Monday, November 28, 2022

In Conversation with Yourself

In decision making, and planning, the challenge is dealing with ambition, success, and visions of the future. It can become overwhelming. We all end up having imposter syndrome, judging ourselves based on criteria set by others. It comes down to managing expectations. 

If you give generously, you typically receive back. Give generously without expectation. When the world disappoints us, that is when we start judging ourselves harshly. Waves that bother us most are dealing with our own demons. Shadows to work on. When someone gets angry at you, it is often not you. It is their own projections. It is their struggle crying out. If someone is being harsh on you, you can imagine that they are probably incredibly harsh on themselves in their head. 

We are so deep soaked in this idea of ambition, that we all end up beating ourselves up. Feeling like we are a bit of a failure. We project that on others. When you are struggling with other people thinking maybe you are not good enough, they are probably struggling with the same thing. Because we think in categories, we divide people into good enough and not good enough. 

Meritocracy in its historical context, was compared to hereditary privilege. When people used to be born into wealth. Who someone’s parents were, determined their predefined role in life. Caste systems or Feudal systems were ways of categorising people. 

Now we have companies as containers and that is how we make sense. We want social mobility. We want people to be able to choose their own stars. That creates a lot of ambition. We are trying to unpack the unintended consequences of some of the stories we use to coordinate and cooperate. Many of these stories run deep. Unwinding the mess requires micro-ambition, because they are so deeply connected to things we care about. 

Free Will is possible. But, It is hard. You must do the work. If you want to make good decisions, understand how you make decisions. Narrative Therapy is brought to life in the TV Series “Westworld”. We all have cornerstone events, drivers, and coding that determines how we respond to complexity, ambiguity, and randomness. The more aware you are of who the character you are playing is, the more conscious you can be of what perceptions, habits, and scripts need editing. It will not just happen. We embody our impression of ourselves deep beneath the surface. We seldom change through weekend epiphanies. Monday morning always arrives. Change must be sustainable. 

Understanding yourself requires going deep into the stories we forget on the surface. You must dig, and ask questions, tracing back like a detective. Why do you respond in the way you do? Why is that important to you? What are you trying to prove? Who are you trying to prove it to? Do you really want to prove it? 

Tacit knowledge means you are best placed to make your decisions. This is true. But interrogate the process. Look back into your history and understand your context. Even though you are best placed to make your decisions, you need to be in conversation with yourself. Learning, unlearning, and with constant feedback. Pause for reflection. Pause for understanding and gaining knowledge into yourself and why you made the choices that you did. Do they reflect what truly matters to you? 

Try and understand the way that you think. Why things matter to you. We all have different value sets, and you want to know what those values are. What the trade-offs are. Quite often a decision is neither good nor bad, it is just a case of different weightings. Everything has consequences. 

In Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea, the main character is Ged. In that universe, power is gained by being able to see, and name, something’s essence. By acknowledging what something truly is, the wizard has the power to change it. The arch of the story is Ged’s battle against the most powerful evil wizard that has ever lived. A shadow. When he discovers the shadows name, he realises it is his own. Our deep shadows are part of understanding who we are. Understanding your decision making, is finding out what your story is. 

People will say “Don’t carry your history with you”, “let it go”, “live in the now”. I am not one of those people. I live in my history. I am always curious about why I think the way I do, and what built that up. I know there is path dependence. I know that because of various events, my life could have gone another way. As I get older and new things happen to me, it changes my memory. I like reflecting on memories repeatedly, and saying, “Okay, well now I see things differently.” You are having a conversation with your past self to understand how your values have evolved.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Risk of Ruin

The world is complex, ambiguous, and random... but we want to engage. By making small, small, small, small steps, you can have the opportunity to unwind, unwind, unwind. Step back and undo whatever damage you have done. Because you said, “I will try this. Okay, that does not work. I will start this way. Oh, that doesn’t work.” Then you have the ability to build even if you are going in a very different direction to what you originally planned. 

Sometimes it is impossible to unwind. But you want to create the ability to incorporate new information. To adapt, adjust and accommodate. You want to have options. You want to create the ability to shift in different directions. You must accept a path. The path that you have been on. That is the path that you are connected to, and brought you to where you are. You must be able to let go of where you could have been, but you still want to have agency over what you do now. 

The danger of too many options is that it can prevent you from making choices. If you feel obliged to analyse everything. Detachment is partly the ability to wish other people well on their journey, and be able to focus your attention on what is important to you. At the same time, you can maintain a connection to those other choices through other people. 

Never be a forced buyer. Never be a forced seller. 

Price is supply and demand. If you must buy something, no matter what the price, that is dangerous. That is no longer a consensual exchange. Consider walking away if a sliver of that possibility exists. If you can find a way to create breathing space. Detachment at that level can feel impossible. You might, correctly, feel that it is your most important decision. It is a difficult thing to sit with, but nothing is so important, that it is more important than everything else. Certainly, nothing with a price. 

The reason to build buffers, the ability to endure, and practice detachment, is so that you do not get yourself into that corner. Poverty puts people in a corner. Poverty is a form of scarcity that reduces the available options, smothering empowered decision making. 

What is your biggest fear? 

Being able to confront waves of anxiety is important. When you make a decision, you know there are a variety of possible outcomes. What is hard to identify is the risk of ruin. That means that there is not going to be a next day. Sometimes that risk is hidden. Lying in the invisible tail of alternative possibilities that have never happened. Unlikely events with significant impacts. The building pressure of bad choices with delayed consequences. We cannot live in paralysed fear, because of these unknowns. We can build buffers to survive the unknown. Reflect. Unpack. Interrogate. 

For most of our decisions, we are not unique snowflakes. Other people have made similar choices in resonating forks scattered liberally around the world. You can do the due diligence. You can research how other people have handled reflections of your situation. Their perspective will not be identical, but there can be similar flavour. The same ingredients in infinite combinations. You can put in the work to make better decisions. Reflect, decide, and put into practice. 

As pattern soakers, we need to be wary of what has gone deep. We are wired to feel like because we have seen something often, it must be true. We do not know what we do not know. A Black Swan is something that happens when one example changes your whole view. You thought this always happens. You discover it does not always happen. This knowledge can change absolutely everything. Add a pinch of salt to what you hold to be true, and ask the question “What if I am wrong?”. You still need to build a life, and you do not need to build your life around being wrong. You still need to put stakes in the ground and make bold decisions about what you think is true, and what you think is not true.


Friday, November 25, 2022

Cumulative Knowledge

First, step back. Get an overview of the market. Understand the players. Understand the environment. Gain a bigger sense of yourself than just the current role or task. Always have your eyes open. Pay attention to problems. Be curious. Be interested. Fascinated by the world and connected to what is happening. That is your mind. That is where you are going to dig for problems to solve. By caring about and understanding others. People like people who like them. 

It takes the generous gift of attention to genuinely see people. To understand someone’s problems, you need to reflect the problem back. In a way that they feel you see them. Perhaps better than they see themselves. Because you are not them. Because you are paying attention. That comes through the human skills of caring and empathy. Through seeing yourself in them. Because the minute you spend time with someone, these boundaries, these containers, start dissolving. You get a sense of why that problem matters. How you can develop the skills and knowledge to be able to solve it. 

Even though we are all connected, we end up having different paths. Our lives are path dependent and come down to a series of choices of left or right, left or right, left or right. We do not all get, or make, the same choices. But we all make decisions. I am a big believer in empowering decision making from the bottom up. We want to make sure that everyone has the capacity and the ability to make their decisions. 

In “The Future and its Enemies”, Virginia Postrel talks about tacit knowledge. The stuff you understand in your body, in your heart, in your soul. Learnt through what you have done in life. But you cannot explain it. Explaining is hard. There is a lot we do automatically. 

Yoga talks about consciousness being three parts. The Om symbol has three semi-circles that represent subconscious, conscious, and the dream state. These are the ways we connect with reality. They are different for each of us, because we have all had these different experiences. 

When we are making decisions, if we must communicate with words, and cannot just say yes or no, it ends up requiring a lot more information. 

With artificial intelligence, deep machine learning can be summarised into impenetrable strings of ones and zeros. The machine goes through loops. Beginning again, and trying various things. The outputs might just be yes or no. But each output might have an input that could be another string of 30 ones and zeros. Or 1,000. There are a vast variety of combinations of those digits. But the computer just bumps the output. Bumps it, bumps it, bumps it and eventually, when you finally get that string of 30 digits that provides the best answer. That is not something you can access. It is not something you can consciously understand. That string is experience. It is something that the computer “knows”, but the computer does not know why it knows. It has just gone through various iterations of bumping trial and error, trial and error, until it comes up with a solution. 

That is a very human way of learning. We are not always conscious of why we know things. Often, we learn the most when we are very relaxed, and no longer trying. When we allow our body to learn, without our anxiety creating boundaries. The results can seem magical. Intuition is cumulative knowledge that is embodied. The result of having drawn breath repeatedly and ventured into the world. It is the reward for engaging with the chaos. We gain knowledge we do not necessarily understand. It might be wrong. It is often wrong. We need to create the capacity to be wrong to explore confidently. 

The willingness to say, “based on what I have done, this is what I am going to do” and just do it in the face of all the uncertainty in the world. Be able to make decisions. One of the things that drives me nuts is decisive indecision. Getting stuck in “I don't know what to do, and I don't know if I am going to get it wrong.” Closing any possible action. 

Sometimes you just need to make a call. Deal with the consequences. Make sure that it is not going to blow you out of the water. But it nudges you forward. Tim Minchin talks of micro-ambition. Small achievable steps that you can unwind. There are often unintended consequences. We want to do stuff, but we do not understand the world. This world is crazy complicated, ambiguous, uncertain, and random. We will never understand. No one human being will ever understand. We exist beyond ourselves and our limits.

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Capacity, Focus, and a Container

Three things matter. The first is having capacity or capital. The second is having problems to focus on. And the third is having a container. 

Capital is fungible. It can change shape and form and be used for a variety of things. Capital can go anywhere. You can sell shares in a business. On one day, it is working at Google, you sell it and the next day it is working at Colgate. Unlike people, it does not matter to money where it is invested. 

Even though we are all connected, and all a part of the universe, we need shape and form to understand. The illusion of separation helps us engage. We think through stories. We think through contrast, light, dark, and division. We form words. Form manifests as a tool for action. Manifesting is not separation. Manifesting is the container in which we can hold our activity. Hold our problem solving. Make decisions. We call that mental accounting. An overlay on something that is not separated to make sense of the world. We put our experiences in groups and create plans. 

The container has various barriers to entry. Businesses are legal people. Much like money is money because the government says it is money. Companies are real because the government says so, and we agree. Property Rights are an agreement we find useful. We create boundaries so that people can be incentivised to invest. 

If there were no boundaries, we would all just be pure energy. We would not see anything. That sounds beautiful. That would certainly reduce anxiety and stress if you realise everything is connected. But by creating boundaries, and creating friction, you can create shape and forms and negotiate stories. You can create characters, narrative arcs, and meaning. Containers help us create. 

Study the containers that impact your life and decision making. 

The Porter Five Forces are a framework for stakeholder analysis. Identify the various people and institutions that are involved. Pay attention to your competitors, regulators, customers, suppliers. Study the supply chain, and how you are involved in the process. Understand the big picture organisation and your role, but do not be defined by it. A framework, like money, is a tool. It is a way to build limited but useful understanding. To model, not imprison, reality. 

Ideally, you have a strong container, within which you have a sense of ownership. An awareness of the agreements and trust that form the foundation. The boundaries that support its structure. The container holds space for you, so that you can solve problems, and turn that problem-solving into capital. Then the capital evolves over time as it compounds and grows. Providing insurance for the unexpected. Softening the impact of short-term noise. Sustaining capacity for long-term planning, commitment, and involvement over a longer period than if you are constantly starting. 

Starting is the hardest part. Once moving, the focus becomes the connection between moments. If you build momentum, you can connect what you were doing yesterday to what you are doing tomorrow. In a way that avoids losing track of your values. If you are so obsessed with the past or the future, that you are not doing anything of consequence today, you just get stuck. You still need to maintain the connection between the two. That is what happens in a well-constructed container. 

Then it comes down to problems. What are you solving? 

Money making is about problem solving. Not all good ideas are good business ideas. Good business ideas are profitable. You need a clear ask and a clear offer. It is difficult to articulate because our worlds are different. We have different illusions. We need to find a shared vocabulary. We need to find a way to contribute to someone’s world in a way they understand. Quite simply, you need to get paid. To get paid, you need an offer the asker recognises. That is the goal. 

Problem solving requires the ability to step back and analyse. Identify decision makers with money. You can have a great idea, but nothing happens unless you can find the funding to make the change. If you can find a decision maker empowered to say yes or no. So that the money hits your bank account. That requires finding where the control is. Where the power is. Where the impetus is. Where do things happen?

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Building Meaning

Money is a tool for agreement building. We share words, sentences, and concepts, to be able to co-ordinate. You cannot just reject money altogether. The fact is that the world works in a certain way now. Wu Wei means “action through inaction”. Start with acceptance. Before you can say what you want the world to be like, see what the world is like. Every journey starts from the start. Where you are. If you do not understand where you are, how are you supposed to make decisions? It is not giving up. It may feel like giving up. It may look like giving up. When someone stops fighting. But you start by learning the vocabulary. 

You can change the meaning of the words. Eventually, you can change things. If you start at a point of acceptance. Build a sense of deep pragmatism. Look at the situation and be able to make decisions about the best next step. That is not giving up. It is detachment. You are not defined by each decision. They are merely steps on the path. 

I used to think of detachment as ending up as a monk in a cave somewhere. I did not want to detach, because I love the world. And yes, it is an illusion. It is a controlled hallucination. In yoga, they call it Maya. The way we interpret the world is an illusion that separates us from reality. But it is a beautiful separation. There is so much beauty in the world. It is okay to love the beauty. That is the way you understand the world. It is okay that your worldview is not the same as my worldview. That we work hard to find overlaps, and through all the chemicals involved in building agreement together. 

We cannot just understand everyone through prejudice. Through assuming from what we see, that we understand how others see. Put the time in to see what they see. That is okay. It is okay that it takes time. It is okay that you cannot just have an open conversation by saying what is in your mind, and call that honesty. Honesty is not simply vomiting on someone. 

Honesty is commitment. Honesty is meeting today, and tomorrow, and the next day, and the next month, and the next year. It is deciding that you are connected to someone and that you are going to do the work that requires. We have all these escape hatches. We start building, but every time something gets hot, we run to the door. That does not mean that you do not have boundaries, and you do not have selfcare. You can create spaces that have acceptance, and learn about what is going on, and detach from things. You can engage with them without just rejecting them completely. 

Detachment is not the absence of waves of anxiety. You want these waves of anxiety. These waves of thoughts. These waves of stress. That is what creates the beauty in the world. That is what we want. You do not want them to go away. The idea with meditating is not that you stop thought. Thoughts come from a mind. It is a mind. That is its job. Thoughts come through. Meditation is practising dealing with our word and sentence generator. If a word appears, sticks, and does not know when to leave. 

Waves are not a problem. Stress is not a problem. If a life stops moving altogether, that is dangerous. They died, or someone is manipulating and selecting the truth. 

You are never going to fully understand money. It is complicated. It is abstract. There are not secrets that someone is hiding from you. Most of the knowledge around money is available. Books have been written. Do the reading. 

Do not get the impression when you are sitting at a table with someone that they know everything, and you do not. That you are the odd one out. Nobody knows everything. As you get older, you realise everyone is just doing the best they can. But some of us build this doubt into our identity. Money is not about you.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

The Conversation

My big take-away/practice from my experience of Yoga is managing expectations. Personally, I wrestle with triage and trade-offs. There is so much going on, and every choice has unintended consequences. I work on developing an ability to accept being “a part of the conversation” and create meaning/purpose as a part of something bigger where I am not constantly judging myself/others. 

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called this flow. Those moments when you are balancing skill & challenge so finely that it focuses your attention and time seems to stand still. There is no anxiety where the task seems beyond you. There is no boredom where the task doesn’t engage you. 

Where learning and activity merge in a playful way and mistakes don’t chip at your sense of self, but build your wisdom. Where you are a participant and connected to everything else. There is no time for panic or worry because you are breathing into the stuff that matters.

Wednesday, November 09, 2022

Cease the Panic

Relaxation is deeper than “not doing anything”. The deepest of relaxation is far from passive. In Wu Wei (Action through Inaction), they call this De/εΎ· (pronounced “duh”) which is also translated as "inherent character/inner power/integrity/moral character/virtue/morality”. 

There is very much engagement with the world, but you are exuding a presence that seems to “get it”. A detachment from the noise. A true mastery that sees the world as full of beauty even in the face of challenges, and still draws energy from the wonderful opportunity that we have got to engage and be a part of it in all its bitter, cruel, joyous, invigorating, hammering, claustrophobic, harassing, confusing glory. 

The depth of relaxation starts to emanate from you when you are able to cease panicking about the mystery. When you stop feeling like you are being played by malicious chaos. I immediately think of Dr Sooliman of “Gift of the Givers” whose wife tells him he is an alien because of his ability to detach. He has been facing the world’s disasters head-on for three decades, and yet it is hard not to feel more relaxed in his infectious presence.

Monday, November 07, 2022

Through the Waves

Like a lot of South Africans, I am deep soaked in Righteous Indignation. I like that I have the capacity to get very angry, and am not willing to let that go. Yet, I also struggle with how ineffective and energy sapping regular rage can be. Overwrestling with how I think the world should be. A close friend, who had seen my anger, asked me how it was consistent with practicing to be a yogi. 

“Dharma” is partly understood as our purpose for being here. One of yoga’s key texts is the “Bhagavad Gita”. Ironically, for those who think yoga is just about bending and stretching, it is a story about war and a conversation between Arjuna and Krishna about “why should I fight?”. If everything is connected, an illusion, and it is so hard to make a difference as an individual... why bother? 

There is a point. Actions do matter, and have consequences. We do have responsibilities and obligations. We are building this world together. Part of that is learning about the reality of how we coordinate actions and consequences. That starts with a deep acceptance of the way the world is, because everything can only move from where it is. 

I am a very imperfect yogi. Full of aches and pains, and questions. Most of what I write is coaching myself to remember to come back to the basics within the complexity. Returning towards proper exercise, proper breathing, proper diet, proper relaxation and proper mental health. Practicing Tim Minchin style “micro-ambition”... small, achievable, goals that add up. There is a constant wrestle, and chipping away requires repetitive reminding that our actions matter. 

Waves, both positive and negative, keep coming. They are not malicious. They just are. The waves have nothing to do with who you are. Stillness comes from how we see these waves and whether they have the power to knock us off course. Stillness comes from finding a way to create meaning DESPITE the noise, through patience and time.