Shutting the laptop with a bit of force

A simple idea that makes meetings better – shut the laptop down with a bit of force.

No, don’t just half close it or shut it gently. While you’re at it, consider making a statement – you are here and you are going to be 100% engaged. And, being engaged is going to be worth it.

Of course, the statement is both to the attendees around you and to yourself.

And, if most of the meetings you are in aren’t the kind where you feel comfortable making that commitment, it may be time to reassess your calendar.

Diamonds and good work

Like diamonds, good work is a result of a prolonged period of continuous pressure.

The continuous pressure does two important things. First, it propels us to take daily action. And, second, it forces us to make sure we’re constantly learning and growing. This learning and growth, in turn, enables us to make the take better action.

Put together, this combination of daily action and continuous learning and growth make for a powerful self reinforcing combination.

Why, then, do people run away from continuous pressure? Perhaps the answer lies in the word “pressure.” It sounds stressful and negative. It can be all of that, of course. But, it can also be the kind of environment in which we thrive.

The difference, I’ve come to realize, come down to just one question – is the pressure imposed by someone else or is it self imposed?

The former creates negativity while the latter lays the foundation for an exciting, learning filled, life.

It’s all invented

Every once a while, I look around and marvel at how much we’ve invented as human beings. All these things we take for granted – airplanes to travel, computers and corporation to work, the internet and nation states to connect with one other, sanitary systems to live hygienically – didn’t exist for most of human civilization.

And, yet, ingenious human cooperation and thought made this all possible out of a planet that was, at first glance, just a combination of plants, animals, minerals and water – lots of water.

Now, I hope we’ll do a better job taking care of plants, animals and water than our ancestors did. Our record of treating other living creatures isn’t anything to be proud of. But, I’m hopeful that will change as we’ve come to appreciate (well, some homo sapiens at least) how delicate the balance that holds this wonderful planet together is.

There are three powerful benefits of being able to look at everything and realize how much of it has been invented.

First, it is a reminder that the universe, as we know it, is malleable. It was invented by human beings like us and we can, and should, make it better.

Second, all of the stuff we generally worry about – work, status, financial security – are inventions of human ingenuity. That’s not to say they don’t matter. They do – in that they help us sustain ourselves and feel like we contribute. But, we ought to take our attachment to invented systems – sales targets, release schedules, promotion timelines – with a pinch of salt. In the long run, they matter far less than we think they do. In the really long run, it is our connections and impact on fellow humans that ends up mattering more.

Finally, most of what’s around us was invented to help us lead happier and more fulfilling lives. This includes aspects of the physical world but also includes the conversation around mental constructs that are unique to this age – purpose, passion, etc. If we’re not finding happiness and fulfillment, it is worth pausing and saying to ourselves – if it’s all invented, it is probably worth inventing a way to approach life that makes us happy and fulfilled.

Plans and planning

Plans are important because they represent the result of our attempts to visualize our path to an outcome. A well laid plan is an indication of the amount of attention and thought we dedicated to visualization.

Visualization, in turn, matters because everything we build is created twice – first in our minds and then in reality.

But, plans are just an outcome of the visualization process. And, like most outcomes, they don’t matter much. Things rarely work as per plan because it is impossible for us to visualize every obstacle in our path.

And, that’s okay.

We are defined not by the details in our well laid plan but by our ability to thoughtfully respond to change and plan again.

In essence, it is not our ability to plan but our habit of planning that makes the difference in the long run. Or, as Dwight Eisenhower put it beautifully – “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

How to compete with Google and Facebook

This is a really tough time if you are attempting to build a start-up that dreams of competing with Google and Facebook.

I think there 3 reasons for this

  • There’s very little white space to build an app that will get traction. The list of top 10 apps has been virtually unchanged for the past few years.
  • Even if you do — against the odds — Google and Facebook will know (Facebook tracks app activity via Onavo – a security app it owns while Google has Android and search) and either buy you out or copy you.
  • And, even if you manage to survive that, you have to compete against an incredibly sophisticated suite of advertising products.

So, I argue that there are only 2 ways to compete –

  1. Bet on the future (e.g. augmented reality)
  2. Focus on a niche

It is hard to be everything to everybody. So, the best bet is probably focusing on a niche that involves high usage or high  value. That is what most of their successful competitors do.

All in all, I don’t believe this is the time to be building a technology company that seeks to compete with Google and Facebook. As is generally the case with such dominance, it is hard to predict an end to it. It looks certain that we’re going to move toward a world with mixed reality and the existing giants seem to have a strong advantage going in.

But, then again, history reminds us that technology waves don’t play out as we expect. We are currently in an age with an incredibly centralized communications architecture and it is hard to imagine a decentralized world in the near future.

Maybe that’s why the blockchain revolution is one to keep an eye on.

More on my bi-weekly “Notes by Ada project” note on Medium or LinkedIn.

What you know vs. what you do

Seth had a post today today on “what you know vs. what you do” that spoke to me. I’ve been exposed to Bitcoin since 2011 and had plenty of opportunities to invest a small amount. But, I didn’t. I’d been mulling about what I learnt from the situation. Then, of course, Seth did what he usually does and summed it all up with characteristic insight and incisiveness.

In 1995, my book packaging company published one of its last titles, an anachronism called, Presenting Digital Cash. It was the first book on digital cash ever aimed at a mass audience. And it was ahead of its time, selling (fortunately) very few copies. The examples in the book were current, but it was soon outdated. (The foreword was written by Neal Stephenson—someone who is ahead of his time for a living).

Thirteen long years later, Bitcoin was introduced to the world. I didn’t invent it, even though I’d written about digital cash more than a decade before. I’d created an entire book about digital cash, and thought about it deeply for months.

Except I didn’t buy 1,000 dollars worth of Bitcoin in 2008. If I had, I’d have more than $40,000,000 today.

It’s not that I didn’t know.

It’s that I didn’t act.

Two different things.

I knew, but I didn’t know for sure. Not enough to act.

All the good stuff happens when we act even if we don’t know for sure.

A long time A Learning a Day reader sent me a note a few weeks ago talking about how he signed up for Seth’s blog after I’d recommended it (for the nth time in these years). He then apologetically explained that he was beginning to like his blog better.

That note made me smile.  I wrote back explaining to him that Seth’s daily notes set the bar that I, every once in a rare while, try to match. :-)

Unexpected twists

Unexpected twists can be painful. They mess with our wonderful plans and push us to consider alternatives and approach things differently.

The funny thing about this change is that the process becomes easy, enjoyable even, once we accept the fact that changing our approach is the only alternative. It is accepting the unexpected twist that causes most of the pain.

What if, instead of simply accepting unexpected twists, we expected them?

What if we called projects with no unexpected twists unexpected?

A simple flip could get rid of a lot of unnecessary angst.