Checks, 1

January 17 2021

There’s a practice. The practice is proven, and you’ve embraced it.

Now, all that’s needed is more.

More time, more cycles, more bravery, more process. More of you. More idiosyncrasy, more genre, more seeing, more generosity. More learning.

It’s not working. (Yet.)

—Seth Godin, The Practice (56)

I love this so much. But it reminds me of several threads that come up again and again.

My big goal is to be able to run or manage several businesses or ventures successfully at the same time. This is more important than the money, which only has to be a vehicle for the personal things I need to do, and to afford me the time I want to have to do the non-monetary things I want to do.

The essence of this idea is to whittle down to its thinnest essence what it is that I do, that is not what someone else could do. Right now, it is fairly theoretical, but it is my goal.

It requires being in the essence of an idea—ideas happen instantly, when they are ready, and an entire understanding emerges at once. (Nevermind that it may have taken a long time to get to that place, where the idea emerges instantly—in a way, it is another enlightenment-type paradox in a lot of ways, where it did not have to take a long time… but it just did….)

It requires the lightest touch.

And, at the same time, it requires getting right down into the boiler room, at any moment when it does—diving right, deeply into the content, the meat, the guts. If you have a snack shop on the water, and your eighteen-year-old employee doesn’t show up for work on a Saturday morning, maybe you have to be there to take her place. Until you build a layer of people before that, which have this level of reliability.

And at some point, there are enough layers that you would never have to do that—to get that far down into the boiler room (or if you did, that would be a sign that something was really wrong, a sign of real structural issues).

Those who try to have the lightest touch without being willing to get into the boiler room—maybe this means confronting an emotional truth, or something you have done wrong, a mistake you have made. Or maybe it means doing the Saturday morning shift yourself. Or maybe it means re-working some critical piece of your infrastructure. It means being vulnerable. That even a wealthy person has to wipe their own butt, and perhaps do their own laundry, or cook their own food. (Yeah, they could pay someone to do that—but at what point do you want the tradeoff of simplicity and the freedom it afford, and at what point do you want the luxury? There are always tradeoffs.) The fantasy that the mastery I would like to have over several domains at once, means I don’t have to get into the boiler room—I think this fantasy probably sabotages a lot of people.

Anyway, that was a digression, as it were. The point is that the only way to accomplish this goal, is to maximize my process of maximizing. I.e., to have a generative process for self-maximizing. Of providing checks.

One of my biggest assumptions is that I operate with blinders. I don’t always know what the blinders are.

Everything is combinations. Everyone has the same amount of minutes in a day, and weeks in a year. Yet different outcomes occur, based on the infinite combinations that occur. We enjoy the outcomes, or we suffer with the outcomes. We are agents within a vast sea of randomness (or we are the conscious tip of our own iceberg, with karmic forces pulling us this way and that, or some other model, in which we have a conscious tip of choice, within a vast, nearly-unknowable sea of possibilities).

I have been listening to The Psychology of Money. There is a fascinating set of examples that show the way we think is not always our friend, and our perception is not reality. Our mental faculties were tuned for certain circumstances, and now we have gone beyond them. Some predictions are accurate, and some are wildly inaccurate.

So I think we need checks. If I have any hope of reaching this goal I have set for myself—I need checks on my own blindness.

This brings us back to the quote, and my question:

  • When do I follow the process, and when do I stop and ask whether I am following the right process?

The implication of following a process is that we are using that process to navigate through a sea of unknowables, and use it as a means to steer us through that sea, towards some destination. As Godin points out, becoming wedded to any particular effort being a success is a futility, because we cannot predict that any particular effort will result in success (too many unknowns, in that vast sea…). But the idea is that by following process, we develop a process mindset, as opposed to a product mindset, and create a tendency that winds us up in the desired shore, eventually.

But amidst these unknowns, the interesting thing is to ask whether the process I am following will wind me up at that shore, or just sailing around in circles. The less I know about the territory I am sailing in, the more I had better follow a master sailor, and stick very closely to what he says to do. When I begin to master that same territory, however, sticking too closely to someone else’s words may actually become a crutch that slows me down.

In other words, when you are in a new territory, you need to start by following the map very closely. But after a while, the map can become a crutch that keeps you out of the weeds of what’s actually happening. —The map is never the territory, but when you are new to the territory, the map may render the seeming chaos of the territory, intelligible.

When you are in a new city for the first time, you’d better follow the map. But once you know the ropes of the city (or the particular area you are very familiar with), staring at the map—instead of actually looking to see what’s going on—can get you in a lot of trouble. The map is actually just lines, shapes, and words. The city is a living, breathing place full of changing conditions and realities, that could never fully be represented, even a fraction of it.

But we need checks, places to catch ourselves and notice what we can’t see. We need places built into our process, to check our process.

More later.

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© Alexander Feller 2018