Ball machines are predictable

It’s easier to criticize or dole out advice than it is to do. If people don’t have skin in the game or consequences of a decision or actions, then their opinion doesn’t mean much. 

It’s the same as getting advice from a highly paid consultant who has never run a company day to day. Everything always looks simple and obvious when the outcomes are academic. Academic recommendations don’t factor in real-world dynamics that are unpredictable and filled with unknowns.

Getting academic advice on how to implement something in the real world is like practicing tennis on an indoor court with a ball machine. At the end of an intensive tennis training camp with the ball machine, I’m sure the error rate will be low, and the person will have a stable backhand. Now take that same person and put them on a tennis court in the middle of a sunny day with a breeze. See how their tennis game deteriorates when they are serving with the sun in their eyes and their opponent charges the net after returning serve. Ball machines are consistent and predictable. Real-life is the antithesis of predictable.  

Instead of asking for advice, ask for shared experiences and draw your conclusions. If a person doesn’t have any shared experiences with the task at hand, then press mute and move on.

Believe in someone

Imagine this clip wasn’t about sport. Imagine it was about academics and encouraging a young kid at school. It’s a little hazy now but I can’t recall ever hearing a teacher talking like this to me or anyone else when I was at school.

Marry someone who believes in you, work for people who believe in you. Then pay it forward and make sure your kids or young people in particular hear that you believe in their potential.

Choices and Luck

Success is a combination of luck and good choices.

Hard work and long hours don’t automatically result in success. A lot of people work hard. I’ve gotten off a train in Delhi, and seen taxi drivers sleeping in their cars at 5 am waiting for a fare. After I have knocked on their car window and woken them up, they wiped their face with a damp cloth and started the car. The back seat was still warm from where they were sleeping. People around the world work freaking hard. The Americans and the Chinese think they have a monopoly on long hours, my advice to them would be to travel a little and see the world. Travel will humble anyone.

I’ve seen people born on third base blow everything away including money, friends, and reputation because of poor choices. They had the luck of being born to the right parents but screwed up anyway. Being born lucky with a security blanket makes it way less likely thst someone will blow up their life, but a few bad choices will get the ball rolling. That’s why the mega-wealthy people set up trust funds with rules and conditions. The wealthy have learned to build safety valves that protect their offspring from dumb and ego driven decisions.

But it’s not just about luck. Opportunity favors the prepared mind. We are faced with choices every day. Where do you spend your time? Who do you associate with? When someone takes a chance on you, do you accept or do you demure? Who do you marry? Do you marry?

Saying it’s all about luck is a story we tell ourselves to justify our own situation. It’s hard to admit that the right decisions at the right time were involved as well. The trick is to acknowledge the luck, stay humble and choose wisely when they the big decisions are on deck.

Wastin’ time

The older you get, the more you value time. How much would you pay to buy back a couple of years when you are in your sixties? Time has less currency to a 25-year-old than a 60-year-old.

The wealthier you become, the more you value simplicity and flexibility. Real wealth isn’t about accumulating stuff, it’s about controlling your time. The freedom to decide how to spend your time each day is priceless. When you are young, you think you are invincible and have all the time in the world. Older, wiser souls value every day and cherish them because they know that buying back time isn’t an option.

As Bill Clinton likes to say, we all get to the point where we have more yesterdays than tomorrows.

I think Otis Redding tapped into this with (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay

Sittin’ in the mornin’ sun
I’ll be sittin’ when the evenin’ come
Watching the ships roll in
And then I watch ’em roll away again, yeah

I’m sittin’ on the dock of the bay
Watching the tide roll away
Ooo, I’m just sittin’ on the dock of the bay
Wastin’ time

I left my home in Georgia
Headed for the ‘Frisco bay
Cause I’ve had nothing to live for
And look like nothin’s gonna come my way

So I’m just gonna sit on the dock of the bay
Watching the tide roll away
Ooo, I’m sittin’ on the dock of the bay
Wastin’ time

Look like nothing’s gonna change
Everything still remains the same
I can’t do what ten people tell me to do
So I guess I’ll remain the same, yes

Sittin’ here resting my bones
And this loneliness won’t leave me alone
It’s two thousand miles I roamed
Just to make this dock my home

Now, I’m just gonna sit at the dock of the bay
Watching the tide roll away
Oooo-wee, sittin’ on the dock of the bay
Wastin’ time

Written by Steve Cropper, Otis Redding • Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, Universal Music Publishing Group

Advise your younger self

The saying goes that the days are long and the years are short. Five years goes by in a flash.

Take a moment to look back on the last five years and ask yourself what advice you would give your younger self if you could travel back in time and share a meal together. Think about the experience and guidance you would provide. Do the same exercise with a ten-year look back. As a 30-year-old what advice would you give your 20-year-old self? If you are 40 what information would you provide your 30-year-old self?

A couple of insights bubbled up for me when I played this out in my head:

* * *

Take more risks.

Be patient, but don’t hold on too long. Have the guts to know when to leave. Knowing is the easy part. Saying it out loud is the hard part.

Back yourself more. Everyone is making it up as they go.

Learn by doing. Over-analysis will paralyze you.

Travel more.

Don’t be in such a hurry to start a career. The career will find you when you are ready.

Be kind to your body.

Don’t stress so much. There’s only now. Most of the time you land on your feet, and most of the things you worry about are in your head.

Small contributions compound over time. Small acts of kindness, small investments, small tweaks add up.

* * *

Try it. It’s an enlightening exercise

The Tree of Knowledge

I’m intrigued by Elon Musk’s concept of Tree of Knowledge. He says, “it is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree — make sure you understand the fundamental principles, i.e., the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to.”

Vishal Khandelway created a helpful illustration to explain the difference between the trunk, branches, and leaves.

The trunk. Start here and build your foundational principles by reading biographies, history books, philosophy and other non-fiction.

The branches. These are podcasts, medium posts, new best seller books on Amazon, Op-eds in the Atlantic, NYT, Washington Post, etc.

The leaves. These are random tweets and Facebook posts. Back in the age of newspapers, these used to be Letters to the Editor. These are mostly noise.

Spend your time on the trunk and the branches. The leaves are seductive but don’t build help your build foundational principle that acts as your guidelines for making decisions.

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Always start with your principles.

Manage the downside

Seasoned risk takers manage the downside. When they fail, it’s never a knock out blow.

It’s like landing a plane on fumes, even if the final path to landing is a slow glide down to a makeshift runway. They pick the bailout area along the way, and if things don’t go to plan then they divert, land, refuel and regroup.

Increase your risk profile, but also increase the hedge against absolute failure. What’s your contingency plan, how do you mitigate loses? Don’t close your eyes, hit, and hope. That kind move only works in the movies.

Success is about persistence and repetition, but you can’t compete if you’ve crashed and burned along the way.