Peter Cook's Blog

This content shows Simple View

petercook

Avoiding Procrastination – Genius, Productivity & The Sisyphus Matrix

“Genius is the ability to get from A to D without going through B and C.”  

– Hollow Man, Andrew W. Marlowe

The above quote has stuck with me for a long time because like everyone else, I am attracted to the idea of genius in its many forms. From iconic figures like Leonardo DaVinci, to the golfer who can make what should take three shots in one, there is something seductive about people who can do seemingly impossible things.

I believe this attraction to genius goes as deep as our species evolution; several million years ago humans sacrificed muscle and mechanical output for brains and superior abstract reasoning. Unsurprisingly, that trade-off has echoed out from our DNA out into our society. Capitalism and thus the modern world is predicated on the notion of productivity – the idea that we all benefit when people solve the problem of how to get more with less.

Thus, it shouldn’t be surprising that we seek genius’ equivalent in our own lives. We want not only to be productive but to be optimally productive about our productivity because it doesn’t take a genius to see that the ultimate skill is not a thing you learn but learning to learn itself.

But as with any good idea, our drive to be productive can be taken too far. My own experience has been that the inclination to strategize and/or optimize has caused frustration, abandonment, and failure of many personal goals.  

This post is an attempt to lay out a framework that I’ve found helpful for thinking about productivity, work, motivation, discipline, and getting things done.

Getting What You’re After – The Ideal Approach

Achieving anything in life involves some combination of an objective, a strategy and work.

The objective is whatever you set out to achieve, your goal. Strategizing and/or optimization is the time you spend improving your approach to achieving your objective. And the work is the work, the execution.

There is a tension between strategy and work, between thinking about how best to do something and actually trying to do it. Both are important, but time spent doing one is time spent not doing the other.

In an ideal world, we would have the wisdom to find the harmony between the two that gets us to our goal the quickest. But in the real world, things are messy and we don’t know what the right balance is. And because it’s easier to strategize than it is to execute, we often favor strategy over output – to our detriment.

Strategy’s Trap

“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth” – Mike Tyson

Our predisposition to favor strategy at the expense of execution can be attributed to the fact that strategy is fundamentally easier than executing. This is because strategizing is a conceptual exercise, a manipulation of our mental landscape which is in effect a simulation, and a simplification of reality. Execution, by contrast, necessarily entails a confrontation with reality in all its complexity.

I mention this because it underpins the fact that strategy and execution deliver feedback of differing quality. And it’s the quality of the feedback we get from strategy that can make it into a trap.

Broadly speaking, when we strategize we get low-quality feedback, and when we execute, we get high-quality feedback. Strategizing provides us with general information and is always simplified to some degree.

By contrast, by when we endeavor to execute, to do the work, we are getting feedback that is unique to our specific situation. Such high-quality feedback is often psychologically painful because it is so specific to our own limitations and shortcomings.

It’s tempting to presume that those of us who overindulge in strategy at the expense of execution do so out of laziness. But I believe it’s ambition that makes strategy so dangerous. We strategize not because it is the absence of but because it is effort.

Strategy becomes an insidious trap when it allows us to feel like we’re doing something, even if that something isn’t productive. At its worst, strategy is the junk-food of work, a procrastination for ambitious people that lets us feel good about getting nowhere.

 

SpaceX & The Hierarchy of Feedback

For a sense of how the hierarchy of feedback plays out in the real world, consider how the company SpaceX dealt with the tension between strategy and execution.

SpaceX’s objective was to create rockets that could carry objects into space and then return safely to earth. Sending rockets into space is very expensive, so SpaceX was highly incentivized to spend as much time as they could perfecting their strategy and design before spending the money to test-launch a rocket. As such, the company invested in the brightest rocket scientists and the most powerful computers money could buy to simulate how the rockets would perform.

The economics of SpaceX’s situation dictated that if there was any way they could simulate their way to a rocket that worked, they would. But they couldn’t. They had to send rockets into space because their most valuable feedback came from the information they received during each attempt at launch and each failure.

SpaceX launched more than 10 rockets costing the company hundreds of millions before they finally achieved a rocket that could return safely from earth’s orbit.

Rocket engineering is an admittedly extreme example but the principle does, I think, carry over into our own more modest objectives; irrespective of the endeavor there is no substitute for the feedback you get from getting off the page and out into the world.

Where We Over-Strategize – The Sisyphus Matrix

While we’re predisposed to favor strategy over execution, not all activities are the same. In my experience, there are two qualities of a given task, variables if you will, that determine how likely we are to fall into the trap of strategizing at the expense of doing:  

Variable 1: Pleasure/Pain – How enjoyable or difficult producing output i.e. doing the work is.

Variable 2: Confidence/Anxiety – How confident or anxious you are that given enough work, you’ll get the outcome you want.

The danger of strategizing when we should be executing is the greatest when the work is painful and the outcome feels uncertain. It’s worth noting that pain alone is often well tolerated if we know it will result in achieving our goals, and uncertainty is also bearable if we can at least tolerate going through the motions. But as the experience of a task shifts towards the combination of both discomfort and anxiety, the fear that our misery may be pointless often drives us to either quit or retreat to the drawing board.

 

I’ve titled the above table the Sisyphus Matrix because the ancient Greek myth of Sisyphus is a striking, if fictional, example of how these two facets of our experience combine to shape our relationship with a given task.  

The myth tells of a king named Sisyphus who was both greedy and cunning. In order to glorify himself, Sisyphus deceived the Gods Hades and Zeus – making them look like fools.

For believing he was more clever than the gods, Zeus devised a special punishment for Sisyphus. He would be forced to roll a heavy boulder up a mountain, only to watch that same boulder roll back down the hill as soon as he’d finished, for all eternity.

Sisyphus’ punishment is terrible because it is both painful and so definitely pointless. It is the Platonic antithesis of productivity and genius – an eternity of meaningless suffering.

As such, Sisyphus’ punishment lands in the very top right corner of the matrix. Whereas a task that is both pleasurable in its execution and highly certain in its outcome would be in the bottom left-hand corner.

 

Most of our endeavors won’t be as forlorn as Sisyphus’ punishment. But because the world is a competitive place, worthwhile things are often difficult things, and so our objectives tend to cluster somewhere towards the middle right region of the matrix.

Thinking about our work in terms of these variables can help us identify when we’re likely to be pushed towards the siren song of unproductive strategizing. Again, the more painful the process and the more anxiety we have about its outcome, the greater the likelihood that we dither.  

That said, there are times when it’s right to go back to the drawing board or just plain give up. But more often than not, we succumb to procrastination in the guise of strategizing long before we’ve given ourselves the chance to get the feedback we need to make a good decision.

The Motivation Mindset And Its Discontents

“Discipline equals freedom” – Jocko Willink

When a task is painful and the outcome is uncertain, it’s often the case that my motivation seems to somehow vanish. At such times, stepping away to improve my strategy seems like a reasonable way to rekindle and reconnect with the feelings that lead me into the work. This is one of the ways I’ve fallen into the trap of over-strategizing but it also speaks to a deeper misunderstanding of the role that motivation should play in achieving goals.

When we approach our goals with what I’ll call the Motivation Mindset, we expect that our motivation to reach our goal will translate into motivation to do the work necessary to achieve it.  

For example, the motivation mindset assumes that because we’re motivated to learn French, we’ll also feel motivated to spend hours learning to conjugate French verbs. It’s also the reason people say things like, “he just didn’t want it badly enough.” when someone fails to achieve something. The flaw with this approach to our goals is that it places too much stock in the durability of motivation.

Motivation is a treacherous currency because it is a fundamentally forward looking emotion. It is a why, why you’re doing something. Motivation concerns itself with the future and because we are quick to discount the future in the face of difficulty, it is fundamentally fickle. As such, relying on motivation will almost never get you through the work required for a worthwhile goal.

An alternative, and in my experience superior approach is to approach our work with what i’d call a Discipline Mindset. Which is to say that we should expect that, irrespective of our initial motivation, discipline will be required.

Motivation and discipline differ in that if motivation is about the future then discipline is about the present. If motivation asks why, then discipline asks how? How will I get through the drudgery of conjugating verbs? By drinking a strong coffee and not getting out of this chair for an hour.

It is a subtle distinction, but I would argue it is a worthwhile one because in essence, a disciplined mindset creates more realistic expectations. The result is that instead of feeling like we’re doing things wrong because we’re bored, tired and pissed off, we can begin to recognize those emotions as signals that we’re doing exactly what we should be.

Discipline Creates Motivation

There is a further relationship between discipline and motivation that’s worth exploring. It’s how, in certain circumstances, discipline can lead to a renewed sense of motivation. This occurs when disciplined output provides high-quality feedback which in turn leads to truly productive adjustments to our strategy.

As we observe said adjustments creating real changes in the efficiency and/or efficacy of our work, the result is motivation to do more work. Which is to say that when we feel more confident that our plan will work or we’ll feel better while we do it, we feel motivated to follow through and execute.

Put in terms of the Sisyphus Matrix, motivation is the feeling we get when our perception of a task moves from Task t1 to Task t2:

This is why people spend, and often waste money on “gear” and its equivalent. It creates the expectation of a more pleasurable experience and thereby the motivation to take another shot at the work. Unfortunately, for things that require true skill, better tools often provide only a minor improvements to our process and our motivation quickly dissipates.

Conclusion – In Defense of Platitudes

“Action is the foundational key to all success” – Picasso

Slogans like the above, and many others, used to bother me for being patently incomplete descriptions of what it takes to be successful. After all, surely there is something to be said for working smarter not just harder and therefore “Just do it” can’t be a complete description of what it takes to succeed.

But if that’s the case, why do seemingly smart, accomplished people treat these blatant oversimplifications as gospel? For instance, one of my favorite artists, the filmmaker Casey Neistat has both “Do More” and “Always Be Closing” tattooed on his arm.

So how to account for this? Are people like Picasso and Casey just so lucky and/or talented that simply “Doing More” without any thought to “How To Do It” has brought them so much success that they’ve bought into the idea that their personal experience is a worthy universal maxim?  

Possibly. We are all susceptible to reading too deeply into our own experiences. On the other hand, to dismiss these people as naive and the slogans as platitudes might be a dangerous oversimplification in itself.

There is, I think, a more nuanced approach to interpreting the situation that helps reconcile the reverence with which people attend these oversimplified mantras. One that gelled for me only when I came across the following quote by the jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr, he wrote:

I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.

Framed within the lens of the above quotation, I think it’s possible to view slogans like “Do More Work” as expressions of what Homes would characterize as simplicity on the far side of complexity.

Which is to say that successful people do understand that there is more to achievement than just doing the work, that there is a need for both strategy and execution. But they also understand that the dynamic between the two is such that while there is a role for being clever, it so often dwarfed by the opportunity to improve by putting our heads down and getting our hands dirty, that saying anything other than Do The Work, would be a waste of breath.



Ray Dalio On How To Run A Meeting & Other Business Tactics

Reading a book is easy. It’s much harder to take what’s in the book and incorporate it into our lives. I like to tackle this problem by distilling books down to a few tactics that I can implement quickly. 1

In a previous post, I outlined 4 ways that you can make better decisions using Ray Dalio’s life principles. In this post, I’ll outline what I think are the most impactful and actionable tactics from Dalio’s work principles.

Here they are:

1) How To Run A Meeting

“Meetings are an addictive, highly self-indulgent activity that corporations and other large organizations habitually engage in only because they cannot actually masturbate.” ― Dave Barry

Dalio often describes his organization as an intellectual version of the Navy Seals, and it’s clear from his Principles that like the military, he has an affinity for structure. So it shouldn’t be surprising that he thinks the most important part of running a meeting is to be clear about who is in charge and what the meeting is supposed to achieve:

Make it clear who is directing the meeting and whom it is meant to serve. Every meeting should be aimed at achieving someone’s goals; that person is the one responsible for meeting and deciding what they want to get out of it and how they will do so. Meetings without someone clearly responsible run a high risk of being directionless and unproductive

– Principles, Work Principle 4.4 – A

Dalio’s second Principle for running effective meetings is to assign someone to keep track of both responsibilities and the conversation flow. Said person ensures that any tasks to be done are assigned to specific people and not forgotten. They also ensure that the meeting doesn’t veer too far off topic.

Be careful not to lose personal responsibility via group decision making. Too often groups will make a decision to do something without assigning personal responsibilities, so it is not clear who is supposed to follow up by doing what. Be clear in assigning personal responsibilities.

– Principles, Work Principle 4.4 – H

Watch out for “topic slip.” Topic slip is random drifting from topic to topic without achieving completion on any of them. One way to avoid it is by tracking the conversation on a whiteboard so that everyone can see where you are. (Emphasis mine)

– Principles, Work Principle 4.4 – F

Applying Dalio’s tactics may make people feel uncomfortable at first, but in the long run, it will reduce peoples anxiety about meetings because they’ll know how they’re expected to behave and that their time won’t be wasted.

2) Use Standing Meetings

Our true priorities are defined by where we spend our resources, and that most often means where we spend our precious time. Too often though the distractions of daily business pull us along low-value tangents that take ours and others time away from where it would best spent. Dalio has found that the best way to avoid these distractions is to habituate your time allocations by setting standing meetings. For instance, if your company priority is sales, you should have a weekly sales meeting.

Use standing meetings to help your organization run like a swiss clock. Regularly scheduled meetings add to overall efficiency by enduring that important interactions and to-do’s aren’t overlooked, eliminating the need for efficient coordination, and improving operations (because repetition leads to refinement). It pays to have standardized meeting agendas that ask the same feedback questions in each meeting, (such as how effective the meeting was) and nonstandard meeting agendas that include things done infrequently (such as quarterly budget reviews).

– Principles, Work Principle 13.3 – D

3) Use Daily Updates To Stay In Sync

Use daily updates as a tool for staying on top of what your people are doing and thinking. I ask each person who reports to me to take about ten to fifteen minutes to write a brief description of what they did that day, the issues pertaining to them, and their reflections. By reading these updates and triangulating them, (i.e., seeing other people’s takes on what their doing together), I can gauge how they are working together, what their moods are, and which threads I should pull on.

-Principles, Work Principle 10.6 – C

Imagine if you woke up every morning instantly knowing what everyone in your company intended to work on that day and everyone else knew the same thing. Appealing, because of how incredibly efficient that might make everything, right? And, at the same time, kind of terrifying because you don’t want everyone looking over your shoulder judging what you intend to do every day.

The latter concern was why I first resisted using daily updates. I told myself, “I’m competent. I don’t need someone looking over my shoulder to do the right thing.” But now that I’ve been using it for a few months, I’ve come to see the value in it.

For me specifically, it’s as simple as sending my colleague a list of things I intend to work on each day. And in addition to it being a useful communication tool, it helps me organize my day and prioritize what I need to work on first. By contrast, my old habit of jumping into my email first-thing would lead me down a rabbit hole that didn’t necessarily reflect my priorities.

4) Use Process Flow Diagrams

Dalio’s ideal is a company that runs like a machine. At its core, a machine is a set of processes. Using process flow diagrams can help you visualize the different processes that make up your organization. These visuals help managers understand how resources will be allocated and interact with each other. But more importantly, they help ensure that everyone understands how the organization is expected to run and their role within it.

Understand that a great manager is essentially an organizational engineer. Great managers are not philosophers, entertainers, doers or artists. They are engineers. They see their organizations as machines and work assiduously to maintain and improve them. They create process flow diagrams to show how the machine works and to evaluate its design. They build metrics to light up how well each of the individual parts of the machine (most importantly, the people) and the machine as a whole are working. And they tinker constantly with its designs and its people to make both better.

– Principles, Work Principles, 10.1 – B

Process Flow Diagrams. Just as an engineer uses flowcharts to understand the workflow of what they’re designing, a manager needs a Process Flow Diagram to help visualize the organization as a machine. It might have references to an organizational chart that shows who reports to whom, or the org chart might supplement the Process Flow Diagram (PFD). Ideally the PFD is made in a way that allows you to both see things simply at a high level and drop down to low level. 

– Principles, Appendix

Since reading Principles, I’ve used process flow diagrams to visualize a number of personal and professional activities. I find that creating visual representations allows people to communicate more effectively about complex processes then they could otherwise.

Here’s an example of how process diagrams can help you visualize things. This was made using Lucid Chart:

 

 

##########

If you enjoyed this post, check out these other posts on Ray Dalio’s Principles:

Ray Dalio’s Principles – 4 Steps To Better Decisions

Ray Dalio’s Secret Sauce – The Truth Machine & The Good Life 

  1. The difference between tactics and strategy is strategy tells you what you should do, tactics tells you what to do. In other words, a strategy is the more general goal and tactics are the things you do to make that goal happen.


Ray Dalio’s Principles – 4 Steps to Better Decisions

In a previous post, I described Ray Dalio’s Truth Machine and formula for a good life. For those who haven’t read it, “Truth Machine” is my term for the core process Dalio has used to become a billionaire investor and achieve everything else he has in life.

One drawback to Dalio’s process is that it involves multiple steps and coordination. Such complexity makes it tempting to dismiss it as a method that’s only suitable for sophisticated organizations. I think that’s a mistake.

In the interest of making the process actionable for regular humans like you and me, here are four things you can do today to help implement Dalio’s process in your own lives:

1) CREATE AN ADVISORY BOARD

For most of us – myself included – critical feedback even with the best of intentions, often feels like criticism. We have a natural tendency to dislike people who criticize us and because other people want to be liked, they often refrain from giving us the kind of feedback we need. Thus we have dynamic where people don’t like getting critical feedback and people don’t want to give it. As a result, we often have situations where we don’t get good outside input when we should.

This dynamic is similar to the problem people face when it comes to exercise: e.g. because we don’t exercise, we have no energy, and because we have no energy, we don’t feel like exercising. And as in the case of exercise, the best way to break the cycle is to create a habit or ritual out of the thing we’d rather not do.

To make a habit of critical feedback, I suggest creating an advisory board. Write down the names of at least two other people whose opinions you value. You don’t have to tell them their new roles, just schedule recurring discussions with these people at least once every three months. Buy them coffee and ask them for their unfiltered opinions when it comes to your most important decisions.

But remember, most people won’t automatically give you the kind of honest feedback you’re looking for. You have to ask for honest feedback and demonstrate that you’ll accept it as a way of improving yourself and your decisions. Don’t make people regret being honest with you.  

2) USE PERSONALITY ASSESSMENTS

“You must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.” – Richard Feynman

A core principle of Dalio’s process for getting what you want out of life is that you must know yourself. But because our egos make it difficult see ourselves objectively this is much easier said than done. To paraphrase the great Richard Feynman, you must know yourself, and you are the hardest person to know.

Personality assessments are the best tool Dalio has found for building a base of self-knowledge. These tests are useful because they take the conversation about how we are out of own heads and into a space of more objective measures. Dalio has had himself, his family, and every employee at his firm take multiple assessments to help them better understand themselves and one another.

Start by taking one of the following three tests that Dalio has his employees take. 

Myers Briggs Type Indicator

Link: https://www.mbtionline.com/TaketheMBTI

Cost: $50

Time: 15 minutes

Workplace Personality Inventory – II

Link: https://us.talentlens.com/workplace-personality-inventory-ii

Cost: $24-$28

Time: 30 minutes

Team Dimensions Online

Link: https://www.discprofile.com/products/team-dimensions-profile/

Cost: $39.95

Time: Unknown

Once you’ve completed an assessment, examine your results and see how they match up with your self-image and personal track-record. Then consider asking trusted friends or colleagues if they think your results paint an accurate picture of you.

3) FOCUS ON CONSEQUENCES NOT DIFFICULTY

For most problems, we decide whether we need help based primarily on how difficult it feels to determine the right answer. Instead, we should use how important it is to make the right decision as the test of whether we seek other people’s input.

Really bad outcomes are likely to happen not because the decision was hard, but because we were overconfident about an important decision that seemed easy. Shifting the focus from how hard the decision feels to how important it is to get right can help us determine when to call in reinforcements and ultimately make better decisions.

Even when a very important decision feels like a no-brainer, it’s worthwhile to ask for help.

4) BEGIN A MEDITATION PRACTICE

When Ray Dalio was in his 20’s, he punched his boss in the face on New Year’s Eve and was subsequently fired. Clearly, emotional self-control was not his strength then. And yet today the ability to rise above our emotional selves is an integral part of Dalio’s process. For his transformation from brawler to master truth seeker, Dalio credits his practice of transcendental meditation.

Meditation is complementary to Dalio’s process because it is fundamentally self-awareness training. By resting our attention on an unstimulating rhythm like the breathing or chanting a meaningless word, we can observe how subconscious thoughts arise and create emotional experiences. Through practice we learn to recognize and separate our attention from the emotional pull of our thoughts. That separation allows for better focus on the quality of our ideas and more open-minded dialogue with others.

Following Dalio’s example and beginning a meditation practice is something anyone can do to set the stage for better decision making. Having said that, although meditation can seem as easy as sitting on a pillow, developing a practice takes time. Below I’ve listed some helpful resources for taking the first steps to beginning a meditation practice:  

Oak Meditation (Free)

Link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/oak-meditation-breathing/id1210209691?mt=8

Headspace (Paid)

Link: https://www.headspace.com/headspace-meditation-app

MUSE Meditation Brainwave Detector (Paid)1

Link: http://www.choosemuse.com/

Transcendental Meditation (Paid)

Link: https://www.tm.org/

 

  1. I hope to have a post reviewing this item soon


Ray Dalio’s Secret Sauce – The Truth Machine and The Good Life

This is Ray Dalio; he has built one of the greatest money making machines the world has ever seen:

Ray Dalio has written a book titled Principles. The book is over 500 pages. It’s mostly words, and there are no wizards, so a lot of people won’t read it which I think is a shame.

The good news is that the core theme of Dalio’s book can be boiled down to the following formula:

But why should you listen to Ray Dalio at all? And does his formula work? As an introduction to Principles, I’ll use what Dalio calls the secret to his success to try and answer those questions.

THE TRUTH MACHINE

According to Dalio, the secret to his success is something he calls Believability Weighted Decision Making. This is a fancy way of describing what I’ll be calling Ray Dalio’s Truth Machine. Here’s what it looks like:

FIND OUT WHO’S BELIEVABLE

Using the Truth Machine is a three-step process, and the first step is finding believable people to listen to. Because we’re looking at just Dalio’s opinion, our first step is to determine how believable he is.

To determine how believable someone is, we need to ask ourselves,

“Does the person making the argument have a track record of success and/or expertise concerning the subject matter?”

The better the track record, the more believable the person.

It’s worth mentioning that most people find Ray Dalio believable because of his professional track record. Specifically, because Dalio has accomplished two objectively difficult things:

  1. He and his team at Bridgewater have delivered market-beating returns for the past 30 years.1
  2. He built (from scratch) the world’s largest hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates which currently manages ~$140 billion of assets.2

Thus, Dalio is believable when it comes to the topics of investing, leadership and achieving your goals. But great professional success doesn’t always mean a fulfilled life. The question is whether or not Dalio has achieved a good life using his formula.

Because it’s nearly impossible to take a reliable measure of another person’s subjective experience, the best evidence of a track-record we have is Dalio’s own report about his life. And according to him, he’s lead an extremely fulfilling life full of meaningful work and meaningful relationships.

For me, Dalio’s report on his own life in combination with a track-record as someone who can achieve difficult goals is enough to consider him a believable person.

Open Minded Critical Thinking

After we’ve gathered believable people’s opinions, the Truth Machine process requires that all these believable people turn their brainpower toward critically and open-mindedly evaluating the logic of each other’s opinions. Critical thinking is necessary because even a person with a great track-record can be wrong.3 And sometimes a person with no track record can be right.4

While getting a group of smart people in a room together and having them open-mindedly search for the best ideas sounds good on paper, it’s worth pausing for a moment and consider how rare it is for this to actually happen.

It’s rare is because we don’t just have an idea and then carry it along with us independent of ourselves.




What does happen is that our ideas get wrapped up in our feelings and egos. So when we have ideas, we grow attached to them in a way that turns them from just thoughts in our heads to extensions of our self-worth.5

The result is that when people come together in the real world, they come to fight for their ideas, instead of looking for the best idea.

Because it goes against fundamental aspects of human nature, this is the hardest step in the Truth Machine to get right. Asking people to be critically open-minded about their best ideas is like asking master craftsmen to bring their best work to a contest where they know that if it’s not chosen as the winner, it will be destroyed.

A large part of Dalio’s success as an investor has been the result of training himself and other people to be open-minded enough to engage in just this type of process. 

Dalio’s Good Life Formula

Critical thinking means examining the underlying logic of other’s ideas. So that you can apply your critical thinking to Dalio’s opinion, I’m going to try and provide a quick and dirty explanation of his reasoning.

The first principle in Dalio’s formula is that a good life is a life full of things you value. For example, Dalio’s values are meaningful work and meaningful relationships.

Your values may be money and nice cars, and that’s ok. What is important is that you make an effort to truly know yourself in order to accurately diagnose what your values are.

Once you understand your values, the next step is to set goals that will bring these values into your life. A goal could be an amount of money, a change you want to see in the world or a job you’d like to have.6

As we all know, goals don’t just happen. Therefore the next step is to craft processes to achieve our goals. Our ability to achieve our goals comes down to two factors, our decisions, and luck. Since by definition we cannot control luck, the question of achieving our goals becomes how to make the best decisions. Good decisions, Dalio argues, can only be achieved by accurately understanding how the world works.

For example, if we want to bet on the results of a coin toss, our best method for making good decisions (bets) will be figuring out whether the coin is fair (a 50/50 chance of heads or tails) or weighted in some other way that skews the odds of the results.

As in life, the result of any single toss will have an element of luck but over many coin tosses, the weighting of the coin will act as a signal that overcomes the noise of luck.

Dalio believes that most people’s biggest obstacle to understanding how the world works is not a lack of intelligence, but a tendency to avoid confronting painful realities. When confronting the reality of the world would violate a long-held belief or entail a truth about ourselves that we don’t want to face, we avoid acknowledging the truth to protect our ego’s.

 

When we turn away from reality and make decisions based on a flawed model of how the world works. The result is decisions based on fantasy that presumes the world is one-way when really, in the immortal words of Marlo Stanfield, “it’s the other way.”  

As I hope you can see, the Truth Machine plays an integral role in Dalio’s process for getting around ego and confronting reality so that he can make good decisions, achieve his goals, get things he values, and have a good life.

 

Take A (Believability Weighted) Vote

The final step in the Truth Machine’s process is to put believable people’s opinions to a vote. But it is not a normal one, man, one vote situation. Instead, each person’s vote is weighted by their believability. More believable people’s votes count for more and less believable people’s count for less.

Each person’s weighted vote is tallied up and the opinion or course of action with the most votes selected and voila! You have a truth machine decision. 

Although it may seem a little strange at first, believability weighted voting really just a more formal way of expressing what we do in ordinary life.

For example, if you’d never studied physics and need the right answer to a physics problem, you would value someone with a degree in physics opinion much more highly than your own. In fact, you’d value their opinion so highly that even if their answer didn’t make sense to you, you’d probably use their opinion over yours.  7

When it comes to physics, it’s easy to see that only an idiot would believe the best answer was already in their own head. That’s because we understand that physics is difficult and complex. But when it comes to other areas like relationships, careers, politics and investing, we tend to presume that we can come up with the best answers on our own. And of course, that’s where we get into trouble.  

Unfortunately, we can’t take a believability weighted vote on Dalio’s formula. But you can make your opinion heard in the comments, or discuss it with your friends to get more than just your own opinion on the subject. 

The Best Worst Truth Machine

In an ideal world, by using the Truth Machine, every decision would reflect the truth about how the world works. But of course, even the Truth Machine isn’t perfect. As Dalio would be the first to admit, all the Truth Machine does is get you closer than any other system he has found.

Most of us go through life using only our own brains to make our decisions. The insight that’s made Dalio a billionaire has been to realize that his own brain isn’t that great and that that’s ok. It’s ok because he’s discovered that if he can get a lot of pretty good brains together and train them to only care about the best answer, they can get a much better view of how the world works than he ever could on his own. 

That’s the essence of Ray Dalio’s Truth Machine and the foundation of his formula for the good life. In an upcoming post, I’ll discuss some methods to bring Dalio’s process into your own life and business.

###

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy these other articles related to Principles:

Ray Dalio’s Principles – 4 Steps For Better Decisions

  1. This is hard. Billions of dollars a year are spent on out-performing the markets and few have been able to do it consistently for as long as Dalio and his team at Bridgewater.
  2.  It’s worth noting that being the largest hedge-fund does not necessarily happen because you beat the markets. It’s an accomplishment in and of itself. Becoming the world’s biggest requires strong returns but it also requires a world-class organization to support it.
  3. Einstein’s Mistakes – https://www.amazon.com/Einsteins-Mistakes-Human-Failings-Genius/dp/0393337685
  4.  Unknown Mathematician Proves Elusive Property of Prime Numbers – https://www.wired.com/2013/05/twin-primes/
  5.  Dalio writes that this is due to fundamental properties of how our brains work. Specifically, that the amygdala plays a large role in creating the feelings that give our ideas an emotional character.
  6. It’s interesting to note that this assumes you can accurately estimate the time it will take to get the things you value and that either your preferences will be stable through time or that you can accurately estimate the preferences of your future self.
  7. Is Gravity An Illusion? – https://youtu.be/NblR01hHK6U


Passion is Bullshit – Cal Newport on Finding Work You Love

Once upon a time, my job was to sell bonds. I didn’t like my job. I spent a lot of time thinking about what job I should do instead. The internet said that people should do what they are passionate about. So I thought, what am I passionate about? And I thought about it some more. But the answers were never that compelling.

There were a lot of things I was interested in, but nothing had that quality of deep and soul consuming fire which sends people up the tallest mountains or dodging bullets to feed refugees. So I kept thinking about it. And then, finally, I read Cal Newport’s book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You.

Now I can tell you that passion is (mostly) bullshit. There is a better way to find work you love.

Why Passion Is Overvalued And Overblown

The myth that passion is the way to find work we love, like any good lie, is built on a grain of truth. That truth is that when someone is innately passionate about something, and it works out it for them, it just makes so much sense. We see someone who was born passionate become successful at what they love, and think by golly that’s the way the world is supposed to work. But we forget that this is like looking at someone who was born with a passion for playing the lottery and happened to hit the jackpot – it doesn’t mean it’s going to work for everyone.

The second reason we over attribute success to innate passion is that we tend to like what we become good at. There are a whole lot of people who did not decide what to work on based on any preexisting passion, but developed passion because they became good at what they did. These people then confuse things by telling themselves and others that they have been passionate about what they do all along.

Cal Newport opens So Good They Can’t Ignore You with Steve Jobs as an example of someone who was not always the quintessential passionate entrepreneur. In truth, Jobs was a bright young man who stumbled into something good and then developed a passion for it only after experiencing some success. As evidence, Newport cites the fact that Jobs was a co-founder at a startup company before starting Apple but abandoned his job without telling his co-founders to spend months at the All One spiritual commune. Not the type of behavior you’d expect from a person who was supposedly deeply passionate about starting a computer company.

Finally, some people just lie about being passionate. They say they love what they do because they’re afraid to admit they don’t. This is a symptom of the fact that our society presumes that to be good at something you must be innately passionate about it. So much so that many people feel it is a mark of personal failure to even admit they do not LOVE their jobs.

For all these reasons and more, passion gets way more credit than it’s due.

Ask Not About Passion But About Career Capital

Instead of trying to figure out what we are passionate about, Newport urges us to focus on acquiring what he calls career capital. For Newport, career capital is rare and valuable skills.

How is this different than the passion-based approach?

First, as a question, the career capital framework shifts the focus of our decision criteria from a question that is centered around “I”, “What am I passionate about?”, to a question that is centered around others, “What is the world looking for that I can become really good at?”

Second, it specifies that the skill must be rare and valuable. For instance, writing words on the internet about books you’ve read is not a rare and valuable skill, so getting good at that is probably a waste of time.

Third, the career capital framework does not demand passion as a prerequisite for trying things. This means you won’t prematurely disqualify things you may end up having a great career in before you have a chance to try them.

Fourth, using the career capital framework makes it explicit that you have to not only identify what skill you want but also acknowledge that you have to get really good at it. Getting good at things is hard. To become genuinely skilled at something you have to get up and do stuff that is tiring and dull and uncomfortable and you have to keep doing it, often for years. Acknowledging this up front helps you make decisions about what you are willing to pursue.*

Finally, the Career Capital approach also provides a safer road-map for getting to where you want to be because as Newport points out, passion can be dangerous. Dangerous because making decisions on passion alone can lead us to attempt things that we are genuinely unprepared for. Passion has lead many people to start businesses armed only with good intentions and no skill or contacts. Unfortunately, this is like jumping out of an airplane without really knowing how to use your parachute. Yes, you are deeply motivated to learn how to open your chute but you only have so much time to do it and the results will be devastating if you don’t. I did this when I started a business without customers. It’s painful, don’t do it.

Career capital is not as sexy as passion. No one is going to put “Develop Career Capital” on a t-shirt or mug. In fact, it’s so economically intuitive as to be banal. But it is a better approach because it both changes the questions we ask and better defines what we’re seeking.

Once You Have Career Capital, Bargain for Control

The final but critical step in Newport’s formula for achieving work you love is to bargain with your accumulated career capital for control and autonomy over what you do.

To see why these qualities are critical to having a career you love, imagine what it would be like to be a rock star without them. Yes, you’d be famous, and make a lot of money but if you only had three weeks of vacation per year, and no say over where and what you had to play, you’d probably grow to hate it in the long run.

Now imagine you’re a rock star that gets to decide where and how often you work (within reason), and you’re also allowed to pick most of the songs you play. You’d probably end up hating the former and loving the latter scenario, even though they are technically the same job.

Part of the brilliance of Newport’s framework is that he makes it explicit that our ability to set the terms of how we work can be just as, if not more important than what we do.

Work Past And Future

In 1931 the economist John Maynard Keynes wrote that given the rate of improvement in economic productivity, in the future (our present), we would only have to devote a few hours a day to paid “work.” The real problem, he predicted, would be figuring out what to do with all our leisure time.

Keynes’ vision of the future has not come to pass. We still spend a large portion of our lives doing whatever people are willing to pay us for. There has however been a somewhat compensatory shift in focus towards making that work meaningful and enjoyable.

The problem, up to now, had been that no one gave much serious thought to how to intelligently go about finding work you love. Cal Newport’s career capital framework has changed that. Both by reframing the questions we ask and by better defining what it is we’re looking for, Newport gives us the tools to make better decisions and ultimately create more meaningful lives.

 



I Is Not Enough – Amartya Sen on the Utility and Moral Dimension of Thinking Beyond Ourselves

One of the reasons for this blog is to share different frameworks of thought that I’ve found helpful or interesting with others. I am the kind of person who really enjoys having a conceptual framework for why, what and how I go about doing just about anything.

In the introduction to his book, The Idea of Justice, the economist Amartya Sen makes an eloquent case for his attempt at crafting a theory of justice. What I love about the passage that follows is that you could replace the word justice for any number of things such as: nutrition, monetary policy, relationships, investing, meaningful work, and have a compelling argument for why we should strive to build a theory around our actions and the actions of others:

The identification of redressable injustice is not only what animates us to think about justice and injustice, it is also central, I argue in this book, to the theory of justice. In the investigation presented here, diagnosis of injustice will figure often enough as the starting point for critical discussion. But, it may be asked, if this is a reasonable starting point, why can’t it also be a good ending point? What is the need to go beyond our sense of the word justice and injustice. Why must we have a theory of justice?

To understand the world is never a matter of simply recording our immediate perceptions. Understanding inescapably involves reasoning. We have to ‘read’ what we feel and seem to see, and ask what those perceptions indicate and how we may take them into account without being overwhelmed by them. One issue relates to the reliability of our feelings and impressions. A sense of injustice could serve as a signal that moves us, but a signal does demand critical examination, and there has to be some scrutiny of the soundness of a conclusion based mainly on signals. Adam Smith’s conviction of the importance of moral sentiments did not stop him from a seeking a ‘theory of moral sentiments’. Nor from insisting that a sense of wrongdoing be critically examined through reasoned scrutiny to see whether it can be the basis of a sustainable condemnation. A similar requirement of scrutiny applies to an inclination to praise someone or something.*

As compelling as this is for me, there are, I’ve been told, some people who consider an intellectual framework to be superfluous, if not downright stupid. To such people, a theory is nothing more than an extra layer of unnecessary complexity around a problem. Instead of theoretical frameworks for action, such people assign value only to their intuition and unique personal experiences.

For example, people often dismiss the need for an intellectual framework in the context of weight-loss and exercise. They say things like, “If I want to lose weight,  I just eat less and exercise more.” or “If I want to get stronger, I just go to the gym and lift heavy weights.” And in some sense these people are right, they recognize that often it is doing simple and effective things that make real progress and over intellectualizing can be a waste of time and energy.

The problem with this type of thinking is that it runs a dangerous risk of oversimplification and ignores the role that generalizable framework plays in improving the lives of others.

I say improve the lives of others because meaningful lives are the result of good decisions (on average) and good decisions are the result of understanding how the world works. In light of that understanding, the failure to try and think beyond our own intuition and experience can be viewed a failure from a moral dimension.

The failure to attempt to think beyond ourselves is a moral failure because it means we never stop to ask if and how our experiences manifest the underlying reality of the world. Such an approach to life precludes the possibility of creating a generalized framework that can be communicated, tested and then shared to better the lives of others. 

That said, there are good reasons to be skeptical of theory. Sometimes theories are bullshit.1 But the failure of an individual framework is not the failure of the method. We should consider what works for I and then carefully, and incrementally attempt to discover why and how it will work for we.

 

*Sen, Amartya Kumar. The Idea of Justice. Cambridge, MA: Belknap of Harvard U, 2011. Print.



My Favorite Tools For Escaping Social Media and Taking Back Attention

Social media is addictive. That it’s addictive is not an accident: Social media is built to be addictive. In the same way casinos design slot machines, the companies behind services like Facebook, Tinder, SnapChat, and BuzzFeed spend billions of dollars researching how to maximize your time spent on and continued use of their products. After all, more time on their sites = more advertisements served = more profits – it’s just good business.

But what’s good for Mark Zuckerberg’s net worth is not what is good for our lives. Social media habits can rob us of our ability to concentrate, to get sh*t done and even disrupt our relationships.

The good news is there are new tools that can help you take control of both how you use social media and your ability to focus. After a few weeks of experimenting with a number of these tools, I’ve achieved a level of social media use that lets me get the most out of what good these services do offer while maintaining control over my attention during the most productive hours of my day.

Here’s what I’m using:

Freedom App (Paid) 

An app called Freedom is the best tool I’ve found for taking control of media use and attention. Using VPN technology, Freedom allows you to control when and what you can access, across all your devices. Freedom lets you to block not only apps like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat but also specific websites, as well.

What really makes Freedom powerful is the level of control it gives you. It allows you to create customized lists of blocked services and then associate those lists with schedules that can be specified to times of day, days of the week and different devices.

For example, I created the above Blocklist titled “SansGmail” to block a number of social media services. I then associated that Blocklist with the below schedule to restrict those services from  6:30am to 8:00pm, Monday through Saturday, just on my phone.

 

By scheduling blocked-out times in advance Freedom allows you to stop relying on your finite supply of willpower to change. I made progress changing my social media use before using Freedom, but this app is what has allowed me to automate those changes to the point that they now feel like a habit

Strict Workflow Chrome Extension (Free)

The Strict Workflow chrome extension is a simple but effective tool for re-training yourself to focus and avoid mindless content while working. The app inserts a timer icon into your browser that will block any websites you specify for a set amount of “work time”, followed by an interval of “break time”, when nothing is blocked. For example, you would set the timer to block Facebook, Twitter and other news sites for a 45 minute work interval, followed by a 15 minute break interval.

After just a few months of using this extension, my ability to concentrate has improved dramatically. That said, at least once a week I still find myself reflexively going to Facebook or Bloomberg and I’m happy that all I have to do is press the timer to cut me off and keep me focused.

Turn Off Notifications (Free)

For anyone who wants to decrease their social media use turning off all notifications is an easy first step. Let’s face it, there’s no reason for your phone to buzz every time someone likes the latest photo of your lunch.

Similarly, moving social media apps from the first page into the depths of your phone can make it easier for you to resist the urge to sign into these services. If nothing else, having to swipe or click through numerous screens will make you more aware of how often, and how much time you spend reaching for social media dopamine hits.

Deleting Apps Method (Free)

Ok kids… time to turn off the Instagram……

Do you remember when your parents would tell you to turn off the TV for the night? I do. And I’ve adopted a similar strategy for tuning out habit forming apps like Instagram. I delete the app every evening, reinstalling it during my approved viewing hours at night, then delete it again before going to sleep.

I started doing this because I became so disgusted at how reflexively I checked Instagram. I realized that just seeing the Instagram app on my screen increased the likelihood that I’d try to open it, whether it was blocked or not.   

Airplane Mode (Free)

When I first started to take control of my ability to focus I used a combination of the Strict Workflow app and my phones airplane mode. Many people will balk at the idea of being completely cut off from their cell-phones. But if you do any kind of thoughtful work it’s more important for your career that you find a way to keep your attention on producing quality then it is to take every call the instant it arrives.

Placing your phone on airplane mode and setting a timer for 30 minutes is a great way to begin practicing attention and deep work habits.

One Day At A Time  

Habits are hard to change. It’s a rare person who can go to sleep one night saying they are going to be different and jump out of bed the next morning a changed man or woman. In reality we change incrementally: Bad habit’s don’t just stop, instead they are modified or replaced with more benign ones – one day at time.

I wrote this post because using these tools to change my social media use and take back my attention has changed my life. Being free of the mindless urge to look at Facebook, Twitter or Instagram is like having a whole other compartment of your brain freed up. I couldn’t be happier with the results and I think you will be too.

###

So… have you tried to quit or change your social media use? If so please share your experience in the comments.

Would you like to get updates on new posts? Please consider signing up for my updates here or at the top of the sidebar.

 



Brett Victor – Building Technology to Human Dimensions & Being Conscious of The Adjacent Horizon

The Humane Representation of Thought from Bret Victor on Vimeo.

 

At almost 1 hour the above talk by Brett Victor is both long and incredibly thought provoking. In it he explains how our current technological landscape utilizes only a narrow band of humanity’s capacity for thought.

People like to talk about where technology is going and what it will do for us but as Mr. Victor demonstrates, technology doesn’t move towards its highest expression by improvements in processing power or market forces alone. Instead it requires people equipped with the intentionality to design technology that work with and across the scope of human capabilities.

 

For me his point about the needs for intentionality in how we design technology speaks to a larger issue in our society. That is, the misguided assumption that outcomes are driven by market forces through a competitive evolution towards their most useful and desirable incarnation. This is naive, many things are shaped almost irrevocably by the design decisions at their beginnings, or to use the technical term they exhibit path dependency. The way that cities are designed is a good example of this.

This is worth talking about because only once we acknowledge this reality that things won’t take care of themselves can we begin to look at the edges of what might have been, and what better future might be on the adjacent horizon, but only with our help. As Mr. Victor eloquently ends his talk:

Humane won’t just happen. This not just like Sussman’s technology that is going to happen because there’s already really powerful forces at play. Humane is never a default. And humane only ever comes out of deliberate and conscious design work. If you do the incremental thing, and just ride the current wave of technology and let technology lead you wherever it leads you it’s going to lead you to a tighter and tighter cage…

 

 



Built to Lie to You – Learning About Media Manipulation From Ryan Holiday

 

I like to think I’m skeptical but after reading Ryan Holiday’s media tell all, Trust Me I’m Lying, I realize I have not been skeptical enough. Ryan Holiday, the self-proclaimed media manipulator, has worked in public relations for the fashion brand American Apparel, as well as the bestselling authors Robert Greene, and Tucker Max. In Trust Me I’m Lying (TMIL), Holiday takes the reader through the mechanics of the modern media cycle and it’s ugly. But it’s also eye-opening; the best thing about Trust Me I’m Lying’s is how it has forced me to examine and reconsider many of my assumptions about the media. Here are a few of them.

Assumption 1 –  Blogs Have Standards like Newspapers  

I can say that before reading Holiday’s book I knew there was a difference between the New York Times and The New York Post and yet somehow when it came to the world of digital media everything sort of blurred together. To me, a story published Business Insider was pretty much the same as a story published in The Washington Post. More broadly, I was operating under the assumption that any sufficiently large media outlet was governed by some sort of overarching code of media ethics – something akin to the Hippocratic oath for media – a code that you have to follow if you want to respect yourself and be respected by others. And I was totally wrong.

New digital media aka blogs are not incentivized to care about standards. If they do publish something false, they can blame it on poor sourcing and issue a correction. As long as the story has generated page-views and thereby advertising revenue they’ve still come out ahead. As TMIL puts it:  

Blogs need things to cover. The Times has to fill a newspaper only once per day. A cable news channel has to fill twenty-four hours of programming 365 days a year. But blogs have to fill an infinite amount of space…

Assumption 2 – Newspapers Have Standards

More established media outlets like The New York Times and CNN may have more stringent sourcing standards but they also live and die by advertising dollars. Thus if a story is generating a lot of attention at lower level blogs, established media outlets will feel immense pressure to cover it as well.

This creates a kind of echo chamber effect whereby stories we get exposed to are not those that are important but those that resonate and reverberate through the medium of our modern media, which is, of course, the internet.

Even within publications, the burden of proof for the print version of a newspaper might differ drastically from what reporters need to go live with a blog post. As media outlets grapple with tighter deadlines and smaller staffs, many of the old standards for verification, confirmation and fact-checking are becoming impossible to maintain.

Assumption 3 – The Truth Will Out

I always thought there was a symmetry to the news; e.g. if a there was a big scandal, then discovering that the scandal was manufactured, bogus or just plain wrong would be equally newsworthy. As Dwight Schrute would say, this is False!

Bad behavior makes us talk, public shaming and gossip are things we love to share with others. On the other hand, finding out that we were wrong about something, that our outrage and condemnation were based on nothing more than hearsay, or outright media manipulation is not the kind of thing we’re dying to share on Facebook. The media knows this and adjusts their publishing accordingly.

The example Holiday uses is Toyota. You probably heard that Toyota was pounded by the media for supposedly selling cars that accelerated on their own. Toyota ended up recalling vehicles and settling with the Department of Justice to the tune of $1.2 billion.

What you probably never heard is that an investigation by NASA determined that there was no electronic malfunction that could have caused large unintended acceleration. And yet Toyota remains guilty even after being proven innocent because exoneration doesn’t get page views.

Assumption 4 – The Media Is Selective

It’s human instinct to associate popularity with importance. If you see someone looking up, you’ll naturally tilt your head skyward to see what’s going on. In the same way we also tend to assume that if a popular media outlet is publishing something it’s worth reading. Not so.

This is because one, blogs don’t care about what’s important, they care about what’s going to generate interest. Two, they have to almost zero marginal cost for each additional story they produce. So when marketers want to pitch or even write stories for these publications the blogs are more than happy to oblige. TMIL illustrates this almost ad nauseam but my favorite example concerns a memo on the subject from Business Insider to the world at large:

In April 2011, Business Insider editor Henry Blodget put out an advisory to the PR world. He was drowning in elaborate story pitches and information about new services. He just couldn’t read them all… So he proposed a solution: the publicists could write about the product launches of their own clients and Blodget’s site would edit and publish them. ‘In short’ he concluded, ‘Please stop sending us e-mails with story ideas and just contribute directly to Business Insider. You’ll get a lot more ink for yourself and for your clients and you’ll save yourself a lot of wasted work.’

While TMIL can at times feel repetitive, braggadocious, sensational and self-righteous, it’s more than compensated for by the fact that I’m sure I’ll never look at the media the same way again. In fact, reading TMIL has convinced me to go on a media diet, a diet I think I’ll actually stick to for a change.

 



The Secret To Finding Work You Love – The ABP Criterion

Finding work we consider meaningful and enjoyable, in short, work we love, is one of the most important and difficult challenges we face. Important, because the majority of our waking lives are spent at work, and difficult because of the complete lack of attention devoted to the question by our educational system.

Indeed, given how much of our lives are spent working, consider how strange it is that you are infinitely more likely to spend a semester taking calculus, greek, or acting than you are seriously addressing how to go about finding what meaningful work means for you. In this absence of any coherent framework for addressing the problem, it’s no wonder that many people feel lost and depressed as they struggle to find the answer on their own.

The good news is that intelligent people have given the matter some serious thought, and there are tools you can use to dramatically increase your odds of success.  Among the most powerful of these tools is a three word decision rule that, if used consistently, will naturally guide you towards work you truly love.1

The rule goes like this:

A always

B be

P producing

And that’s it; Always Be Producing or ABP for short, is simply a way of saying that the true test of whether you’re making progress towards doing work you love is whether you’re producing.

For example, say you think you’d love to work as a Hollywood screenwriter.  The Always be Producing (ABP) rule asks, are you consistently producing (or trying) to turn out screenplays? Or, if say you want to be fashion designer, are you expending time and effort towards creating production quality designs?

The ABP rule states that if the answer to those questions not an unequivocal yes – if you’re not consistently producing – then you’re not doing what it takes to find work that you love.

Using the ABP criterion is that simple. The next time you start daydreaming about work you think you’d love, ask yourself why you’re not already doing it or better yet, just get started.

How ABP Works — Avoiding Psychological Traps

The ABP rule works in large part because it helps you avoid and overcome some common psychological tendencies or “traps”. Traps are detours that take us off the path of discovering what we truly love.

First among these is our tendency to assume the work we love is simply to create the things we like to consume. This a potent misconception because like any good lie it contains a grain of truth.

For example, the fact that you enjoy watching films seems to lend credence to the notion that you should be working in the film industry. The truth is that while it may in fact be an indicator that you could have a fulfilling career in the film business, enjoying films is actually a very weak predictor of what work you’ll love. This is because the experience of actually working to produce something is almost always materially different than you imagine it will be when you consume the end-product.

Take music for example. Many people love consuming it so much that it seems natural that they would love to work on creating music as work. But the act and experience of creating music is much more like sifting through and struggling with bad music than it is like consuming good music. Similarly, while an appreciation of good food is probably necessary for being a competent chef, the act of producing good food involves struggling to control the textures and flavors of ingredients under extreme pressure and is nothing like the act of eating at your favorite restaurant.

The ABP rule overcomes this psychological trap by forcing us to confront the fact that the reality of production is very different than we presume. Thus ABP keeps you from naively assuming the things you love to consume, are the things you’d love to make.

A related but distinct flavor of self delusion is our tendency to think that consuming things related to work we’d like to do is is getting us closer to doing work that we love. This trap is insidious because it feeds off our own good intentions. Our thinking often progresses along the lines of: we want to make progress towards finding work that we love, and what better way to do that than by immersing ourselves in the content of our respective passions?

As an example of this, consider the case of an aspiring film-maker who every night upon finishing her 9–5, plops down on the couch to expand her knowledge of critically acclaimed cinema. It is tempting to assume that the time she spends increasing her familiarity with great films is getting her closer to being a film-maker. But this is a dangerous misconception.

Dangerous because the superficial similarity of what we like to consume, to what we want to work on can lead us to spend time on activities that are effectively opiates. Meaning activities that make us feel like we’re making progress, when we are actually just avoiding the sometimes difficult reality of what’s required to discover where our true passion lies. The ABP rule overcomes this by rightly asserting that instead of sitting on the couch, the aspiring film-maker would be much better served by attempting even a terrible amateur film project.

Finally, there is the trap of assuming we’ve put in enough work and stopping. Especially because work that we love can sometimes feel unexpectedly like work, it’s tempting to assume that one act of creation should be enough and with one project under our belt, all we need to do is wait for the tide to roll in.

Imagine for instance an aspiring writer, he’s set his jaw and summoned the discipline, and clarity of vision necessary to complete a first book. Maybe he even finds a publisher for the book but it fails to take off in the way he expected, and in frustration he concludes that by writing this book he’s proved he wants to be a writer but in this unfair world he just can’t. The world can definitely be unfair. But according to the ABP rule, his conclusion is false; the only way to honestly say you still want to be a writer is to keep producing.

To be clear, the ABP rule isn’t saying you can’t give up. It’s just saying that you can’t delude yourself by blithely assuming that you want to be a writer or anything else, unless you’re actively trying to produce. It’s ok to change your mind about what you want to work on, the world changes, people change. The ABP rule just keeps you from lying to yourself about when you do.

Good decisions come from confronting reality. The ABP criterion is incredibly powerful because it is at it’s core a test of whether or not you’re willing to do just that. ABP works because the demands of production, consistent production, are like a knife that cuts through the veil of bullshit we use to protect our egos. Protect them from the fact that like most worthwhile things, finding what we love may not be easy, may not come quickly, may not be what we expected.




top