In any field, brilliant maneuvers are remembered and celebrated. But brilliant maneuvers without consolidation amounts to nothing long-term except the empty glory.
We could look at military commanders for an example. There's been some in history that have shown remarkable amounts of brilliance in pioneering tactics and doing crazy maneuvers. These sorts of things go into the history books, like Hannibal Barca's actions or Napoleon Bonaparte's.
Despite Barca and Bonaparte being remembered for their brilliance, it's worth remembering that neither of them won in the end.
We've talked about over-expansiveness in the past and not trusting your successors/family to keep up with your work, which is a common flaw that afflicts low born creators and leaders. Today, I want to look at something a little bit different - on brilliant actions and consolidating actions.
One time, when Hannibal's troops were pinned down by the Romans and it looked like all would be lost, he came up with a brilliant scheme. He waited until nightfall, and then took all of the oxen in his camp, tied branches and tinder to their horns, and lit them on fire and drove them off.
There seems to be two very different ways that the phrase "social contract" is used.
The first is an unspoken conduct agreement between two people. If you hire a great guitar player to teach you guitar lessons once a week, are you allowed to cancel? Is your instructor? How much notice? Is it okay if he's drunk or halfway-preoccupied during your lesson?
How much formality is there? If you don't do the recommended lesson from last time, how disappointed will your instructor be?
How prepared must you both be?
This is a social contract that's actually a social contract. Sure, there's edge cases - even if it's expected that both of you are always at the lesson on-time, prepared, and ready to go immediately, there's still an exemption if you have a family emergency or serious illness or whatever.
I came across this story about Tokugawa Ieyasu from the "Tokugawa jikki." For context, remember the era and how hierarchy was treated at the time - this was actually recorded by a scribe 400 years ago.
Remember the societal roles of the era, which will seem out of place compared to 2011. That's not the point of sharing it - it's the views on money, austerity, and what to prioritize that are worth learning from -
Once, Okaji-no-tsubone ordered her women to wash a white kosode [of Ieyasu] that had become smudged. The women hurt their fingers, and blood flowed from the wounds; she thought it a very cruel task. Since he did have so many clothes, she asked whether it would be all right that they would not wash them anymore, and that he would wear only new clothes. Ieyasu answered: "This is not something that you, foolish women, have to understand, but I will explain it to you, nevertheless. Come and listen."
He called a great number of the women together, and said: "The thing about which I have been most careful all my life, is not to offend the Way of Heaven. What the Way of Heaven hates most, is extravagance. Having seen all the treasure I have amassed here, in Sunpu, you no doubt think that it is much?" All of them agreed. "This is not my only treasure house," Ieyasu resumed, "I also have them in the capital, in Osaka and in Edo, all filled with gold, silver, cloth, and silk. So even if I would wear new clothes every day, what shortage could there ever arise? However, the reason why I have amassed [all this wealth] is, to dispense it at times to the people of the empire, or, by accumulating it for the future generations of my descendants, to prevent the state from ever being short of funds. Therefore, we should not waste even one robe." Although they were women, they were all [impressed by] the wisdom of his holy teaching and did obeisance to him as one does to a Buddha or a god, with the palms of the hands joined together.
There's two elements of writing. One is fun when it's going well, and miserable when it's not. The other is never fun.
(1) Thinking, planning, brainstorming, daydreaming, and otherwise figuring out ideas.
(2) Communicating those ideas using words, language, and structure.
The first part of writing is thinking - figuring out what you want to say.
There's a tradeoff you're going to have to make a lot of the time: simplicity vs. precision.
Simplicity often lacks detail and nuance. That's why we build and do more complex things - to get more precise, specific outcomes.
Choose simplicity unless there's a good reason not to.
Complex systems have more of a damage of collapse. Add complexity carefully, and in a way where you can roll it back if the added-complexity doesn't add enough benefit.
If you look like at one of my time tracking sheets, you'll see a pretty complex thing. But it gradually, slowly grew into that. If you were starting from scratch, don't start with something complex. Start with something simple. Track 3 things max.
Anyone who has decided to strike off the mainstream path has experienced this: Strong admonitions and warnings against what they were doing, and pressures not do it.
It doesn't really matter what it is you're trying to change. If you're trying to become a nondrinker in a drinking culture, if you're trying to quit eating junk food, if you're trying to become a vegetarian or otherwise have a different diet, this will have happened to you.
If you decide to pursue a nontraditional career path (artist, entrepreneur, etc), you will have experienced this.
If you try to live a different lifestyle than the people around you - for instance, rising each day at 4:30AM and sleeping early instead of partying, you will have experienced this.
People will pressure and cajole you in many different ways to keep doing it the old way. Almost always, it will be phrased as though they're looking after your best interest.
"I want to build this business to add a lot of value to a lot of people's lives."
I'm speaking from experience here. I used to say stuff like that a lot. I've mostly stopped. Why? Because guys who are actually doing a lot of stuff to... add value... don't talk about adding value. It's fluff and marks you down as not having done much yet.
Well, maybe not! It depends on your audience. If you're speaking about business to people who are uneducated and think that capitalism is all about dumping toxic waste on top of endangered species to increase profit margins... then yeah, start talking about adding value.
But when you're reaching out to someone with business experience, you can drop it. It's assumed. Everyone gets it. It's like saying, "I'll be at the meeting at 11 o'clock with the reports, and I'll be wearing clothes."
I saw this thread on Hacker News - "Failed entrepreneur, broke, unemployed, now taking care of aging parents. Help." The guy there is in a big rut. Basically, a lot of things aren't going right for him and he was asking for input/advice. Here's a small section -
Concurrently, I had to move back home to a relatively inactive area - no tech scene, no innovators, no night life, no forward-thinking, no excitement. People here are content with 9-5 jobs and staying home at night (edit, removed: want their safe, comfortable, 9-5 jobs, and their must-see-TV at night). There is no ecosystem to help drive and create new things. Local city and business "leaders" I talk to about doing something politely nod their head in agreement but it never leads to anything.
Now, I understand where this guy is at. Not 100%, everyone's situation is a little bit different. But the general place, yup, I get it. So I wrote up this reply for him -
Okay, there's a lot of things going on here, but most of them are (gradually) improvable. But it would be difficult to improve until you own responsibility for all of it.
Ivan Ilic, a professional pianist, just reached out with a guestpost and reaction after reading "I think the biggest barrier for me to overcome was myself." Some really fantastic observations on breaking through in here -
Sebastian’s last post was inspirational to me, but not because of the story itself, poignant though it was. Although I would love to read a more detailed account of R’s unusually successful turnaround, there was a turn of phrase in Sebastian’s response that really resonated with me.
“The good news and bad news is that there’s almost never a silver bullet. So, you can safely stop looking for [it] and start picking up 1% edges, 2% edges here and there. Trend upwards and establish little good habits, a better environment around you, and so on. R covers this when he says, “Make sure that all the small steps you take are taking you in the right direction. A little bit at a time, over a long period, and you’ll always win.”
The only way to realize the power of incremental positive changes over time is by experiencing it yourself. Although self-discipline has not been my biggest problem, I had a serious slump in the second half of last year. When I needed to move my most important projects forward, I seemed paralyzed. Does that sound familiar?
The past six months have been the first time I have orchestrated my own turnaround, without external factors to motivate me. “Picking up 1% edges, 2% edges here and there” and establishing modest good habits has been so effective that looking back over the past six months, I’m still shocked.
Maneesh Sethi was kind enough to write up a guest post for us on striking off internationally and doing the digital nomad thing.
Here's Maneesh -
Every day, someone says to me: “I wish I could travel like you do.”
And every time I respond: “You can too.”
You see, I’ve been traveling for the last three years as a digital nomad, through Asia, South America, Europe. I move to a new city, learn a new language, and do a cool project. I built an online business that is completely outsourced, so now I can work as many---or as few----hours/week as I want.