How to Know When to Step Up

I sometimes read bad fiction. I don’t really enjoy it. I get frustrated by the cliche. I feel like tearing my hair over blatant inconsistencies. I sometimes have to put the book down an take a break. So why do I put myself through all of that?


Seeing bad fiction flying off the shelves of bookstores was what convinced me to write and publish my first book. I knew I could do better. Maybe not sell better, not at first, but I knew that my stories were good enough to find an audience. So far its only a very small one, but they are loyal, and growing.

Finding that perspective is an all important skill. No matter what your industry, when you begin to see that the quality of other’s work in your area of expertise is below what you can provide, it is an invitation. It means that you have grown to the point that you are ready for the next challenge. That it’s time to push into the zone of discomfort and take on more responsibility. That there is a market for your talent if you take a step out into the spotlight and share your skills with the world. It’s a skill that’s at the essential to becoming an entrepreneur.

How about you? What do you see that makes you cringe? Photographs with bad lighting and poor composition? Poetry with a clumsy meter and flimsy rhymes? Trainers who fail to understand the space they need to give their students to learn the material? A boss who insists on living in a tactical world when what your department needs is a long term strategy? Every one of these implies that you are ready. That the world needs you. It’s time to step up.



The Anxiety Spiral and Why You Should Get Off

“I am an old man and I have know a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”  – Mark Twain

Last Friday I got my weekly dose of short recommendations from Tim Ferriss and came across this gem from Neil Strauss. It’s long and some would say has a liberal bias, but it’s really great stuff. The gist is that people in the United States are living in the safest time in the history of humankind. Despite this fact, there is strong evidence that people are more anxious than they have ever been. Anxiety doesn’t really sound all that bad until you read Strauss’s definition.

“Where fear is a response to a present threat, anxiety is a more complex and highly manipulable response to something one anticipates might be a threat in the future.”

So, according to Strauss, our perception of the world is horribly warped. It is like a bad acid trip where the most innocuous things are transfigured by the drug into terrifying monsters that don’t exist. What is this drug that I’m referring to?

The Feed

Strauss hits the highlights, but I’ll recap for you.

  1. We are surrounded by an abundance of spin-doctored talk radio and twenty-four-hour, angled, faux-news channels that shape their messages to reinforce the tribal beliefs of their regular viewers.
  2. Twitter and Facebook allow, and even encourage, you to self select the version of the wold you want delivered to our omnipresent devices.
  3. Local news is often filled with the most compelling stories they can find. Too often these are gore spattered tragedies that we can’t help but watch and remember.

Why is this bad? Well we have something built into our brains called confirmation bias. We inherently seek out information that confirms things that we already believe. The internet makes this incredibly easy. It becomes even easier if you are force-fed by algorithms that are really good at finding things it thinks you will like.

Strauss cites the “Law of group Polarization” which states that people who believe similar things tend to become even more convinced that they are right after spending time together discussing them. Not only that, but they tend to have less empathy for those holding opposing views.

Finally, it is a proven fact that we remember, and recall to mind, negative events twice as easily as positive ones. That means the more terrible things you experience through The Feed, the more you will begin to believe that storyline is the reality. This is a held over survival strategy from long ago. It made sense when lots of things wanted to eat us. It’s far less useful now.

So back to our custom tailored Feed. Is it a stretch to think that the unprecedented connectedness of the modern world, the incredible availability of information, and the complementary ability to seek out and associate with those who are just like us in giant virtual groups, has accelerated this anxiety exponentially? I don’t think so.

So if we know that your brain, and your personality are altered by what you consume and who we associate with, it seems obvious that we need to pay as much attention to what enters our bodies through our eyes and ears as we do through our mouths.

Like any diet, there are several approaches. Fasting can work, but it’s not really sustainable. Moderation is a good solution, but unless it is coupled with diversity, there is a real risk of malnutrition.

As with most difficult problems, I find the solution is education. By understanding the manipulation methods, hard wired biases and irrationality of my brain, and searching for the facts behind the flashy propaganda, I can avoid most of the pitfalls to clear thinking. By limiting my exposure to algorithms I can stay as independent as possible. By limiting my attention to things that I can directly control I can avoid most of the anxiety.

How about you? How do you fight the fear?

Reading Elon’s Mind

Elon Musk is a visionary. He made a pile of money and now he has leveraged that, and the reputation it gained him, to do some incredible things. Things lots of people said were impossible. I hear the naysayers, and I think they are wrong. Today I am going to do my best to read Elon’s mind.

Most people assume he is only out to make a lot of money. I admit that he may want to turn a good profit, but I don’t think that’s the goal. I think he has a plan and making money is just an enabler. I think that in the end there will be museums and statues of this guy, and if I’m right, I am completely on board with where he’s going.

Let me take a step back for a moment.

We know enough about the universe now to know that the cosmological timescale is hard to comprehend. When years start being measured in the billions our brains just throw that into the “a long time ago” bucket and move on. In that timescale, humanity is not even a blip. Hell even on a planetary timescale we’re barely noticeable. All we have done, and all that we have accomplished as a species, are historical afterthoughts.

Besides that, we are so, so fragile. The human race has almost gone extinct a few times. There are plenty of meteors and comets out there that could take us out tomorrow. Then there is the fact that all stars eventually run out of gas (pun intended), and ours is no different. Plus, these days we have the technology, and the absolute, bugshit, narcissistic, craziness required to end the habitability of our planet in a myriad of ways.

I said all of that to point out that as vast and wonderful as our home-world is, it is a big basket that contains all of humanity’s eggs. If we want to continue in perpetuity as a species, we need to get ourselves off the surface of good old mother earth and start learning how to live elsewhere.

This is where I think Elon is going. Look at the companies he is working so hard on.

Space X is not hard to fit into this picture. Rockets are our ticket to the stars. Making them affordable and reusable is the best way to learn how to make better ones and to get people out where we can start working through all of the problems of living beyond our atmosphere.

Solar City is finding ways to turn the only fuel that is available everywhere into an affordable option. The more that research is pushed, the more innovation there will be. As solar generation becomes more viable it is the perfect power source for both space stations and new planetary colonies.

Tesla is currently a luxury brand, but it is also paving a mental pathway for an all electric transportation system that would be needed in the absence of fossil fuels or even consumable chemicals in an off-wold homestead. This links perfectly in with Solar City and Space X. The rockets get you there, the solar panels generate the power needed to run the vehicles that you need to move around in your new home.

Hell, even the new National Geographic series Mars is just propaganda for the cause. The more real Elon can make this all seem in people’s minds, the more doable, the more likely it is he can make it happen. It worked for Kennedy, why not for our generation? I doubt he would even mind if the competition suddenly became fierce. Competition has always been a great engine for change.

None of this could be done by the government. It had to be a private citizen who was free to push unpopular things. A visionary was needed to drive incredibly smart people to their limits to make it all affordable and robust.

The unstated necessity of this project has been in the science fiction literature for at least a century, and there is no better place to find the direction technology needs to go than the imagination of the sci-fy community. How many technologies that were first seen in the pages of pulp novels have inspired their readers to create them? Nearly all of them.

So that’s what I see. I think Elon’s got a nice neat little plan for getting humanity off its ass and working toward a sustainable future. For my part I like it. Comfort has a way of eating into the timeline for anything on as grand a scale as spreading our race to the stars. When the killer asteroid is spotted its too late. If all of the predictions about the effects of global warming are true, we have a lot less time that we will need. Elon’s vision (if I got it right) will not take decades, it will take centuries, and possibly millennia of focused effort.

I doubt that I can help with the nuts and bolts, but I need to do my part getting inspiring words onto pages that might recruit the next generation that will stand on the shoulders of today, and just maybe build the insurance policy for humanity.

If you want to get a feel for Elon Musk’s story, I highly recommend his biography. If I haven’t sent you a book before, drop me an email and I’ll send you the audible version for free!

Update: Maybe I should have researched this a little more first. I was looking for links and found this article that pretty much confirms what I was thinking. He doesn’t expand his plan all the way to moving beyond the solar system, but that is the logical next step.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: