How does it feel to hold back?

How does it feel to hold back?

Holding back from serving what you make
because you need to add another ingredient,
because more should try it,
because more should see it,
because of what critics will say,
because you’re not good enough,
because you will run out of ideas,
because this is your best idea,
because its not perfect,
because you will fault,
because it might land out of bounds,
because it’s not the way to do it,
because you might be proven wrong,
is nothing but the sure fire way to be wrong. 

Bob Dylan didn’t let any of these excuses stop him from serving up ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ to Newtown Folk Festival in 1965. Imagine if he hadn’t. Think openly, create your best and serve it up before it goes cold. 

Religion or not?

Religion or not?

I was baptised and confirmed a Roman Catholic. This was the family tradition. We attended mass every Sunday and additionally for special occasions. Once confirmed in my third grade, the aspiration for moving into the senior part of my Catholic primary school was to become an alter server and so I did. Since then, an increasing distance has grown between religion and me. I suspect, more a sign of our times than personal.

In our age of choice, we are also given the opportunity to make our own changes in tradition and spirituality. I set out on this piece with a clear disclaimer of my own ignorance. This choice has only been given relatively limited energy so far. The journey of finding which camp I will prefer to sit at by the fire continues on.

It seems the argument for religion, beyond that of blind belief, relates to history. The fact that it has history. Understandably, we don’t really know if it is true, we don’t really know if there is something beyond. As goes the usual rebuttal of science, there is no proof, no evidence and it only represents the all too human interpretation of it’s scribes. Whilst so, the fact that it has persisted so long, concurrently with the successful evolution of its followers or Creator (whichever your camp), is remarkable. This credibility of time shows it has proven itself aligned with not just survival but varying degrees of progress.

For me, blindly following anything without question causes a pang – not that it can actually be escaped, that is our nature. But where I see another advantage in religion is that it provides people a credible shortcut to a way of life. People don’t need to exert energy to set the trajectory and establish irreducible and comprehensive decision frameworks. Paramount here are altruistic boundary conditions premised on respect for others and their beliefs. A shortcut, in this increasingly time poor world, must be of benefit.

An inherent problem of any written tradition is of literal interpretation. This can be likened to a pursuit of purity. When the disciples of a religion (or sometimes constitution) decide that something in the world has gone awry and the only way to make amends is to return to the texts literal prescription, is only prescription for disaster. First off, literal is never literal and secondly the actual is (likely) lost. Literal interpretation of a text written thousands of years ago is no different than prescribing to those watching a movie, to rewind it to the start, when they get to the end credits – this behaviour is as relevant as the VHS cassette tapes it served. Literal interpretation of text in a bygone era only serves to cause devastation. The actual on the other hand sees the divine move to a more humanistic quality. The actual is relevant and relatable. It is only achieved through revision, sermon and feedback.

Where my interest now lies is understanding how religion has evolved with humanity. In Christianity’s case, for example, beyond the delays inscribing of scripture, there have been numerous additions, interpretations and redactions along its path. This could be part argued as its evolution with us. In a similar vain for how Judaism requires not literal interpretation of the written Torah but a Rabbi’s interpretation through the spoken word. This allows for blending and morphing of interpretation or complete new tangents. For any religion to be able to evolve is integral for a world where technology is galloping away from culture. As we give chase, blinkers on, which bars will be the collateral knocked from the hurdles we encounter?
Key questions to guide here: Have we identified and tossed enough skeletons from the closet? How subject to pure interpretation is it and at what impact?

Beyond this is understanding what would replace that which is thrown away. In finding credible replacements, how we could, and whether we need to, disconnect the essence of religion from a new value system – such as Sam Harris’ Moral Landscape. Mimetics and the Hegelian notion of the Weltgeist, world spirit, resonate here. I will digest more from Harris, Richard Dawkins, Dalai Lama XIV and other thinkers in this realm.

My current position rests, influenced by upbringing and my logic of others’ reasoning, that there is likely gold in the pan. It’s not so much in a religion but in the idea of religious tradition. History, current relevance and in-built virtue seem most important. Before falling either side of the fence, I want to spend more time exploring. What I believe is that any dogmatic or purist religious approach needs to hurriedly evolve. A compete discarding may be impossible both practically and biologically anyway.

What has age got to do with success?

What has age got to do with success?

The headlines are insistent, the average age of founders in the fastest-growing new start ups is about 45. Why? Leverage.

A riff on what what is at their disposal:

  • more nodes, whether connected or not (yet). Solving complex problems requires analogous thinking.
  • networks. They have more people that they know that they can call on.
  • credibility. They have and are seen to have done more. Age related skepticism does not enter into the picture.
  • models. The have ground more of the stone of life – they have been through it before. They have developed models from which to operate in the world, whether they know it or not.
  • perception of time. Age puts them more in touch with to hearing the ticking clock of life. Both energising and allows them to care less about what others think.
  • themselves. The above contributes to the journey of knowing them. As Socrates stated, “to know thyself is the beginning of wisdom”. And so the cycle continues.

Rather than deflating those, that have not yet reached this milestone, this is intended to be motivating. Get at it. Try different things. Delve deep where it resonates. Be curious about everything. Look for parallels. Remember the ticking clock.

Who are we?

Who are we?

“Ziggy Startdust, Thin White Duke or Tin Machine, which was the best?” As though there is a definitive answer. The highest selling, the most expressive, the most unexpected, the most lyrical, the [fill in desired attribute/s]? Regardless, why does it even matter? But that’s just it, it does matter for us but not as we know it.

Even more remarkable than being able to find the truth in this question is how we will answer it. Given the question, there would be a bucket of us who would blurt out our preference: those that will wait for others to take their choice before choosing the same, those that will wait for others to take their choice before choosing another, those that will state they like them all on their own merits, those who can’t decide, those who will state that they have no idea what the question even refers and so on. Regardless of which bucket we fit, the heart of the question appears deeply ironic.

Without being able to ask him, I believe the question would not have concerned David Bowie, who saw all of them as himself and part of his artistic journey. He was renown for both who he was, who he is but mostly who he will be. Those around him don’t percieve him as who he was last time they caught up but who he might be tomorrow.

Personalities like David Bowie who are able to reinvent themselves as the need arises should inspire us to do the same. The who that we are is what has got us here. Most importantly, it has built our connections and the networks that we have around us. Here is why we are so scared of moving outside of what our identity is. What we neglect to realise is here is only now and does not need to be what is next. Next need only be what we want to make of it when it becomes now and not be shackled to consistency with the past.

Socially, we are destined to act with and to seek out consistency. Consistency makes our worlds more predictable… and survivable. Anecdotally, my reservation to pursue an interest or acting differently because it is not ‘who I am’ can be grinding. The subtle shaming in the “I didn’t know you were that type” comments hammer in the pickets around how we see ourselves. A more encouraging and curious take in place of these comments is needed.

What here neglects to realise is that we have more to lose by not taking a plunge at reinvention now – time. There are sufficient constraints to keep us on the path without adding self-synthesised external perceptions as one. We have moved beyond the suitably static roles of hunter gatherers to the dynamically immediate and connected. The here and the now. In all that we will see progress in technology, science and culture over our lives why not give our self the same opportunity. “The precise person you are now is fleeting, just like all the other people you’ve been” David Epstein writes in his book Range, “[it] feels like the most unexpected result, but it’s also the most well documented”.

Taking full artistic liberty of the cliche ‘change is the only constant’ – evolution is the only constant. Gripping too tightly onto here when next becomes now, due to some silly pickets, goes against the will of time.

After all, here is only projected and pickets can be plucked out.

What we owe to the universe

What we owe to the universe

One of my favourite desserts growing up was Airplane Jelly. They nailed their marketing, at least for the kids. The first time I saw the Airplane Jelly Tiger Moth undertaking some aeronautical mastery I was hooked. I was very quick to conclude that the jelly being advertised was the reason the plane could do what it did. At least my all too human causation desire working well! So, I had to try it.

The enjoyment of the jelly was not just limited to eating a bowl following dinner but everything needed to get it to the table. Clicking the perforations of the Yellow Tiger Moth box, learning to boil and pour the kettle, knowing when the crystals had fully dissolved, sampling liquified jelly from the mixing fork, not lettting the glad-wrap double over before it had covered the bowl and pulling something out of the fridge which had transformed into something else were all part of the satisfaction. Eating the jelly was only a small part of having it.

I never became the master of the skies that I thought the ad promised but being part of the transformation from crunchy, pale pink crystals in a box to a deep red, gellatinous dessert taught me a lot about how things change. The neurologist, Professor Steven Novella describes everyone having “3 pounds of a grey jelly sitting inside our skull”. This jelly is made up of about 100 million neurons and a tonne of other supporting cells to modulate them. It comes together as an organ that can think, that can feel, that forms consciousness and the whole world around us. It is the most complicated organ in our bodies and thing in our known universe. And we all have it.

We owe it to ourselves to do what we can to guide the transformation of our own bit of jelly. Shifting it from a small collection of unordered nodes to a deep web of interwoven strands is to have it.

And if not for ourselves then for the universe.

Learning to write

Learning to write

Not overly inspired to write but forcing the action to build the habit. Not just dedicating a block of time in the day but for imprinting the muscle memory. Lack of inspiration seemed to stem from rigidity of the agenda. Setting out to pursue a set path of what is next seemed to misalign with what the creative side wanted to pursue now. You then realise that if you had to talk about it with someone, there would not be a problem. You may have a few double backs, some silences, others may even encourage the train of thought along, but you will get out what you have to say.

There is no reason writing should be any different but we pull back, we compromise, we overthink, we plan to implement rather than act to develop. I am a big fan of Seth Godin who emphasises we should  “Write like you talk, everyday“. So herein lies my third core driver for #30daysofwriting and that is develop an authentic voice, to encourage the creative machine, to develop the muscle and stop hiding behind the talk. In summary, it is to write better.

Supplementry to this, I am a visual person and will also use this opportunity to create visual models to help explain ideas. See Exhibit A.

Exhibit A: Learning Cycle

I will sign this next day off with the spoken word of Seth Godin, so well put that it could easily be mistaken for writing that has gone through multiple drafts:

“Improving your work is a hundred times easier than getting a guarantee that your work will be fine. So, do bad work. Do it often, do it generously, and then work to improve it. That’s how you learned how to walk. It’s how you learned how to talk. It’s how you learn how to do everything that matters to you. But now suddenly you’re waiting for a guarantee. It doesn’t work that way. It’s so easy now to blog every day. So easy now to put up a video. So easy now to put your work into the world. And if you’re willing to do it poorly, then you could probably learn how to do it better.”

Entering the jungle

Entering the jungle

Taking a step further into the jungle of reason is better than looking at it from within the comfort of the Land Cruiser. Taking logic into the public domain, forces the hand to open the door of the door of the vehicle and step out. By this, I mean pushing one or more iterations along our own logic framework. What we are writing may not be any more right or wrong but at least it can go beyond the fleeting stage. Who knows, maybe we will be lucky enough to encounter a tiger along the way.

In my first post I mentioned ‘skin’ as one of the reasons I started writing this blog. Skin, here refers to two things. It is the outer shell and also an extremely durable organ which is quick to let us know when we encounter something dangerous. Breaking down the barriers of our outer shell sounds counterintuitive but gives opportunity for us to show some scar tissue from the past. The process of healing some of these battle wounds is tough and comes back to the vulnerability journey that I am trying to lean into. There is a healing that comes from finding the battle scars of our past and exposing them. Sure, there are those best kept to our closest people but there are many more that are not. Reinvigorating the dead skin makes us more receptive to be more connected to those around us.

My second motion for skin, if we are lucky enough to spread beyond our ‘safe circles’, are the innveitable claw swipes. Different from scar tissue, a thicker skin makes us more able to tackle the adversisty around us. We can glide past the brush which would previously have caused us to bleed. Without sounding like a broken record, ‘Skin in the Game‘ means “how much of your neck you are putting on the line”.

It is a lot easier to keep what we ‘know’ to be true to ourselves. Only just harder is to throw them against the wall in fleeting conversations. Writing them for the public to see takes them from fleeting to forming. Our greatest ideas may be completely wrong when we take them out of the cone of silence of our own heads – all for the better.

Putting our ideas out into the world makes us accountable to them. We need to have the courage to be honest about them with ourselves and then with others.

Be curious, be thoughtful, be courageous and write.

Reaching the checkpoint

Reaching the checkpoint

I have had a few false starts with this. This, being regularly translating my ideas and reflections into written form. Being on an extended holiday at the moment has provided the space and time I needed to connect and write. To enforce a bit more accountability, I have found in my partner a writing partner. To start off, this looks like #30daysofwriting, which likely means an exercise in quantity, more so than quality but hopefully the latter starts to pick up along the way. For the sake of continuity through the hashtag, once this starts (today) the act will need to happen every day. Failing this, a bit of tough love, we will be able to keep each other accountable.  

In asking myself why I am doing this, I came up with three key reasons: checkpoints, skin and writing. Undoubtedly, a myriad of other reasons exist but these are the main ones that came to mind. The shove to send me over the cliff edge was in the form of two books I have recently read, another activity I am doing a lot on holiday. Some articles by Nassim Nicholas Taleb centring around his book Skin in the Game and Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly (links are at the bottom of this post).

Taleb’s mantra centres around being biased towards action, observing what happens and modelling your world from this, not the other way around. For those not familiar with his work, he is a master of volatility (arguably not just in markets!) and most reknowned for his predictions about the 2008 GFC. Brown’s book also centres around putting yourself out there but the key takeaway for me was leaning into the vulnerability when you notice it. As I am sure has been written by a staggering proportion of people who start blogging, for most of us putting your ideas out there is a painful exercise in vulnerability.

Crash Bandicoot was my first console game. I got it on my PlayStation at age 8. Being the age I was, the second best part of the game was when you broke the box with a ‘C’ on it. This meant that when you fell plumetting to your death or were flattended by a boulder, you would resume your next life from the Checkpoint box rather going all the way back to the start of the level. This reminds me a lot of writing. It has been shown time and time again how unreliable our memories are, contrary to what we might think (or remember), but by articulating ourselves on the page, there is nowhere to hide. What it also means, is we don’t have to go back through our full trail of thought, we can resume from the last checkpoint we reached and push on from there. Mulling things over in our head often takes us on repetitive loops of the same thoughts and we never actually get our way through the whole level. 

Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Brene Brown