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.

Keep tinkering

Persistence is a talent. I was at a talk the other day where a middle school teacher explained that her most successful students at the school were not the academically brightest, but the most curious and persistent. When I look back at my childhood and fast forward to where I am now, most of my school peers who’ve done beautiful things in life were the kids in the back of the class who were quietly tinkering on projects or were going deep on hobbies, sports, and extracurricular activities. They were working on things that didn’t offer up easy wins but were rewarding over time. They have taken that same skill in life and applied to business or academia. Persistence is the common theme.

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Authenticity scarcity

With the age of automation in full swing, we will be interacting more and more with software and hardware over humans. It’s an exciting time. Michael Fassbender’s role in Prometheus is a perfect example how androids will help older people on a daily basis. I also like the idea of TARS in the movie Interstellar. We’ll see the same trend in mobility, healthcare, finance, childcare, teaching, and sex. It’ll happen really slowly and then super fast. Humans will come to depend on AI the same way that we depend on family and friends.

With the tsunami of AI and Android assistance, people are going to lose touch with other humans. It’ll be possible to spend years alone with Androids and not see or touch another human. It will be like the space travel we see in sci-fi flicks where explorers live in space capsules protected from the harsh outside environment. These capsules will start to pop up on earth…first in hospices, then schools and then homes.

Over time people are going to crave real-life interactions again. There will probably be vacations zones and place that are Android free and zero technology zones. People will pay a premium for the imperfection of humans, whether it’s screwing up a food order, a casual conversation, while waiting in line, or brushing past someone on the bus. Things we take for granted or shy away from today, will be paid for and cherished.

Real life, authentic interactions will be something our grandkids only read about, but never experience. This thought makes me thankful for what I have today.

Catching creativity

Creativity sometimes comes in bursts. If I hit a blocker, and there’s nothing – the key is not to get frustrated and contrive creativity. Don’t manufacture something that’s not ready to come out.

Changing my routine, shaking up rituals or meeting with friends is a great way to unblock the flow. When it finally comes, I make the time to capture the creative flow. It’s like building a dam for the melting snowpack. Don’t let the precious water go to waste.

woulda, coulda, shoulda

Do you ever look in the rear view mirror and re-litigate decisions in your head? The “woulda, coulda, shoulda” shtick. Most of the time it’s not a productive exercise, but it can be enlightening if you use it as a barometer to asses your tolerance for risk and openness to learn.

As you push the envelope you are going to make mistakes. Slip ups are part of being out of your depth and wading into new space. I’d argue that a life of zero defects probably means you aren’t experimenting enough.

Experimenting and trying new things means giving up some of the outcome control, but it also accelerates learning and exercises your risk muscle.

Look back and learn.

Keep showing up 

Persistence is the secret ingredient to long term growth. I’ll use writing as an example. Check out non celebrity writers on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or WordPress. They write something most days (normally multiple things) and their followers start to expect a post on a daily basis. Some posts will be good, some brilliant and some forgettable – the point is that it’s dependable and persistent. Over time their readers see the musings and writings of the author as companion pieces to the day – like a morning coffee.

There’s the January gym crowd who start off with a bang and putter out around February, then there are the lifers who show up every morning and slowly get fit and stay fit. Lifers don’t have New Year’s resolutions because they have a standing daily exercise appointment that they don’t miss. It’s the same with writing. Never miss the appointment.

Persistence is underrated and underused because people think it’s obvious and table stakes for success. The reality is that most people give up early, so it normally does come down to the last person standing who gets the prize.

Show up every day. Persist

“Sometimes magic is just someone spending more time on something than anyone else might reasonably expect.” – Raymond Joseph Teller