When looking at an outcome and trying to replicate it, I often try to break it down by analyzing the things that contributed to it’s success. It makes logical sense that if I can break down everything that happens, I can figure out the reasons that things happened the way that they did.
People do this all the time. Books are written, talks are given, and curricula are organized all with the intent of formulating a step by step process to achieve a certain goal.
But it’s rarely that simple. As The Black Swan argues, “no evidence of black swans does not mean evidence of no black swans.”
In my experience, I find that even when I follow all the rules, and do everything that I theorized based off what I learned from other people, that the outcome is rarely the same outcome as someone else. Human life is so complicated that taking a specific habit or routine directly out of someone else’s life will work when applied to yours.
For instance, consider the area of health and nutrition. In my recent study of nutrition (reading In Defense of Food), it was brought to my attention that the results of eating natural, organic vegetables is completely different and much more positive than eating the exact nutrients known to mankind within the vegetables. In other words, having a healthy diet is much more than simply counting the nutrients in the foods, even though much of nutrition-ism claims equivalence.
The truth is, most things are so utterly complex, circumstantial and unpredictable that simply trying to sum parts together will leave gaping holes and blind spots that are impossible to be aware of.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that people should stop learning as much as possible from as many people as possible. The value in sharing experiences and learning from people isn’t in applying things verbatim, but having a wider range of perspectives in how to approach your own endeavors.
On one end of the spectrum, having too much information can be paralyzing and overwhelming, but with the right attitude and framework for learning, a vast wealth of information can be used to create a breadth of understanding that allows a person to be well rounded and wise in all areas, being open to the vast ranges of possibilities of things to come without the expectation of a single outcome.
Summing the parts you know doesn’t always result in the outcome you want, but it’s better than nothing.
I read a lot of content every day, but one of the few that I revisit often is Paul Graham’s “Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule“. Essentially, Paul writes about the difference between how a maker schedules their time and how a manager schedules their time.
The reason I found that article so memorable and fascinating is because I found myself able to relate to both sides on a fairly deep level. Sometimes I work well on hourly divisions of my day, and sometimes I just need to focus in on one thing for a whole day and not be interrupted.
But most days, it’s a combination of the two. I’m generally a maker by early morning and late at night, and a manager by day and afternoon. In fact, I generally feel more productive in the mornings and evenings much more so than the afternoons. I call this “bookend productivity”, the reason why I have lost so many afternoons to unproductive slumps.
I’ve tried a lot of things to be as productive as possible, but somewhere along the line I realized that I was looking at time management all wrong. Connecting it with Paul Graham’s ideas, I realized that to be effective at time management, I had to learn how to be effective at energy management. In other words, it’s not so much about dividing up my time as it is dividing up my energy in a way to get over the humps of the days, weeks, months, and years.
That simple shift in thinking changed almost everything. I began paying more attention to where my energy was going, and what kind of energy certain activities were using. For example, I found that listening to podcasts and reading books work best for me late mornings / early afternoon. I also found that since afternoons seem to be too difficult to get any work done, I generally use that period to meet with people / do more social things.
In the past couple months that I’ve been paying attention to where my energy goes, I’ve found that there are a couple different areas:
- Social energy, the energy that I expend when I’m around people.
- Cognitive energy, the energy used when I’m working on a problem, writing code, etc.
- Linguistic energy, the energy used when reading, writing, or listening.
- Physical energy, the energy used when exercising.
- Emotional energy, the energy used in personal relationships, movies, or other forms of entertainment.
And instead of looking at these energy sources as a reservoir that gets used up, think of it as a muscle that needs to be trained. The more you work on one of these, it will feel good but drain you in the short term, but work you up to be more capable in the long term, and if you work any one of these too hard at any given time, it can drain you to a point where you can’t do any of them.
I’ve found that my most satisfied, productive, and fulfilled days are days in which I have a good combination of all areas and aspects of life.
I’m learning how to drive manual.
And in learning how to drive, like any other active learning process, there are two mentalities that emerge. The Inner Game of Tennis talks about these two mentalities that often are at odds with each other, often leading to a self-sabotage of the learning process.
The first, called the outer self, is the part of the learning process that thinks logically about the situation. For example, in driving stick, the outer self sets specific speeds at which to change gears, and attempts to give specific instructions on what to do with the stick at what point.
In contrast, the inner self is the part that learns intuitively and by feeling. When someone learning to drive stick stalls the car, the inner self assesses how the car felt during the time, and internalizes the feelings associated with failing.
As Timothy Gallwey argues, the inner self is what allows tennis players to achieve mastery through proper focus and mental performance. Most of the time, the outer self is much louder than the inner self, and reacts negatively whenever a mistake is made.
Thus, the challenge in letting the inner self learn properly is about knowing how to quiet the part of the mind that is micromanaging every action. It’s about learning to direct your focus on how things feel, and trusting yourself in the process.
While learning manual, accidentally stalling the car at a stoplight brings out the intense conflict between the inner and outer self. The outer self is calling myself stupid, while the inner self is attempting to learn from the mistake. Of course, since it all happens so fast, it’s easy to let the outer self take over, panic, and stall the car three more times at the same intersection.
Quieting the outer self is about being intentional about recognizing and acknowledging thoughts, but not engaging with or judging them. It’s about learning to focus deeply on what is happening, and how your focus or lack of focus on the task itself is affecting the outcome.
It’s not positive thinking, it’s properly directed focus.
Everything in life whether it be business or family or otherwise, all boils down to interactions and relationships with people.
Everyone knows the story of Rosa Parks, A black woman who refused to give up her seat on the bus during the era of racial segregation. But the reason Parks was able to spark such a movement was not because of her brave act. Many blacks during that time were also standing up for themselves when whites mistreated them.
But why was Rosa Parks so successful?
Simply put, Rosa Parks was extremely well connected. She was known by government officials for her work in the NAACP and known by communities for being extremely supportive in schools and churches. She had a way of building rapport with everyone around her.
Then, when the famous event happened on the bus on that historical day, it united everyone who knew her and stirred up a reaction big enough to put the event into history.
The same goes for countless of other instances in history.
It’s easy as a creative or an entrepreneur to think that as long as I build something of quality, people will come. It’s easy to just focus on our craft and not get to know the people and the markets around us. Especially with the internet it’s easy to assume that posting on facebook or tweeting a message will get engagement, but that has no comparison to truly getting to know and building a relationship with someone else.
If you just know how to connect people and don’t have anything of quality, people won’t stay. But when you are both connected and have something incomparable to anything else out there, you can start a movement.
Many of us have dreams.
Whether it be solving a global problem, amassing a large fortune, growing a family, or climbing Mount Everest, all of these tasks are much easier discussed than accomplished.
Because even the grandest dreams are built of seemingly mundane and boring tasks. Becoming a billionaire starts with earning one dollar. Painting a masterpiece starts with one stroke. Climbing a mountain starts with one step.
But others of us just collect tools.
Not everyone has a grand dream for their life. Some people go through the system and conquer the mundane because they are told that having tools will lead to success. They never take the time to find the unique value proposition they bring to the world, because they don’t believe they have any great ideas inside of them. Some people collect multiple degrees, hoping that someday somewhere a company will be kind enough to support the lifestyle they want to lead.
But just as a house won’t build itself by having all the right tools lying around, neither will it get built if there is only a blueprint. Sometimes, the process bears little resemblance to the finished product, but it’s through a combination of vision and execution that a house gets built.
The people who are able to think big, but also persevere and show up regularly are the ones who truly accomplish anything they set their mind to.
Consider the following story:
An American consultant was at a pier in a small coastal tribal village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellow-fin tuna. The American complimented the fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.
The fisherman replied only a little while.
The consultant then asked why didn’t he stay out longer and catch more fish?
The fisherman said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs.
The American then asked the fisherman how he spent the rest of his time.
The fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life, senor.”
The American consultant scoffed, “I am business consultant and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and, with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution.
“You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually NYC where you will run your expanding enterprise.”
The fisherman asked, “But senor, how long will this all take?”
To which the American consultant replied, “15-20 years.”
“But what then, senor?” asked the fisherman.
The consultant laughed, and said, “That’s the best part! When the time is right, you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public. You’ll become very rich, you would make millions!”
“Millions, senor?” replied the fisherman. “Then what?”
The American said, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”
The individuals in this story have two completely different goals and perspectives. Who is right is up to you to decide.