A work in progress
When you grow up, you tend to get told that the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world, try not to bash into the walls too much, try to have a nice family, have fun, save a little money. That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader, once you discover one simple fact, and that is that everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.
– Steve Jobs, Santa Clara Valley Historical Association inverview (1995)
- We are social animals; Our nature is to seek to meet the expectations of those around us; We naturally seek to trust others, not ourselves.
- The expectations of those around us cast us; they give us a particular role to play and a script to follow.
- Expectations are created from doubt; the benefit of the doubt is given instinctually.
- Our instincts are predictably bad.
- You have to trust your self.
- We need you to make a ruckus.
We are social animals; Our nature is to seek to meet the expectations of those around us; We naturally seek to trust others, not ourselves.
People easily understand that ‘primitives’ cement their social order by believing in ghosts and spirits, and gathering each full moon to dance together around the campfire. What we fail to appreciate is that our modern institutions function on exactly the same basis.
– Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens
Unlike any other animal, belief gives us the ability to unite under a single idea. Belief allows us, with all of our differences, to work together in large groups.
Ants can work in large numbers but only in a formulaic way. Chimpanzees cooperate more flexibly but only in small numbers. We are capable of collaborating with an infinite number of strangers in flexible ways.
Ants build those formulaic colonies with a collective “super mind”, Chimpanzees create new beds for themselves every night, but us? We have groups of people toiling across the world to bring materials that other groups of people bring to other groups of people across the country to make more complex materials that are brought to other groups of people to make tools and machines that are finally brought to other groups of people who build the house.
No single person knows how to make a house.
No single person can sustain any sophisticated technology.
My point is that not only do we work together better than any other animal, but we also have far, far more servants than Kings of the past. What makes us well off is the hard work made simple by markets, machines, and other people.
Our nature of tribalism unites us. But it can also pit us against one another. Waging wars and death that need not be. Believing is our strength; destroying others and ourselves for what we believe is our tragedy.
We naturally persist in a belief in an imagined reality amongst ourselves. An imagined reality where, unlike lying, everyone believes in. This is the imagined reality of gods, nations, and corporations. And today, the very survival of the objective reality–rivers, trees, and animals–depends on the grace of imagined entities such as gods, nations, and corporations.
We are cast into roles by this imagined reality. People seek time “to find themselves,” because we are not ourselves; we are not supposed to be ourselves. We are all players on a stage that was built long before our ancestors arrived in this land. We are performing based on our place in the production, not necessarily on who we are inside.
The natural desire to not be an outsider in a group is so strong, people consistently ignore objective reality to conform to their group.
In the 1950s, Solomon Asch conducted an experiment to reveal how our opinions are influenced by those around us. Seated amongst others, participants were shown a line segment and then asked to select the matching line segment from three others with differing lengths in front of the group. The trick? A few people, acting as participants, were placed to pick the wrong answer. And participants conformed to the incorrect group answer nearly 75% of the time.
Afterward, participants were asked why they went with the rest of the group. Mainly, they stated they knew the rest of the group was wrong but feared ridicule. A few suggested they actually believed the other members of the group were correct in their answers. Asch went on to conduct further experiments to determine which factors influenced how and when people conform. He found that conformity increases when:
- more people are present
- tasks have greater difficulty
- members are seen as higher status
In the face of uncertainty, people turn to others for information about how to respond.
The group is safe. Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.
People like us do things like this.
We naturally strive to signal social status and sexual worth, and we’re driven to seek love, heroism, admiration, and novelty.
Status, Affiliation, and Trust.
The notion of synergy, of both sides benefiting, just does not seem to come naturally to people. For most people, therefore, life does not feel like a virtuous place. It feels like an arena in which one must battle with others to see who can win.
“Money is not metal. It is trust inscribed.”
There’s a reason behind the saying, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” If the people around you do X, odds are, you’re more likely to do X.
Expectations give us a particular role to play and a script to follow
The script of our role makes us feel like our life is already determined on a path, a path we cannot change through our effort. The script hinders us from having aspired positions, the script hinders us from carrying out the steps to attain that position, and the script hinders us from visualizing alternative pathways.
Aspirations are determined by the script: our perception of what is available to us in society is greatly influenced by what others around us think and do.
We create personal boundaries, based on social norms and role models–those around us, people like us do things like this. This “social learning” determines how we behave and what we believe to be attainable for ourselves. The belief in our personal ability to succeed in any given situation is shaped by personal experiences, which are shaped by the actions of those around us, and is an essential driver of aspirations.
Expectations are created from doubt; the benefit of the doubt is given instinctually
Doubt is a feeling of uncertainty. We’re naturally uncertain. We can’t possibly know who others are the first time we see them. We can’t possibly be certain ahead of time. And yet, unconsciously, our minds immediately begin to anticipate outcomes, outcomes where we give people the benefit of the doubt, or we don’t because the doubt is too much for us to handle.
“Will this person harm me?”
“Is this person telling the truth?”
“Can I trust this person?”
Your fears and doubts are normal and expected, and you’re going to figure it out. Expectations are the stories we tell ourselves to soothe our fears of uncertainty. We must live without reassurance, but we mustn’t live without hope and belief.
Our instincts are predictably bad
Blink. Influence. Cargo cult. LessWrong. Mental Models.
The easiest person to fool is yourself.
You have to trust your self.
Since god had control over each and every human, there was no point in mere mortals trying to make scientific advances or acquire new knowledge. It was better to sit back and await your pre-determined fate. In the 16th and 17th centuries, however, this pessimistic, simpering attitude began to change. A scientific revolution swept through Europe; rather than let progress depend on God alone, people started thinking how they themselves could improve society via science.
– Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens
Most people never pick up the phone, most people never ask. And that’s what separates, sometimes, the people that do things from the people that just dream about them. You gotta act. And you gotta be willing to fail… if you’re afraid of failing, you won’t get very far.
– Steve Jobs, Santa Clara Valley Historical Association inverview (1995)
We naturally fear uncertainty. Truth is, knowing is a mirage.
“How do you know if it’s going to work?”
“How do you know if people will buy it to not?”
“How do you know if a feature is worth building?”
“How do you know‽”
We can only have a hunch, a feeling, a belief. Faith. Hope. We don’t know, We won’t know, we’ll never know until we know and reflect back on something real. And the best way to find out, is to believe in it and make it happen. You do your best, the best you can, you prepare yourself the best way you know how. And then you work to make it happen.
Trust your self. Believe in yourself.
Believe your effort can bring about meaningful change in your life. Believe you have access to the necessary pathways to make meaningful change in your life.
You are the only one who creates your reality. No one else can think for you. No one else can do it. It is only you. Every bit of it. You.
Only you can make the decision to change.
While, other people can certainly prevent wildfires, only you can break your script and determine your actions.
Break the script. Opportunities don’t visit caves. We need you. We need you to show up. We need you to show up looking to understand, looking to try, and looking to push the limits of what’s possible.
Yes, that means we need you to do work without a map. Nobody knew they could do it until they actually did it. Nobody knows if they can complete something until they actually do. You can learn as you go, everybody must, but go.
What do the Four-Minute Mile, the 900, the Airplane and Apple all have in common? They were all scripted as impossible–that was, until someone, scripted as wholly unqualified came along and broke the script.
At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done, then they see it can be done- then it is done and all the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago.
– Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden (1911)
Running a four-minute mile was scripted as impossible. It was the “Four-Minute Barrier”, the human body was scripted by many as incapable of running fast enough, long enough to break that barrier. And if it were to be broken, it would need ideal conditions—no wind; a nice, hard, dry track; tens of thousands of cheering fans. And yet, Iffley Road track in Oxford on May 6, 1954 was not that kind of day.
Roger Bannister, a 25-year-old British medical student, was running against his old university in their annual match with the Amateur Athletic Association. As a few thousand spectators settled into the 15mph crosswind and gusts of up to 25mph, the wind was nearly enough to call off the event. But Bannister chose to move forward with the race. And he sprinted to the finish line before falling exhausted into the arms of a friend. Chaos erupted when spectators realized they had just watched a “miracle mile”. Roger Bannister, a 25-year-old British medical student, had officially broken the 4-minute barrier, with a time 3:59.4. And at the end of the year, Bannister retired from running to pursue his medical studies full-time and later became a consultant neurologist. The script had changed. It was a mere 46 days until John Landy, an Australian runner, would break the barrier again. And today, the four-minute mile is now the standard of professional middle distance runners.
After Bannister changed the script, people no longer accepted the limitations, tradeoffs, and middle-of-the-road sensibilities that once defined conventional wisdom. Roger Bannister didn’t just break the world record. He transformed the sense of what’s possible in the field.
Nobody knew they could do it until they actually did it. Nobody knows if they can complete something until they actually do.
At the 1999 X Games, Tony Hawk became the first person to land a 900 – two and a half spins. It was the biggest achievement the sport had ever seen. It catapulted Hawk into legend status. His video game came out a year later and sold 30 million copies. Six Flags named a rollercoaster after him.
Fifteen years later, Gui Khury lands a 900 – he was 8 years old. Khury later went on to become the first person to land a 1080 – three full revolutions, breaking Tony Hawks record 900 – when he was 11.
It only takes one event to raise the bar over what previously seemed impossible, and that becomes the baseline for everyone to build upon.
Can you imagine that when we were kids? If any one of us could do a kickflip, they were just rising above and leaving for stardom.
I cannot believe how far skateboarding has come where you can just say “do a kickflip” and three kids do it within five seconds. That’s amazing to me.
– Tony Hawk
In 1896, Samuel Langley successfully flew an unmanned steam-powered fixed-wing model aircraft. Langley had moved from an assistant in the Harvard College Observatory to a professor at the United States Naval Academy, to the director of the Allegheny Observatory, to a professor of astronomy at the University of Pittsburgh, and became the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution where he founded the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and was elected to the American Philosophical Society, the American Antiquarian Society, and received the highest award of the French astronomical society: the Prix Jules Janssen. Samuel Langley was scripted with the benefit of the doubt. In the same year, his friend, engineer and aviation authority, Octave Chanute, brought together several men who tested various types of gliders–and later, Otto Lilienthan was killed in the plunge of his glider. The death rang in the news and reached the ears of two brothers who had dropped out of high school and recently changed their business from the printing press to a bicycle repair and sales shop. They were interested in flying, but news of the trials and death brought their interest to new heights.
In 1898, two years later, Samuel Langley received a $50,000 grant from the War Department and $20,000 from the Smithsonian to develop a piloted airplane. Samuel Langley was scripted with the benefit of the doubt. After years of research, on October 9, 1902, the Wrights achieved true control in turns for the first time and began to focus on the problem of powered flight. When Langley received word from his friend Octave Chanute of the Wright brothers’ success with their glider, he attempted to meet the Wrights, but they politely evaded his request. On October 7, 1903, Langley conducted the first tests of the full-sized man-carrying version of his earlier model that awarded him the grant. The pilot, Charles Manly, nearly drowned when the machine slid off its launch pad and fell into the Potomac River. After repairs, they attempted again on December 8, and again the pilot is nearly killed by crashing at take-off. However, reporters and newspapers made great sport of the failures–Langley was celebrated and touted as a pioneer. Having spent years researching and testing unpowered flights, the Wright brothers were prepared to try a powered flight. On December 17, 1903, at 10:35 a.m., Orville Wright flew into a freezing headwind as he traveled 120 feet in 12 seconds. Only five people were there to witness the flights. The Dayton Journal refused to publish the story, saying the flights were too short to be important. Years later, the publisher of the Dayton Daily News stated: “Frankly, none of us believed it.” The Wright brothers were not scripted with the benefit of the doubt. In time, Dayton newspapers would proudly celebrate the hometown Wright brothers as national heroes. Still, the local reporters somehow missed one of the most important stories in history as it was happening a few miles from their doorstep. And after the two crashes on take-off, Langley gave up the project.
So, you decide for yourself. Challenge the norms. Chase your weird dreams. Own your inner weirdness and wear it as a badge of honor. Because if people tell you you’re weird you’re probably doing it right.
How to live. The Meditations. The Manual.
Control and leverage.
We need you to make a ruckus.
The Practice. This is Marketing. Tribes. Heroic Leadership.
The script is resilient and long-lasting. That’s why it’s the status quo.
We need you to show up. We need you to show up time and time again. We need you to show up with self-awareness, ingenuity, love, and heroism. We need you to have unarguable goals and aspirations. We need you to lead. We need you to find the others. We need you to understand their strengths, weaknesses, values, and worldview. We need you to confidently innovate and adapt to embrace a changing world. We need you to energize yourself and others through heroic ambitions. We need you to make things better by making better things. We need you to do the hard work of showing up with insights, assertions, and kindness. We need you to shine a light, open a door, and lead. We need you to do the generous work of making things better by making better things. We need you to work on behalf of those you seek to serve. We need you to use stories that resonate with people who prefer the status quo, because the goal is to make change, not to have an argument. We need you to offer opportunities for others to solve their problems and move forward. We need you to persist and toil for years and years, because if it were easy, it would have happened already.
We need you to commit to the practice–because it’s the practice that leads to an event.
We need you to show up. We need you to connect. We need you to lead.
We need you. And that voice telling you that you have no value and we don’t need you, that fear telling you you can’t do it, it’s an imagined reality. And in time you will learn to dance with it.
Now go make a ruckus.