Author T.H. White on learning as a cure for sadness:
“The best thing for being sad… is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.”
Adam was speaking of the loss of rationality in many public domains. Politics, gender, science, global warming, race relations… are all domains where it has become dangerous to ask questions or engage with open curiosity.
As Adam was speaking about this he gave us a question “what evidence would change your mind?”
If I can’t answer this question, it is possible that I have become too emotionally attached to my position.
I asked myself: what beliefs do I hold to such a degree that no evidence would change my mind?
It is not a bad thing to hold strong beliefs… I believe it it a vital ability to develop faith in the universe. I decided to believe that the universe is a good place. I decided to believe that people are trustworthy. These are decisions of a stance I take towards the world.
The problem comes when I pretend to be rational when my belief really doesn’t come from reason. You could prove to me that people aren’t trustworthy and I still would prefer to act towards the world as if people are trustworthy. I don’t really care about the evidence. As long as I recognize this as a “stance towards the world” rather than an evidence-based rational decision, I will be ok. However if I want to convince others, it’s important to realize on what basis I hold the belief.
Adam Grant on Advice
Adam shared a story of someone asking him for advice… and as soon as Adam started sharing his opinion he realized that the other person didn’t want to hear it. Since those early days of his career, Adam has become much more careful in offering his opinion.
When someone comes to Adam for advice:
First: Ask them for their Pros & Cons? Their Risks & Rewards? Get their perspective on what is important and what challenges they see. Get this first.
Next: Ask “Why did you come see me?”
Did they really come for Validation? Or Approval? Or are they really open to have you test their thinking?
Be careful about offering help when the other is not open to another perspective.
Did you come to visit this blog to challenge your thinking? Or to confirm your existing beliefs? 😉
I recently heard Sadhguru share 3 ways that people approach life and work:
Idiot – these people don’t enjoy what they do each day
Smart – these people have created a life where they do enjoy the activity and the people that they spend time with each day
Genius – these people have learnt to love what they have to do. They know how to connect all important activity to their personal purpose and make it feel meaningful.
A couple of comments on youtube suggested that this was an “arrogant statement” and that not everybody has had access to education and opportunities. I don’t believe any of these 3 approaches are necessarily only accessed through formal education… in fact I see many well educated people from wealthy backgrounds who really struggle to get out of the “idiot” category.
Another comment on youtube suggested that we each operate at these 3 levels in different areas of our lives… it may be that you are a genius in health and exercise, but an idiot when it comes to personal finances… or a genius in your professional career and an idiot as a family member.
The route to genius involves having clarity on your purpose and a set of practices or rituals to connect necessary action to that sense of meaningful purpose.
What do you think? Where do you operate most of the time?
The title of this blog comes from a session in a course that Professor Paris de l’Etraz teaches about Life. I met Paris at a dinner in Madrid 4 years ago hosted by another inspiring teacher.
Stand in the Traffic: I love the simplicity of this life strategy.
Whatever you want in life, there are places where opportunities are flowing… and there are places where opportunities are not flowing. Abundant places… and stagnant places.
Stagnant: There are very few opportunities passing the person sitting on their sofa watching Netflix.
Abundant: There are many more opportunities passing the person out there in the world engaged in conversation… on a university campus, in industry conferences, in associations, online via youtube and blogs and writing articles.
If you have any idea what you are looking for…
If you have any idea about the types of things that you want to come into your life, the next step is to ask yourself “Where is the traffic?” Where are relevant people, resources, ideas, activity flowing?
Go stand there.
Put yourself where opportunity will pass you by.
If you are at an industry event and it is coffee break time, where do you stand?
If you stand by the wall with your mobile phone in front of you… you are not “in the traffic”.
If you stand by the coffee machines or the food service area, all the traffic will pass by you.
If you know how to smile and ask a few questions “hey, how are you doing? what brings you here? what has impressed you so far?”… now you can engage with the traffic.
Competence – you can only be trusted as competent if you clearly understand the limits of your competence. The great danger of experts is they forget the limits of their expertise – “it is better to trust a man of 130 IQ who thinks he is 125 IQ, than to trust a man of 180 IQ who thinks he is 200 IQ” Warren Buffett
Inverting – if you want to make life better, think of what you would do to make life worse. Charlie was an aviation meteorologist during WWII. His task was to give weather briefings to pilots. His role was unclear until he thought of the inverted perspective “if I wanted to kill pilots as a meteorologist, what could I do? Flying with iced wings, flying in conditions they will be unable to land.” This really clarified for him the important aspects of his role in keeping pilots alive. In our own lives, asking “how would I really make my life worse?” can be a valuable perspective on what really matters.
Collector – be a collector. How many collectors do you know who are unhappy? Identify things or experiences that you enjoy collecting and become a curator of your collections.
Integrate ideas between domains – most people focus on details within the idea (especially academics), few people look at the interaction between big ideas. That’s where there’s not much incentive in academics, but it’s very interesting for investing money.
Occam’s razor- go for simple… with a proviso that was initially shared by Einstein “Everything should be made as simple as possible but not more so” Einstein. Anywhere there is a “lollapalooza result” (Charlie’s term for a hugely positive and rapid outcome)… look for a confluence of causes. Academic experts find one cause. To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. There are rarely just single causes for high impact outcomes.
The problems of Social science– all chemists can answer “where do the rules of chemistry not apply?” In the high temperature plasma state. how many social scientists can answer “if you want to sell more should you raise or lower the price?” Where does this rule not apply? 1 in 50 will say “luxury goods!” Many social scientists forget to think of the exceptional cases.
More, more, more… more projects, more goals, more connections… is the path to overwhelm.
Less, less, less… less projects, less goals, less connections… is the path to focus and renewal and energy.
I heard Mathew McConnachy in an interview yesterday. He said that back 10 years ago he was a movie actor, he had a production company, he had a music label and was promoting two artists… and he realized he was spread very thin… he was getting a C in everything. He shared a moment where he received a phone call from his team in the production company… and when he saw the caller id… he went “ugh” and he didn’t want to answer.
He immediately called his lawyer and said “I need to close these businesses down”.
I loved his metaphor that you can’t get As on everything in life. If you have no strategy for focus, for subtraction, you will spread yourself so thin that you guarantee that your best grade is a C+…. and there may be areas in your life where that is painful to you.
Learning to Subtract
There is so much out there on how to focus, how to have discipline, how to make progress…
There is a lot less help on how to Subtract:
Letting go of things.
Subtraction and the Mid Life Crisis
Here’s a recent video of mine where I speak to this challenge – and how the need to subtract becomes most acute in “mid life” from 35 to 55 years old. Before 35 you tend not to have enough skill, reputation, competence… you need to be open to almost all the opportunities that come your way. At 35 if you have developed competence and a positive reputation, you will start to be overwhelmed by opportunities. If you don’t learn a new skill – Subtraction – you will grow to become a bitter and frustrated old person.
Our mindset creates our experience of life. With a poor mindset, my experience of life will suffer. With a better mindset, my experience of life will be of greater joy and resourcefulness.
What is Mindset?
Your mindset is your collection of beliefs that shape your thought habits. Thought habits affect how you think, what you feel, what you perceive and what you do. Mindset impacts how you make sense of the world, and how you make sense of your own place in the world.
We don’t notice everything that our senses detect. Our subconscious filters most of our sensory input and only passes a small amount on to our conscious awareness. If I am looking for danger, my subconscious filters will pass on more anxiety creating inputs. If I am looking for things to be grateful for, my awareness will receive more inputs that reflect that search.
Test it for yourself: If you have never seen it, check out the gorilla experiment. It blew me away when I first experienced it.
To change your habits, change your mind…
When reading the book “Atomic Habits” by James Clear, the most profound insight that I took from the book was that to really change our habits, we have to change our self identity. If I think of myself as unfit, no matter how hard I work to build a fitness habit, I will always be on an uphill struggle. If I can change how I think about myself first, the habit formation becomes less of a challenge… and it will stay with me.
The way we see the world shapes our experience of life. How to shift your mindset?
Social Media Strategies
I’ve started sharing my videos on Linkedin and Instagram as well as YouTube. I used to try to centralise all my video activity on youtube, but I don’t know if there is any benefit to that these days. Linkedin is a much more powerful business network… so I’ll let you know how this experiment goes. I’ve embedded from Linkedin this time… does that work for your viewer?
Life is too short to figure everything out on your own.
Humans spend the years from birth to 12 learning how to survive. Our parents have a vested interest in helping us develop the Stop there: we merely survive.
We live in a highly complex society. There is intense competition for status in whatever hierarchy you compete in. It doesn’t matter whether you choose to compete or not, society and humanity are designed to compete for resources. It is not those born strong that rise to the top of status hierarchies in today’s human society. It is those who learn to use their capacities most effectively and adapt quickly to changes in the environment.
There are two ways we learn to make positive progress in this society – 1) our own experience, or 2) through the experiences of others. Our own experience is a slow and expensive way of learning.
If I am to choose to learn most effectively, through the experiences of others, I must learn the art of meaningful conversation. Through my work with Entrepreneurs’ Organisation forum and Vistage groups I have worked extensively over the last 15 years on creating the type of meaningful conversation that allows one to learn from the experiences of another.
I’m sharing 4 ideas that I took from Jordan Peterson’s book the 12 Rules for Life when I read it this year.
“Your current knowledge has neither made you perfect nor kept you safe”
Your knowledge is insufficient. You must accept this before you can converse philosophically, instead of pushing opinions, convincing, oppressing, dominating or joking.
“Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t”
It is necessary to respect the personal experience of your conversational partners. You must assume that they have reached careful, thoughtful, genuine conclusions (and, perhaps, they must have done the work that justifies this assumption). You must believe that if they shared their conclusions with you, you could bypass at least some of the pain of personally learning the same things (as learning from the experience of others can be quicker and much less dangerous).
It takes conversation to organise a mind
“people organize their brains with conversation. If they don’t have anyone to tell their story to, they lose their minds.” The input of the community is required for the integrity of the individual psyche.
“Life is short, and you don’t have time to figure everything out on your own”
They say Aristotle was the last man who knew everything there was to know. Since the time of Aristotle (over 2300 years ago) society has become too complex for any one individual to know all that is known.
When I was in school, I took huge value in solving from first principles. I would prefer to solve mathematic problems from first principles and avoid using formulaic recipes that allowed you to shortcut to a solution. This was symptomatic of my whole approach to life. If I hadn’t figured it out myself, I didn’t value the knowledge. There is a heroic valor to this approach, but it is dumb heroics.
The best leadership book is not one that you can buy. It is your own life, if well documented.
Do you take time to document your life? Do you take time to look at your past year and get clear on where you are, and where you are going?
Last year Covid-19 brought a lockdown to over half of the world’s population. Covid changed our plans, it changed our businesses and it shook up our world. If we are to take something valuable from this year, it is important to take time to reflect on how the experience of Covid impacted you.
2021 is going to start without much change… the vaccines are coming but we will still have 6 months with restrictions on our movement, on our businesses, on our travel plans. I am not going to wish you a “wonderful 2021”. I am going to wish you the energy and clarity to handle the challenges that 2021 throws at you as the best version of yourself. That is my 1st January wish for you.
How to Reflect on the Last Year
In this post I will share a set of questions to structure a reflection on the past year, that might help clarify how to make changes in how you approach the coming year.
Here is a 3 page pdf worksheet that will guide you through a reflection process on the past year. I would recommend you print out the pages and carry them with you for a while.
The best results come when you go through the questions a couple of times over a few days. I often tell EO or YPO forums and Vistage groups that I want to see dog ears on the pages, and different colours of ink… even a coffee stain… showing that you have taken the pages out several times in preparing your end-of-year reflection. The 19 questions will help you think deeply about what contributes to your fulfilment, what detracts and what lessons you can actively take into the coming year.
Writing in a journal
I am asked in classes “what is the most important habit to learn to speak well?” My answer is writing each day in a journal. Capture your life. Capture your dreams, your frustrations, your questions, the people that helped, the people that made things more difficult… capture it all. My biology teacher, Mr Matz, always said “the shortest pencil is longer than the longest memory”.
Warren Rustand taught me to start the day with “10-10-10”. Ken Blanchard taught me to “start the day slowly”. Eric Matz (my biology teacher, when I was 14) taught me to write stuff down in a journal every day. Each tool involves taking time at the beginning of the day to reflect on what is important and get clear on who you want to be.
In our executive development programs at IESE Business School we make specific time in the program each day to reflect. Learning happens when you go through an experience, but is multiplied if you take time to reflect on the experience (and share your reflections with colleagues who share your path).
I’ve written several posts on how to approach writing in a journal:
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