Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Freedom and Discipline - The warrior, the monk, and the surfer...


Jocko Willink, a Navy Seal and author, says that "Discipline is Freedom".  The sentiment goes all the way back to Aristotle.

It's easy to see what they mean. The "you" that thinks and plans controls the "you", that acts.  Discipline is when the actor does what the thinker wants.  The "thinker" has freedom.

Another reason why this feels right is that the opposite - a lack of discipline - is NOT freedom.  Acting based on the desires and impulses of the moment feels like the opposite of freedom.

But if that model is wrong -- if the self is one -- then Mindfulness is Freedom.  Being aware of what you as thinker/planner/doer are doing is freedom.  If the controller is the controlled, what other freedom could there be?

But what if the self is a system?  The thinker/planner is a governor for the doer.  But there are lots of other inputs to the system. Momentary desires, the environment, the state of the body all affect the system.  Even competing plans can affect the outcome.

So the self is a kind of avatar of the ever-changing system.  Surfing the waves of system states and behaviors, so to speak.  Inputs at one point in the stream - say eating a heavy meal, or creating a habit - can affect the system down the road - stomach upset, sleepiness, desired behaviors.  If early in the stream you had inputs (food, exercise, stimulation, sleep, lack of stress) that left you in a high energy state - the governor could stop you from consuming that heavy meal.

In this case, freedom comes in degrees -- the better you surf, the more free you are. Both discipline and mindfulness play a part, but so does the rest of the system and environment.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Sleep timing


Sleep goes in about 90 minute cycles.  From light to deep sleep to light again.  Wouldn't it make sense that the optimum sleep at night would be a multiple of that?

For optimum sleep, you should wake up after 1.5 hours, 3 hours, 4.5 hours, 6 hours, 7.5 hours, or 9 hours.  Right?

My (unprofessional) guess is that the cycle probably continues during waking hours.   So the best time for a nap might be at 4.5 hours after waking, 6 hours after waking, or 7.5 hours after waking..

Finally, when taking a power nap, one should either wake up prior to deep sleep (some amount of time less than 25 minutes) or after a cycle (90 minutes).

The great thing about all this is you can test it for yourself easily!


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Science and Truth

Scientific Inquiry intends to be unbiased.  But as a human endeavor, there are factors that make reaching this goal difficult.

There are several problems.  The first is what I would call "self-selection".  For each field of inquiry, we should ask, is it more likely that folks with a certain belief set will enter this field?  If so, that belief set will be overrepresented in the field.  And if that's so, you would think that experiments that likely would support that belief set would be trumpeted, while others would be not get as much attention.

Climate change is just such a field.  If you are a climate scientist, one would think that the majority came into the field with a belief that the climate change we are seeing currently is man-made.  If you are a young person who is concerned with the news feeds we see on climate change, you might be more inclined, if you have a scientific bent, to join the ranks of climate scientists.

This is not to say the hypothesis that climate change is man-made is not correct; But if our goal is to reach the truth, we ought to be aware of potential sources of bias.

In fact, because most climate scientists believe that climate changes made by man are threatening the planet, it is unlikely that would get a job as a climate scientist if you believed otherwise.  You might call this "job selection".

This happens often in the universities.  Where university departments should be hiring associates who disagree with the current set of incumbents, in order to get a wider set of perspectives on the relevant topics, this is not how they generally behave.  So you have departments where the perspectives are one-sided, such as a history department filled with devotees of the Marxist theory of history.  And of course any students of such departments are less likely to have diverging viewpoints as well.

And finally you have "funding selection".  Who will fund the science?  In the case of medicine, a lot of experimentation is funded by the pharmaceutical companies.  There may be a bias towards conducting and publishing experiments that support the use of the more profitable therapies and drugs.

This may affect some fields more than others;  physics comes to mind as a field less affected, but even there some theories will be more or less popular, and therefore more likely to be funded, tested, helpful in a career, and have supportive results more likely to be published.

This does not mean that scientists are dishonest, or deliberately skew results.  But what it does mean is that when a layperson is considering the scientific consensus on some question, not having the time or inclination to investigate the actual tests, she should take the scientific consensus with a grain of salt.  It also means that we should take people who disagree with the "scientific consensus" more seriously generally, and not automatically dismiss them as irrational.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Find your passion or let it find you?

There's lots of folks out there exhorting you to "find your passion", and all will be well.  But there are plenty of people who get stuck at this step.  Not everybody has a clear "passion", although there are a lucky few who seem to.  And it's not clear that successful people who are passionate "found" their passion, but more or less picked it.

Okay, so if your are not going to work on the project of  "finding your passion",  what’s the next question?  How about "What's the most fun I can have while earning a buck?"

Putting it that way takes some of the pressure off, doesn't it?

There are lots of way work can be fun.  First, is it interesting?  Are you working on something exciting like the next generation electric car, the space shuttle, fashion, design, movies?  That's one way to inject fun into your career

But beyond that, there are plenty of folks in less exciting industries (for me, banking, insurance, etc) that still have fun.  Working with a great team and a great boss on meaningful projects can make almost any kind of work fun.  Heck, Mike Rowe seemed to make even"Dirty Jobs" fun.

We all know how to make work "not" fun .  Horrible bosses, tedious and meaningless work, isolation, little camaraderie, and cutthroat competition make for a soul-deadening environment.

So instead of finding your one true passion (like your one true love), you can find one of the many ways to have fun while making a living.   That sounds like a recipe for happiness.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Strategies for Knowledge Workers

Many of us, these days, are knowledge workers.  As knowledge workers, our knowledge is our stock in trade.  Adding to it, maintaining it, pruning it are critical for our ability to contribute to the organizations and causes we care about it.

As with any resource, our knowledge practice needs governance.  Knowledge governance is impacted by several characteristics that make it particularly problematic.

One is that knowledge has a definite shelf-life.  Some knowledge has a longer shelf life than others. For example, the knowledge of philosophy and history I gained during my university education is still about as useful now as it was when I acquired it.  But my knowledge of MS-DOS (a 1980s computer operating system) has lost all of its value.

The second concern with knowledge is the sheer vastness and availability of knowledge now available.  There are videos, podcasts, blogs, forums, and an ever increasing number of books in every domain.  The sheer number of these sources of knowledge seems destined to grow exponentially, and not all the sources are trustworthy.

That leaves the knowledge worker wanting to manage her knowledge resources with some very daunting challenges.

Which domains should she concentrate in going forward?  Which will be most relevant 2, 5, 10 years from now?  Which domains are faltering and should be no longer maintained?

Which data sources should she use?  Which are the most trustworthy now and going forward?  Which expert communities should she join and contribute to?

Once these strategic decisions have been made, there are then tactical ones -- how narrow or broad should she make her own knowledge resources?  Given that most "knowledge" can now be looked up, what are the critical pieces that should be learned, and which pieces can be digitally stored?  How should one structure your knowledge so that the pieces you have in memory can effectively point to where information can be discovered?

Again tactically, once we've decided on the knowledge, how do we mine for it?  Classes, books, videos, and communities might be the data sources, but how do you make the knowledge you come across stick? What tactics and methods will you use?

As with any other resource, knowledge resources must be deployed in the context of the goals of the organization or the individual -- how will your knowledge resources be deployed in delivered?  An accountant might deliver a balance sheet, a lawyer might deliver a contract, a doctor might deliver a prescription or recommendation. An IT professional might deliver recommendations for IT processes or IT systems.

Most organizations, while usually paying lip service to developing their knowledge workers, fail to ask these questions.  But given that the "product" of more and more organizations is knowledge, organizations would be well rewarded if they treated these questions as carefully as they treat questions about where to gain resources in coal, or oil, or steel, now and in the future.  It might be good for individuals to ask themselves the same questions!



Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Career management in the modern economy

There's a difference between being good at your job, and being good at managing your career.  This is what Cal Newton called in a recent post the difference between career knowledge and career metaknowledge.

How do you gather career metaknowledge -- knowledge about how you can advance your career?  This is not something you can learn in a class. This knowledge will be unique to organizations and industries and circumstances.

A first strategy might be to ask questions of others who are further along your career path than you.  This seems intuitively correct.  But as the ancient Greek philosopher Plato noticed many years ago, practitioners often can't articulate what they know.  An artist may be able to produce magnificent paintings, but he can't tell you his  process.  He has know-how, not know-that.

A second strategy to overcome this would be to work with a mentor.  Working as an apprentice, you can see and internalize the strategies of an accomplished person.  But while working on a career may be know-how, it is different from the work of the art and the craftsman in several ways.  The craftsman takes on one project after the other, honing his craft as she goes.  Progress and mastery is increased as each project is completed and then surpassed.  In the career metaknowledge arena, this is not true.  You only have one career, or at most, a few careers.   It is unlikely you will have enough careers in your lifetime to gain know-how in "careering". 

Of course, you have to be good at the tasks for the role you are currently in, but that is just table stakes.  To move ahead will require other skills as well as luck.  At the very least you need to have some emotional intelligence - to be able to detect how others see and feel about you, and to be able to act on that information -- in order to manage a career.

A third strategy is to observe the behaviour of successful people in your field, as if you were a journalist or scientist, and try to determine what acts led to their success.  But this strategy has two problems.  One, it may be difficult to figure out which behaviors tend toward success and which are irrelevant.   For example, wearing a Rolex or an expensive suit may be irrelevant to success;  but successful people often wear such things.  Secondly, randomness/luck/good timing may play a larger or smaller role in the success of some of your subjects; it will be difficult to say how much.

The very project of gathering career "meta-knowledge" presupposes that there is a more or less fixed career path that others have trod before, and that is stable enough to provide a guide for a future. Neither of these assumptions are valid in today's changing world.  Many of the important positions in today's economy did not exist ten years ago.  We have good reason to believe the same will be true to a greater extent ten years from now. 

(As a side note, I am often amused to see ads for jobs that require ten years' experience in a discipline that didn't exist ten years ago.)

An additional complication is that very few people spend their entire careers in one organization any more.  And, of course, career goals will change with the changing world.  New opportunities will open up, old ones will close.


So managing a career in today's flow has the character of a journey without a fixed direction.  One sets off in an interesting and promising direction, and depending on what one finds, you may alter that direction more or less frequently.   The most you can do is try to limit the risk involved by engaging with a set of fellow travelers following roughly the same road.  Of course, from time to time you may model the behaviour of another to get a little further down this road or that, but every traveler's journey is going to be unique.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Evolution and happiness

What is the evolutionary and biological basis for happiness?  It's easy to see the usefulness of being unhappy --  if you are unhappy, you seek to change your situation (if possible, and cases of clinical depression aside).  The new situation could confer survival benefits.

Unhappiness in a primal world might mean an environment with too many  predators, an environment without good odds for mating or social connections, or an environment without enough food.  Beings which were motivated to leave such environments would be more likely to survive and procreate.

So unhappiness guides us to change our situation if we don't like it.  But how do you  explain people who stay in unhappy situations (jobs, marriages) for years despite their unhappiness?

On another track, is happiness simply the lack of unhappiness? 


Should happiness be the driving force, and if so, whose happiness?