Barefoot Running on the Treadmill
Faster man faster! (Photo credit: LToTheYnn)

Failure counts as done. So do mistakes.

~ Bre Prettis (Cult of Done Manifesto)

I have this terrifically frustrating habit — I always want things to be entirely cleaned up and done well. I’m unusually satisfied when I believe I’ve completed something well, cleaning a room is one of the tasks that works best for me. However, finishing a contract that I’m pleased with the outcome of is just as satisfying.

This trait comes out in negative ways as well.

I hate seeing food in the cupboards. It just seems to be taking up room and you can’t just clean the cupboards with it there. So, when I get frustrated with my lack of progress elsewhere, I find myself either eating food or throwing out food which has gone bad from the fridge simply because it is there. It took me a long time to figure this strange habit out, and it really actually explains the swings I have in weight. When I’m getting a lot done, my weight goes down dramatically, when I find myself struggling to get things done, it goes up. I don’t have an eating problem as much as a ‘need to feel like I’m accomplishing something’ problem.

In other circumstances, it has taken away from the joy I see everyone else have at large pomp and circumstance celebrations. To be honest, the day I graduated from Waterloo was probably one of the more sad days I can remember. Not because I didn’t feel proud that I made it, but rather because I didn’t feel like I had completed everything I wanted to. There were still courses in the C&O program I wanted to take, there was still things left to be learned.

I was successful because I had accomplished what was needed to pass. That wasn’t what was driving me though. I wanted to collect all the credits, I wanted to get much higher marks than I got. I didn’t feel like I’d done what I’d come to do. Sadly, I didn’t feel that accomplished.

This has also combined with another personality trait of mine which Ze Frank calls the FILDI (F*ck it, let’s do it.) In general, I cannot stand waiting on the sidelines of anything. If I see a book in a field of science or theology, I generally want to read it – no filter, I mean anything. I’ve read advanced books in post modern political science and books on how to write comedy for children. I bought them and read them in the hopes that I would have some interesting thought that I could expand upon and create something actually new, interesting or helpful. 

I will note that people who recognized this habit in me have abused my friendship around it. Thankfully, over time I’ve recognized those people quicker and I address the matter much sooner than I used to.

I always reflect that perhaps in an earlier age, this could have been a really amazingly useful trait. At one point it was actually possible for a person to know a significant majority of human knowledge. With that, there was the possibility I could have a new and unique thought that pushed forward the boundaries of our knowledge, or created a new machine that improved all of our lives.

Yet, this FILDI combined with the “Complete all the things!” is more of a curse in the modern age. As anyone who has tried to be a renaissance man will tell you though, a jack of all trades is a master of none and you succeed in modern society by drilling down in one subject and being indispensable for that one topic. Something, I’ve tried to do, but haven’t fully succeeded. I get too distracted by too many subjects to get deep enough to create. At least, I always feel when I have a unique idea I quickly discover someone else has beat me to it. How do you find out if an idea has already been discovered, you read books and papers, and then you hit this frustrating realization: There is not enough time.

One day I stared at my massive library and worked out that to read everything in the library at the rate of 1 book per week would require four lifetimes and that would miss the entire point of why I owned a lot of the books. I also deduced that on average most books drove me to wanting to read more primary source material, so regardless of what I did, I always ended up behind.

I bought them because I wanted to create, not because I wanted to absorb. I wanted them to know what was at the edge of their fields so I could, in theory, create something new and interesting. Instead I kept on jumping onto the Red Queen’s treadmill. I had to run as fast as I could to stand still.

I haven’t honestly found a way around this habit. However, I recognize it, and I work on it by targeting specific tasks and trying to throw out ones that I acknowledge I cannot complete successfully.  This has involved me throwing out entire baseball card collections, large chunks of my library, and old blogs (anyone remember 1337hax0r?). I would stop when I eventually realized the goals I desired behind them were simply not achievable with the effort/capital/support I had available to put into them.

What to do next? Well, at least now I know my order of things in importance. Something that was forced on me in stark terms recently. As I try to follow it, with God’s help, I’ll figure out some balance.

Perhaps, just perhaps, I’ll get something big completed in the fashion I want.

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Enter title here

If you play with fire, don’t be surprised if you get burned

Match (Photo credit: Samuel M. Livingston)

Here is where I get controversial, but I feel it’s about time someone just said this.

The world is not a safe place nor is it a perfect place. Perhaps we in the western world forget that while we live in our relatively safe communities, but we aren’t free to do anything we want without consequences. Simply put, not every person we meet is sunshine and rainbows.

We all want it to be perfectly safe, and we all have our own ideas of what, specifically, is going wrong and what could be done to fix it. However, it’s not. This isn’t a bad thing – fighting through the bad and difficult things are what defines us as a species. It’s how we get to the bottom of the ocean, or to the outer reaches of space in manned vehicles.

It’s also how, in our youthful search for hedonistic pleasures, we get ourselves into a whole lot of trouble.

Statement 1: “If only people wouldn’t hurt other people”

To enact positive change you cannot pretend the world is not the way that it is. The claim that if only all people with guns in a warzone stopped fighting eachother we’d have peace, or the classic 60s pacifist line of “if only the soldiers would stop fighting, there’d be no war” is patently silly.

For better or worse, you are correct if this perfect world was achieved, the world would be perfect. However, that isn’t how things work. If you are in a warzone, and you are running through a field with no armour, you are probably going to get shot.


Bullet wound vs shrapnel wound
Ow! – Bullet wound vs shrapnel wound (Photo credit: theMatthewBlack)

Were you asking to get shot? No. Did you deserve to get shot? No. Were you shot? Yes. If you had entered the war zone prepared differently would have have been shot? Possibly no, but If anything, there would be a lower chance of long term injury. If you didn’t enter the known war zone in the first place would any of this had happened? No.

However, these facts seem to be non-permitted in today’s modern politically correct dialogue. You end up being told it’s area verboten. Yes, it’s more important that the injured party get treated and ensured they are psychologically and physically in good condition. After someone is injured there isn’t much you can say to them because they played with fire and got hurt.

However, while it would be nicer if we could just make people nice and good, there is nothing wrong with using this to teach others that bad things can happen if you are not careful. It is possible to make it clear that entering the warzone isn’t safe, that running around as an unarmed target is going to get you injured. It may be fun and exciting and play to a self-destructive hedonistic desire, but it is dangerous and the possibility of things going horribly wrong is quite high. I’ve heard this called “victim-blaming”, but it is not. This is common sense education: If you walk around a dangerous neighbourhood with thousand dollar bills hanging from your pants and clear sign that you couldn’t fight off an intruder even if you wanted to; you will likely get mugged. It isn’t right, and definitely is symptomatic of a deeper problem.  The people who commit these crimes are terrible people and should be dealt with properly. However, there is also a onus of being aware of the dangers of any situation you get yourself into, and maturely accepting the consequences should the situations go bad.

Maturity and Growth

A mature adult takes ownership of the decisions they made, regardless if someone else caused the problem. If I walk into a situation that is known to be hazardous and I get hurt, I should take ownership of my original decision. I should acknowledge that I knew the situation could have been difficult, and if I didn’t realize that, I should be willing to teach others so they are better prepared than me.

The world is not perfect, humanity is imperfect, and will remain so for the foreseeable future. There are sociopaths and psychopaths that would use every opportunity they get to take advantage of these situations. You can pretend they don’t exist, but that is only because you haven’t been immersed in them or had to deal with them daily. Ask any police officer and they’ll tell you. The world isn’t fair, and it isn’t safe. To pretend otherwise and then act surprised when all hell breaks loose is to play with a tinder box and be surprised when it blows up.

This doesn’t mean that I think all men are evil, or that all of one class, racial, etc, group are evil. This means that if you want to play with fire, don’t be surprised if you get burned.

Apollo 1 Crew in Training
Apollo 1 Crew in Training (Photo credit: NASA APPEL)

This isn’t a bad thing, the Apollo 1 astronauts went into their capsule knowing full well what could have happened, and did happen when they all died. Yes, I do blame them for that, but I blame them for having the bravery and dedication to do it. It was an incredibly stupid act from the perspective of self-preservation, but it was an incredibly honourable act from the perspective of driving us forward as a society. They made a decision, they followed through on it, and they got the consequences.

If we didn’t “victim-blame” them, we wouldn’t be able to honour them, since it wouldn’t be their decision any longer, it wouldn’t be their fault.

This, sadly, goes for any situation where an individual decides to go in knowing the possible consequences if things do not go fully the way they planned.

Statement 2: “If we made it illegal (made a rule), then the problem will go away.”

My father made a statement to me when I was little and I got into the “Why don’t they just make it illegal?” mentality. He told me

If it was made illegal, then only criminals will do it.

I was too young (7 years old) to really understand what he meant. However, after myriad experiences over the past 15 years, it’s starting to become clearer. Rule, laws, specific structures aren’t a panacea. In fact, they can have the opposite effect desired in many cases. Ie. the more they are enforced, the more criminals will charge to provide access to this limited supply of goods, and the more criminals will want to provide it since the profit margins are massive.

An arrangement of psychoactive drugs
An arrangement of psychoactive drugs (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Drug War has had one very positive effect on the US economy. Drugs are more expensive than they need to be and have funded the black market incredibly effectively without having to pay taxes on any of them since technically they are illegal anyways. It’s the ultimate tax-free business, assuming you don’t get caught. It has likely boosted the economy dramatically in the US.

Yet, drugs are illegal to sell, so only criminals sell drugs. The people we least want to be involved. People who don’t follow any of the other rules and are more than willing to break some of the most central ones to maintaining a stable society.

In the same vein, it has been shown that written rules encourage rule breaking. Before a rule is written down, the spirit of what needs to be followed is “the rule.” Once it is in a written form though, most people almost immediately work to find loopholes in them. Many social psych studies have shown that people will actually be more anti-social when rules are explicitly laid out for social interaction. Many people become almost like lawyers, trying to find the loophole where they get gain even though they are “technically” following the rules.

Bad people will always break the rules and, in turn, generally will hurt people. Yet, even good people try to find ways around the rules and, in turn, can hurt people but feel justified since it still matched the rules. This is why some laws in the US go for thousands of pages.

Regardless, referring to Statement 1, we like to play with fire.

Is this a bad thing?

No! We are human. When rules exist, we try to break them. This is how we do awesome stuff like fly, go to the moon or build smaller and smaller computers. We hate being restricted, and that urge drives us to invent new and better ways to “break these rules.” People like to play with fire, and if we didn’t, we wouldn’t have come up with some of the most amazing (if incredibly dangerous) prototypes to break them.

Yet, we need to accept responsibility for when our decisions go wrong and not get upset when someone points out to us that if you decide to stick your finger into an outlet, you will get zapped. We made the decisions, knowing full well the world isn’t perfect. We can make the rules, knowing full well that they won’t be followed (and that is not a bad thing.)

We cannot make a decision that goes wrong, then protest and claim that we cannot take responsibility for our own decisions, regardless of the intentions behind it. As mature people, we cannot argue that while the possibly foreseen negative consequences weren’t planned, we are not responsible for initially playing with fire. Yes, we can punish bad people, but we cannot forget that bad people will always exist. We can’t hide from the fact that no matter what happens, we are not and will never be free to do anything we want with no consequences.

Going to the moon can have consequences, exposing yourself to physical harm for hedonistic gain has possible consequences, and making decisions to play with fire can have consequences. You can put the fire out afterwards, but you can’t claim the only reason you got burned was due to the fire.

Fire is hot, it’s fun to play with because it’s dangerous, but don’t be surprised if you get burned.

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Rebuilding the societies that build a nation.

The emblem of the Knights of Columbus
The emblem of the Knights of Columbus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I feel that the extreme individualism that permeates western society is holding us back from accomplishing anything of significance – Either major positive social change or major social projects that we, as a society, will benefit from in the long term. One thing I’ve discussed is how the internet has decreased our capacity to integrate into large, diverse social groups. It’s not that we don’t have more little tightly knit cliques, it’s that we have so many fewer broad organizations that we feel a part of. We insist on “being ourselves” and only spending time in echo chambers rather than actually trying to build up a society.

As an example, say you are part of a clique. Let’s say you are a goth. You dress in black, like Victorian clothes, enjoy reading Edgar Allan Poe, and in general are quite dark in demeanor and attitude. You have an incredibly tight circle of friends. Who, in general, don’t disagree much on anything of real significance. Effectively, you are all very tightly knit and for tasks that your entire group has the capacity to do, you can accomplish them easily.

However, if you need to find a job, they aren’t going to be of much use. If they knew of a job that was available, you’d likely already know about it and be applying. However, if they don’t know of a job for you, well, then you are stuck to shotgunning it and cold calls. That is, unless you have an entirely different type of network available to you.

In fact, this was discussed in a study from 1996 by Andreas Flache, Michael W. Macy, referenced by The Power of Habit. In this study, it was shown that having only strong networks is really, really bad. Weak networks were far more useful for this task. We learn about new job opportunities  from “weak-tie” acquaintances. People we haven’t talked to in month, but know us enough to be willing to provide a recommendation, or to at least listen to what we have to say. These are people we don’t match up with exactly, but people that we still associate with. People we have good manners with and we respect our differences. People who we adjust to relate to and understand.

People who we deny our extreme individualism to meet and understand and build relationships with.

Similarly, if the clique wanted to do something to change the world in some major way, and they all agreed, but had no social ties beyond the clique (or very few), they aren’t going to get anywhere. They can accomplish items that only their small group is capable of, and won’t have access to more resources (skills, capital, etc.) that a larger, less unified group would have.

Note, there are still societies that help with this, but they seem to be small, dying, or becoming so open that they end up existing of cliques that pretend to be under a common banner.

You need to find a society where there are actual rules, manners and structures, it needs to actually require some effort to join, and it needs to be open enough that if people are willing to deny their individualism for a short period of time they are able to join.

Historically, religious societies like the Knights of Columbus are really amazing at this. Generally, you are already religious before you join, so you have a familiarity with the general rules and etiquette expected. When you join, you learn the rest of the rules and social norms which are expected from you. You are taught to respect the group as a whole, while also contributing meaningfully to it.

You learn from the elders of the community, you teach your knowledge to others, and you work with everyone towards common goals. Yes, you may not agree on every aspect of what every person in the group believes, and you may not be the most dogmatic individual. However, by having a common tie that is strongly ethical and moral you overcome your differences, your fears, and work towards a common good. You learn good etiquette and you build something bigger than just yourself.

In the end, you accomplish greater and more lasting change than you could ever achieve alone or in a small isolated clique.

I am specifically referring religious (or ethics/morality based) societies, and not the school newspaper or similar. However, any group that matches the above is better than no group, completely open group, or highly isolated clique.

Doug McAdam studied the “Freedom Project” of the 60s to go down into the south and register black voters. For those unaware, this was an incredibly dangerous proposition during segregation. It was very likely that by participating you would be imprisoned, gain a criminal record, and likely have your life threatened by those who disagreed with the civil rights movement. Even so, many people applied and, if I have my numbers right, about a thousand people were accepted, of that thousand only 700 actually went.

Doug McAdam studied the differences the actual people who went versus the people who didn’t go after being accepted.

His results:

The greatest indicator of whether a person would go was whether or not they were part of an organization at their university. However, when the society was a religious society, the numbers went up even more. If the individual was simply very religious, but not part of any religious society, there was no difference. Being religious didn’t imply dedication to a larger cause.

However, every person who expressed a religious orientation and belonged to a religious organization went.

Why? I believe this is true is because a religious faith structure allows you to overcome the inherent fears, because you are doing what is right and not simply the safe route. Yet, this power is very easily overcome when you don’t have any support structure. You don’t have a peer group that can help you out.

The other part is that being part of a society with weak-ties encourages you to follow through on your promises. You are contributing to the group you are part of, but even more, you want to follow through on the values that you have agreed to. It’s easy to have an independent religion that perfectly accepts all of your views, but that doesn’t make any difference if you cannot build anything on it.

I think we need to be willing to give up some of our individuality again to build for the future.

One way to do it is to not encourage random religion, nor to encourage dogmatism, but to encourage group societies based around common ethics and morality, and to build and grow these societies.

We can start anew by creating random religions like they did during the French Revolution, or we can use the tools and churches that are right there and have been for millennia. Personally, while I agree things need to evolve, throwing out the baby with the bathwater never helped anyone.

This is just one piece of the puzzle, and it will be done one individual at a time. However, We can tear down this destructive individualism and start to build again for the future.

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Don’t give up on yourself, or your stained shirts.

Bleach! (Clorox™)

I’ve had this happen twice for me. I got a stain with some chemical or food compound that everyone universally tells me is impossible to get out. That I need to either accept the stain as is or throw out the shirt. One of the first times was with one of my favourite white shirts when I cut open a glow stick and sprayed the flourescent liquid all over my shirt. The warning even told me this would happen. Pro-tip: don’t cut open a glow stick unless you are ready to be covered in hard to remove glowing liquid.

Now, the shirt got a weird glowing yellow splash on it. It felt that regardless of how much bleach I used or spray wash I put on it, it wasn’t going to come out.

Naturally, I couldn’t wear it anymore until I either fixed it or threw it out. My wife, and my good friend Joe simply told me to just throw it out, but I viewed it as a challenge. It’s a white shirt, the worst that can happen if I use too much bleach is it falls apart (and then gets thrown out) or it gets clean. I may as well condemn it to the trash when it’s actually unfixable, not just a bit dirty.

So, thus began my adventure with getting out stains. After many many washes, using many different techniques (soaking in bleach, coating stain in spray’n’wash™, washing in hot water, washing in cold water, beating it up, etc.), it actually came out. Every time a little more came out, and then suddenly the shirt was clean. I could’ve thrown it out, but because I had faith it could be cleaned or at least wouldn’t throw it out until it was totally destroyed, it actually got cleaned. I saved my dress shirt.

This is actually the shirt. It’s so kawaii!

Sadly, this happened again with a a favourite t-shirt I got in Japan. I think I spilled salsa on it, and didn’t realize it until it was well dried into the shirt. To make matters worse, I had run it through the dryer with the stain still in it.

And… this shirt was coloured and had a cute panda bear design on it. I couldn’t simply use bleach or so I thought, but at the same time, I was determined that I’d rather destroy the shirt (bleach it to white, have it fall apart, etc) before I threw it out. I wasn’t going to condemn it until it was actually destroyed.

Amazingly… it got cleaned after a few dozen washes, and it didn’t fade either.

It was a great feeling, actually. Both times I saved a favourite item, simply by not giving up on it.

These shirts were cleaned about a year ago, but for some odd reason it all came to mind when I heard the gospel reading at mass. The famous one most of us have heard where Jesus saves an adulterer from being stoned to death.

Specifically this line stood out to me:

“Woman, where are they?
Has no one condemned you?”
She replied, “No one, sir.”
Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.
Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”

John 8:10-11

It seems to me that Jesus is not saying that we shouldn’t ignore wrongs that people commit, or ignore the fact that we ourselves all have stains. This story is saying for us to not give up on ourselves or others. That we can all be washed clean. He doesn’t say she is without sin, nor does he forgive her sins. He says, “it’s ok, you are worth saving, go forth and try, and don’t get more dirty.”

He saves her from being condemned not for simply being unclean, but because they believed she was uncleanable.

I think we have been called to repentance because we don’t need to wear the stains either. We all are sinners (ie. that famous Catholic guilt), but that doesn’t mean we are all condemned.

So many people give up on getting rid of their habits that, in the end, make their and their friend’s and family’s life worse. Even more seem to think the Catholic guilt that points out these stains somehow makes them worse, that they can’t be cleaned, so why point it out. They get viscerally angry at those who can see the stain and introduce them to the tools that can be used to get out the stain. Yes, sometimes these tools are hard on us, just like bleach and spray’n’wash can be hard on fabric, but it’s possible to get it out. You just need to keep on trying.

And once you get it out, you are actually free and clean. You are actually forgiven.

I think that’s the great feeling so many converts to Catholicism say after their first reconcilliation, that’s the feeling so many Catholics who have lost their way don’t understand anymore.

In today’s easy come, easy go mentality, it’s easy to forget that. It just takes a bit more effort and you can get out the worst stains you can imagine.

And once those stains are out, you’ll have back your favourite thing.

You’ll have back yourself.

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Plan to get ‘er done.

Gnomes' three phase business plan
Gnomes’ three phase business plan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are always two sides to any coin. My wife and I compliment each other in this manner when it comes to planning.

My wife prefers to have an explicit plan laid out – every step sorted out and contingencies in place for many possibilities. She likes to spend more time working on and solidifying the plan. “Measure thrice, cut once.”

I, on the other hand, prefer having a clear and achievable goal, broad strokes for a plan, and then deal with the minutiae as need arises. I prefer to have more time to work on the task and to feel more free to adapt as needed. “Get ‘er done.”

Let me explain by way of examples.

When I clean, I generally start in one area of the room, deal with the items I can easily deal with and push the items I can’t deal with into a pile in the next area I will be cleaning. This allows me to both proceed with getting the job done while also ensuring that I can see progress as I work across the room. As I work across the room, I commonly run into items that can best sorted together and items I wasn’t even expecting to have to deal with. If I had planned in many circumstances beyond the broad strokes, I would not as easily have been able to deal with running out of shelf space or a discovery of a new way of organizing things that makes more sense.

The place gets cleaned, even though sometimes it takes a bit longer because I don’t put stuff away that I don’t have a clear place to put it.

I generally plan my trips in a similar fashion – general ideas of what I would like to do, but no explicit plans (beyond tickets, hotel rooms, etc.) so I can adapt based on my mood from day to day.

This style doesn’t work too well for her though, because it is not clear how much effort or time will be needed to get the cleaning job done when other deadlines (parties, guests, etc) seem very looming. It doesn’t work as well for trips as she feels that we won’t use our time as effectively if we don’t have a clear schedule.

In contrast, when we had out honeymoon, my wife wrote up a very detailed plan. She discussed with me for the overall strategy of places I would enjoy visiting and general tenor of the visit. She then took that and worked out precisely where we would be going and when. Precise times, trains, buses, distances, maps and details were worked out. She printed it all out, bound it into a booklet, and for the flight, and first couple of days it worked wonderfully… then came Mount Fuji.

We missed our return bus, were exhausted far worse than expected, and essentially wrote off an entire day and a half to the plan. When we woke up, we adapted the remainder of our trip plan to include the items we really wanted to do (Tokyo Giants game, etc.) and removed the items that were too far or too difficult to try and fit in (Sumo district).

We were deviating dramatically from the plan, but it was OK. The plan was written to ensure we would have a good time and enjoy the honeymoon. Many contingencies were in place on the plan, however it was always acceptable to leave it as needed. This worked as well.

This style doesn’t work so well for me. While I see it’s OK to plan enough to make sure you know what’s going on. I don’t build furniture without knowing the measurements, for example. An overly exact plan for a situation that is inherently chaotic seems like a lot of work that will likely be tossed out the window as soon as any surprises occur.

Yet, the trip to Japan taught me something. In general, I would never have planned that intensely for a trip, but I got to do a lot of things I may have missed if she hadn’t gone through the extensive effort she had. In contrast, when there is a big task to do, and not a lot of time to plan for it, this desire to plan can leave her quite paralyzed until someone takes control.

Collaboratively, she and I are able to get the jobs done in a far more effective fashion than either of us would independently. If we have the time to plan, she is more than willing and capable of doing that given the broad strokes we both agree on. However, when push comes to shove and the job just needs to be done, I have no problem going in and dealing with the issues as they arise.

I guess sometimes you just need a bit of both.

Plan when you can, but when you can’t plan, just get ‘er done.

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The best way to lose is to not change.

Abandoned house behind Rockland Lake
Abandoned house behind Rockland Lake (Photo credit: Elephi Pelephi)

Last year, I read in Harvard Business Review that the most difficult position for a business to be is at the top of it’s sector. You are making lots of money and doing well, but you are also the target of all of the competing organizations and, to make matters worse, you generally require the world to stay the same as long as possible to stay up there. Otherwise, you need significant capital investment in innovation because you can’t just copy your competitors as they try to imitate you.

Everyone is watching your every move to find mistakes or little ways they can crack your castle. Case in point, look at Apple. It’s surprising how much everyone enjoys taking the top guy down a notch whenever they can.

Ironically, the article mentioned that being number two is actually pretty sweet though. Tou have the most money of the non-top players, you can copy the good innovations that the top guy has and build on them yourself. You usually have enough capital to invest in solid R&D, and since you aren’t at the top, your shareholders are not as adamant about “not wasting money on R&D.” Samsung has done a great job copying Apple and then doing minor innovations to make their products just a touch better for short periods of time.

For many years, I believe Apple got around this issue by having a genuine salesman, Steve Jobs , convince the shareholders to allow for some pretty heavy investment in design and development. That it would pay off in the long run. It really did, the stock took off, the iPad, iPhone and App Store really have changed how we all interact with the world, and are the best selling products in their sector.

However, with the new CEO, who is not a saleman, but more of a technocrat, they are slowly sliding. The investors are demanding dividends instead of value creation. They don’t see that iPhone is still outselling everyone else. No one is pointing out to them the fact that the profits last year by Apple dwarfs the entire revenues of Google. They don’t have a CEO who is able to show them that investment in good R&D generally implies higher yields down the road in exchange for lower yields right now like another iPhone or iPad. They don’t have a CEO who knows how to rile the troops and make them uncomfortable with where they are at. The iPhone 5 was the most boring update I’ve ever seen.

Why do you think Apple is sitting on such a stockpile of money? Why do you think every update they are doing is incremental or price based?

Steve Jobs understood the cardinal rule about the universe – Always expect change. You don’t ride a wave by swimming behind it.

Unfortunately, many businessmen, technocrats, politicians, and general elite hate this rule. It’s so much easier to work and plan if everything stays the same. Over the past decade I’ve read article after article with this common mistake. Many assume, or hope, things will always stay as they are and if they don’t stay as they are, they assume that we need to work 100% to maintain the status quo.

This is the birth of the Capitalism is the best system of economy, democracy (or our variant of it) is the best system of government, the current layout of federal and state powers are the best way to do it. This is why we hear “Don’t ever question the status quo.”

This is not due to maliciousness though, it’s due to the fact that the status quo, a stable system, is the easiest system to control. Technocrats, politicians, and elites are already in power. They want the system to stay the way it is so their plans (some of which are utopian) can be enacted as they see fit.

This is the key to why they will all eventually fail.

You cannot stay in power indefinitely by forcing a status quo. While, in theory, if you maintain the status quo as long as possible, you will be on top the heap as long as possible. if you control the change, encourage it, and guide it, you will survive the fact that the world changes and we must all change with it.

But, simply put, the best way to lose is to stand still. The game is always changing, the world is always changing, and even if you control everything, general complexity theory will eventually kick in and all of your models and theories will be for naught.

Absolutely nothing is permanent. Once you realize that, it’s a whole lot easier to move on to better things.

Sometimes it sucks, but that’s what faith in the future is for.

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The propaganda of the individualistic ideology or why we need to rebuild our communities.

Social-network (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The buzzword these days is “networking.”

We all, apparently, are not making billions of dollars because we don’t network enough. In western society, we live our entire childhood lives and, for many, most of the early years of adulthood being told that we need to be independent. We are all told that we need to stand out as individuals. It is driven into us that the only way we can find any self-worth is by earning that worth by ourselves.

In the end we are told the world only moves by ultra-individualistic people.

We are starting to realize how wrong that is, how much we need community to build things. The class though that gains most from having us all stand divided has found a way around our natural urge to build community, “networking.” It is a roundabout way to say, “we need to have community without having community.”

From what I can tell, this became quite prominent as a counter to the communist Russians around the late 1960s, coming to full strength around the Ronald Reagan years of the 80s. Many western countries went from viewing their efforts towards building a common good by building value to trying to find the individualistic “cheat code” to the market that allows them to live high on rent-seeking – Not producing value, just collecting money. What’s sad is I feel that now we have 2-3 generations of people who believe the propaganda so much to think this is cardinal truth, this is how the “world works.”

I must admit, it’s a very appealing ideology. I can take full ownership over all of my successes and failures which I am able to learn from, and blame others when the failure is based on pure random chance or the fact that I cannot find/convince others to help me. It also helps my id immensely because I can legitimately act like a 3 year old over self-centric things, such as “why do I need to give Jenny or Tommy anything? They’re poor because they’re lazy, or why do I have to pay for the roads I drive on, they are already there. ” Instead of ever having to be an adult and realize that we are all interconnected and, in general, when Jenny or Tommy does better, so do I. Even if it costs me a little in the short term.

If you want proof that this is ideology and not human nature, you only need to look at the myriad cross-cultural studies around morality and ethics in children.

For example, an experiment was performed with children from China and Canada, Toronto to be specific, and in it a child was taken into a room and told they would be getting some form of test. The room was a mess, and the child was encouraged to help clean it. In China, the child needed no encouragement, they saw the room was dirty and immediately cleaned it. In Canada, the child needed to be prodded repeatedly to do anything. Afterwards the “teacher” comes in and notices the room is so clean, and asks the child who did it. In China, the child lies to maintain humility and says they don’t know. In Canada, the child tries to take full ownership of it, even though they were prodded strongly to do it.

Another study by NIH explains this phenomena clearly. The individualist ideology is not the default, nor likely the best, ideology for humans, no matter how much we have been taught this.

The extreme individualist is a nice propaganda piece, but it is a difficult way to build anything of consequence.  For example, how do you think we made it to the moon? JFK wasn’t even alive for 80%+ of the program. He didn’t make the speech and then go and build the Apollo program with his bare hands before he was shot and then it took a decade for people to figure out what he built. He reminded us we are all part of a community and that we need to work together to accomplish great and sometimes difficult things.

Somehow, we need to rebuild our communities if we are to build anything more lasting than tikky-tacky buildings or in Toronto’s case, giant, leaky glass buildings.To build something that we can all be proud of, we need to have a community for this. 

Note, we may accomplish things along this individualist trajectory, but we are taking the most difficult route to accomplishing things when we have every single person in the room insist on their personal interests as being the most important. All you ever get in those circumstances is prisoner’s dilemmas. To address the major and important problems that are affecting all of us now, we need to drop the individualist religion, and start to work together towards real solutions.

Look at Washington right now, the optimum is obviously not to continue playing the chicken game with the entire country’s economy, but rather to have a collaborative effort to solve these problems realistically. Yet, in the game of the prisoner’s dilemma, if your partner is defecting, then you need to defect too; that’s the Nash equilibrium, the natural place where any change makes you lose even more.

Now, it seems fairly clear we need to do this, how can we start to rebuild this community?

I will discuss my ideas in a later blog post, but they aren’t easy and could take a few generations to accomplish.

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The modern sinner, the modern pharisee

The Pharisees Question Jesus
The Pharisees Question Jesus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you are a Christian, you may be aware of the gospel reading where Jesus is sharing dinner with various nefarious (and outcast) types. In the words of the Pharisees:

“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them”

Luke 15:2

They sat on the sidelines and shunned him because they felt the company he kept was unclean. However, he was only obeying the same law that he lays out quite clearly elsewhere in the new testament: “To love your neighbour as yourself.” While Jesus was open to welcoming all types into his circle – sinners, saints, liberals, conservatives, men, women, jews and gentiles. The Pharisees were busy setting up their own silos to isolate themselves from those they felt were sinners; standing on the sidelines insulting those who were more open than them.

These days, with the Internet and global communication, we are exposed to more ideas, peoples and diverse interests than ever before. This is truly an age where we can get to understand varying viewpoints and try to understand and love our neighbours more than ever. Yet, I feel we have degraded back into the days where we find similar minded people, and isolate ourselves from those “sinners” we disagree with. Those who don’t follow our limited set of rules that we have arbitrarily set for ourselves. We’ve become pharisees.

My theory is that because we are able to connect with so many more people, we are also able to connect with more people who share precisely our view of the world. Thus, it is easier for us to find only those we agree with and not have to put in the effort to try and understand those we don’t understand (or even disagree with.) It’s simply easier. You just parrot the same lines that allow you to dislike people among your small social group and then you all feel a bit better about yourselves. You simply block them on Twitter when they state something you disagree with, argue with them during Thanksgiving, dismiss any reasons behind their beliefs or banish them entirely.

Sadly, I must admit that I’ve fallen into this trap from time to time. Yet, what does that gain me? What does that gain us? It’s easy to see that every group has their own “sins” and their own “sinners.”

Some eco-minded folks demean those who shop at Walmart and not Whole Foods as if they were adulterers. Simply not comprehending that for some families that is the only way they can get by week-to-week.

Some fiscal conservatives insult those who require food stamps and government assistance as if they were lepers, claiming some undefined sin has placed them into this category of life.

Some educated liberals insult those who view the world differently than them and have some ideas that actually are quite well founded when you dig down to find why they believe them as if they were blind beggars in the street.

What does this accomplish for us as a society, other than make it harder for us to work towards common goals and still feel good about ourselves because it’s not our fault?

Further segregation, less cooperation, and eventually more crises without any capacity to solve them. If you dismiss anyone who you disagree with as a sinner, you inherently have less knowledge, less manpower and less capacity to work towards a common goal.

To use the Christian reference, Jesus not only could work with sinners, but sat down at the same table and ate with them congenially. How many could sit down at a table with those we disagree with and share a congenial meal? I know I’ve seen enough vicious arguments over family dinners to know it feels like very little these days.

Perhaps though, we should try to change that.

While I cannot speak for other religions, although I believe many have similar constructs. If you are Christian, we have all been invited to the table of plenty; Invited to sit down with sinners and saints, understanding that even though you are also a sinner, you are forgiven; This is precisely how amazing works are accomplished and communities like the 1 billion strong (and growing) Catholic church came to be; not by excluding sinners, but welcoming all with open arms.

For myself, after much frustration from doing the opposite, I have found that the best thing is to try to extend that forgiveness to those you disagree with and even those who have harmed you, listen patiently to what they have to say, and don’t dismiss them as yet another sinner, even if you believe they are wrong.

Even those you disagree with can have many valuable things to say.

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The myth (and lucrative business) of “entrepreneurship”

English: Cedar Rapids, IA, June 26, 2008 -- Th...
Photo by Greg Henshall / FEMA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve learned a couple of pretty important lessons in my life:

  1. If everyone is zigging, you should zag. (AKA. Don’t buy the stock that the professors are buying.)
  2. Selling false hope is a common trick used to scam people out of money. (Self-help books are a common method.)

Number one is fairly obvious – in a soccer game, you don’t want to be where the ball is, you want to be where the ball is going. If you ever watch a young soccer league though, you’ll know what most people do in business. A small crowd of kids chasing after a ball – Brownian motion.

Number two is what “entrepreneurship” has become in the last 15 years. Before I was in university (in the 90s), it was “consulting,” but it’s the same basic idea. Various gurus (false prophets?) are going around North America telling us all “If you just quit your job and do this vague undefined task that you love to do, you’ll become insanely rich and not have to worry about work ever again.”
All you have to do is buy this book, pay to attend this founders roundtable, join this MBA class, pay to pitch to these VCs, buy from these financial consulting, etc. Do you notice the trend here? All you have to do is pay for it.

Note, you don’t always have to pay though, there are tons of well sponsored events with many large businesses presenting that would just love to have you attend and listen to how they are going to disrupt the world with technology x or idea y. The more people that attend these ones, the better. The money to be made isn’t from your ticket, but from your attendance. Ie. the new Facebook model of business, sell your users to your customers. This works especially well because the users are self-chosen. People who are interested in the new magic tech that will help them break through to the other side with their idea.

Yes, if you pay to attend the talk with the one founder who did break through the brick ceiling and come out reasonably unscathed on the other side, you might learn that one trick they did to become rich.

Yes, if you attend the found round table with Facebook’s lead engineer presenting how their updates to the API will change everything and that you should build apps on it right away if you want to be taken seriously as a business, you may just have that breakthrough moment.

However, I’m sorry to be blunt, but statistically you won’t.

Worse off, you’ll be falling for the Texas sharpshooter fallacy in the worst way possible. You will only see people who were successful and miss all of those who wasted their savings, ruined their marriages, hurt their friends and destroyed their career in the vague hope that their idea would be worth a billion dollars some day.

You’ll have fallen for the false prophets in the hopes of false profits.

My advice, which I give for free and you can take it if you want is: Enjoy your friends, build a beautiful family, find hope, joy and peace where you can, and when they all zig, you zag.

Only then can you get ahead of the ball.

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Selling nothing is great way to make lots of money.

Vaporware? (Photo credit: Brett Jordan)

I was watching Duck Dynasty. Yes, yes, It’s not real, I know. Regardless, it is pretty funny. In this episode, I ran into a really interesting concept that goes against everything the techie and software developer side of me stands for. In the episode, they had sold a ton of cooking DVDs through catalogues, and had only produced the cover the DVD. The DVD content itself did not exist. They were able to prove a market for the product and only then proceeded to make the DVD to sell. The joke was them running around to produce this crazy DVD that the main characters in it didn’t even realize they were doing.

In other words, they sold vaporware, and a whole lot of it, and only when they new they’d recoup the costs of the DVD did they actually make it. (I’m guessing if they didn’t recoup the costs, they’d have returned the money with some standard excuse.)

Throughout my entire technically inclined life (high school, university and beyond), I’ve been told to despise vaporware. In fact, I think this is why many developers really dislike salespeople. “Vaporware” is more of a dirty word than f*** or s*** in many circles. The only other term I think is equally used as a perjorative is FUD. Yet, in this circumstance, it worked wonderfully – it provided the capital they needed to make the video well, and if enough sales weren’t made they would simply use one of the standard stock excuses you hear and return the money.

It hurts me to say this, but selling nothing is a great way to make lots of money. Note I’m not saying that you should sell nothing and get paid for it, I mean selling something you don’t have yet and use that to raise funds to build it.

Sounds a whole lot like Kickstarter actually. Except, in this circumstance, if you don’t deliver, you will have legal consequences unless you give the money back (and even then.) However, in this circumstance, it’s a lot easier to convince people to pay in because it isn’t a donation, but an actual purchase.

So what to make of this? Personally, I don’t know. I know my team has some amazing ideas for hardware and software, but we don’t have the capital yet to follow through like we want to. Yet, to sell it without already having it built seems somehow wrong, even if the client gets the product in the end (and may even not realize that it was vaporware at any point.)

However, I’ve learned in my life the propaganda and ideologies that have been ingrained in me sometimes are dirt wrong. So, this is definitely something I need to kick around in my head a lot more.

As a rule, I’ve always either sold a product we had, or a service we were ready to provide as soon as the contracts were signed. However, if you were selling thousands of products to thousands of people, and you had a plan to have it ready by the time they expected it delivered, if you got the money, what to make of that? More people will be happy to get a good product and you will be able to continue to sell it after the initial bang.

Selling nothing seems to be a great way to make money and, in the end, make a great product from scratch.

What are your thoughts?

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