Excuses are not solutions

It has been about 30 years since I first used the phrase “excuses are not solutions.” I was on the phone with someone who was giving me an entire list of all the reasons why something could not be accomplished instead of offering any ideas of how to get what I needed to have done.

Fast forwarding through the years I would say the number one excuse that I have heard from people is that they are waiting for something to happen. This is, waiting for an answer, waiting for an investor, waiting for the weekend to pass, waiting for someone to come back from vacation, waiting for the right time, waiting, waiting, waiting…

If you really are waiting for something or someone it just means you have more time to plan better and create other options. In other words, waiting is just one more excuse that belongs to you and no one else. If you instead use this waiting time to make progress a must then you might be surprised how much can be accomplished when at first you thought there was nothing you could possibly do. That time in between where once you thought nothing was possible can suddenly become a zone of the greatest creativity perhaps of your entire life.

Need help? Ask for it. Be prepared. Have the plan. Show the vision. Communicate the purpose. When wisdom comes, when answers come, when money comes, take them — if you still need them —for even when it comes to money as you should never discount The Power of Broke. Not having enough money can be just as powerful in forging a creative force as is waiting for just about anything else.

Excuses are just another form of complaining and as Gary Vaynerchuk says, complaining is very unattractive…

Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, in their book Extreme Ownership, talk about the concept of Leading Up the Chain of Command. Basically all the things you can do instead of waiting for the people above you to get their head out of their ass and out of your way. Plus, as Jocko says the ultimate Jujutsu move one can make is to make your boss believe it was their idea for whatever solutions you come up with. Stop waiting, stop complaining, achieve your goals, and don’t take credit. Easy? No, but that’s ultimate separation between high performance and no performance. Besides, if, of all things, you are waiting for someone to change, realistically how long is that going to take?

(Originally posted on Medium)

Space is hard — and that’s okay

When something does not go quite right for anything to do with topic of space the common phrase that comes up is, “Space is hard.”

How hard is it? Listening to a talk by Captain Scott Kelly I heard him offer a statistic that gave me a new appreciation for the term. Out of 135 Shuttle missions there were 2 losses giving a 1 in 67 odds that you were not going to be returning safely to Earth again. Commander Kelly compared that to the D-Day invasion during World War II. Using the somewhat accepted number of 2,500 killed (4,413 is a number that seems more accurate) against the 156,000 troops the Allies landed that means 1 in 62 did not make it home to their families from that operation alone. (If you use the higher number it would be something closer to 1 in 35) Thus the bravery of space comes somewhat close to matching the horror of war — at least for the shuttle program and the D-Day invasion.

Yes, they are selected statistics and not very meaningful for comparison other than the willingness of risk, in the name of stopping further human tragedy, against the willingness of risk to further human ability. Which one would you be more willing to sign up for? Yet, which one is most supported by government action?

Stuart O. Witt, the Chief Executive Officer Mojave Air and Spaceport, talked about the unique opportunity that was reignited there. I wish I could remember his exact words but he emphasized at Mojave you have a place where you have “permission to fail.” In the case of pushing the envelope in space exploration that also means the permission to possibly get killed in process as Virgin Galactic was so unfortunate to have happen.

Permission to fail does not equate to permission to take stupid risks. It does, however, mean failure is part of the process of forging a better world ahead for all of humanity. After all, there is that joke about what is the best way to ensure you don’t die of cancer? Answer: Become a mouse. This is not to say experimentation on humans should be a free-for-all, but the pendulum has gone so far as to make it hard to be able to be in control of your own life anymore within the United States. Just as I am writing these words I saw another Medium story about legalizing innovation and the rather interesting one man’s quest to hack his own genes.

The mindset of safety above all in the modern world may have created a culture of fear in many that is big enough to avoid life. To quote a recent Survivor contestant:

“Don’t let your fear of death morph into a fear of life” (Edited slightly) — @RealDaveWright

Whether your dream is to be an astronaut or just go beyond the limits of whatever your day to day life is failure has to be part of the process. As Peter Diamandis said in his blog about reinventing how we teach our kids, “Tolerating failure is a difficult lesson to learn and a difficult lesson to teach. But it is critically important to succeeding in life.” Failure is not something that should be avoided at all costs because it is failure that ultimately makes things better for either ourselves or future generations. Maybe the risk of your life is one you are not willing to take, however — as Dave Wright is quoted above, don’t confuse that with the real risk of having no life at all.

(Originally posted on Medium)

Misleading ‘news’ is worse than fake news

20 years ago a story was written about me and the business I was running for the local paper. Nothing controversial, nothing harmful, just a piece for the ‘business’ section. Yet, from that moment on I became aware of the fact that seemingly no article written, no matter how mundane a story could be, ever gets all of the facts correct.

In this present day, I find myself either going to places I can trust, because they have already proven themselves to me, or I try to find the source material for any headline that seems remotely interesting and ignore the digested ‘news’ that someone attempted to write. Thus, when I saw this meme the first thing I thought of was, “He probably did not actually say that, or perhaps Morgan Freeman said that instead.” — which is a joke because Morgan has probably had more memes about him saying things that he did not actually say than anyone else.

 

To my surprise, however, Denzel did actually say this and more. I had trouble finding the original video but here is the clip with some extra commentary attached:

There has been a lot of emotion, to say the very least, on both sides of the election process for 2016. To help illustrate some of the misleading nature of ‘facts’ let’s look at a few choice points and start with a minor one…

There was a Medium story written by Daniel Ketchell on the click bait headline of a Schwarzenegger comment and drilling in deep you will find this gem in reference to Trump’s ongoing involvement with The Celebrity Apprentice, “which is amusing in its own way, since the show, besides the finale, has been wrapped for months, something no one is hiding.” Yes, people and media are worried about a conflict of interest of something that happened in the past with Trump taking on an Executive Producer role for a show that has already happened. That is like saying James Gandolfini who was dead when ‘The Night Of’ was produced should not have had a credit — ignoring the fact James created a U.K. television program called “Criminal Justice” to which the new series is based on. No, the credit was not to honor his death, it was in fact, to state that the new show would not exist without his previous contribution. The facts are: The Celebrity Apprentice is based on The Apprentice created by Mark Burnett, hosted by Trump, and first aired in 2004 — over 12 years ago. The current season of The Celebrity Apprentice is in the can and was hosted by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Trump has Executive Producer credit for the current season we have all yet to see. Beyond that, the rest of the ‘news’ is speculation on the unknowns for the future and as far as I know you cannot fact check things that have not happened yet. Is this really what news has come down to?

Moving onto bigger things, what about that hacking? CNN says, “Obama all but names Putin as behind hacking, told him to ‘cut it out’” — All but names?, what the heck does that mean? The scope of speculation on this matter has run the spectrum of foreign governments using ‘three letter’ sophisticated tools to run the hacks to someone sending out phishing attacks — meaning simply asking for someone’s password under and false pretense and someone further being stupid enough to give it out. Yet, as reported in IBD, “The FBI says there’s no evidence the Russians affected the outcome. The office of the Director of National Intelligence — which governs all 17 U.S. spy agencies — says there’s no evidence. Department of Homeland Security says there’s no evidence. Attorney General Loretta Lynch says there’s no evidence. Heck, even President Obama admits there’s no evidence that Russian hacking cost the Democrats the election.” Then again, even from the word ‘hack’, what are we talking about? Hacking the actual votes? If so, Jill Stein proved that wrong. What about ‘internal’ hacking by using voter registration fraud counting on notoriously lenient processes to register in some states? — as far as I know no one has touched on this one at all. Then there is the softer side of fake news and propaganda whether it comes from inside or out. From the perspective of the US itself trying its best to influence the rest of the world we have taught our students well. The facts are: Email was hacked. Fake news was posted. Beyond that it gets fuzzier than your average bear. On the side of US intelligence it might be useful to check if we are still searching for those WMDs in Iraq. As GSElevator says on Twitter:

If you really want to get to know someone on a 1st date, just ask about their first pet or favorite teacher. Then read all their emails.

Then what about the ‘news’ about the popular votes vs the electoral votes? Even Homer Simpson knows about statistics:

Aw, you can come up with statistics to prove anything, Kent. Forfty percent of all people know that.

Trump won the electoral majority needed to become President and Clinton won the majority of the popular vote (assuming no registration fraud was in place). Originally, I called it the left and right coasts vs the middle but is there really anything that stands out from statistical point of view? It turns out that there seems to be — in California, Clinton got 4.3 million more votes than Trump for the popular vote. How big is this? Take this one state away and Trump wins the entire country’s popular vote by a margin of 1.4 million votes. (Source IBD) The more interesting, and softer data, is more electors tried to defect from Hillary Clinton Monday than from Trump, by a count of eight to two. Further, though somewhat mute since NY went the way of Clinton, is that Bill Clinton himself is an electoral voter for that state — a state that does not legally bind the vote of the electors. Yet, no one considers this to be a conflict of interest. The facts are: It is hard to come up with a single way to tell the truth as the truth usually relies on perspective. Hard, however, does not mean impossible but running to be first is not going to be a way to get there.

On foreign policy one topic hot on a radar screen is Syria. Gary Johnson was made fun of in the media for not knowing what ‘Aleppo’ is, yet, how much do the rest of us really know? Bashar al-Assad must be a bad guy, right? After-all, those crazy Russians seem to be supporting him so anyone trying to get him out of power must be the ‘good’ guys, right? Yet, look at this chart stolen from Nassim Nicholas Taleb:

 

For a deeper explanation see his full breakdown also on Medium. Where are these facts when being hit with the emotional flood of news coming from the region? The facts are: Terrible things are happening in that country. Hiding the larger truth, however, is fooling us from hopes of a long term solution.


If you have seen the film ‘Spotlight’, who’s story it was based on was released to the public in 2002, it is a prime example of the opposite of what Denzel was talking about at the start this writing. There was no rush to be first. As painful as it was the only rush was the rush to be right. In a faster moving world, with more hands reaching for the dollar, this is no easy job and the unfortunate consequence seems to be needing a glossary for headline wording — you know, like in real estate: Old charmer — an old and ugly house or Stunning house — the house is not ugly.

The destruction of traditional media certainly does not help. Whatever the answers are ‘fact checkers’ and censorship (by the crowd or other means) are certainly not magical ends to a growing problem. Opinions, forecasts, and predictions which, by definition, cannot be fact checked at all will always be a problem. If you eliminate the odd man out through crowd sourcing ‘acceptable’ news then you might be eliminating the truth amongst blind men. As Naval Ravikant said on Twitter:

It’s not for any aristocracy to decide what is true and false for others. Each is human and has the right to decide for themselves.

The other edge to the vocal minority (like Andrea Bocelli not being able to perform at Trump’s inauguration)is the most intolerant wins. Wins, that is unless there is a vote — bad for censorship reasons, good for governence reasons. In this election, no matter what your opinion is on either side the majority won. In our great country the electoral system is designed to stop the most intolerant from winning and considering the backlash continuing to speak out it certainly has. Ponder these words, to which the original source might not ever be traced down, but obviously written from the view of a Trump voter:

You created “us” when you attacked our freedom of speech.
You created “us” when you attacked our right to bear arms.
You created “us” when you attacked our Christian beliefs.
You created “us” when you constantly referred to us as racists.
You created “us” when you constantly called us xenophobic.
You created “us” when you told us to get on board or get out of the way.
You created “us” when you forced us to buy health care and then financially penalized us for not participating.
You created “us” when you allowed our jobs to continue to leave our country.
You created “us” when you attacked our flag.
You created “us” when you confused women’s rights with feminism.
You created “us” when you began to emasculate men.
You created “us” when you decided to make our children soft.
You created “us” when you decided to vote for progressive ideals.
You created “us” when you attacked our way of life.
You created “us” when you decided to let our government get out of control.
“You” created “us” the silent majority.
We became fed up. We pushed back and spoke up.
And we did it with ballots, not bullets.

Argue with the details as much as you want but if you cannot relate to the general message you probably have not traveled through the heart of the country roughly referred to as the Midwest.

In large part the expanse of fake news and misleading information could be a knee jerk reaction to uncertainty. Uncertainty can make people uncomfortable and the quickest, yet most unproductive way, to get it back is to simply make the other side certainly wrong. Yet, with uncertainty comes the chance for a new, and better, beginning for all involved. To quote Gerard Senehi:

Uncertainty is where we can find the greatest peace. It means that the future is unknown, and whatever fears we have about the time ahead, there is infinite space for something entirely different to happen.

Be an agent that helps build a bridge rather than yelling at people on the other side of the water. Find a way to understand rather than rushing to be first. Question the truth, or opinion, of news — especially if it supports your point of view.

(Originally posted on Medium)

Don’t worry, be happy (and stop complaining)

I challenge you to check out the Tim Ferriss podcast with Tony Robbins entitled “Achievement Versus Fulfillment.” With Tony’s teachings shaping my own life since somewhere before 1998 the surprise for me was hearing a few simple, but powerful, concepts told in ways I never heard before. This story is about the second one of those gems… (read about the first one here)

Coming off his comment about when people think that being stressed out make them better — he simply says, “Bullshit.”

What would cause someone to kill men, women and children, like you know what you’ve seen happen in Paris, and what happened in Nice recently, and what’s happened obviously and in Orlando and San Bernardino — and I said I can’t tell you the kind of person that did it, but I can tell you who didn’t do it, a happy person didn’t go kill all those people. I fulfilled human being, a person a beautiful state, does not plot or try to harm anybody much less kill anybody. A person a beautiful state is not out there trying to, you know, steal from somebody else. So you know when you go on airplane and the first thing they say is if we have a problem and we lose oxygen, a mask will drop down and put it on your child first, right? No, if you put on yourself first, which seems selfish as we all want to take care of our kid first, but the reason is if you don’t take yourself you’re going to have nothing for that child and that child is going to die too. Putting yourself in a beautiful state is putting that living oxygen inside of you and then you have things to give other people. As long as you’re suffering, suffering begets more suffering. I always tell people figure out what your favorite flavor of suffering is. Are you a person that gets stressed out all the time? Is it anxiety? Is it worry? Is that anger? Is it pissed off? Do you try to please everyone? What is your favorite style of suffering and end it, because when you end that there’s a level of freedom that no amount of money will give you. No amount of love will give it to you. No amount of accolades. No amount of academy awards. None of that shit. I get the call from all those multi-billionaire clients, and from all those people the entertainment business, who’ve got everything and they are miserable. They bring you to help them with their business, or whatever it is, and I’m a Trojan horse. I give them what they want but I know what I’m really there for is to also give them what they need and to help them to find that joy and happiness.

Tony went on to say…

I always say to people, can you imagine if you’re the creator and you come here to one of your creations and you say to this person, “Joe, how do you like what created for you?,” and he says, “Jeez god, I mean it’s hot as shit here could’t you have just kept it at 78 degrees? Why did you have to change all these temperatures and made it so tough, and then you got these stupid people I got to deal with all the time they’re always getting in my way, and you know, why do I have to work for a living and plus you got these little red ants, they are tiny little ants and they bite my ass and they hurt like hell, why would you create these annoying ants?” If you are god do you want to hang out with this person? If you’re human you want to hang out with him? If you’re god you go to somebody else and say, “How’s it going?”, and the other guy says, “Hey man, god this is so incredible is the most beautiful place I could ever imagine, the sky and air, water. There’s so many different people that challenge me and help me to grow and learn, and people I can love, you’ve even created these red ants — they are so tiny I’m 1000 times their size and there so corageous they come to even bite me! It’s cool what you’ve created here.” Who do you want to hang with? So when people say they don’t have god in their life, it’s probably because you whine and bitch too much to feel god’s presence. We have got to stop the suffering.

Listening to this podcast reminded me of something I read a while back in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain:

…start by changing his assumptions about anger. He believes, as most of us do, that venting anger lets off steam. The “catharsis hypothesis” — that aggression builds up inside us until it’s healthily released — dates back to the Greeks, was revived by Freud, and gained steam during the “let it all hang out” 1960s of punching bags and primal screams. But the catharsis hypothesis is a myth — a plausible one, an elegant one, but a myth nonetheless. Scores of studies have shown that venting doesn’t soothe anger; it fuels it.

We’re best off when we don’t allow ourselves to go to our angry place. Amazingly, neuroscientists have even found that people who use Botox, which prevents them from making angry faces, seem to be less anger-prone than those who don’t, because the very act of frowning triggers the amygdala to process negative emotions. And anger is not just damaging in the moment; for days afterward, venters have repair work to do with their partners. Despite the popular fantasy of fabulous sex after fighting, many couples say that it takes time to feel loving again.

As Tony mentioned with the oxygen on the plane analogy giving up the suffering will not only save ourselves but more importantly help save out children too. If there is an actual secret to world peace it is the gift of a happy childhood for all. Get the oxygen mask on yourself first — then help the kids in the seats next to you.

(Originally posted on Medium)

My top three reads of 2016

If you are looking for book reviews, stop here and move on. I selected these three books from 2016 because they made a major impact on either expanding on what I already thought I knew or changed my frame of reference entirely. They should be required reading for everyone and especially the next generations coming up to make better sense of the world going forward. The following are just a few quick references to hopefully get your mind wanting to dive deeper on its own.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

A book about evolution this is certainly not, however, from that aspect it does bring up a question early in its opening:

Imagine how things might have turned out had the Neanderthals or Denisovans survived alongside Homo sapiens. What kind of cultures, societies and political structures would have emerged in a world where several different human species coexisted?

Obviously that did not happen but more importantly the linear process you see so often referenced in the ‘charts’ of an ape’s transition into man are misleading at best. It is actually more natural for separate species to exist at the same time than it is for only one — and in this case Homo sapiens…

Over the past 10,000 years, Homo sapiens has grown so accustomed to being the only human species that it’s hard for us to conceive of any other possibility. Our lack of brothers and sisters makes it easier to imagine that we are the epitome of creation, and that a chasm separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. When Charles Darwin indicated that Homo sapiens was just another kind of animal, people were outraged. Even today many refuse to believe it. Had the Neanderthals survived, would we still imagine ourselves to be a creature apart? Perhaps this is exactly why our ancestors wiped out the Neanderthals. They were too familiar to ignore, but too different to tolerate.

Something to think about and perhaps a reason why we continue to be so intolerant of our brothers and sisters who choose to be different through culture or have been born different because of race.

Moving onto the agricultural revolution here is another frame of reference that paleo dieters would appreciate:

The average farmer worked harder than the average forager, and got a worse diet in return. The Agricultural Revolution was history’s biggest fraud. Who was responsible? Neither kings, nor priests, nor merchants. The culprits were a handful of plant species, including wheat, rice and potatoes. These plants domesticated Homo sapiens, rather than vice versa.

The above brings you less than a quarter into the journey of the book which constantly challenges the common conception of how we got where we are and explains a lot of the challenges we still face as we move forward.

Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder (Incerto) by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Maybe you have read, or at least heard of, Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets or The Black Swan: Second Edition: The Impact of the Highly Improbable Fragility. I have read them long ago and I think they started the shift in my brain that always itched about the BS (a term Taleb uses a lot) delivered from investment advisors and economists. (I have not touched The Bed of Procrustes yet)

Reading this book gave syntax to the barbell strategy I use in portfolio management today, and in general, far greater context to putting a word to something that gains from disorder — antifragile.

Suckers try to win arguments, nonsuckers try to win.

Yes, I would rather win than win an argument and being human it is sometimes hard to push past natural biases but as Taleb says…

We can also see from the turkey story the mother of all harmful mistakes: mistaking absence of evidence (of harm) for evidence of absence, a mistake that we will see tends to prevail in intellectual circles and one that is grounded in the social sciences.

Thus, reaching for the bigger picture even when life gets in the way can yield amazing usefulness. The best part of the book is that it is written with a humor of confidence few, other than Taleb, have the ability to deliver. As he said a while back on Facebook: “Be aggressive in private, be robust in your public work. You will sleep well at night.

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk.

I have read books on psychology. I have read books on psychiatry. I thought, and probably did, learn a lot yet after reading this book my mind once again shifted to what I saw as the world around me. As much as people are different they are also different because of their past experiences. The statement sounds obvious but the depth of its truth goes well beyond the academic. One striking example was a couple involved in a massive car accident:

Not all people react to trauma in exactly the same way, but in this case the difference is particularly dramatic, since Ute was sitting right next to Stan in the wrecked car. She responded to her trauma script by going numb: Her mind went blank, and nearly every area of her brain showed markedly decreased activity. Her heart rate and blood pressure didn’t elevate. When asked how she’d felt during the scan, she replied: “I felt just like I felt at the time of the accident: I felt nothing.”

Trauma is a hard subject and gives foundation to the issues where overly prescribed drugs sometimes, at best, mask symptoms without solving any long term problems. I took it as good news there are ways help people move on, yet depressing that there seems to be so much in the way of real progress on this front…

Trauma results in a fundamental reorganization of the way mind and brain manage perceptions. It changes not only how we think and what we think about, but also our very capacity to think.

At the end my conclusion that the only real solution to finding world peace is ensuring a happy childhood for everyone on their journey to adulthood. Though I am a firm believer that it is never too late to have a happy childhood, Bessel gave me a greater appreciation for the spectrum of the challenges for what it is to be human.


As I mentioned at the start — this is not a review or even an attempt at highlighting the most interesting parts. Rather it is an attempt to hopefully pique your interest enough to dig into the full texts of each book. (All also available on audio and Kindle) If you have any connection at all to what I noted above you will not be disappointed!

(Originally posted in Medium)