Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Tasty Numbers

Numbers are like salt, sugar, and fat. In a world of scarcity, we are deep-wired to binge on things that take away the panic. Like a food source when we are normally hungry, numbers provide clarity in a world that is ambiguous, complicated, and random. Numbers allow us to rank things and prioritise. They facilitate communication, and transferring decisions up the chain from where action is taken. Like with salt, sugar, and fat, we need to be careful. Numbers provide better questions than they do answers. They channel our actions to the exclusion of qualitative issues that are more difficult to understand. Be wary of numbers that claim to explain risk. Risk Management is fundamentally dynamic. The best you can do is build capacity to endure for the long term, and resilience to handle the bumps. Then look beyond the numbers at why you are doing what you are doing.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Being Wrong

In “Being Wrong”, Kathryn Schulz makes the point that we don’t know what it feels like to be wrong. Once we gain the information that makes us genuinely realise we were wrong, we are instantly in a different state. Resilience requires allowing for our perpetual ignorance. Daniel Kahneman highlights the challenge we face because of our desire to seek out patterns, “the idea that the future is unpredictable is undermined every day by the ease with which the past is explained.” We think that once we have information, we could have done better if we rewound, and play was pressed again. The world is random. Just pressing play again would change the result. Like throwing a dice again armed with a time machine, knowing a dice was a four last time still wouldn’t be helpful. Each mistake arms us to avoid that mistake in the future, only if the future plays out in exactly the same way. According to a fixed script. What Kahneman highlights is that the correct lesson when you make a mistake because you didn’t anticipate something is that “the world is difficult to anticipate”. You will be wrong. You will make mistakes. Resilience is about building the capacity to survive and thrive despite the certainty of uncertainty.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Good Idea

There are good ideas, and there are good business ideas. Some are both, some are one, and some are neither. The more you accept what it takes to make a good business idea, the more you can work towards empowering all your good ideas irrespective of their ability to make money. The first step is a clearly identified need or want. A problem that needs solving. A problem that needs intervention by you. The second step is to be able to clearly articulate and communicate that problem. To paint a picture of how things are, and how they could be. To convert that imagined reality into a decision through a degree of urgency or priority over other problems. The third step is to have a container through which you can monetise that problem-solving. Something you can count and limit. If those three steps can’t be achieved, it isn’t a good business idea. It may still be a great idea. Not everything is a problem that needs solving. Not everything is urgent. Not everything needs intervention. By building an Engine using good business ideas, you can create the Financial Security, and Freedom, to pursue whatever source of Fulfilment sparks your creative fires. That, is a good idea.

Good Idea, Good Fire

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Magic Trick

Price is not value. Value is deeply personal and qualitative. Markets are a crude but effective way of admitting that value is too complex to put a number on. Complex and with a split personality. The exact same object or service has different value depending on how it is perceived, and who consumes or looks after it. Price is a simple magic trick. Through the act of exchange, and with full information, value can be created. If the buyer believes that the thing or service is worth more than the money, and the seller believes it is worth less. Both can be correct. Of course, if either is manipulated and feels different “on Monday” then it is wealth extraction. But if an honest relationship building exchange takes place, then both parties win. Price is just a clearing mechanism. A way of shifting things around. Money isn’t a thing. It is a lubricant to release value.

Men's Group

[The following is a fictional conversation between me and other guys]

I am part of a Men's Group that meets on the first and third Friday of each month. None of us have traditional jobs, which allows us to make a commitment to meet. I met one of the members through a friend of my Fiancée. I was initially hesitant around the idea of a *Men's* Group. The Mens' Clubs I knew of growing up were gradually opened up. The Church I went to had a Fathers Group. I am a Feminist, and am particularly wired against Men being seen as the wallet, sperm, and muscles, and Women as the homemaker and childrearer. Many of my female friends hate being the only woman in the room in Boardroom settings. Stay at home Dads hate being the only guy in the room in Mom's support groups. I was worried about perpetuating the problem.

What are you guys doing in this group? When me and my friends get together, we are normally getting up to mischief. It is true that we can't get up to the same mischief when there are women around, because they are spies. You can't talk to the mosquito about your problems with Malaria. Except I can go into much more detail with women, because they are better listeners. They don't try and fix the problem. They just make me feel better when I tell them stuff. Or send me nice direct messages when I am sad.

The thinking about the group is to challenge some of the traditional ideas around Masculinity. We have very different philosophical views on the world so we avoid getting stuck in debate. I don't like using the Masculine/Feminine framework. I think a lot of that is built up, and deep soaked, through the group habits we have and the words we use. The word for Bridge in German is "die Brucke" (Feminine) and in Spanish is el Puente (Masculine). This means Germans are more likely to describe a bridge as fragile, elegant, and beautiful, and Spanish people will call the same bridge sturdy, towering, and strong. The words we choose matter. But as a Mens' Group, the idea is that we can challenge those false boundaries more easily, since we would behave differently in a mixed group.

I don't like to admit it, but I do behave differently in front of women. With guys, we learn how to act on the sports field and on the playground. There is always an underlying threat of violence in the way we argue, even though we learn to control it. It means guys also learn where the line is. I actually feel like when the stereotypical woman does it, she cuts way deeper. Cutting because she doesn't have any fear of pushback. The truth is that for years, we have been deep soaked with treating women with kid gloves. Open the door, pay the bill, pick up the heavy thing, change the tire, fix the computer, take out the rubbish... there isn't the feeling of equality. There is also the sexuality thing. I kind of want to impress women in a way I don't want to with men. I still want guys to respect me, but it is easier to open up. Even if I am not flirting directly.

So this thing is a "Safe Space". You can let out your ugly bits without fear in a container. I get that too. Particularly if you are talking about some of the things that feel obviously wrong. Wrong in the sense of an urge or belief you have, and you know is frowned upon in your community.... but you have anyway. I feel way less judged by guys. They have views, but care way more about themself than you. Often when I am with a group of women, they talk about each other really harshly. It is like they are their worst enemies. Even the good friends talk about each other behind their backs. I don't want to open up in mixed groups, partly because I don't know whether what gets said will leak.

All these things are very much stereotypes. Except stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason. I am not sure how we can break these things down. I heard someone say the other day that "Men are redundant". The is definitely a crisis of Masculinity in the sense that we don't know what the expectations are. We don't know the playbook. We can't ask for advice. There are books like "12 Rules for Life" by Jordan Peterson, and "The Way of the Superior Man" by David Deida, but they make me a little queasy. I am genuinely interested in figuring out a new way to do things. Maybe it does mean us doing the work in separate groups of Men and Women... but that just doesn't leave me feeling comfortable.

I married my best friend. A lot of the "Gender Wars" go out the window when you do that. I reckon a lot of straight people are going to start marrying each other. It is easier to build a life together when the rules are explicitly open to discussion. Managing Expectations is absolutely key. My husband and I don't have the weight of societal interference in deciding what those are. These raw discussions don't have to be had separately. They do have to be had, and the better we get at creating spaces for these, the easier it will be to decide what type of world we want to live in.

I have found the group incredibly helpful. At times the guys drive me absolutely nuts. My inclination is towards self-sufficiency. I also have to work really hard at not being defensive when someone gives a different perspective. Gradually learning to let people into the mess, without feeling like I have to follow everything they say. In my experience, you only ask for help if you need it. Learning to ask for perspective even when I don't need help is a real challenge. That managing expectations stuff. Advice is always autobiographical. It is up to me to filter which bits of hearing someone else's story are useful.

Maybe throw some wine into the mix? It doesn't all have to be so serious. There may be some things you need to do with this sort of regular seriousness, but you can mix it up. Have your Men's Group. Don't feel bad about it. Women have Women's groups. The key is not to make your life a Men's Group. To make the homebuilding, muscles, money, bridges, babymaking, vulnerability and strength be tools in a toolbox available to everyone. Do both. Just build up multiple overlapping groups and don't let any of them define you. We should try to be a little less prescriptive on what is an isn't okay. Just don't do to others what you don't want them to do to you. Consent is the password.

More generally, I would like to see more spaces for us to air our craziness. It feels like there is more of a witch hunt going on than an empathetic attempt to learn. A nervousness around being found out and set alight, rather than a curiosity about developing practices to tease out our blind spots. It would be great if we good get to the heart of whatever is causing anxiety and release it. Genuinely see each other, and support each other. Most of us are dealing with a lot of stuff, and we don't sufficiently see that we are not the only ones. I regularly wrestle with confusion, heartsore, homesickness, anger, and other emotions that are best not displayed in public. The more ways we can build sufficient trust to let people see behind the curtain, the better.

[Melusi, Sylvain, Mahesh, Zolani, Simon and Sindile are Fictional Characters]

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Play the Whistle

In Rugby, unlike Football, you are taught to play the whistle. For the same reason, you don't celebrate in Baseball or Softball by throwing the ball up like you do in Cricket. The game carries on. I can still remember teammates getting very upset with me as I celebrated a great catch, and two people ran in. You have to know your game.

Exams at school are very much the same. Being good at exams is more important than being good at the subject you are doing. You need to know what the examiner is asking in their mind and how they want the question answered. You need to realize that the examiner is probably tired, overworked, and underpaid. You want to make their job easy. So they recognize the answer they are looking for quickly.

Kids are forced into deciding their identity in industrialized education far too early. The real skill learned at school is less to do with the subject, and more to do with the container. The same is later true of businesses. All businesses boil down to being able to articulate an offer in a recognizable way... then putting that in a container you can charge for. What you do isn't who you are. What you get paid isn't what you are worth. Most of us spend a lot of time doing what we have to. Who we are is much deeper than that.

Two mentors that stick out for me (among many) were Mr Simon, and David O'Brien. 

Mr Simon was a giant of a man who taught me History when I was 12. Except what he really taught me was how to summarise. To find the keywords, and build memory trees. The first few minutes of all my exams for the next 20 years were vomiting memorised cheat sheets onto a piece of paper to refer to when panic set in. The keywords were the ones the examiners would be after.

David was my first big boss post-university. My boss's boss's boss. His trick was really simple, but effective. Exams are largely about time management. Don't give an essay for a 3 mark question. Don't answer a 50 mark essay question with a 3 mark answer. The (post university) exams I did were all 180 minutes for 100 marks. That meant you could plan to spend 8 minutes on a 5 mark question (1.6 minutes per mark). 1.6 rather than 1.8 because you wanted a Buffer to check your work, and because it is easier to just say 5 minutes for a 3 mark question than be precise. Time runs out, you move on. The first few minutes are where you get the most marks.

Exams then become about practice. At school level, you can treat any subject like history if you do enough past papers. It becomes about match fitness, and practicing under exam conditions rather than the underlying content.

If all this sounds cynical or not what education should be about, you are right. Except you can fight the system by ignoring it, or you can outplay it. Like Richie McCaw, know the rules well enough to break them.

Money is exactly the same. Hating it is really unhelpful. It is far better to conquer it. Instead of working for money, you can learn to make it work for you. Then you get to play the game however you want.

But first, play the whistle.

Moving Home

Finding Roots in a Global World

I have been writing my blog almost daily for about 4.5 years now. A form of stream of consciousness, where I think aloud and then my ideas get fired in the public kiln till the bubbles crack the badly formed ones. 

One tool that I find useful is consistency. How can you believe A, and B, if B is not A. You have to choose. The problem is consistency has its limits. Our beliefs and preferences tend to be narrow, and dependant. I used to think you couldn't be racist and intelligent. Then I learned about Wouter Basson ("Dr. Death"). There are plenty of examples of people who are persecuted and persecutors. There are examples of people who are one person at work, another at home, and another at play. Whose beliefs depend on the group they are in, and who like multiple groups.

We layer meaning on top of facts. We think in categories and stories. This means we can be reading two books as we look at the same situation. Our response depends.

A theme of my writing has been the homelessness of my circle of friends and family, in a world that is battling with Globalisation and Localisation. Home has had to become a collection of my favourite competing stories. To maintain my mental health, I have to switch between worlds. To learn to let go of things that really matter to me... temporarily.

I am a Soutie. I have one foot in the UK and one foot in South Africa. I have good friends in the US, China, Brazil, and New Zealand. My family is all over. Even when people are in the same place physically, they are often not available. Everyone is so busy, it becomes near impossible to arrange events when groups get bigger than two or three. It isn't that they don't care. They are just reading something else. So there isn't actually an option of "moving home". My home is always moving.

As someone who loves seeking out patterns and layering meaning, I have had to develop a lighter touch. A half-hearted detachment. Not everything means something. Not everything is consistent.

I would love to figure out how you can build community in this brave new world. How do you develop roots that are oceans apart? Letting go is required just as much as digging in.

Be the Tree-v

Monday, March 11, 2019

Bottom-up Who

Adam Smith favoured local market exchanges because of Tacit Knowledge. Explaining our needs and wants is difficult. Conveying that information up a chain of command without it breaking even harder. When problems are scaled, they are also abstracted. We use categories and prejudices to create theoretical ideas of who people are, and what they want. The best way to find out what someone wants is to ask. Not in a survey. Not even in a direct question. Ask by being part of the community. Honesty is time spent. Instead of decisions being made in a board room, based on crude scribbles and interpretations… bottom-up decisions release information. To create value from the bottom up, you don’t need to have all the information. You just need two parties and an agreement. All businesses start with a who. Who starts at the bottom. With a name, a face, individuality, and relationships.