Getting things right requires triangulating with other people

This is the first post of 3 I’ll be doing on Matthew Crawford’s “The World Beyond your Head – On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction.” In this post I’d like to focus on three different thinkers and how isolation kills creativity.

We’ve all felt it. The pang that this work would go faster if people would leave me alone so I can get my work done. This works well when you know exactly what you are doing because you’ve done it a million times before.

Picasso was famous for saying, “Dramatic action needs solitude.”

Perhaps that’s why when other famous artists of his time like Henri Matisse and Paul Gauguin were traveling the world to find inspiration and new ways of looking, Picasso was content to sit alone in his studio night after night in isolation, waiting for the muse to strike. He rarely painted from models but rather accessed the references for his artwork from his mind’s eye.

Picasso’s profound output and acclaim seem to support Crawford’s statements about sustained attention in isolation:

“To attend to anything in a sustained way requires actively excluding all the other things that grab at our attention. It requires, if not ruthlessness toward oneself, a capacity for self regulation.” – Matthew Crawford

But before we head for the hills to live the life of an unwashed recluse, it’s important to talk about Frank Lloyd Wright, the 20th century’s most famous architect.Frank Lloyd Wright’s contributions to the world of architecture include over 1,000 designs and nearly 600 completed buildings.

At the height of his career he gave up on living in the city and retreated to his home Taliesen in Wisconsin.

What followed the move to Taliesen was 8 years of unproductive work. What caused this unproductive period? He had isolated himself so thoroughly that he no longer swam in the intellectual ideas he had before. His inspiration waned and the 20th century’s best architect ossified.

“We think through the body. The fundamental contribution of this school of psychological research is that it puts the mind back in the world, where it belongs, after several centuries of being locked within our heads. The boundary of our cognitive processes cannot be cleanly drawn at the outer surface of our skulls, or indeed of our bodies more generally. They are, in a sense, distributed in the world that we act in.” – Matthew Crawford

I believe that Crawford is trying to say that we need to be in the swing of things to really appreciate what’s around us.

A 14th century Zen master Dogen Zenji put it simply, “If you walk in the mist, you get wet.”

I’ve had a number of projects that I’ve worked on. Most of them have been me working on something, believing in it and working by myself to get things done. It’s worked well but at the same time I can’t help but feel that you need to have other people there to bolster your strengths and hide your weaknesses.

We are so much stronger when we have help from other people. There are ways that I could not do things on my own or that I am blind to the reality of the problem because I only see it from my perspective.

What happens when you have another set of eyes?

“A passenger acts as another pair of eyes on the situation he inhabits with the driver, and tends to improve a driver’s ability to notice and quickly respond to out of the ordinary challenges.” – Matthew Crawford

Another pair of eyes can illuminate areas of reality you’re blind to:

“In other words, one has to be able to explore a scene from different perspectives to perceive what remains the same about it – its nature and structure, regardless of perspective – and locomotion is an indispensable part of this process.” – Matthew Crawford

But don’t just trust any other set of eyes. It’s very important to make sure that the others you are relying on share your beliefs, passions, and attention to detail.

“The cohesiveness and ongoing association of a firefighting unit offer an advantage not enjoyed by most motorcyclists: they are under mutual surveillance and can criticize one another’s mistakes. They can also cover one another’s blind spots, offering up a third-person perspective such as: There was a large ember floating upward right behind you as you exited that room. You got lucky. Such facts, conveyed by a colleagues, can become material for a fire fighter’s retrospective understanding of the situation, or indeed a collaborative reconstruction of it. His own experience is altered in conversation.” – Matthew Crawford

I pair program with 2 other developers in San Francisco twice a week. I’ve learned more through these pair programming sessions than I ever could studying from a book or taking a course. We are constantly interacting with each other, questioning decisions, validating assumptions, seeing how each other solves tasks, and sharing our pro-tips.

“Getting things right requires triangulating with other people.” – Matthew Crawford

In his last lecture Randy Pausch sums it up perfectly:

“The key to innovation is that teams beat individuals.” – Randy Pausch

Has this post clarified the need for collaborators? Co-conspirators? Let me know. I’d love to hear about the teams you build to keep you in touch with reality and not flailing, stuck in your head.


To acquire principles that work, it’s essential that you embrace reality and deal with it well

This is the fifth and final post I will be creating on Ray Dalio’s book “Principles.”

In this blog post I’d like to focus on embracing reality. How do you make your decisions? How do you know that what you know is true? Facebook’s method is to “move fast and break things.” Dalio’s suggested that we find “believable people.”

I like to thing I’m a good judge of character but after reading “Mindwise” by Nicholas Epley, I’m starting to mistrust my gut. At the end of the book, Epley suggests there’s only one way to know what other people are thinking – ask them.

So if our gut instinct, putting ourselves in their shoes, scanning for micro-expressions are all for naught, what can we do?

“To acquire principles that work, it’s essential that you embrace reality and deal with it well.” – Ray Dalio

How do you embrace reality? I believe Dalio is trying to say that the only way to learn how things truly are is to push yourself to action. Once we have acted in the world we can start to see how it acts back. Does it conform to our assumptions? No? Then we’ve just learned by embracing reality.

“Embrace your realities and deal with them effectively. After all, making the most of your circumstances is what life is all about. This includes being transparent with your thoughts and open-mindedly accepting the feedback of others. Doing so will dramatically increase your learning.” – Ray Dalio

Have a hard time open-mindedly accepting the feedback of others? Get more feedback. I know it sounds counterintuitive so let me say it another way. I develop iPhone apps. I lead a group of developers who discuss the latest technologies and how they apply to the programming landscape.

However, if we’re only just discussing iPhone programming and not actually programming iPhone apps we aren’t doing anything. I like to say, “iPhone developers develop iPhone apps.”

“The biggest mistake most people make is to not see themselves and others objectively, which leads them to bump into their own and others’ weaknesses again and again.” – Ray Dalio

This seems like another opportunity for us to seek feedback more often from believable people.

“Because it is difficult to see oneself objectively, you need to rely on the input of others and the whole body of evidence.” – Ray Dalio

Then what do we do about the problems that surface while we are embracing reality, acting and getting feedback? What are we supposed to do with the problems of reality when we run up against them?

“View painful problems as potential improvements that are screaming at you. Once you identify a problem, don’t tolerate it.” – Ray Dalio

So we’ve embraced reality, acted to test it, spotted the problems, and we don’t tolerate them. We fix them. We learn how other people have worked through similar situations.

“We all see ourselves and the world in our own unique ways, so deciding what’s true and what to do about it takes constant work.” – Ray Dalio

I wish there was a magic bullet I could share to make life easier but it seems like the more we run from our problems and stick our heads in the sand, the more the problems and reality bite at our heels.

Take a stand, embrace reality, act, get feedback, identify the problems, and deal with them. This is how we embrace reality. This is how we win.

Get to know your blind spots

This is the fourth post I will be creating on Ray Dalio’s book “Principles.”

I’d like to focus on blind spots. We all have blind spots. How do we get rid of them if, by their very nature, we can’t see them ourselves.

One thing can be said for sure. Our blind spots are holding us back. Everyone knows they have them but the question becomes, “How do I get rid of them?”

I have a crazy app idea. What about an app that allows you to share your account with your best friends. When your best friends notice something about you that you’re blind to, they would be able to anonymously tell you through the app.

It’s a crazy idea because it would get rid of your blind spots, but it would also open you up to unwanted criticism. How well do you know yourself? How important is it to test reality?

“Reality is something that needs to be tested before going to work. You need to find out the feasibility of things before going forward with them. This is how it moves along. The reality versus the things you have in your head. The kinds of things that you have in your head before you start in in doing things.” – Ray Dalio

Dalio is giving us feedback on how to be wrong less often. We need to “test reality,” find “believable people,” and get out of our heads.

Dalio shares why we need to get rid of our blindspots,

“Get to know your blind spots. When you are close minded and form an opinion in an area where you have a blind spot, it can be deadly. So take some time to record the circumstances in which you’ve consistently made bad decisions because you failed to see what others saw. Ask others – especially those who’ve seen what you’ve missed – to help you with this. Write a list, tack it up on the wall, and stare at it. If you find yourself about to make a decision (especially a big decision) in one of these areas without consulting others, understand that you’re taking a big risk and that it would be illogical to expect that you’ll get the results you think you will.” – Ray Dalio

Think you’re so good that you don’t need to examine your blind spots? Dalio thinks otherwise:

“If you continue doing what you think is best when all the evidence and believable people are against you, you’re being dangerously arrogant.” – Ray Dalio

While the app idea is crazy, if an app like this existed, it might go a long way in making sure you see your blind spots. Since the app doesn’t exist you’ll need to check in with believable people in your life to make sure you aren’t being dangerously arrogant.

Surround yourself with believable people

This is the third post I will be creating on Ray Dalio’s book “Principles.”

Where do you go for advice? Who do you talk to? Better make sure they’re believable. That that begs the question, “How do you know if someone is believable?” Read on to learn more about making better decisions by choosing believable people. By aligning yourself with believable people, you might find that you’re wrong less often.

When I was young I remember telling my mom that someone in school was treating me badly and purposely giving me bad advice. She told me, “Consider the source.” This didn’t make sense to me at the time so I followed up with more questions, “What does consider the source mean?”

She said, “You need to consider the source of the message you’re getting. Make sure you know who’s talking, what they’re saying, and consider if they have any skin in the game.”

After I heard this, I started to really consider the source. And once I started to really consider who was talking, why they’re saying what they’re saying, and if they had any skin in the game, I started making better decisions where I was happier with the outcomes.

In Ray Dalio’s book “Principles.”, he devotes entire sections of the book to learning to spot believable people:

“I define believable people as those who have repeatedly and successfully accomplished the thing in question – who have a strong track record with at least three successes – and have great explanations of their approach when probed.” – Ray Dalio

Now that we have a definition of believable people, let’s get further into separating the messages from believable people and those who are not to be so readily believed:

“Don’t believe everything you hear. Opinions are a dime a dozen and nearly everyone will share theirs with you. Many will state them as if they are facts. Don’t mistake opinions for facts.” – Ray Dalio

And if that’s not enough of a definition of believable people, read on:

“One of the most important decisions you can make is who you ask questions of. Make sure they’re fully informed and believable. Find out who is responsible for whatever you’re seeing to understand and then ask them. Listening to uninformed people is worse than having no answers at all.” – Ray Dalio

So the bottom line here is don’t believe everything you hear. Not all facts are equal. Consider who you ask questions of, who you rely on, and who has your best interests in mind.

Now that you’re prepared to filter the believable people from those that are less so, stay strong and keep that believability filter running at full speed.

“Remember that everyone has opinions and they are often bad.” – Ray Dalio

In closing, remember what Jim Rohn said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” So make sure you surround yourself with believable people.

How do you reliably separate thinking from feeling?

This is the second post on Ray Dalio’s book “Principles.”

In this post I’d like to focus on the difference between thinking and feeling. How do you make decisions? How do you make the right decision? Ever had a gut reaction that lead you to make the wrong decision? Read on to learn the one secret tactic we humans have been using for centuries to separate our thinking from feeling, allowing us to examine our thoughts to determine the best thing to do every single time.

Over the past few years I’ve been meditating as often as possible – two times a day for 20 minutes. Sometimes when I get out of the meditation a thought or a new avenue to pursue a solution will come into my mind.

After such a therapeutic and restorative meditation new ideas seem magical and destined. But it’s not until you implement some of the ideas that you learn that not all epiphanies gotten through meditation are equal.

Imagine my surprise when I read that Ray Dalio meditates and has his own sifting system to separate the good actionable ideas from the duds:

“When thoughts and instructions come to me from my subconscious, rather than acting on them immediately, I have gotten into the habit of examining them with my conscious, logical mind. I have found that in addition to helping me figure out which thoughts are valid and why I am reacting to them as I do, doing this opens further communication between my conscious and subconscious minds. It’s helpful to write down the results of this process. In fact that’s how my Principles came about.” – Ray Dalio

Like Dalio, I’ve found that writing things out allows my amygdala to shine in private. Also like Dalio, I’ve found that writing further shines the thought and most importantly holds it up to the light of day to see if it’s worth anything.

When you find that your best intentions are not always best, how do you find out if your feelings are close to reality? You need to test your feelings against reality before implementing them publicly:

“Know that the most constant struggle is between feeling and thinking. There are no greater battles than those between our feelings (most importantly controlled by our amygdala, which operates subconsciously) and our rational thinking (most importantly controlled by our prefrontal cortex, which operates consciously).” – Ray Dalio

How do we go from thinking with our amygdala to thinking with our prefrontal cortext? I believe that we humans have been using a single effective  method to test our ideas for centuries – we write things out!

“Writing is nature’s way of letting you know how sloppy your thinking is.” – Dick Guindon

Here’s my challenge to you – next time you have a great idea, before you start implementing it, before you demolish the house, before you empty your 401k, write it out. Write out the why you need to move now. Write out what you think will be the outcome.

Then, and only once you’ve written it out, implement your idea. If the idea doesn’t work out the way you thought it would, you have a blueprint for how to move forward and try something else next time.

By writing things out before you do anything you give yourself time to consider how prepared you are to take on this task.

And finally, written thoughts will allow you to have a concrete document that you can use to make less mistakes.

Do you write out your task list? Do you journal to figure out how you’re feeling before you act? Contact me if you need any help getting started.

If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything.

This is the first in five posts on Ray Dalio’s book “Principles.”

What is it that makes a mistake catastrophic? How do you keep yourself from making mistakes if they’re the only way to learn new things? How do we manage the fallout that occurs when our best intentions don’t turn out the way we want? Read on to learn more.

Mistakes are tricky. Mark Zuckerburg made the pursuit of mistakes Facebook’s goal. Facebook’s motto is: “Move fast and break things.” But what if we break the wrong things? What if we move too fast that we break the entire system?

“Former Facebook employees say the engineering-driven, ‘move fast and break things’ approach worked when the company was smaller but now gets in the way of understanding the societal problems it faces. It’s one thing to break a product, but if you move fast and break democracy, or move fast and break journalism, how do you measure the impact of that—and how do you go about trying to fix it?” – Mathew Ingram, The Facebook Armagedon

What is is about mistakes that makes them so bad? Why do we feel the need to hide them? I believe the worst parts of mistakes are the unforeseeable consequences our mistakes  can wreak on those we’re trying to help. Mistakes are looked down on because they are  painful.

“Pain instructs.” – Benjamin Franklin

Mistakes as a way to learn something new. To test the limits. To locate the fuzzy boundaries of our understanding and figure out exaclty how reality works.

Whenever I make mistakes I try to hide them. I don’t want others to know that I don’t do immaculate work. I want to always show that I am on top of things, that I get it, that I’m capable, and that I don’t need help. Perhaps I need to pursue mistakes more openly.

In “Principles” Dalio says,

“Mistakes will cause you pain, but you shouldn’t try to shield yourself or others from it. Pain is a message that something is wrong and it’s an effective teacher that one shouldn’t do that wrong thing again. To deal with your own and others’ weaknesses well you must acknowledge them frankly and openly and work to find ways of preventing them from hurting you in the future. It’s at this point that many people say, No thanks, this isn’t for me – I’d rather not have to do deal with these things. But this is against your and your organizations’ best interests – and will keep you from achieving your goals. It seems to me that if you look back on yourself a year ago and aren’t shocked by how stupid you were, you haven’t learned much.” – Ray Dalio

When you make mistakes take some courage from Dalio who writes, “Everyone makes mistakes. The main difference is that successful people learn from them and unsuccessful people don’t.”

If that’s not enough of a suggestion to make mistakes, consider that every mistake you make now will save you from it in the future: “Every mistake that you make and learn from will save you from thousands of similar mistakes in the future.” – Ray Dalio

So take some advice from Jeff Bezos who says,

“You must not let your need to be right be more important than your need to find out what’s true.” – Jeff Bezos

Don’t let your ego get in the way,

“Intelligent people who embrace their mistakes and weaknesses substantially outperform their peers who have the same abilities but bigger ego barriers.” – Ray Dalio

So to wrap it up, make sure that you’re always pursuing mistakes because they will save you from making them in the future, make sure you constrain the fallout of your mistakes by only experimenting in safe spaces and with things that can safely go wrong, and make sure you clean up after yourself when you’re through.

Do you have any suggestions on how to make the regular pursuit of mistakes easier, safer, and more valuable? Contact me