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

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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.

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‘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).

An upgrade to a previous #whiteboard #diagram. Build Measure Learn. #lean #agile

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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.