid action. Usually I try to stay away from advice in the form of “don’t do this probably bad thing,” especially if I’ve done that bad thing.

Because I survived it, right? Hopefully I even learned something, got smarter, got stronger. I’ve done some weird stuff that in all likelihood I would have been smarter to avoid. I lived in a horse stable for a while… like with horses. Like, my roommates were horses. I also sold vacuum cleaners out of the back of a van for a week. I’m not 100% sure they weren’t stolen? I mean, I didn’t steal them, but I never saw my boss actually buy them or order them, so who knows.

The point is that these weren’t power career moves or even smart living choices. But they were experiences, and they didn’t kill me, and I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing that I did them. So I wouldn’t tell someone else not to do them – to be honest, I can’t say with certainty that I know all of the effects they had. It’s better to share the experiences that directly generated a positive result that I have a high degree of confidence would duplicate if repeated.

Learn from other people’s successes – but make your own mistakes, my friend. It’s more fun that way.

How to Adapt

How do you change when circumstances change?

Don’t change everything. Don’t aim to alter something totally. Think of it like judo – you want to adapt to the incoming force using as subtle of a change as is humanly possible.

First, that means looking at the atoms that make up your subject. You hate your job – so you want to quit, change industries, move to a new city, scrap your whole career and start over. That’s not adapting, that’s scorched earth. Instead, look at the smallest changes first. Take a few days off, and when you come back request a new assignment.

Work your way up the leverage until you get the outcome you want. Big decisions are made of a hundred small decisions, and chances are you got most of those right. Destroying them all to get the bad ones is like burning down your house to kill a hornet trapped inside.

First, try opening the window to let it out.

The Soul of Wisdom

Lots of bad, incorrect advice is “obvious.” All else equal, simpler things tend to be more convincing. Much of the best, correct wisdom is non-obvious and sometimes complicated, because the world doesn’t always boil down neatly.

The best and wisest teachers can take the correct, non-obvious wisdom and condense it down to where it’s easier to swallow than the bad advice. That’s the real goal.

I want to start making that my real focus. My aim is to write less but say more. My writing is usually stream-of-consciousness; I write until I’m done and then hit “publish.” I’m going to work on editing more.

I don’t know what the perfect equilibrium will be, or if there is one. But I know I’m probably too verbose now; time to trim the fat a little.

Game On!

I’ve mentioned on occasion that I’m a fairly big board game geek. Well, that interest led me down a fascinating rabbit hole of information about the earliest board game historians know about. They call it the “Royal Game of Ur” after the city where it was discovered in the 1920’s or so. It’s an early precursor to backgammon and checkers, and it’s about 4,500 years old. Historians had to decipher the rules from old cuneiform tablets.

Of course, now you can buy a replica for like forty bucks!

So, obviously I did that. And I’ve already played it twice with my oldest daughter. Having a kid is so amazing from a build-your-own-friend standpoint. Without the massive pressures and responsibilities adulthood brings, they have enough time and mental bandwidth to both totally explore their own things and be really interested in all of your things too. So I get to train her to love my hobbies like board games and camping while she still has tons of time to explore her own, like karate and collecting snow globes.

When I was a kid, like all kids, I told anybody who would listen every thought that popped into my head in real time. I especially loved talking about my various interests and hobbies to anyone who didn’t get away fast enough. Then, some time in adolescence, I started being more guarded about who I shared with.

My hobbies and interests weren’t very mainstream. I always worried about what sharing them would say about me. That persisted well into my working years, as I was trying to prove myself to be competent and professional – the last thing I wanted was for anyone to associate me with anything other than work. I’d still talk about my hobbies, but only in circles where I knew people were already very likely to share them. Game shops or specific internet forums were great, but otherwise no.

But here’s the thing – that’s a lonely life. It’s so much easier, when someone asks “so what do you do for fun” to answer – “I find the most complicated board games I can and study strategy guides for them. I teach myself bush-craft skills and then go camping and mess them up. I write a weird daily blog. And I get my kids to like all that stuff too so I have permanent partners for all of it.”

I’ve met some great people that way. People who became really excellent friends, but at first the only thing we shared in common was some angle of one of these hobbies.

So listen – when you find a cool video late at night about an ancient board game they dug up out of a Mesopotamian ruin, if you think that’s awesome, tell someone about it. Buy a copy and ask them to play. Share your weird thing.

I promise, I absolutely promise, that if you have no one else to share it with you can share it with me. I’ll never judge, I’ll always be into it, and I’ll think it’s awesome.

Someone always does.

The New Normal

In a post earlier this week, I mentioned how people are great at comparing two things and making a judgement, but bad at evaluating a single thing in a vacuum.

The reality is, it’s not just that humans are bad at that. It’s that there is no objective value of a thing. It’s either better or worse than something else, that’s it.

Imagine you caught a fish, and you’d never seen a fish like it before in your life. It was totally new to you; you have zero information about it other than the fact that it came up on your line. You decide to call it a “Todayfish,” because that’s when you discovered it. Your fishing buddy asks you, “Well, is it a good todayfish? A bad one? Is it big or small for a todayfish? Is it a real beauty of a todayfish, a prime example of all that is todayfish-ness, or is it a sorry excuse for a todayfish?”

How would you know? You don’t have any idea. So instead of pondering these questions, you just take it back and fry it up. It’s delicious; you have a very enjoyable meal.

Now just as you’re finishing up, some stranger walks by who just happens to be an absolute expert on Todayfish. They’re actually called “Speckled Purple Strait-Leapers” and the one you caught was a disgusting example, according to this stranger. Most Strait-Leapers are way, way better and you should have thrown yours back.

Would this bother you? For some people, it would. For some people, the knowledge that what they just ate was a low-quality example and much better versions exist would actually retroactively reduce their enjoyment of the delicious meal they just devoured. For a wise person, however, they’d just shrug and say, “well, it was delicious to me.”

Today, my oldest daughter graduated from the “kids” karate class into the lowest tier of the full adult classes. She’s been taking her lessons via Zoom, creating her own training studio right in our living room while video calling with her instructor. A masked and gloved (and proud!) Master handed over her brand new (and heavily disinfected) belt. This wasn’t weird to my kid; she was just proud.

Instead of a summer water park, all three of my kids spent the afternoon in the back yard, playing with sprinklers and other garden hose attachments to take advantage of the beautiful warm weather. The lack of a better option didn’t bother them, because they don’t really know about them. They just enjoyed their day.

Humans have an absolutely amazing ability to adapt to their surroundings and environment, rolling with whatever punches and changes are thrown their way. But that’s not their best feature. The best feature is that once they’ve rolled with the punches, once they’ve looked around at the new circumstances, humans are absolutely amazing at being able to just say “Okay, this is the thing now. Let’s play.” Even the most cynical of us rarely dwell for long; we build new sandcastles as the old ones wash away.

It couldn’t be better.

Perfect 10

I’m not a big fan of 10-point scales. In fact, I don’t even really like 5-point scales for things. But mostly that’s because I think people don’t use them well.

For instance, ask someone how they feel about something on a scale of 1 to 10. Assuming they don’t absolutely hate it, they’ll generally pick somewhere between 5 and 8, and most likely either 6 or 7. No one ever picks 3.

Let’s say they pick 7. If you ask them, “what would have to improve to make it an 8? What would have to be worse to make it a 6?” they won’t have answers.

People are good at comparing two things, but they’re not great at evaluating one thing in a vacuum. Most “evaluation scales” should just be 1-3. You hate it, you love it, or “eh.”

People are good at comparing two things, though. If I were to give you two examples of something, even if they were pretty similar, you could probably decided which you prefer. Most people do this every day, for really minor differences in impact. Think about the million different ways people drink some variety of “hot caffeine,” even though that’s really all it is, and you get what I’m talking about.

The upshot is that in order to really have a meaningful 10-point scale of something, you’d need ten different examples of that thing. Then you could rank them in order from best to worst. Once you’d done that, you could number the examples and now you’d have a way to evaluate new examples by ranking them against the existing set.

When you ask someone to rank something from 1-10 and you don’t both share a calibrated scale like that, it’s sort of like asking someone “how many hogsheads does it take to fill a swimming pool?” Most people don’t have any idea what a hogshead even is (though the answer is interesting!), and so they’d be guessing at best. So when you ask someone to rank a product or idea on that scale, what you’re really getting is a filtered version of their current mood, guesswork, and other factors making the data not very helpful.

Define your terms! Create and calibrate a scale when asking others – and even for yourself, that can help you think more clearly. Look around at your current situation with regards to work, your home, anything about your life. Rank it from 1-10. But then think about what would have to change for your ranking to go one step higher or one step lower. What does each step actually look like, distinct from the others? How can you get there?

Those marginal improvements can make a world of difference, and give you an actionable way to get to that perfect 10.

Buzz

Your life is like a colony of bees. Each day is a drone. Your purpose is the Queen.

In service to the Queen, you can lose tons of individual drones. That means you can lose many days that seem to slip by you, days where you don’t get to relax, days where you feel overwhelmed, days where you didn’t feel like you won. As long as the Queen persists, it’s okay. As long as you’re still working towards that purpose, it’s okay.

But if you lose the Queen, all the drones in the world don’t matter. You can have infinite days stretching out towards the horizon, but what good do they do you without a purpose, some meaning behind them?

Honey isn’t the goal. Honey is the by-product of working towards your purpose. Honey is all the sweet rewards, whatever they may be. You don’t get them by seeking them. You get them by driving towards your purpose.

No day makes or breaks you. Your purpose lives on.

Your Most Valuable Idea

Some ideas, some pieces of knowledge, are worth a fortune over the course of your life. Some talents you possess are your bread and butter.

What’s valuable to you can be valuable to others. Try this thought experiment:

Think of the most valuable single category of knowledge you possess. Maybe you know how to work a piece of equipment that’s complex and produces valuable results. Maybe you know an awesome investment strategy. Maybe you know the secret to writing really well. Whatever your valuable idea is, write it down.

Then, underneath of it, write a list of every person on the planet who doesn’t know what you know.

What? Don’t have enough paper?

Okay, write it down in broad categories. For instance, let’s say that my valuable idea is the fact that I know the secret ingredient to an amazing marinara is one particular spice that’s only common to my area. I could quickly fill my list: “People who don’t live in my area. People who have never had marinara before. People who don’t even know what marinara is,” etc.

The point is, it’s a lot of people.

Think about that. You have an idea that’s valuable enough that it may even be the foundation of your primary income source. And the vast majority of the billions of people on Earth don’t know it.

That’s the real value of your idea. If you want to scale, share.

Betting Wolf

There are good reasons to be humble. The obvious reason is because rudeness doesn’t win you many friends. If you’re not humble and you’re wrong, you suffer great embarrassment, and even if you’re right, a lack of humility can push people away.

But there are other reasons why humility is good strategy.

How much other people are willing to bet on you is a relatively easy formula to follow. Each time you make a prediction that turns out correctly, you gain a little credibility. Each time you make a prediction that turns out wrong, you lose some. Once you have enough credibility, you can get enough people to bet on you that you can practically make your predictions come true.

(Don’t believe me? Look at Warren Buffet. He was right enough times that now when he says “Company X is a good stock buy,” their stocks go up – because he said they were a good buy. People invest because Buffet said they should, and that in turn makes him right.)

But here’s the interaction between humility and correctness: if you’re a huge loudmouth, arrogantly making your predictions, then you gain a little credibility when you’re right, but you lose a lot of credibility when you’re wrong. Conversely, if you make your predictions with humility, then you lose very little when you’re wrong, but look like a modest genius when you’re right.

Why? Well, think about it. Someone makes a prediction where they say, “I’m experimenting with a new market for my product and trying out a few things in terms of the ad campaign. I’m not sure if it’ll be a home run, but I’m eager to learn and I think this will be a great experience either way.” Then it turns out that the ad campaign is a huge success and that market loves the product. The person who made the prediction looks great, don’t they? They had a home run in their pocket the whole time and they were still modest about it and eager to do the right thing. That’s someone you want to work with, bet on, invest in.

Meanwhile: “This next campaign I’m running is going to be AMAZING. You’d be an absolute idiot if you don’t get on board with this. You’ll be kicking yourself for years if you don’t do as I tell you on this, believe me. I’m a beast at this, there’s no way this won’t blow up” If that campaign fails – heck, if it’s even only a moderate success – the person is now at the center of a whirlpool of sharks who will be so, so happy to point out his failures. They won’t trust him again, no matter how he tries to hype it up.

The boy can only cry “wolf” so many times before the villagers stop coming, and you can only bet on a wolf so many times and lose before your pool of investors runs dry. Stay humble even when you’re sure you’re right, and you’ll keep your reputation high whether you succeed or fail in specific instances.