Yesterday I checked my WordPress administration page and was shocked to see that 42 people viewed my last blog post. This is the highest ever. Something about this number made me switch into a higher gear. So I built a Facebook page for myself as a writer; which I’ve linked to this blog in various ways.

I also made a Facebook page for my burgeoning meetup group: Melbourne Lifestyle Design. And also decided to link to my business and employ a tentative tagline.

As children, we’re taught to think of our career or identity in a singular fashion. In the public sphere rarely are people thought of as any more than one thing at a time. Yet if you check Wikipedia pages you’ll find that often people have a full raft of competencies. Doctors are also writers. Actors also directors. Nurses also philanthropists.

In Mastery, Robert Greene illustrated how Leonardo Da Vinci managed to create wholes that were greater than the sum of their parts by working between fields, drawing on multiple skill-sets and bodies of knowledge.

Aristotle invented the modern system of separate fields of inquiry. Its delineations are by no means indelible.

Some people are generalists, it’s as simple as that. Not all people though. And that is absolutely fine.

I have recognised this quality of generalism in myself and my vision for life. It’s become obvious enough that my way forward it to think very long term and develop a stack of wisely chosen skills. In this spirit of self-knowledge, I submit my new tagline “The SkillSet Way” in the hopes that others will recognise what it means and identify with its message.

Life is about a lot more than skills though (there’s also knowledge, but Tai Lopez has claimed that already) and frankly, it would be boring to write exclusively about them. Blogging is just one skill. Developing skill sets are what allow one to get paid, travel, develop new relationships, create, rise up.

I like this mentality because it brings the locus of control inwards. It’s premised on the truth that everything starts in the mind anyway. Thus just about every outward thing in life that you yearn for becomes achieved as a direct consequence of what’s happening in your brain: what you practise doing.

Life itself becomes like a game, so you can call your whole being into service. That’s the good thing about knowing what you want. Those with a proclivity to seek improvements in their knowledge, meta-skills and non-cognitive qualities have a distinct advantage over the long term.

To be perfectly honest I’m already getting sick of having a tagline, it feels constraining. I’ve already pretty well covered my point anyway. I would ask you this though: what single speciality in life can give you everything you wish for? Develop broadly applicable skills (like teaching, writing, foreign language), a speciality and think long term about what your life might hold.

The 5 Second Rule

the 5 second ruleThe 5 Second Rule by Mel Robbins. This was an audiobook that I got from Audible about a month ago. Just short of 8 hours in total. I got about half way through it in one go and then got too annoyed by the brusqueness of the narrator’s voice to continue. I resumed it yesterday though, resolving to finish the remaining 3.5 hours in one day. And so I did. I was pleasantly surprised by how Mel seemed to sound less masculine and more sensitive by the end. It’s interesting that she’s a professional speaker – you can sense it in the way she narrates. And not in a good way. It’s like Joe Rogan (who is one of my favourite public figures): when he does comedy it just seems to strike the wrong cord. It sounds like a commentator/broadcaster attempting standup and it’s not a good mix for such a subtle art.

The content of this book is incredibly simple. This book is like the anti-intellect. And yet ironically, there is an intellectually compelling discussion as well. Books generally seem to promote a circumspect attitude. Not this one. This book is like an antidote to analysis paralysis. We all know that there is power in quick action though.

The core idea is also the name of the book: The 5 Second Rule. Basically whenever you sense an inkling to do something and you know you probably should, count “5, 4, 3, 2, 1” and then just do it. This paragraph so far represents most of the content of the first half of the book. In the second half though I was impressed by how much she delved into why, how and when. On the other hand it’s not that impressive because of course you can find lots of ways that “acting now” can be beneficial. The simplicity of the book is why I gave it 3 stars, but that in no way detracts from the importance and quality of its message.

There is a certain genius in the 5 second rule. Importantly, it instills a sense of urgency which is otherwise hard to come by for some people. Applying the rule seems to activate the prefrontal cortex which is that part that would overcome our baser instincts such as sloth or fear. It’s simple and such that it can be applied to a range of situations.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about having a “mental toolbox”. This seems to fit in well because there is undoubtedly times in life where “just doing it” is best. I wouldn’t make it my central governing philosophy as the author appears to have done though; doing so would give a person an air of brusqueness and perhaps incongruence.

This book seemed to draw a dichotomy in my mind which wasn’t there before. Intellectually, I sense that this is what I gained most from it. The dichotomy is between the macro and micro perspectives of success. It drew this dichotomy by illustrating what success looks at the most operationally micro-level there is. This is something that I had little concept of because it’s generally overlooked by the intellect.

When I say micro I mean momentary. It’s easy for me to visualise what success looks like over the course of a year or a life time. What does success look like in a fleeting moment though? This book mounts a pretty convincing case that often it is acting without hesitation on certain inclinations or inspirations. I’m very nearly overcomplicating it here.

For me the most compelling advantage to living in this way is that it creates a certain element of magic, authenticity and urgency. Don’t get me wrong; living a circumspect life can be a beautiful thing. You can design yourself a perfect life and work towards it over years and it can be utterly wonderful. This in itself is missing something sexy: spontaneity, authenticity, vitality, urgency. Honouring subtle and fleeting parts of oneself by bringing them into concrete reality. I’ve been someone that generally prefers to take as much time as necessary to come to the best decisions. Or to motivate myself to do something over a period ranging from minutes to years. On some level I knew that my life was lacking these vital qualities. I also intuitively understood that they are attractive to women and necessary for achieving success of a non-academic flavour.

The main reason that I’ll be re-listening to this audiobook sometime soon is that it is rich in psychological concepts and studies. For example, I learned about something called “bias for action”: this idea has stuck with me like glue. The scientific aspect of the book alone earned it an additional star in my rating. Without this research to back it up, the book would be ugly – as motivational books often are. I do wonder if this impression would be different if it were narrated by a professional narrator instead of a professional speaker.

She gave various situations that the 5 second rule can be applied to. Some were more robust than others. Two that I remember are to stop worrying and to “leave nothing important unsaid” with loved ones.

According to Robbins, the single most important thing you’ll do all day is get up without pressing snooze. She managed to back this up with a scientific explanation. I detected a note of surprised self-satisfaction in her voice for this intellectualism, which was endearing. The argument was: when you press snooze your body tries to reenter another 90 minute sleep cycle, so if you do wake up in 10 minutes you have 80 minutes of “sleep inertia”. She suggested that it takes 4 hours or even ruins the whole day; which I believe from experience but couldn’t explain why it is so.

The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing

The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries and Jack Trout. This is a relatively short book. Only 130 pages or thereabouts. As the name suggests, the book is structured into 22 laws, each with 1 chapter.

Got this book after I decided to learn a bit about marketing. Having been through an entire finance degree and retaining little useful information about finance, however, I opted to learn about marketing with a “lean” amount of information. Perhaps you understand why I chose this particular non-fiction from among other books of the marketing genre.

In order to crystallise and consolidate my own knowledge from the book and also to create a useful summary, I’ll briefly summarise each of the 22 laws.

  1. The Law of Leadership. If you are perceived as being the first to do something there is a psychological preference given in buying decisions. I think this is Apple’s main advantage over Samsung with smart phones, it’s certainly part of the reason I prefer Apple.
  2. The Law of the Category. “If you can’t be first in a category, set up a new category you can be first in”. In other words, don’t try to beat Toyota in the car market, but perhaps try to beat them in a certain niche of the car market.
  3. The Law of the Mind. Closely related to the Law of Leadership. This states that it’s not so important that you are first in the market as you are first in the market in the minds of consumers. If you are first, people have to know that for it be advantageous.
  4. The Law of Perception. Marketing is not a battle of products, it’s a battle of perceptions. Often it’s not hard and fast facts which lead to marketing success, but rather working perceptions so as to influence consumer behaviour. It’s not so much about objective facts about products as it is about presenting products in a compelling way. In the long run, the best product does not always win.
  5. The Law of Focus. It’s a great victory in marketing if a company can own a word in the customer’s mind. FedEx managed to put the word “overnight” in peoples’ minds and their success skyrocketed because there was demand for that.
  6. The Law of Exclusivity. Two companies cannot control the same word in the customer’s mind. The one who already owns the word has managed to retain it time and time again.
  7. The Law of the Ladder. People tend to have a mental image of hierarchies between firms in certain industries, and if a company acts as if they are higher than they are they look upstart. Perhaps like they have no social intelligence. Thus the marketing strategy needs to take into account the company’s place on the ladder.
  8. The Law of Duality. In the long run every market becomes a two-horse race. I believe that this is due to the following law. Basically people tend to choose the product or they’ll choose the alternative. Think Apple and Samsung.
  9. The Law of the Opposite. If you want to be number two, present a popular alternative, don’t try to do what they do also.
  10. The Law of Division. Market categories divide over time. Thus the total number of categories tends to increase and become more niche.
  11. The Law of Perspective. These forces tend to occur over an extended period of time i.e. over the long run.
  12. The Law of Line Extension. It’s difficult to get a foothold in an established market so firms often leverage their existing brands. This weakens the brand in its key market category so this might not be smart in the long run.
  13. The Law of Sacrifice. The three things to sacrifice are product line, target market and change with time. Basically you need to say no to certain things in order to stand for something.
  14. The Law of Attributes. If the market leader is toothpaste that “fights cavities” for example, there are often other attributes which people will look for. “Whitens teeth” is another good attribute.
  15. The Law of Candor. A message of self-effacing honesty can make people drop their guards and be more receptive, there should be a positive message in there as well though.
  16. The Law of Singularity. It tends to be better to make singular definite moves than multiple unsure ones. Also, there is only ever one line of best practise, all others being relatively ineffectual. Not sure about that last part.
  17. The Law of Unpredictability. Peter’s law: the unexpected is always what happens.
  18. The Law of Success. “Ego is the enemy”. Success leads to arrogance and arrogance leads to failure.
  19. The Law of Failure. Failure is to be expected and accepted. Organisations should have the ability to accept failure. Japanese firms are good at doing this because they have a consensus approach to decision-making.
  20. The Law of Hype. The press often gets it wrong. The real story is often happening quietly, off the front pages.
  21. The Law of Acceleration. There are trends and fads. Trends last over the long term and accelerate slowly. Fads accelerate very quickly but don’t last long. Think Pokemon GO. Unless you have a way of cashing in big time from a fad, it’s usually better to hang your hat on a trend.
  22. The Law of Resources. Applies to business in general but regarding marketing, a good idea won’t have great effect if it’s not adequately funded.

The Power of Habit

thepowerofhabit

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. Right off the bat I would say that this book is well written. However lot of the content is case studies and I had the feeling that that was in order to fill more pages. That being said the stories often had their “aha” moment where it dovetailed with the lesson of the chapter. Quite classy. I also noted that each chapter was very close to 30 pages which was quite satisfying actually. So there you have the most salient quality of this book: its excellent construction. A good example of a successful non-fiction book if ever one was to try and write one, in my opinion.

Onto the content itself. This is a rare book that bears directly on the reader’s behaviour. Often that’s what you hope from this genre. Among many ideas in the book; one sticks out as being central. You might even say the whole book revolved around just one idea. I’m referring to the theory that all habits are composed of three distinct parts:

Cue -> routine -> reward

I’ve found this very memorable and easy to apply to my own life. I even have the sense that it’s become a key part of my mental toolbox, if ever anything has. However, I’m yet to see if any positive behavioural changes will stick over the long term with this method (because I’ve only known about it for a week).

The way to “hack” your psychology, if you will, in order to change your behaviour, is to identify the three parts of the habit. Often a habit you’re trying to change. Once you’ve identified the cue then you must choose a different routine: a competing response. I’ve found that the effectiveness of this book breaks down with the selecting of a new reward. Or at least this is where the challenge lies. For example, it seems that sometimes any reward you could give yourself is just as bad or worse. For example if you’re trying to replace internet addiction and the steady dopamine rush you get from it, then what more innocuous reward can you replace it with? Marijuana? Sugary foods? Not all rewards are created equal. Over the long term it seems to me you have to learn how to delay gratification. There is a subtle balance there that this book doesn’t address.

Some things that I noted down from the book are:

  • A keystone habit is one which leads to other positive habits emerging. For example I identified a keystone habit for me as avoiding the snooze button.
  • The basal ganglia is the key part of the brain involved with habits. Brain scans show that over time the brain activity drops while doing the same activity. I.e. it becomes easier, more automatic, you can focus on other things while doing it even.
  • Apparently you can’t truly extinguish a bad habit you can only change it. I quit smoking so I’m not sure about this. Noticing what triggers habitual behaviour is known as awareness training.
  • It’s known as a competing response when you design a new response to the old cue e.g. chew gum when you crave a cigarette.
  • Many new habits have a tendency to break down in high stress situations. Duhigg drew an analogy of Alcoholics Annonymous to show how they deal with this. Apparently putting faith in a higher power is the key to maintaining a habit in tough times.
  • Willpower is a muscle not a skill. Build willpower through your habits and it can spill over into other things as well.
  • Organisational habits. Starbucks turned self-discipline into an organisational habit by identifying and drilling on inflection points. Inflection points are challenging scenarios. People are more likely to stick with a desired behaviour if they have a definite plan for how to deal with inflection points.
  • If you dress something new in old habits it becomes easier for people to accept. This is why new music on the radio sounds similar to last months. If it sounded too new people would be put off by it
  • Effective social movements are driven by a combination of strong ties between people (close friends and family) and weak ties (larger community). This point didn’t seem to fit well with the central thesis of the book. He was trying to discuss societal habits (having already discussed individual and organisational habits).
  • Most cues fall into one of five categories: location, time, emotional state, other people and immediately preceding action.

Reading this book has made me think a lot more about cues, routines and responses. Now I use cues as a way of anchoring certain behaviours that I’ve always wanted to employ – it does work well because cues are easy to remember. I’ve also started trying out rewarding myself for doing good things. It’s a bit of shock to my reward system. It’s like dopamine is generally a bit lower but then a big hit comes when I celebrate doing something important. For a long time I’ve been used to a very steady stream of dopamine and that pattern has been disturbed recently.

Usually books influence little more than your thoughts and feelings. All in all though I feel confident in saying that no book has had a more direct impact on my actions than this one.

Sapiens

img_1298As non-fiction goes this is right up there with the best. I can hardly imagine reading anything that was more fascinating. For me the study of humans and where we came from has always seemed such a high yield topic for getting that dopamine rush of understanding.

The resounding beauty of this book is the voice with which he explains society’s institutions. He really makes you understand them objectively, like an outsider looking in. He shows you where they originated and developed: in the cognitive revolution and agricultural revolution respectively. How they’re “myths” that form an intersubjective reality to bind us together. This would otherwise be impossible in such high populations. Yet these myths of institutions have become studied deeply, layer upon layer. Exacted through numbers. They’ve become the fabric for much of life. We’re the fish in the fishbowl that can’t comprehend water.

I like that he began from the very beginning. Physics. Then chemistry. Then biology. And by the end he had covered what might be expected from the future of humanity. Really venturesome ideas that aren’t apparent today at all; such as genetically engineering super humans which don’t share our failures. Like greed, hatred or perpetual discontent. He by no means skipped on the philosophical discussion of these new areas either, going the extra mile like this are what I believe earns a book rating that fifth star. I presume his other book Homo Deus covers the futurism aspect in greater detail and I look forward to reading it.

Some things that stuck with me after reading it were:

  • The cognitive revolution is what occurred in the human mind to give us our intellect, including the ability to communicate and pass knowledge down the generations
  • The agricultural revolution sparked writing, marriage, class system etc
  • Total number of civilisations is decreasing as they merge into larger ones – trend towards globalism
  • Money, empire and religion are what first “globalised” the world
  • Capitalism and science are basically why Europe became most developed and conquered the world. Capitalism liked empire
  • Expected economic growth is a recent phenomenon but it underpins the modern economy and financial system (Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations). Constant growth becomes necessary to keep functioning properly because why borrow or invest otherwise?
  • Constant growth of demand requires consumeristic society and culture. It permeates our minds and controls our behaviour in profound ways
  • The market has replaced the family/community for meeting most of the needs of individuals: it demands individualism though
  • The poor have a consumerist ethic but the rich have an investment ethic, two sides of the coin
  • People may not be any happier now than in the Middle Ages, because of expectations, beliefs about an afterlife etc. What’s the point of progress without happiness?
  • Mathematics has brought exactness into life, hence why they teach it to everyone. Not a priori knowledge apparently
  • Standardised time replaced natural time and regional times. First standardised time was in Greenwich, England. Used initially in factories, then schools and shops naturally followed suit. In this way time is an extension of capitalism? Now time is incredibly exact, virtually inescapable.

Six Thinking Hats

I just finished reading Six Thinking Hats. Originally published in 1985 by Edward De Bono. According to Wikipedia:

Edward de Bono (born 19 May 1933) is a Maltese physician, psychologist, author, inventor and consultant. He originated the term lateral thinking, wrote the book Six Thinking Hats and is a proponent of the teaching of thinking as a subject in schools.

My copy of the book was an orange penguin classic. Big shoes to fill. I saw it on the shelves of the psychology section of a large bookstore in the inner city. Just from the title, I knew what it was about. Even so, I felt that I ought to read it anyway because that message was worth knowing in detail.

Having read it I would say that the idea itself is 4.5 stars. The book maybe 3 stars. It had a bit too much fluff for my taste.

The book has a central thesis or premise besides the six thinking hats themselves. It’s that in our normal everyday thinking, we cobble together different types (or directions) of thinking. And it is ineffective or even self-defeating. The specific term he repeatedly used was that the mind can only be “sensitised” in one direction at a time.

What gets me really excited about this is drawing greater power from thinking by using these different directions separately and single-mindedly, in their due turn. Noting the best fruits from each. In doing so building a more balanced mental landscape; one that has the positives, negatives, facts, emotions, new ideas and clear oversight neatly shown. Perhaps even making thinking and decision making like a fun game.

It should be noted that this book was rich in examples (perhaps 40% of the content was examples). I believe without exception the examples were a business or meeting context.

Enter the six thinking hats:

White. Like white printer paper from a computer. The white hat is about information. Objective or empirical facts. You may report the fact that someone stated an opinion but when wearing the white thinking hat you may not state your own opinion, this would be done wearing a different hat.

Red. Passionate like blood. About pure emotion and intuition. State how you are feeling about what is at hand in its raw form, without rationalising about it. What your instinct is beneath thought.

Black. Foreboding, depressing and where bad decisions lead. This is the hat of cautious, negative thinking. In other words fear, anxiety and pain: avoidance oriented. Of seeing the fault in ideas or arguments. The downside.

Yellow. Sunny and golden. The hat of hope. The bright side. Seeing the potential benefits or positive reasons for doing something. Seeing the good things about a proposal.

Green. Seeds and new growth. This is the hat of creativity, innovation and lateral thinking. “Off the wall” ideas are encouraged here. You can put on this hat when you need to come up with something new.

Blue. The blue sky. The hat of overview and control. Asking the right questions, summoning the right hats when necessary. The blue hat is what must chair the other hats, frame and direct the thinking. Perhaps it’s like the executive functioning mind?

six-thinking-hats

I’m excited about being able to look at projects that I’m struggling on with each thinking hat independently. This is a highly unintuitive thing to do but to me doing so seems inherently powerful. A crucial step towards that ever-illusive control of one’s own mind. In particular, like most people I have the habit of letting cautious or emotional thinking in the moment ultimately control me. This is what we evolved to do because cautious or first glance thinking was statistically safer. However, this is no longer particularly useful, is it? If yellow, white, green or blue hat thinking got a chance to examine a situation as well, then there’d be a mindset that was superhuman in its intelligence. A chance to view things in a different light.

Business Ownership and Gracefulness

I’ve noticed a rather subtle distinction between business owners and employees. The difference is in the way they make you feel. I think it stems from how they feel and identify themselves. Their experience of life and society.
The keyword is scarcity. When you work for a company you are forcibly shaped by the approval of your boss. Your ego is constrained and controlled. You are in a rat race with other employees for the prestige feeling but no one is allowed to have as much as they would like anyway except on their birthday. You have to hustle. Unless there’s a particularly good company culture you have to constantly bump into others, whip them out and measure dicks. You learn to treat people badly because you don’t get treated how you want to be treated. You learn to supplement your social value. We’re drifting ever further from wholesome goals such as happiness.
Compare that to being a business owner. There’s no question about it: you are at the top of the tree. You have the authority. You have a lot more freedom to present and communicate how you want. You can feel how you want to. Let yourself take up space and speak loudly. Your anxiety drops while others’ rises. Anyone who disrespects you needn’t be in the company for long. You’re in abundance. You simply don’t need to worry about all these social dynamics beyond not causing a lawsuit.
An abundance vs a scarcity of validation. In control vs out of control. Owning vs being employed. Leading vs following.
When you feel secure in your psychological needs, you behave differently around others. You aren’t threatened. You don’t need them for anything. You are basically free to treat them how you wish. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe this dynamic is prerequisite to being truly graceful. That feeling of being hosted. Of sitting at the captain’s table. However, it is also a license to treat people authoritatively and punitively.
With employees, you often find these psychological needs in deficit. I notice this manifests most saliently as the vibe of being “in competition” with others in various ways. The senior employee who treats you like you’re less than them. You can’t really be at ease around them because they feel that their happiness depends on diminishing yours. They feel the need to bluntly take control rather than be civil and think win-win. You find them treating you disrespectfully and that is because they feel their lives are lacking something in general such as authority or freedom.
Of course, there are clear advantages to taking a job and not all jobs are created equal. There are clear disadvantages to starting a business such as the uncertainty and risk of it. You may find yourself in a scarcity of time, money and energy instead of social value.
I’m a big believer in civility. Social graces are what give people the psychological space to be happy and not threatened by you. If everyone in an organisation does that then there’s a much greater sense of abundance than a culture where no one is really winning except the biggest baddest dog in the fight. I believe the responsibility for instilling a culture like this falls in the lap of those in authority and ultimately the owners. Managers and owners ought to be very civil and hopefully it trickles down.
People with civil natures ought to be promoted whilst those without civil natures ought to be demoted or if highly competent stay in technical positions. Just the same as social intelligence. Perhaps there could even be a scarcity-abundance metric used to rate employees based on how people feel around them. Meditation and social skills would thus be incentivised. This way perhaps those who are employed may find their psychological needs met and in turn, they will be more graceful in their personal lives.