What makes a person like Elon Musk or Steve Jobs so effective at reaching their dreams? How were people like Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. so effective at organizing a movement? What qualities, behaviors, experience and knowledge contribute most to building their character, realizing their dreams and pushing them forward, in spite of hardship? What attributes contribute to the development of these qualities and behaviors? Why are these attributes important?
What kinds of knowledge help us form and realize a vision? What knowledge catalyzes the development of such a vision? What inspires others to work with us? Here’s a list of what I believe to be the Facets of Greatness. In this article, I’ll summarize each of these, providing detailed descriptions subsequent articles.
“And I really just want to emphasize that, while I’ve learned a lot about these “facets of greatness”, I’m not exactly the brightly-shining, radiant, exemplary apex here… I want nothing other than to methodologize and improve on these, if I’m ever to realistically expect to launch a product.” - David Conner, Radiant Apex of Greatness…
Where is it that most people learn to be great? It’s their father that first imbues that image. Perhaps their mother as well. Unfortunately, I never had a father. He died when I was 14 months old. You might say the world acted as my father, or tried to help as much as it could anyway. So, instead of a singular impression or image of what it means to be a great person, I ended up with several. Yet, the combination of these impressions were far weaker than that most receive from their father. So as I began my 3rd decade of life, I found myself lacking direction and instead I felt a hole that needed to be filled. I was forced to search hard for meaning in life, but there was nothing there, nothing real anyways. I eventually found that I needed to create my own meaning in life.
So how do I find the path to Elysia?
Myst - Good Luck Figuring That Shit Out
So this series is a reflection on what I’ve learned. I didn’t have much of a clearly stated system given to me by my parents. That is, other than (Step 1) Read the Bible (Step 2) Go to Church (Step 3) ???.
I had to create my own, which is by no means complete. And honestly, building your life on a basis founded in even a small amount of religious study is not a bad idea. Religions are successful primarily because they are so capable of providing people with a solid foundation for life. In addition to explaining the mysteries of life and it’s origins, religions are the accumulation of stories, which impart wisdom and a method for living life.
In this article, I’ll describe other systems of virtues, detailing how they differ from what I’ve included in this series, which is moreso about the knowledge required to move people to build great things. Then I’ll provide a summary of each facet, each of which will be further detailed in future articles. Then I’ll describe some of the general mistakes I’ve made in the past and explain why it’s important to play to appearances. I’ll elaborate on some of the personal costs of doing so.
I discuss why wealthy circumstance doesn’t always lead to success and explain the kind of psychological natural selection that does seem to lead to it. Success and wealth seems to ironically detract and shield us from the experiences that lead to stronger people. I’ll discuss vulnerability and the paradox of how shielding our individual vulnerabilities makes us weaker as a whole.
Aristotle’s Ethics includes a system of virtues, which is highly regarded. It’s lasted over 2,000 years, so someone thought it was important. Aristotle emphasizes the notion that the ideal practice of a virtue was exemplified by finding the mean between two extremes for that virtue. It’s very interesting that Aristotle thought to take something like virtues and human behavior and plot them onto something that is like a space. Each virtue is like a dimension or an axis on a graph, where the extremes are found at the ends of each axis. A person exhibiting perfect ethical behavior would then find themselves centered at the origin of these axes, although I’m not sure that a notion of perfect ethical behavior actually exists. Optimal ethical behavior, in the Aristotelian sense, really depends on your intent and your objective in life. If there is an optimum, it should be found in a region of space close to the origin.
Please note: I haven’t studied this in any official capacity, so do your own study and draw your own conclusions.
Aristotle’s Crowning Virtue
Of particular importance is Aristotle’s concept of magnanimity, which requires handling transgressions with grace, humility and wisdom. Someone magnanimous would be willing and eager to sacrifice their own objectives towards the pursuit of something much greater. Someone who is magnanimous knows what they believe and understands how to exemplify their beliefs, which they do, almost to a fault. They have detached themselves and their ego from their circumstances and their behavior is dictated by their ideals. And yet, they can deftly respond to ethical transgressions towards themselves with graceful, agile, creative responses to negative situations. A person like this must retain awareness of their environment and must be capable of vetting those they will work with. They must observe and identify the context in which their actions will be read without utilizing such means as to alter the context. At the same time, it is helpful to retain control over the context of such situations, but most of us lack the resources or time to do so. Magnanimity is a higher-level virtue, exemplified by threading and layering practice of the other virtues. It is cultivated over the course of one’s lifetime and sometimes over the course of generations. You can read more about magnanimity on wikipedia.
Another important takeaway is that no one exemplifies these virtues a priori. It takes practice and conscious effort. There are many paradoxical behaviors which depart from natural human urges and one of the most important is that we must learn to enjoy that which is not enjoyable, yet fosters development. Delayed gratification, in other words. Basically, controlling your mind to extract pleasure from situations and experiences which would be considered boring, frustrating, or painful. The degree to which one can do is one of the primary factors that determines the degree to which they can develop these virtues.
However, one conclusion that I’ve drawn from studying Ethics is that the systems our society has in place to cultivate virtuous people who work together – these systems are fairly fragile and must be protected. It really only takes a generation or two and it will all fall apart. We enjoy the benefits of a stable system with strong rule of law, but there are a lot of people who don’t comprehend or don’t care to understand how our systems work or why.
The relative stability we have and the democratic system we’ve set up – it creates a very special environment in which those who are good are rewarded, for the most part. Even in countries which do not have a strictly democratic system, some are experiencing unprecedented growth because their systems cultivate the right virtues and promote those who exemplify them.
The reason a democratic system works is because it fosters the involvement of large proportions of a nation’s population. The more people who are involved, the more invested citizens become and the more difficult it is to obscure corruption or enshroud a protected political class through various mechanisms. Successful, stable governmental systems will always promote involvement of all stripes of citizens, regardless of the mechanisms in place for governance.
And so, because the governmental and societal systems we have in place are so special, yet can be fragile – and because these virtues contribute to stability and the possibility of benevolent livelihoods – then it’s important for those who exemplify the right virtues to accrue influence. It’s often difficult for people from ages 15 through 30 in America to understand some policies because there are some things you won’t understand until you’ve had specific life experiences. Plato famously wrote in The Republic that a society should be governed by the older generation and this is why.
Some of these experiences include graduation from higher education or disease or dealing with the reality of one’s own mortality or the death of someone you were close to. A great example is having and raising children. There are things you just won’t understand in life until you personally have invested your love and life into raising a child, watching them walk into many of the same phenomena of life that you did. And so there are many policies or issues that won’t make sense or won’t seem relevant or that you won’t prioritize until you personally have that experience, whatever it is.
But one general idea behind wisely implemented policy is that those who make the right decisions and those who are willing to risk and sacrifice in pursuit of what they believe to be good, even when those benefits may only pay off in the long term – it is incredibly important to reward those people. Often, the right thing to do isn’t easy and there was an easier path, but for whatever reason, some people chose the harder path, even when they thought it might not pay off for a decade. But this is also why it’s important to educate those who don’t care or have a hard time comprehending why America works and has worked for about 250 years. And this is becoming a bit harder to do, as the pace of information transmission accelerates and it becomes harder to discern what we should believe and what we should examine further.
Horace, Carmina, IX, Book 4. 9. 45.
Non possidentem multa vocaveris
recte beatum; rectius occupat
nomen beati, qui deorum
muneribus sapienter uti
duramque callet pauperiem pati
peiusque leto flagitium timet,
non ille pro caris amicis
aut patria timidus perire.
You will not rightly call him a happy man who possesses much; he more rightly earns the name of happy who is skilled in wisely using the gifts of the gods, and in suffering hard poverty, and who fears disgrace as worse than death.
As development of technology only expands more rapidly, this kind of sociological changes will only become more commonplace. This is why it is urgent that we foster the kind of culture around the world that is prepared to adapt. It’s also important to ensure that everyone stays above water.
Poverty creates desolate conditions in far too many lives and poverty itself disrupts propagating values to the next generation. There is far too much confirmation bias in both the rich and the poor that prevents us from finding solutions to address the root causes of poverty. In particular, those who are wealthy have an obligation to aid those who are not. If the wealthy do not demonstrate their appreciation of that responsibility, then the system that we have becomes reproachable and vulnerability to instability. We absolutely cannot have this kind of instability in any major world power as we approach this period of exponential technological growth.
Technology is a double-edged sword and has the propensity for beneficence and for malevolence, particularly if it’s not controlled. If some of this tech gets into the wrong hands, it will create disorder that is bad very every major world power. If we recognize this, agree to cooperate and formulate a strategy for handling this, then we’ll be fine. If we can’t do that, we’re screwed.
And the kind of world that exists after major technological collapse is one in which the lack of resources and the lack of systems to promote coordinated behavior prevents the emergence of a stable system that fosters virtuous behavior. It’d be the exact opposite. The best way for an individual to survive or protect their family would be by acting in horridly selfish ways. It’s also important to understand that this kind of Mad Max scenario isn’t certain and that assuming it is may make it difficult to restore order.
The whole world has enough on our plate without major war. We have to clean up the oceans and the environment over the next two generations. That’s really all the time we have to fix certain problems, which IMO is plenty of time, excluding major disaster. I’ve seen amazing progress towards many difficult long-term issues in the past two and past five years, which is incredibly encouraging.
So anyways, what I’m writing is meant to equip my readers with tools that will help us lead a new generation of cooperation. I think, I can’t honestly say that this is everything or there aren’t other leaders who are far more capable advice. Or experience.
Whereas Aristotle and Franklin’s writings were meant for life in general, the Facets of Greatness series provides information meant to help those with no small plans develop a vision and learn to live with their future story in mind. I hope that some of this information will help those with dreams learn to share their vision with others to encourage cooperation.
I spend a lot of time watching interviews and press conferences of leaders and I hope this series captures much of the qualities the best leaders exemplify and the tools they use. These tools are often difficult to see or only attained with experience. Most people, if they understand them, have a very hard time explaining them.
And yes, this series is imperfect. Yet even in a premature form, I believe that some of these tools will be invaluable in whatever app-designing or empire-building or world-saving pursuits you may have. You may find your dreams to be more about building a small business for a robust, enjoyable family life or working towards a life long goal in academia. Still you’ll find this series to be incredibly useful, even if your megalomania isn’t quite yet terminal.
In this series, I’m trying to explain concepts that involve characteristics which cannot really be explained at all. They are much deeper than that. And so, these facets are like the faces on the surface of this abstract, ineffable thing.
I really hope that by explaining these facets, I make it easier for others to relate to the intangible truth to becoming great which so often eludes the majority of us. Most give up on pursuing this path before we know it exists and by the time we see it, it’s too late. You’ll find in life that there are many people out there with advice for you, but truly, their advice is meant to make you useful to them, while providing enough value to seem authentic.
Instead, I hope to arm you with most of the knowledge and advice that I would give myself. A good rule of thumb for ethical action in any case and especially when giving advice to someone is the golden rule: treat your neighbor as you’d treat yourself. Or, more radically:
Treat everyone else as though they literally are you. As though we are all one. That, by harming another, you are harming yourself.
And Don’t Forget – Treat Yo Self!
And the Golden Rule’s corollary of course: treat yourself as you’d like others to treat you. I’ve said it time and time again. Your confidence is your most valuable asset and you better know that people will try to steal that too. By assaulting your confidence, you’ll find that negative people not only boost theirs, but they do so at your expense, by subjugating you through demoralization. You’ve been warned!
Are You Ready? You Get To Drink From The Firehouse!!
Thanks, Wierd Al.
In the intro, I’ve provided a quick summary of each facet. I ended up going well over what I’d planned for some of these summaries. I’m planning on writing a 3,000 - 10,000 word article for each facet and I’ve mostly written out about half of these. If you want to check out the drafts for each section, here they are on my github.
Great people quantify and measure everything. Without quantification, you cannot develop a system or hope to improve. The most difficult or seemingly ineffable is usually the most valuable to form a system for quantification. Since it’s difficult, it confers advantage when you can measure and predict that which mystifies others. It’s especially crucial to learn how to measure your usage of time, as well as those around you. You also need to learn to quantify information, knowledge, communication and social networking – both online and IRL.
ↂ Maximizing Mutual Benefit How to quickly identify, vet and connect to mutually beneficial connections.
These great leaders are all conductors in the symphony of communication. They identify the most efficient means to relay messages, so that they can interface with a tree of people in their own organization as well as with people in others. Everyone has twenty-four hours in a day. The best leaders effectively communicate with others who command their own subtree of the organization and, by doing so, harness the sum of man-hours available to their network for maximum efficiency.
Additionally, they know how to structure and build their social network. These leaders know how to maximize the efficiency of their communication by coordinating with high-influence nodes in their network. They adapt their network by rearranging redundant nodes to reduce inefficiencies. Furthermore, you’ll find these people are effective at identifying influential people inside and outside of their network in order to cultivate those connections.
However, being the guy that only seeks out those who are useful in some way is kind of shitty, so it’s important to be authentic, so you don’t come of as a self-serving sycophant, obviously. Learning how to reinforce your network through spontaneous connection and communication is an artform. If you only talk to someone when you need something, it becomes obvious pretty fast, which can be unfortunate for quiet people like myself. Instead, if you gamify your communications with others to force yourself to reconnect just to catch up every few months or so, this can work wonders when you actually do need something.
Additionally, effective networkers excel at quickly identifying the power structure and relationships in an unfamiliar environment. This can be challenging since any patterns that arise from these structures are often ephemeral – people’s behavior can change depending on who’s in the room at that time.
ↂ Synoptic Epigrams Overview on Communication for Leaders. Leveraging your network with a concise message. Simple is better.
Communication is one of the most important facets to develop. If you can’t communicate effectively, how can you expect to leverage your network and coordinate the execution of a strategy? It’s important to be able to craft the same message in various formats, to optimize various functional objectives. Examples include brevity, detail, rhythm, adaptation for a specific medium, usage of specific vocabulary, and more.
In general, minimalized content and a concentrated, focused message is superior. It’s tough to tumble and polish your message until it conveys everything you need with concise precision, but it’s well worth it. A minimal message is efficient in terms of time and it’s also easier to parse because there’s less to consume and process. This increases it’s capacity for retention. Twitter’s a great way to practice, since you have to find a way to say everything in 140 characters. If you’re building a product, you really need to figure out how to succinctly summarize your product’s value, while distinguishing it, in the span of a tweet. If you can’t do that, you haven’t spent enough time thinking about how to convey your product or its value proposition to your customers.
It’s important to project a consistent message from and across your organization. This is a rule that’s made to be broken … occasionally. But it’s getting harder to maintain consistency when there’s so much consumer engagement across social media. How do you know that your social media presence is in step with your brand’s image? For large organizations, how do you ensure that the right hand knows what the left hand is doing?
Your communication needs to cohere to any longer-term marketing strategies you have in place. You’ll need to reach niche markets. These are valuable because of their diversity, but can become more expensive to cater to. You’ll want to target subgroups of consumers with whom a particular style of message might resonate strongly, but would turn off consumers from other subgroups. And how do you identify these groups in the first place. Communication is a two-way street. It’s both conveying a message and processing messages from others. So your organization needs to be capable of identifying and categorizing groups of people on social media, perhaps using algorithms like cluster analysis. Proficiency here means effective, efficient market penetration and hopefully stronger customer relationships.
Leaders also need to develop interpersonal communication skills, which I definitely need to strengthen. I enjoy watching founders discuss their products and organizations in interviews, especially those founders who are new to the game or have burning passion for an exciting new idea. I enjoy thinking about how this process works for all parties: the founder, the interviewer, the hosting organization and the audience. It’s important to stay on message and there are a lot of subtleties to watch out for, most of which are personal mistakes. It’s important to keep your customers and fans excited, but also stay on message while retaining flexibility for any business strategy. For publicly-traded companies, these objectives can be difficult to balance with the interests stockholders.
Rule of Thumb for IPO’s
When do you know in your heart of hearts that it is the “right” “time” to IPO? That’s easy … never …
ↂ If Actions Speak Louder Overview on Signaling. The how and why to signaling. Why signaling overcomplicates otherwise simple projects. How signaling is the missing piece for the otherwise exceptionally intelligent.
Signaling is a kind of indirect communication, but it differs significantly from that described above because it encompasses handling unintentional communication. Everything around you is part of a myriad of systems, composed of countless feedback loops. Signaling concerns becoming aware of how your organization’s words and actions will implicitly and explicitly affect those feedback loops. Mastering signaling requires development of self-awareness at multiple levels beyond the individual. Typically, you’ll find that these leaders and corporations prefer to not signal at all, especially in interpersonal communication. This is kind of because everyone knows that all (or most) options are on the table, always.
So get to work on your poker face.
E.G. My startup says we’ll never IPO. Everyone says that. It’s a fucking negotiation tactic. Yet, it’s also just generally a good idea to retain control, especially for a young, small startup.
So, here, the rookie move (in most circumstances) is to imply that you’re willing to IPO or accept acquisition early on. Even if you say you’re not, everyone knows that for that kind of exit strategy, all options should remain on the table. By sticking with a no, you’re signaling that your perceived value of your product and your opportunity outweighs those options. By signaling towards yes, especially too early, you’re losing flexibility and influence in the negotiation process. And either way – yes or no – all options are .. possibly on the table .. maybe? So why signal an early yes?
ALWAYS MORE OPTIONS! ALWAYS!
And by playing the game so that your options remain open, you retain flexibility. At the same time, it’s important to know when to break these general rules. Don’t be an asshole and manipulate your relationship with investors, etc. out of greed. Those guys are fucking smart, they will know.
That’s actually what VC’s and Angel’s do: they read people to leverage business relationships, with precision. And people entrust them with billions of dollars to do so, with precision. They have hundreds of times more experience at the negotiation table and managing board politics.
Picture it like this. Do you want to be part of this conversation?
“Oh yeh… we invested several hundred million of our 5 year funding cycle on that shiny startup. But we forget to ask this one leeeettle question and we lost all their money.”
More in the section on signaling. Just remember. Poker Face.
ↂ Meta and Epi Overview of Knowledge. Understanding metaphenomena and epiphenomena. Constructing and reading models. Utilizing knowledge differential for profit.
Knowledge is power, as stated by that maxim from time immemorial. And, yep, it’s true, in case you hadn’t figured that out yet. I think everyone knows this, but there are many out there who, whether they’re younger or older, feel it is pointless to engage in the academic pursuit of knowledge, for whatever reason. Sometimes it’s because they don’t see the potential in themselves, which is depressing. Sometimes it’s because, because of the combination of their beliefs at the time and whatever life circumstances they’re dealing with, they perceive it to be futile or pointless. And I’m really not sure if that is less depressing or more depressing.
Whatever the reason, it’s incredibly disheartening when someone develops antipathy towards the pursuit of knowledge because it’s how we equip ourselves with the tools we need to free ourselves from whatever limitations we have in life.
Knowledge drives how you see a system compared to how others see the same system. The difference between your model and that of others determines your belief that there is opportunity where others see only risk. This also determines the available options for mitigating risk. So it’s important to not only understand things but also understand how other people understand them. And know how to determine which model someone applies towards a problem and how they acquired information.
Vision, story and identity are really aspects of the same thing, which is how your persona, your organizations, your struggles and your dreams will be perceived by various groupings of people at different points in time. Your knowledge helps you construct your vision for where your field of passion is headed. Perhaps it’s your local community or your family’s business. And your vision doesn’t encompass your ideas of where things will go, or where they could go. Your vision needs to incorporate your idea of where it should go.
You have to know where you’re going before you can begin your journey … or at least, you should. Your vision helps inform you and your organization to begin composing strategies for getting there. The difference between your vision and the idea of where everyone else thinks that trends will lead needs to be fueled by your passion and knowledge of your subject or field. You don’t have to explain this difference but you need to be able to rationalize it and be capable of conveying the how and the why, at least within your organization. One of the best examples of communicating a vision is Macintosh’s 1984 Superbowl Commercial. I’ll elaborate more on why in that section. But before that commercial aired, most people were barely emotionally invested in personal computers. The commercial established the idea that there might be another radically different option before they were aware that there could be another option. It set consumers’ expectations so that they would approach and judge the Apple experience based on being different. I could easily write 10,000 words on just that ad.
Everyone loves a good story. This is one of the most valuable tools you have. Not only does a great story help you connect with people and gather momentum, but by focusing on how you’ll tell the story as you live it ensures that you’ll enjoy it as it happens and when you tell it. If you’re focused on it as it happens, you’ll notice more about your experiences and you’ll retain more of the right details. Imperatively, you’ll be able to focus on living your story as so to embed meaning and value for others. This requires cultivating a zen-like awareness of the present moment, which I’ll describe in the section on Story.
“What would the hero in your story do?” <= This, I like.
Your story will make your brand and your identity more relateable. When you and your cofounders faced adversity, how did you overcome it? When it looked like things were hopeless, what did you do? Did you build yourself up from nothing? Or were you just handed and opportunity? What mistakes did you make and why? What strained your relationships with your team and what compromises did you make to account for that? How did you build your team and cultivate your relationships? What values did you stress when deciding the kind of culture you would imbue into your startup or project? When were you closest to giving up and what kept you going? What tools do you use when you find yourself or your team struggling or getting blocked up? Many of the toxic problems that seep into a team and corrode their relationships accrue slowly. Often, by the time you find them, the problems can be one hundred times worse than if the root cause was addressed early. So how did you assess your team members and identify that the seeds for these problems were growing?
These questions are relevant to anyone and everyone. The answers are not the same in every situation, but unfortunately, we often don’t know to even contemplate these issues beforehand. And that’s the value of experience. By living your life and your story in such a way that you notate the important details and decisions, you can more effectively share that experience with others later on. Even if you fail, if nothing else, you have your experience. For all of these questions, it is invaluable to envisage your options, ideals and decision-making processes before you have to answer them. If you’re always reacting, you’ll always be several steps behind. Remain proactive, by deliberating these and other important questions beforehand.
Your story should drive the development of your vision. It should help you and other people understand the why behind your vision. The best way to think about an idea for a new product is to think about the simple problems in your life. What’s a good solution? What do I keep running into that wastes my time? Even if you don’t know the solution, assess the problems you have and constantly search for new perspectives. A good problem to solve is relateable. It’s something everyone faces. This problem you faced: remember it! It’s practically required for a startup pitch.
Your vision and story should drive the development of your identity. They become part of your image and are really all part of the same thing. They are past, present and future aspects of how you are perceived, both by yourself and by others. At times, I’ve been pretty frustrated to need to struggle so hard against my image, but all this upstream swimming and rhetorical jujitsu has made me smarter and stronger. It’s also taken quite a toll on me, so I hope to share some of my experiences.
Your organization and the units within it also have image and identity. You’re responsible for understanding how they are perceived and for understanding how this perception might vary from group to group. You need to develop means of constructing accurate self-image, which is always in flux: from time to time, from person to person, from group to group.
Identity and self-image is where empathy arises. In particular, empathy facilitates your ability to forge strong new relationships with others, so it’s vital for networking, signaling, communication, and orchestration. If you do not have accurate awareness of the self, you cannot have robust empathy with others. This is because empathy arises from considering how things appear to others, but if you can’t see yourself for how you truly are then what good would it do to you put yourself in their shoes?
And similarly, self-awareness drives your efficacy in all the facets, but especially identity. It’s often referenced as one of the most important traits for those in business and for leadership by some of the greatest guru’s out there, who I’m sure can provide much more depth for those neophytes of self-image, empathy and compassion. Go watch a TED Talk or something. Be radical. Since self-awareness is so foundational to identity and all the other facets, I’ve embedded these talks at the end of this article.
How could you project a consistent image to others if you aren’t self-aware or honest with yourself. Occasionally, it it’s critical to project a different image of yourself to multiple groups. You’ll find those that manipulate excel at this and their games depend on it. Personally, while it’s incredibly difficult, I find that retaining and projecting a universally consistent image to everyone – appearing to be the same from anyone’s perspective – is one of the best things someone can do. Obviously, it’s incredibly challenging, it limits the space of your actions and can be impossible, as some people just don’t care to see you in an honest light. However, you’ll find that the most auspicious, seraphic people find projecting a congruent self-image to be worth the tremendous opportunity costs. And this is why it is important to observe this quality in others. If someone goes through great lengths to maintain coherent image to others, including those whom haven’t established lengthy rapport, when it comes at hefty personal risk, then that is a person you should trust, depending on their ideals of course.
The corollary here: someone who projects a universally consistent image of crap or of evil … is not so great. Who knows? Maybe they’re secretly a cutesy kitten on the inside. Probably not though.
ↂ Understanding the Political System An overview of common blockers in the American political system, along with the reasoning and wisdom behind them.
These people are pros at navigating the system. By system, I mean the legal framework that exists in their locality, but it’s not just limited to laws and regulations. Each organization and group create their own “process frameworks” that specify how people will interact and how tasks will be done. As for these process frameworks, there tend to be both explicit and implicit processes. Some of these aren’t so clearly stated, but it’s crucial to be able to pick up on them quickly, just like it is to assess a new group’s structure and hierarchy. If you’re going to get anywhere in business, not only do you have to excel in reading these process structures, but also designing them, implementing transitions between them and having the experience to know what works. It’s a common mistake to oversimplify and assume you have the right changes to a particular process, but “one thorn of experience is worth a wilderness of warning.” Sometimes a slower or less efficient process allows you to better gauge risk, assess your opportunity for more profitable options or develop a stronger relationship with a customer.
As for the legal framework, you can’t construct a business plan or negotiate with partners without knowing the details of how your business entity will be structured. Being aware of your options here is critical, as nothing is worse then funnelling thousands into starting your fledgling dream business, just to realize that you set it all up wrong. Knowing the basics on trademark, copyright and patent law is a must if you’re going to properly structure and protect your IP. This is critical if you don’t have very much money. Filing the wrong patent can be incredibly expensive and leave you incredibly vulnerable. Properly structuring a set of patents takes not only requires domain expertise, but legal expertise as well. Otherwise, you’ll waste a ton of time and money at the patent office or get stuck with a patent that can be invalidated later.
Strategy is really about the composition of tactics at various levels. Business and life can be viewed through the lens of game theory. Both are a mix of turn-based and real-time games. In life, one chooses their objectives to optimize on based on their model of the world, usually fairly early on. Some people possess far more cognition and metacognition, which both greatly extend your ability to assess and model the world. The earlier you cognitively develop, the better. Doing so equips you with the meta-tools you need to construct the model you’ll use to search for meaning in life, for your own purpose. In business, you optimize on other factors and objectives, like value, opportunity, diversity, control, risk, security and time.
As a generalized concept, strategy is about the composition of tactics at various levels. Reusable tactics are the best: if you’ve found something that works in one field, industry or game, you’ll find that you can usually rework it and apply it elsewhere. Most tactics can be generalized to varying degrees: you can change their form or parameterize them by abstracting variables. The most reusable tactics are the best. You can combine tactics with others or deconstruct them into small pieces which can be rearranged.
Backward induction is a well-known technique in chess and other games. It means you look for the endgame or midgame scenario that you’d like to achieve and think backwards to identify sequences of moves that will allow you to reach it. I wrote about it in the third part of my series on Category Theory, Epistemology and Cognition. However, the proper execution of backward induction requires deconstruction. That is, you must take the optimal sequence of moves that you’ve identified and reconstruct them in such a way that avoids detection. In a game like chess, you might insert blocking moves that prevent the opponent from moving or choose moves that reinforce other pieces or throw in moves to claim spaces in the middle of the board. These moves are all but tangential to your true objective. Otherwise, if you were to instead execute your sequence of tactics in a direct manner, your opponent could easily determine your intentions.
Furthermore, appearances overcomplicate an otherwise simple reality. If you don’t take into account how your opponent perceives your actions or if you can’t detect that, you’ll always find yourself behind. No matter your level of “skill” in your game of choice, if it’s a multiplayer game, there is always a meta-game. Therefore, you have to learn how to shield your tactics from detection. This usually requires becoming skilled in the art of duplicity, if not deception. However, deception errs on the side of outright cheating and it’s not fun to play with those who have no rules. Also, actions which can be perceived in more than one way are always more valuable, inherently. Learning how your opponent models the game is incredibly valuable as well. If you can observe through their conscious actions or unconscious reactions pieces of the system they use to inform their moves, then you can more accurately predict their next moves from their play style.
The section on Strategy will cover much more, including why you should be wary of making your objectives known and how to detect your opponents’ strategies. For example, in addition to looking at your opponent’s actions, it can often prove more useful to look at what they are not doing. Specifically, when your opponent is intentionally obscuring their intentions, reflecting on the actions that seem to be off-limits to them is often the best way to unravel their strategy … which reminds me that it’s also incredibly useful to weight an opponent’s action in terms of the energy they invested. High-energy actions always mean much more. Or they usually do anyways. You’d be surprised…
Where’s The Beef?!!
ↂ Congressional Power Structures An intuitive overview of working with political power structures. This is about leveraging your network, your goals and your colleagues’ needs to get things done.
Orchestration is really the execution of strategy. Whereas strategy concerns intuition and knowledge of each of the other facets, orchestration concerns coordination of each facet. You’re working with the processes and systems you’ve woven into your organization. You’ll need to know what to do when these processes break down or tactics don’t work. If you’re organization is nimble and if you’re maintaining proper communication, then you’ll be able to refocus the organization’s energy in another direction when your systems invariably malfunction. If you’ve really stacked your chips right, then even when things go wrong, it won’t matter much. You won’t have lost too much steam, if you’ve been aiming each stone for as many birds as possible. With orchestration, synergy is what you’re looking for. How can you coordinate each facet, so that everything you do satisfies multiple objectives. Grandmaster chess players remain flexible with their available moves and even though each piece is backing up multiple pieces, it seems like they have a maximum number of available “safe” moves. In business and life, this means knowing how to design with redundancy and resilience in mind.
The little piggie with the brick house sleeps soundly every night because his house can withstand all kinds of pressure.
ↂ Monumental Accidents There are no such things. Truly, nothing great is an accident. This article covers some disparate topics, such as diversity of body and mind, the modular mind, social engineering, independence and the art of bonsai.
This is the Unknown facet. It’s a mystery. Wrapped in an enigma. Contained inside a box! It’s a box. I wonder what’s in it?
NOTHING YOU SO STUPID!!
Maybe try again in a week. It’s a Shrödingers Box. Sometimes there’s nothing, but sometimes there’s a lil kitty.
The Unknown facet encompasses what we don’t know or can’t know. This includes attributes that are difficult to pin down. It also includes those attributes that aren’t typically associated with greatness, which for whatever reason, end up being one of those critical things that really made someone. Far too many people associate being different with weakness. They seek to identify what makes others different and they point it out. They question it. They criticize it. Sometimes they accept it, and sometimes people will try to use it in some way. Often, instead of embracing our own unique quirks as strengths, we buy into all the criticism.
Always be yourself, stick to what you know to be true, trust your gut and believe in yourself.
We should become comfortable with what we can’t do yet or with what we haven’t learned. By challenging ourselves to experience what is uncomfortable or difficult, we expand our ability to deal with those situations the next time. Because our mind is the product of ideas and processes that it can combinate, then by developing skills which are challenging and difficult for most, our mind will become more capable than others. Some of us have unique challenges that prevent us from experiencing some things and this means that there are some ideas or extensions of those ideas which aren’t available to everyone. Or rather, those ideas are only available vicariously. But we should embrace those people who can expand our minds by sharing experiences that we can’t have or can’t truly know.
What is Wisdom?
Wisdom is knowing what to do when you do not know. You need to have the intuition to dig deeper when it seems that you have a set course of action. When it seems you already have a viable set of options, you have to exercise patience to ensure you’ve truly examined the situation. Usually, picking from the cards dealt to you is fine, but sometimes you’ll find there’s not a single fair card in each hand dealt to you. Also, you have to know when to make a stand and when to hold your cards. Yet, on the other hand, you absolutely have to be capable of recognizing a situation where doing nothing is the only wrong course of action. Some of these are very hard concepts to balance, which is why it’s crucial that we understand our own values, as well as the emotions and behaviors that drive us. If we know what drives us and we have a nearly concrete set of values, then we can remain grounded and centered in the face of tumultuous discord.
How to Break Through
I see many of these qualities in myself, though I fear it’s too late. Becoming great and freeing yourself from the chains of a “normal” life is quite rare. You’ll find that it often requires the coordination of one or two previous generations for someone to really “break through.” Does it require being born into the aristocracy or the upper middle class? No. Does it require access to a network of the rich and famous? No. A fortuitous opportunity, perhaps divined by fate? No, though the best of us will make the most of our luck and those situations which are truly once in a lifetime.
So what does it mean to break through and what does it take? It really is quite rare. I’m talking about the success that is quite often 1 in 100,000. You’ll find that people born into wealthy circumstances can be quite stunted in their development. And, similarly that those born into poverty often lack the resources or opportunities to develop. It’s expensive to be poor. That is true.
Instead, I view this as a kind of natural selection for psychology. It’s the people who have the perfect mashup of ideas and behaviors in their minds who become wildly successful. It’s the people who have the perfect mix of positives, without the wrong kind of negatives who end up breaking through. The meme’s and ideas that develop in these people’s minds, coupled with the perfect timing and just the right combination of serendipitous events results in a mind that responds to more effectively extract the positives out of a situation without being restrained by the negatives. It’s one that, coupled with the guidance of others, perfectly creates fertile situations in front of them.
So, what’s the most important factor in creating the perfect artist and business minds? IMO, it’s the structure of the minds of their parents and how the parents raise their child. Often, you’ll look at someone’s life and see that not only did the previous generation affect their upbringing, but the generation before that as well. Obviously, this is something that can be easier to provide for affluent families, but wealth is absolutely not required and usually you’ll find that it hurts. Instead, families that have struggled for a generation or two will develop a perspective and outlook on life, coupled with strategies for self-actualization and propagating that knowledge, which all contribute greatly towards success in this “natural selection” of “ideal” psychology.
And the most important point for me to stress here is that there are sooo many small mistakes someone can make that result in massive risks or costs to someone’s career. The seeds for your career start when you are young and every moment matters, whether you realize that at the time or not. There are some early behaviors, beliefs or actions – which usually require high maturity or a parent’s guidance or interference – and these can either make you or break you. My point is that it’s usually impossible for most people to comprehend these unspoken “rules” at any point in their life, much less between 15-25, which are really the critical years. And so, they either don’t approach life with these goals in mind and miss the opportunity or they break these “rules” and unknowingly lose the opportunity.
However, it’s important for me to state that there is not a singular “ideal” psychology and, in fact, you’ll find that this kind of great success is often an ironic curse. It can bear a terrible price and one might struggle for it, never to achieve it. Or struggle for it in vain without realizing they’d already committed too many mistakes. For me, I’ve been so stubborn and singularly focused on building a product, refusing to give up, that I’ve nearly destroyed my life.
One factor holding America back is the waning influence that the family has in building the next generation. We spend almost no time together. There are fewer conversations and fewer family dinners. Alas, that’s the subject for another post.
Learn From the Fool
If You Are Wise
Instead, let’s look at some of the largest factors which could prevent someone from attaining greatness. And then I’ll describe a few of my mistakes. I’m really not going to cover everything though.
“Fools learn from experience. I prefer to learn from the experience of others.” - Otto von Bismarck
Please, keep in mind that I believe that many of these ideals go against my own ideas of what it means to be a virtuous person. I can’t stand playing to appearances or adhering to many of the other so-called Laws of Power. It’s a book that I detest by the way – the wikipedia article notes it’s significance to prison inmates – but it’s a book that is very worth reading if you want to defend yourself against its tactics. Please keep that in mind.
The knowledge of power spreads fast, like fire. A lust for power can corrupt men who would otherwise remain virtuous by tempting with the desire to reshape the world around them, bending it to their will. Far too often, this comes at the cost of sacrificing their character, their ethics, their friends or the very notion of friendship itself. You’ve been warned.
Guard Your Reputation With Your Life
What does one need to avoid? Since becoming great requires a lot of exposure and often courting someone’s attention who would, in a way, vouch for you, then you need to guard your reputation as though it were your life. Your reputation is like a kind of currency, which you can accrue over time or you can squander in a moment. For me, I picked drug legalization, one of the worst causes for my reputation, as it led to soooo many doors being slammed in my face, though I can’t say I regret supporting ending the War on Drugs.
Keep Your Circle Tight
Getting that big break often requires getting the approval of other, already successful people who at least equally desire to protect their reputation and their already secured position. These people will want to vet anyone that gets close to them. They have a set of friends who have proven their trustworthiness and they’re wary of letting people in.
Similarly, you need to keep your circle tight. While new people can sometimes bring opportunity, they often come bearing baggage or rotten fruit. Especially if you don’t vet them. This is another great ability to develop: you need to be able to quickly run people through a gambit and understand how they’re going to react in various similar future situations. All while appearing approachable and non-judgemental. This was something that wasn’t explicitly taught to me by my family.
All of this contrasts my own values (to a greater degree in the past) because I like being exposed to all kinds of people, regardless of whether they would be positive or negative – mostly because i want to learn about them. Isolation also bears a cost and if you’re always around people you’ve carefully chosen, can you really say that you “know” people? Honestly, living life in such a guarded, cautious manner – is it really worth it?
Then again, if you’ve made so many sacrifices already in your life and you’ve remained calculated and guarded for so long, are you really willing to bring someone in who could disrupt that?
Many people I know scoff at my attempts to build a product. Some of them laugh at my ideas; some will point towards my reputation or perceived weaknesses or past failures; others will claim that I don’t have the communication skills. But almost no one has tried to team up with me. For the few that have, it just seems that our circumstances don’t happen to line up at that time. Thank you anyways.
But, for my detractors:
If someone asked you to write 10,000 - 30,000 words on the factors, traits, events and conditions required to master leadership, so that you could build something great, what would you write? If someone asked you to speak for three hours on the subject, what arguments would you make? What historical allegories would you choose to illustrate your points? What would others say in response?
While my words are far from eloquent and while I’m far from perfect myself, how long are people going to try to claim that I don’t know what I’m talking about or that I’m mentally insane? Honestly? … Fuck you.
A leader’s capacity to lead is the sum of his/her influence on coordinating the actions of others. A leader without followers might have all the internal factors required to be great. But without followers, they still only have 24 man-hours in a day.
In other words, a leader who finds it difficult influence others, for whatever reason, is not really a leader. What is incredibly frustrating is when this difficulty arises from the interference of others. And it really just comes with the territory. Power is alluring and you’ll find that others want it and sometimes they don’t want you to have it. But when you realize that, for a decade, people have been subtly undercutting you and assaulting your reputation and trying their damnedest to prevent you from amounting to someone with influence – you’ll find this to be quite angering. Especially if you’ve made a ton of sacrifices to retain your personal definition of ethics or morality.
Anyway, not one person has contributed more than an hour with me to any product idea I’ve had. For all my viable business ideas and all my quirky tech ideas too, I have not been able to identify a single person who seems to want to be a cofounder. Much of this is my fault, for not networking enough and spending 100% of my available time programming instead of finding a team with which i could delegate responsibility. But, it is strange, right?
Again, I see some of these facets manifested in myself and I know that other people do as well. Many of them, I observed and learned too late, as I’ve already made far too many mistakes. However, I believe that others can draw on the experience of your mistakes. And that, if the experiences of these problems are shared, instead of covered up and hidden, people can greatly benefit from that. Even when many of those problems may be embarrassing or expose personal vulnerability.
Vulnerability, especially when visible – does its mere presence and visibility imply weakness in great people? If we always hide our vulnerabilities, how can we teach those we care about what to hide and what to show and how to talk to people about problems and who to trust about them? If appearance trumps reality, then is it worse to have a perceived vulnerability or an actual one? How does one’s own awareness of them change things? And when is it ethical to lead others into believing someone possesses some weakness like this?
The intention behind this matters, but I’ve found time and time again that if someone really cares about you, then they will let you know about it. If they’re trying to score political points in the office, then they won’t involve you when calling attention to your vulnerabilities. IMO, it’s tragic that we would end up with this kind of culture in the workplace… If someone only seeks to exploit their coworkers vulnerabilities to score political points and gain greater influence in their local workspace – instead of working with their colleague to address and improve them – then doesn’t that leave us all more vulnerable as a group? That’d imply that some negative political behavior in the workplace is not only abrasive, but corrosive. And without the proper systems in place to keep this behavior in check, the wrong people rise to the top by employing shady, opportunistic tactics while simultaneously leaving groups in various social strata much more vulnerable, in aggregate.
Also, if it’s important to learn from these people by examining their biographies and lives, so we can grow from their experiences, then doesn’t the distortion of reality and the total obliviation of these flaws detract from what we’d otherwise learn? If so many biographies are written posthumously – and if these people live their lives seeking to hide their weaknesses and call attention to their strengths – then how can we hope we’ll capture the truth at all? Obviously, as with everything else, the right answer lies somewhere in the middle. IMO, we should focus on telling those stories that can help us all grow. And I believe the solution to addressing our vulnerabilities lies in cultivating self-awareness, so that we are not dependent on someone else being respectful and tactful enough to help us address them in the right way. And self-awareness is something I’ll discuss in the section on identity and image.
Cursed For Eternity to Remain with the Fruit Just Outside His Reach
As for me personally, are these lessons a blessing or a curse? Only after a decade of painful mistakes did I learn any of this. I’m never sure whether my stubbornness is a positive or negative trait, but it’s only by refusing to give up did I ever learn any of this. Everyone around me – my friends and family – wanted me to give up or just get a job and be distracted. Maybe they were really thinking of my best interest – it’s nearly destroyed me.
The ambition required to pursue a path like this ends up fostering attachment in me that should not otherwise exist. If I didn’t desire success and greatness out of a belief that, properly postured, I could truly benefit the world, the I wouldn’t want it at all. And yet, ironically, now that I’ve learned all this, I can see it, but I’m in no position to effectively use it.
Go Watch A TED Talk!
On Self-Awareness, Empathy && Radical Self-Love
Note: I haven’t actually watched these yet. I’m mostly including them so that I too, one day, will watch them. Probably tomorrow. Or some time when I’m laying on the couch, eating Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Explosion, and watching reruns of A to Z on Netflix, no doubt yearning for unrequited love and missed connections…
Still no idea why they cancelled that show. I’m hoping it’s just because they didn’t want to show Andrew and Zelda breaking up. Zelda’s so hot. Hopefully, Andrew knows he’s got a fantastic thing goin on and can figure out how to keep doing whatever the fuck he did to land that brilliant piece… lol. I wouldn’t bet on it though. I mean don’t get me wrong… . . It’s not going to be simple or easy.
I’m just sayin’, like Goku. XD Kaaaaamehameha, motherfuckers! I’m out!