Getting Started is Hard because we’re too Heavy

Many entrepreneurs have said, “The first million is always the hardest.” Peter Thiel wrote a book, Zero to One, explaining how going from 0 to 1, is much harder than going from 1 to 100. There is a lot of thought leadership around this idea that getting started is usually the hardest part of the process. Why is this? I think it’s because we shed something upon friction; we let something go; we get leaner through learning. Once we’re lighter, we’re able to fly higher.

Getting started is often times the hardest part of the process because in the vertical ascension to success, we start off too “heavy.” The unnecessary weight of plans, doubts, expectations, and illusions keeps us from climbing to the top. As the picture above tries to convey, the higher you rise the less friction you encounter. Not because it get’s easier, it get’s easier because you’re not as weighed down.

Challenges, obstacles, adversity, tests, friction are all natural things. The truth is our lives are essentially a seamless web of friction. And as a result, growth is also natural. In this post I aim to explain one perspective about growth; from the lens of “weight.”

In the diagram below is an example of “growth” defined as finding one’s purpose in life. In order to achieve a state with little to no perceived friction, the person must shed off layers that is holding them back. As long as the illusion layer of the ego exists, that entity will be too “heavy” to elevate to the next level.

 

Therefore growth doesn’t happen as a result of friction, it happens as a result of the entity being lighter/leaner/faster which the friction sculpts. Just as a bodybuilder wants to grow, he/she must first burn off excess fat through obstacles in order to function efficiently to empower the body to grow.

If it’s just one thing I want to convey in this post, it’s this: As we encounter friction, we should strive to understand why we’re feeling the friction and learn to let go of that thing.

When Drake said, “Zero to a hundred” let’s not forget he “Started from the bottom,” first. He was heavy, that’s why it would have been hard for him to start at the top. But now that he has gone through his challenges he can reach 100 “real quick.”

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Seasons of War and Peace

We can always count on the seasons to change. Just like the day and night, winter always follows fall, summer always follows spring; for us here in The Great White North, summer cannot come soon enough after the winter we have just had.

After around March 21st we see daylight more than darkness, June 21st being the day with the longest duration of sunlight. On the flip-side, in near late September the darkness overpowers the sunlight and around December 21st darkness is at it’s peak. This pattern is recognized to be guaranteed. The abundant sunlight will never last forever, and even the darkest day will never reign.

 

(And because I just have to…)

#yinyang #nature is everywhere

A post shared by Ahmad Iqbal (@ahmiq) on

 

These same rules of nature also apply to all things within it. Individuals, civilizations, businesses, etc.

The Hero’s Journey, coined by Joseph Campbell, is the perfect formula to help conceptualize this idea for ourselves as human beings. We all go through ups and downs because life is changing and evolving. New “missions” and obstacles come up every day and we may have dozens if not hundreds of journey’s happening at any one time, some more significant than others. And as long as one continues to “live” the unknown world will eventually become known and internalized. Every main character in any popular story ever told follows this formula. Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, Katniss Everdeen, even Homer Simpson in every episode. I believe we love these characters because they fit nature’s formula.

 

With regards to civilizations and nations, the macrocosm of individuals, we also see ups and downs. Civilizations and ways of life also breathe as shown in the graph of the history of balance of power. The United States was at i’s peak “peacetime” state, an obvious “summertime” and growth state, around 1950. China was at it’s lowest; struggling and stuck in a wintertime state. But nature’s change eventually prevails and balances are shifted.

The same is also true for businesses. I read somewhere the average life expectancy of a company (probably around the 1950s) used to be 60 years. A decade or so ago that number was around 25 years. Currently it is at around 15 years, and contracting still. In this case not only is the environment changing, but the speed of change is also changing. In Ben Horowitz’s book, “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” he talks about his views on Google’s decision to change their CEO in 2011. Eric Schmidt had led Google to be one of the most powerful companies in the world, taking over essentially when they were still relatively unknown startup about to go through an IPO. After 10 years, Larry Page, the co-founder, steps in to take over. Why would the board decide to change leadership when the CEO had a proven track record of growth? Ben Horowitz argues because the environment for Google was changing to be more of a Wartime landscape with the rise of Facebook, Apple, Twitter and the 2nd renaissance of Tech. Eric Schmidt was a great Peacetime CEO, someone who could leverage the Summer and keep things growing. But Larry Page is a Wartime CEO, pragmatic and focused on re-building and investing for the future.

What I mean to share with this post is that these patterns exist everywhere. We are all parts of a greater whole, and the seasons are a reminder for us. For those of us who complain about the winters (however cold they are), think of it as a reminder of our our journey. And for those that love the summer, don’t get too comfortable because nature won’t let it stay that way forever.

Filling the Gap with Technology

The launch of the Apple iWatch, and the Android Wear series before that, ushers in a new era of human-computer integration with attached mobile devices. Many people suggest there is not much difference between seeing a text message on your wrist, from pulling your phone out of your pocket, turning on the display, and viewing the message; that humanity is getting too lazy if this is what we have come to ask for from our technology. But I would look at this from the perception that humanity is asking for something else out of non-interruption technology. We’re asking to be made more complete.

If you think about it, we are technology; we are bio(nano)-technology. Technology has gone from something that was far removed from us, to something that is attached to us. Maybe we just long to upgrade our natural built-in applications and platforms with electronic software and hardware.

 

Back in the day, computers were huge expensive machines that were rare and hard to access. They were the size of whole rooms, their time had to be rented and booked days or weeks ahead of time, and then travelling to, likely miles and miles away. Now, machines with much more power and access to information are in our pockets – with remarkably less interruption. Additionally, technology is becoming more unique to it’s master. Back in the day there was a severe lack of variety. There were only a few makes and models, and the operating system and software was fixed. Today we have a variety of devices, with even more variety of software. They are becoming more unique to their master; if you and your friend both had the same smartphone, trading phones would physically hurt, it wouldn’t feel like your phone and would have less utility to you.

I find myself thinking of PCs as Stairs, and Wearables as moreof a Ramp. The stairs have interruptions, but a ramp is smooth and integrated. Technology will get more and more analog. Moving closer and closer to our life force. Filling a never ending gap in our humanity.

How to Slow Time

Do you remember as a child when the summers seemed to last forever? When I think back to my elementary school days I can swear it seemed like the school year wouldn’t end. Why?

I believe it has to do with our age. As a 10 year old, one year is 10% of our life. It makes up for 10% of everything we know of the universe, or reality, and everything in our being. But as a 20 year old, that same year is only 5% of our life. Meaning it should feel like it goes by twice as fast, all else being equal. In an inverse example, as a 30 year old, a summer last approximately 3 months. But to a 10 year old, it would be the equivalent to a 9 month vacation! I think this is why kids find it easy to get lazy, thinking they have all the time in the world to finish their work and chores – all the time in the world to accomplish their goals. In a final, extreme example, taking a look at a 1 year old baby – that 1 year is the equivalent of a lifetime. Each day blowing his/her mind with realities and truths of the universe.

 

With this realization comes unease. It means the older we get (the less time we have left), the faster time will go by. The less youthful, energetic, and curious we become, the less time we have to accomplish our life purpose. So how can we break this down to find a solution?

Let’s start by understanding that the youth have much more opportunity for (A) Learning; (B) Experiences; and (C) Exploration. Each of these three things adds more dimension to their understanding of the universe. Each of these things adds a net new value to their being. There is Growth.

To apply this to our question, it would seem the solution is to always be learning new things, experiencing new things, and exploring new places. Always be growing.

If we’re not growing, we’re dying, both literally and metaphorically.

‘The Minimum Viable’ State of Mind

Quick and clumsy is always better than long and planned out. This was a core principle in Sun Tzu’s Art of War (also translated as Art of Movement). The belief being that just getting up and doing something is more advantageous than spending too much time trying to plan for every contingency. As long as a successful outcome is a clearly defined and benchmarked, use resources to accomplish just that. Nothing less, nothing more. Do the minimum viable amount for each iteration until you reach the ultimate end goal.

Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why. Many will seem highly correlated, and they are. I decided to divide them up to be easier to digest and think through.

1. ON BEING AGILE: Things change. The only constant in life is change. According to the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, entropy will always exist in a system. This is also true in social networks, machines, or even government policies. We cannot make assumptions in our planning, because by the time we’re done planning and take the first step, the environment or requirements could have already changed. This is why we have to take smaller steps and re-align our target point as the target shifts. John Boyd, a US fighter pilot and military strategist credited for introducing Sun Tzu’s teachings into the US Airforce, would preach his OODA Loop framework. Observe, Orient, Decide, Act.

 

2. ON CREATING TIGHTER BENCHMARKS: By creating shorter and easier to reach benchmarks, we can figure out faster if our strategy is even viable or not. This saves a lot of time and resources. A company may have plans for a big new product or service. Before launching a full release across the globe, it would make more sense to roll out a launch with a first Minimum Viable Product  (MVP1), something with none of the bells and whistles, and a basic user interface, for example, to see if it is something customers even want.

In addition to the common new product example, this tactic can even save individuals from emotional stress. This “Light Ball Approach” introduced to me by Mark Reale from Gallop Labs, is ‘The Minimum Viable’ Trust framework. Rather than spending a lot of time thinking about whether someone (an employee, business partner, life partner, etc) is trustworthy, or going ahead and, without planning, just trusting that person with something significant, use the MVT model. Throw that individual a light ball to see if they can catch it and throw it back. If they can do this, throw them a heavier ball and see if they can return it until the balls you are throwing are big and heavy. If they keep returning this ball to you, you keep building trust over time. You wouldn’t invite a stranger to a weekend getaway, that is a very heavy ball. Trust would have to be built slowly to avoid a potentially stressful situation.

 

3. ON MEASURING RESULTS: By just doing it, we are able to see results. They should be at least somewhat measurable. We may fail terribly, but at least we would know where we stand compared to our end goal. A Minimum Viable Product for our new business idea could be something as simple as a landing page with our product images, followed by a “buy now” button. We don’t need to have any inventory, or a delivery process, an office or even any employees. A $10 website, and a couple hundred dollars in targeted Google and Facebook ads would tell us if we have a product market fit. If we track 100 clicks we know there is potential, and perhaps we should go ahead with our MVP2 and buy some inventory (storing it in our garage and delivering it personally), until the next MVP3 can be chased (securing a warehouse to manage deliveries).

 

4. ON FAILING FASTER: Related to the third point, failing faster means earning our bruises and scratches by practicing handstands on a bed or a mat before a trying on a concrete floor. “Failure” has been getting a lot of attention recently as a good thing, but it’s important to understand that it plays one role in a larger framework for success. Just failure alone won’t make us successful, it must be coupled with learning, iteration, persistence, and maybe a few dozen more virtues.

5. ON JUST DOING IT: The act of doing the thing you want to accomplish, and engaging in that activity provides a better “playtime” environment in which the mind can start to experience patterns. It is easier to analyze and experience a problem when more of your life force and energy is dedicated to it. Just using your mind is one thing, but when you get out of the building, walk, talk, engage with others and surround yourself with the issues there is more “energy” from that environment flowing through you. You will understand the possible solution better, and how to best get there.

We should do the Minimum Viable Activity needed to A) determine if our goals are worth pursuing, B) identify where we rank in our ability to accomplish these goals, and C) staying safe from hurting ourselves or our resources.

The Ninja Turtles: High Performing Scrum Team

When I was a kid I wanted to be a Ninja Turtle when I grew up. They were so cool! The four of them successfully overcame any obstacle that came their way. How were they able to do this? How did Splinter create such a Lean and high performing team?

Let’s start by deconstructing their roles and responsibilities.

Each turtle possesses a very specific character trait. These are not necessarily skill sets, but rather archetypes.

Leonardo is the prototypical Leader – he has a vision and takes full responsibility and accountability for the other turtles, often putting them first. His emotional intelligence is very high.

Raphael is a Warrior – he is hot headed, stubborn, but with that comes a strong will and ability to enforce the rules. He is a disciplinarian.

Michelangelo is the Lover – he is amicable, and relate-able and can defuse a stressful situation. He makes friends quickly.

Donatello is the Wizard – he has the mind for problem solving driven by his boundless curiosity for nature and technology. He has a high degree of technical ability.

It’s interesting to note the similarities between the turtles and an effective Scrum Team. Master Splinter being the Product Owner (taking the ultimate responsibility of the team and prioritizing exercises and missions to achieve), Leonardo being the Scrum Master (the servant leader who must keep the team on track to execute on their commitment), and the rest of the turtles acting as the Delivery Team. They are self-organizing and cross-functional, and between them possess the wide range of skills they need to get the job done.

But most importantly they share one significant trait. Their willingness to learn. To overcome some large overarching obstacle (like Shredder) they each have mini obstacles of their own which they haven’t encountered before. The learning is inherent to their growth and abilities as a team. It’s almost like they crave to reach the teetering edge of failure so they can make a ground-breaking realization; then immediately integrate into their delivery plan. Whether hell or high-water, the mission will be delivered. And most importantly they are able to incorporate the learnings in real-time.

 

Words

Every possible idea already exists in the air around us. We just need to match those ideas to symbols. The more symbols we know of and can understand, the more words we can invent. The more words we recognize, the more ideas we can manifest.

About a year ago, through a dear friend and mentor, I was introduced to Ludwig Wittgenstein. His work on the philosophy of language (more accurately philosophy being a bi-product of misunderstanding language) widened my perspective.

What I learned was we recognize words through pattern-recognition. It’s a simple concept I never took the time to realize. We understand the meaning of words by what they mean to us, not by what they mean to the person saying the words. For example a simple request like “Please buy an apple from the store” can be understood by anyone with a basic grasp of the English language – there is complete alignment. However a request like, “Please pick up some of that fruit I had the other night by the waterfront,” would only be understood by the person saying those words – there is no alignment.

Whiteboard-9552This is a very basic example, so lets take a real life example. A few days ago I was talking with a fellow Leanist about the differences between “Lean” and “Six Sigma.” I stated my position as Lean being anti-fragile, whereas Six Sigma was very rigid. My colleague thought “Robust” was a better word for Lean, which I had to disagree with (because I lump robust and rigid in the same category). On the more important level we both agreed with each other’s analysis of the two organizational methodologies but we disagreed on a definition of a word (trivial). What was great about this conversation is we both understood it was a language issue and quickly continued with our productive dialogue. The Ahmad from a year or two ago may have inadvertently picked a fight about the difference in the word “robust” and “anti-fragile”.

I want to be surrounded with people whom I can have conversations like this with, like my colleague I mentioned. It makes the creative process a lot more fun, exploratory, and fluid.