Thursday, April 27, 2023

Happy 29th birthday South Africa

The goal of the teacher in my very first yoga class was for us to walk out feeling “introduced to relaxation”. I was 29 years old and was in my first year of having moved to London from South Africa. I was looking for something in doors (normally cold and wet) and close. 

The road I was renting in had a yoga centre I walked past… with taster classes for those wanting to see what was going on. I had resistance to overcome… the centre seemed religious. It was run by Swamis wearing orange and volunteers. The classes included chants and omming, and no Lycra and energy drinks. But I gave it a go. 

I did come out of it feeling relaxed, and curious. The exercise was gentle, but nudges you from wherever you are. That remained a key lesson for me when I became a yoga teacher. The temptation is to dump learning on students. To correct everything. If you try correct everything, you normally correct nothing. A willingness to nudge patiently means you can take things from where they are. 

Turns out the centre and yoga in general are not religious in the sense I was brought up… and I was able to apply the Bruce Lee approach of “take what is useful, discard what is not, add what is uniquely your own”. Start from where you are… is useful. In 2009, I was 29, and in the same road as a yoga centre. I started. Happy 29th birthday South Africa.

Thursday, April 06, 2023

Counting and being Counted

The easiest problems to tackle are the ones that focus on things that you can count. If you can count something, it is easier to control. STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), all revolve around things that you can count. Science also provides a framework for experimentation and research. There is a process of trial and error. Physics, chemistry, biology, biology, technology, and computer engineering (for example), tend to make it easier to find jobs because it is easier to specify problems. 

In product development, you have a “Product Specification” which identifies what the problem is and maps out the intended solution. If it is easy to put something into words and numbers, it is easier to communicate. It is easier to get funding for problems where you can explain how you can make a profit. When it is clear the act of solving the problem can finance itself. As soon as something is qualitative, it is much harder to explain what the benefits are. Because it is not necessarily tangible. It may be something we feel, and we may feel differently about what is valuable. 

Not every good idea is a good business idea. 

If an idea is a good idea, but it very difficult (and not desirable) to create barriers around it to monetize, then it becomes a passion project. It can still be something that gives your life meaning and gives others meaning. But in order to make it happen, the problem requires resources. You need to find funding. 

It might be government funding. It might be grants. There might be someone willing to give you money, but that's a whole different world. That's a world where you learn to do fundraising. To convince people that art/service/change is good. That ceases to be about some key numbers. It becomes storytelling. You need to be able to convey information in a way that grabs someone. 

You need a decision-maker who is willing to give you money. 

Part of acceptance is why you are doing what you are doing. Coming down to the nitty gritty of what drives you. What are your incentives? What's the bigger plan? What's driving your daily practice? What are you going towards? 

Quite often we don't choose that, because we are just on a set path that is given to us by others. That path comes through comparison and relativity. You start looking at friends and family and building towards what is expected. Maybe it's a bigger house. Maybe it is expenses related to children’s education. It might even be that your chosen job has a natural progression. The better you are at your job, you get promotions and raises. We don't necessarily find something that works for us and build mastery around it. We want to see conspicuous evidence of progress. 

We need to unpack what we mean by progress. 

In its historical context. Is it a cultural thing? Is it controlling nature? Is it controlling our environment? Is it something we have to rethink? Given challenges like climate change and sustainability. Do we need to come up with different measures that aren't so focused on the numbers and social mobility? 

The world is getting progressively (but bumpily) less racist, sexist, homophobic, and classist. We are breaking down barriers, but we still have hierarchy. The concept of people being better and lifting groups of people. The directionality of that is interesting because living a simple life can be a choice. There is a story of Alexander the Great out empire building and he comes across a sage sitting on a rock. The one doing external work. The other doing internal work. The Gini Coefficient measures inequality. A Gini of Zero (0) in a two-person world would mean Alexander and the Yogi had the same. One (1) would mean Alexander had it all. If we shared everything, there would be no incentive to get more because it would immediately be watered down (particularly if it was among the 7.8 billion people on the planet). 

We want to have a sense of reward for what we do. Conspicuous reward. Well done, here’s a gold star. Here’s some money. That’s how we do incentivization. You do something. You get measured against other people. You do something more. Understanding what we do, starts with understanding what incentivizes us. If we are going to plot *how* we do what we do, we need to understand *why* we do what we do.

Alexander the "Great"
What is Greatness?

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

From Where You Are

We need a process to develop the necessary skills and knowledge. That is getting easier. There are a lot of Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs). You can get the information online. There is Wikipedia, Udemy, Coursera, and a world of online resources for you to gain skills and knowledge. But you need to know what you need to know. A list of skills and resources that are required and remunerated. The process of learning becomes lifelong and iterative. Changing as needs, supply, and demand change. 

We need to constantly set aside time for development. In professional terms, this is called Continued Professional Development (CPD) and you are required to evidence your annual learning. Effectively keeping a Journal. Whether it is through a book, an experience, or an actual course where you need a certification. 

You need a map. To understand what the problem is that you want to solve, and then you need to figure out how you can solve it. You need is a container for problem. Containers created by barriers to entry or exit. Barriers to entry are things like formal qualifications, evidence and proof that you can do a specific type of job. It might be a very well-defined job. If it is an old profession like law, accounting or medicine. Something that a group of people have created a formal framework for around a specific set of problems. 

There are also generic skills. Any job is going to need you to have excellent communication skills. The ability to understand problems and explain them to others. To gather and process information to make decisions based on the story that emerges. Skills like time management, being reliable, and being able to do administration are essential. Simple tasks like paperwork, being able to read information, process it, and keep it in an orderly fashion so that you're able to find it again quickly. Without being a specialist, you will need an understanding of project and diary management, and the ability to write clearly. Writing well, so that information is carried across clearly. Networking is incredibly important. The human skills of social, emotional, and cultural intelligence. Understanding people and understanding how they make their decisions. 

To make money, you need to find decision-makers with money and help them. Understand their world and what it is they are concerned about. What it is they want. To do that, be curious. Genuinely interested in what is going on. 

Different jobs take these skills and attitudes to different levels, but they are generic skills that will make you better placed to be able to solve problems. 

Being curious and reading and learning about the world will put you in a position to note the different options that are available. To find case studies and best practices, by reading what other people have done and what options are open. People that are on similar paths can act as mentors. You can then map the path of skills development for yourself. Gain an understanding of the various barriers that stop you from being able to solve something. Solve the problem of overcoming them. You can look at job adverts, and see the skills and knowledge required. On LinkedIn, you can look at the public profile of people doing the type of work you want to do. Do you really need to go to university, or can you pick the skills up elsewhere? 

Can you just start a business and solve the problem? How do you find clients? There is a lot of done in the open if you pay attention. You want to be very aware of the environment that you are in. Who are the suppliers that you are going to have to work with? We live in a much more connected world. The information is out there on social media. Paying attention and understand what it is that stops you from solving the problems you identify. That might be regulation. It might be expensive to pay for the insurance (e.g. professional indemnity insurance). You might need software. There might be capital that you need in order to solve specific problems. What are the challenges to get around? 

Not everyone has Capital. Not everyone has access to the containers in which the problems can be solved. You need to create a map of how to go about being in the right position. You also need to be able to distinguish between good ideas and good business ideas. To develop a filter to choose which problems to focus on.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Finding the Answers

When we are at school, we see the same people every day by default. If you get to go to university, you can make great friends with more of your own discretion, but we start dividing up as we specialize. The people that we spend time with are other people that we work with. We end up living very different lives. 

Genghis Khan was a controversial “successful” historical figure, but his life was not that different from his warriors’ lives. He still lived in a Ger and spent most of his life as a nomad moving with his with his own forces. Now the people in control lead very different lives from other people in institutions, particularly the bigger the organisation gets. As we get more specialised, we stop having a common vocabulary of things we can talk about. 

To parse what you hear, you need to find someone whose life resonates with yours. Whose choices resonate with yours. We can give each other some generic guidance, but most advices advice is to a younger version of yourself. Austin Kleon says all advice is autobiographical. A chance to revise your story. I enjoy revising my story. Going back in the past and reviewing the decisions that I've made. 

It helps me understand the decisions that I am making now. To understand the work that I need to do to change the way that I make decisions. Like everyone, I am not always aware of all the decisions that I am making. Some of them are made automatically. I believe in Free Will. I just think it is hard. The impact of decisions compounds and restricts the freedom of future decisions without dramatically pressing the restart button. For the most part it is easier to let the random, complex, ambiguous World make decisions for us. That way we don’t have to take responsibility if things go wrong. Planning comes with the price tag that there is no one to blame. That can be a scary or lonely place. 

Once you have case studies, you have people who are one page ahead of you. A lot of the studying we did at school was through peers. We taught each other. I learnt much of what I needed to know for exams on the phone with David or Kyle. That is often a better way to learn. ”The curse of Knowledge” is that people forget what it feels like not to know. As something becomes natural and embodied, our consciousness shifts elsewhere. We forget that it was hard to learn to walk. 

Professor Dorrington was frustratedly trying to teach my class the concept of “Exposed to Risk”. There was a room full of 40 or so maths loving try-hards and none of us could get it. He could not explain this concept to us. We were all absolutely confused. In hindsight, it seems like a simple concept to me now. And for him, it was a simple concept then. We are exposed to various risks and Actuaries try figure out the probability of that happening by looking at what has happened. It is two numbers. The one is how many times the thing happened. The other is how many people it could have happened to. But as the thing happens, the people it could have happened to shrinks. Or maybe new people join. So every time the thing happens, you need to know how many people were “exposed to risk”. 

It is often easier to find someone who has just grasped the concept. They didn't understand it a short time ago, and now they understand it. They remember the path. Those are the people who can help you. 

To make money, you need things that you can count. Price acts like traffic lights. It is a signal that indicates if there are enough people providing a solution. If not, we need to shift some resources there. A high price shows what we pay a lot of money to people to do. If we have a lot of people willing to do this, then the price goes down. 

In order to solve problems, you need skills and knowledge. Those tend to be specialized. We don’t have the capacity to do everything, which creates a barrier to us solving any problem that needs solving. The world is more complicated, and we are not all farmers anymore.

Monday, December 19, 2022

Sorting Roles

Acceptance is difficult. I have always been a bit of a “try hard”. That was what we called people at school who were constantly doing something. The implication being that you are trying to impress the teachers. Like the idea of a “Teachers Pet” or “Brown Nosing”. 

The world is structured towards encouraging activity, and the conspicuous things that we can see. We look for cause and effect, so that we can control our environment. The assumption being that we are the reason for things, and knowledge will allow us to act with dependable outcomes. By acting, we further our goals. Which seems logical, and Cartesian. We think, therefore we are. Think then do. Try. 

Through Josh Waitzkin, and his book “The Art of Learning”, I was introduced to the idea of Wu Wei, which means action through inaction. You start by seeing things as they are, rather than living in our minds. Rather than living in how we want things to be. See then nudge. A less anxious way of engaging with the chaos. 

To really gain an understanding of the world, you need a pinch of salt for the way you think things work. Understanding that can be quite frustrating when things do not respond the way you thought they would. When we are children, we are much more willing to let things play out. We enjoy being surprised. It delights us when things are interesting. Rather than the joy of a fascinated two-year old, we can be enraged. 

Ken Robinson pointed out that almost all children believe they can draw when they are 5 years old. You learn your way out of creativity. By the age of 15, someone has convinced most of us we cannot draw. Our creativity is bounded by the belief that we need to be sorted by conspicuous, immediate, competency. We stop learning as we create a story about who we are, and how we control the world. We specialize to get recognition for how we are special. We tell stories so that we can categorise and create boxes in which we can find comfort. A safe space we understand. That allows us to ignore the world that is not the way we want. 

These worlds we understand are less confusing. We prefer doing things where there is a script. The stories we tell ourselves become stories we recognise. When somebody clashes with that, it is difficult. Accepting this confusion, accepting that the world is to complex, ambiguous, and random is a challenge. But from a point of acceptance, you can start to see how things work. Without trying hard. 

We can start to get an understanding by looking at how our story connects to the story of others. As people, we can pay attention to the past and to others. We can look at case studies and see how other people operate. We can learn through the people we meet. This is why a lot of privilege comes from from the bubble that you're born into. The conversations you are exposed to. The mentors. The questions that you are asked. The possibilities that seem possible because you have seen them in someone who seems vaguely like you, becomes the set of options you recognize. And that can feel unfair. 

A lot of what we are doing is unpacking things like past prejudice, and pre-determined roles. Historically, many people were born into roles. There was someone who could tell them what their path was. The options are opening up, there are fewer people who can tell us what that path is. There are fewer people to walk with us. There are lots of options. Lots of places to go. We start going off on our own. We live more isolated lives where people don't necessarily know our story anymore. Don’t want to know. When you are growing up, your parents are there to guide you. They are interested in your story. But once you leave home, you start making your own way in the world. And because we have so many paths, even the people who knew us well when we were younger massively diverged from where we are now. We might not make time or space for each other in the new lives. When we are at school, we see the same people every day by default. If you get to go to university, you can make great friends with more of your own discretion, but we start dividing up as we specialize. The people that we spend time with are other people that we work with. We end up living very different lives.

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Creating a Muse

Create cycles of learning. Repeated periods of trial and error where you act and then reflect. If in each of those cycles, there is a little bit of space building, that space will compound. It is not about predicting the future. It is about the ability to adapt, adjust, and accommodate futures. Capital, skills, knowledge, relationships, and capacity. Your buffer becomes an engine, your engine becomes a muse. Your muse sets you free. 

This form of success/freedom has nothing to do with anybody else. It is your story. It is your capacity to connect to other people. Rather than being weighed, measured, and judged, relative to them. 

Stilling the waves of money anxiety starts with understanding your relationship with money. With the stories you tell yourself, and the daily practice you create around that. How you wake up. What you choose to do. How you choose to think. What new information you expose yourself to. What areas of embodiment you are exploring. The movement, you are creating. The flexibility, you are creating. The strength, you are creating. The control you have over how you move. Your autonomy. Your transitions. 

Understand the situation that you are in, and the situation you want to be in. Understand the path, and the required skills and knowledge. That starts with paying attention to where you are, reflecting on it, and seeing what your choices are. In a way that you are fully present and able to grapple with that with a sparkle in your eye. To see a point in subtle change. To celebrate marginal progress that adds up. That powers small achievable steps every day. 

The world can get us down, but I am a glass-half-full person. In all this chaos, the world is full of rich seeding grounds for curiosity. That is the point of all of it. Find a way to get some excitement about what you do, and go create meaning. That comes through relationships, connection, and other people. Building. Building over time, and setting yourself up to be able to move autonomously in the direction you choose.

Wednesday, December 07, 2022

Anxious by Comparison

When you are looking for the commitment required for long-term endurance, the path is through complex relationship building. Understanding money is relatively easy by comparison. There are significantly more interesting ways of releasing flavour, that we do not seek out because it requires work. Work that is profoundly rewarding, but asks a lot of us. Asks us to be better. In a way that is not relative to other people. That neither excludes others, nor creates bubbles of comforting success. A deeper sense of better. Through grappling, struggling, and engaging. It is beautifully difficult. You must want that beauty. 

I suspect most of us default to the path of least resistance. Responding to confidence in a complicated world. We are all so confused, that if someone looks confident, it is enticing to say, “I’ll just do what they told me to do.” Freedom of movement requires strength and flexibility built consciously and actively, rather than the passive following of instruction. 

Find comfort within discomfort. That does not mean pushing through pain. With yoga and stretching, to progress, you do not need to hurt yourself. You can learn within limits. You can learn by understanding the boundaries, and doing the work inside of that. Playing, and moving around, in your areas of slight discomfort. Be curious about transitions that are not smooth. 

A lot of meditative work can be done through movement and dancing. Being aware of, “Ooo, this bit there is tight. I am going to move my shoulder more. I am a bit stiff in my lower back, I am going to do some moving there.” It is about understanding where you carry your tension. You can go for a run. A swim. Lift your arms over your head. Pick something up. Reach for something. Our minds learn in the way our body does. Through an embodied use-it-or-loose-it process of leaning into areas of discomfort (without hurting yourself) and building endurance and resilience. Through consistent engagement. 

One of those areas is trying to understand our communal obsession with comparison with other people. 

Relativity is one of the biggest obstacles to mental health. When we wish we were in the position of someone else, and judge ourselves through others. When you hear about good fortune of people you know, and it does not make you feel good. When you go visit friends or family in bigger houses, or when you go on holiday, and are constantly aware of the things you do not have. Window shopping into other lives. We only have a small peak. We never see the full picture. We cannot understand their full story. We only see the conspicuous. We do not see the trade-offs. We do not see the challenges. We glimpse a single angle snapshot of another life path. 

Letting go of that idea is vital to be able to fully focus our energy on whatever our bits of the puzzle are. Whatever our choices are. Whatever our position is. That is not accepting your role in life. It is letting go of the idea that people are better or worse. 

Pause before you look at people who are richer than you to learn about money. If you want to create a buffer for the noise. If you want space to breathe, then the best place to look is how you spend money. How could you live on half of what you spend? The best place to learn is from people who are living on half of what you are. The key to stilling the waves of money anxiety is the relationship between income and expenses. The ins and outs, and the balance between the two. 

Someone who is earning a lot of money, but spending even more, will be progressively getting more into debt. Making it increasingly hard to reduce their expenses. Becoming accustomed to a lifestyle they can not afford. Even if their income is growing, they are not on the path to financial freedom. They are going to be stressed, and full of money anxiety. Whereas someone who is earning half of what you do, can offer you lessons on how to gradually build up a buffer.

a single photo doesn't tell the whole story

Saturday, December 03, 2022

Sugar High

We are forced to do some work to understand politics, in much the same way that we must understand money. Politics can be frustrating when it is about darkness. About hiding information and installing hierarchy. I do not like people being bullied, and I do not like people being told what to do without their enthusiastic consent. 

Money making boils down to solving problems. If you genuinely want to create compounding momentum, you must repeatedly make yourself redundant. To confidently do that, you need a sense of ownership. To feel part of a solving container. Otherwise, once you have a solution, why ask you again? There are 8 Billion people on the planet. As Warren Buffett says, “You don’t have to swing at every pitch.” BUT... I refuse to be someone’s pitch. 

The other more cynical path is to make yourself irreplaceable. Create problems only you can (pretend to) solve. 

I do not like that path. I like the path of genuine and honest problem solving. That requires trust, ownership, and inclusion in the containers we build. A strong enough commitment in a relationship to share the truth. One of the reasons we do not talk about what we earn, our real weaknesses, and what we do not know, is it can solidify internal waves of anxiety about inadequacy. It is hard to ask for vulnerability in a world that punishes it in favour of conspicuous overconfidence. 

Which means there is a level of darkness about what opportunities are available. Which clogs up realistic paths of skill and knowledge development, and leaves solvable problems scabbing our eyes closed. 

You are not the problem. The problem is the problem. Treating people like pitches, turns them into problems. 

One of the most important lessons in the world of money is that “Price is not Value”. 

We half wish that it was, because of a love for scorecards and a way of measuring progress. If you can measure something, you can control it. People partly love big salaries because it is a conspicuous sign that you are making it in the world. Unfortunately, all a big salary means is that there is an undersupply of the thing that you are providing. Or there are significant barriers to entry. Or there is a lack of transparency. There is a container that creates the ability to earn more, but it is not value. There are lots of valuable things that are abundant. A high price is just an indication of scarcity. 

Not everything that counts can be counted and contained. Not all good ideas are good business ideas. Not all good business ideas are good ideas. 

The challenge we face with politics is that we want it. The most political people I know use phrases like “leave your ego at the door”, and ask “how do we get rid of the politics?” without a hint of irony. The darkness from lack of transparency protects our interests and vulnerabilities. We like positioning ourselves against other people, if we come out on top. We like the sense of superiority. We like getting better. We like progress. We like being incentivised. We like action. We like feeling like we are doing something right, and moving forward. 

We create these hierarchies as a way of making sense of the world. As a way of feeling like we are moving. Feeling a sense of life. It is an easy option to measure the world. Money is like salt, fat, and sugar for the taste buds. It is not subtle flavouring.

Craving Incentives