snorkeling

Random Acts of Progress and the Drunkard's Walk

We unfortunately seem to be unconsciously biased against those in society who come out on top or the bottom. When we assess the world, we tend to see what we expect to see. We can equate degree of success with degree of talent and reinforce our conclusions of causality by noting the correlation. The worst type of confirmation bias. The " I wish more people worked hard, as I have"--myopic self-deception. In reality there is often little difference in ability/talent between the "successful" and the "unsuccessful". The biggest difference is how randomness impacted the outcomes and opportunities. 

In Leonard Mlodinow's insightful book: The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives, he asserts how things that appear linear, cause and effect, and intentional, all the way down to the molecular level are random.

Whoa, I can feel I pushed your doubt buttons! Fair enough. But let me explain and allow some randomness to influence your thinking oh reader of great certainty ;)

The random motion of molecules in a fluid can be viewed as a metaphor for our own paths through life, and so it is worthwhile to take a little time to give Einstein’s work a closer look. According to the atomic picture, the fundamental motion of water molecules is chaotic. The molecules fly first this way, then that, moving in a straight line only until deflected by an encounter with one of their sisters. This type of path—in which at various points the direction changes randomly—is often called a drunkard’s walk, for reasons obvious to anyone who has ever enjoyed a few too many martinis (more sober mathematicians and scientists sometimes call it a random walk). If particles that float in a liquid are, as atomic theory predicts, constantly and randomly bombarded by the molecules of the liquid, one might expect them to jiggle this way and that owing to the collisions.

So many things we do are impacted by things we don't do and that sets us on a course--or a walk if you will. Things are always colliding with our direction and ideas and once in a while we see them or pay attention to them. We can take credit for these momentary and intermittent flashes of awareness. Our brains want to simplify the timeline so that we can take or give credit or issue blame.

Phone-whale_3188738b

Your place of birth, your parents, your health, your general DNA allocation was random. Even if you think that there was divine intervention or a pre-conceived destiny, there was a huge component of randomness that derived your 23 chromosomes. And all of the "decisions" you made or were made for you. 

What if I didn't accept my mentor's advice that led to a new career? Talked to that stranger who I married and have three kids with? Made that turn, or went to that event, or went on that date, or said yes, instead of no, or wore the red tie, or had Mexican instead of Italian...... Do you really know what would have could have happened? What we pay attention to makes a difference. 

For everything you have missed, you have gained something else, and for everything you gain, you lose something else.  Ralph Waldo Emerson

What we do know is not everyone is born into the same randomness, contexts for chance, opportunities for choice. There is great inequity in the sets of randomness we inherit. We all know the story of the immigrant who overcomes obstacles to become a billionaire. Or a blind singer who becomes a record breaking star. And if we are not careful we believe that random opportunity is out there for every immigrant or disabled person. 

We know the randomness at Exeter is different than at East LA Community College. The different molecules that are bombarding off of you will create different drunkard's walks. 

I don't think you can be deliberate about shaping your course forward because you then end up somewhere completely stale and expected.  

I think a lot about this relationship between cynicism and hope. And critical thinking without hope is cynicism. But hope without critical thinking is naïveté. Maria Popova

So I try to reside between the two to try to build a bridge, because blaming others and feeling hopeless about changing our course generates a feeling of futility. Then cynicism rises up to provide a false sense of protection while our dreams evaporate. We can restore our hope and energy by moving forward even if we are stumbling and failing along the way. 

But on the other hand, believing blindly that everything will work out just fine also produces a kind of resignation because we have no motive to apply ourselves toward making things better. And I think in order to survive, both as individuals and as a civilization, but especially in order to thrive, we need to bridge critical thinking with hope."

What appears random or "lucky" was usually right in front of you. You know when you think of something and then it appears everywhere--not talking about Google's algorithms :) Or the so-called Law of Attraction. But it is true when you think and discuss your needs your bucket list, your dream job, yes things "appear"

And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it. Paolo Coelho

So two huge lessons I have learned. Help those with fewer choices and chances see the periphery, see the molecules around them, help them to allow life to happen and divert them from their unsatisfying pursuit of happiness.

Listen to your heart. Open your eyes. Let the paths that are there surround you and reveal themselves.

And for those with fewer chances and choices, those who are more bombarded by the molecules lower on Maslow's, help them have a better chance to see the molecules that are foreign and strange. Guide them to a space where they can see themselves. Where there is sufficiency of opportunity. Not a crutch but a helping hand to give them perspective.

Why? Because we need all of the talent we have to blossom. We desperately need more people to find what they want and to be less oppressed by what others expect. 

Randomness enables us to express things we did not know we had or wanted. Randomness awakens the genius in each of us. Randomness is the way of nature.

Not ignoring reality and responsibility, but being more aware of what interests us, taking chances, and eliminating regrets before they happen. 

The future is already here it just isn't evenly distributed. William Gibson

Life just appears before you. Choices, chances. Too often we try to take credit for what is and we forget how we got there. All of the advice, education, mistakes, mentoring, role models, and yes luck, should take a rear seat to our false and unfounded control over our destinies. 

Yes being focused helps immensely. Yes being planful is also very useful. But what are you missing while you plan? Is your plan and laser-like attention creating a myopia that ignores amazing opportunities or revelations.

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. Emerson

Random acts of kindness and progress. Allowing the molecules of randomness push us on our own drunkard's walk and discover new people and places. 

Judy Rupp's excerpt from Old maps don't work

It is time for the pilgrim in me
to travel in the dark,
to learn to read the stars
that shine in my soul.
I will walk deeper
into the dark of my night.
I will wait for the stars.
trust their guidance.
and let their light be enough for me.

 Thanks for reading. John

 


Snorkeling through Life and Drive By Passions

Skimming the surface of the depths of life can be fast, exhilirating and fun. You value variety, changing scenery and the the sense of progress you get from constant movement. But snorkeling is a spectator sport. You see things, beautiful things, scary things, mysterious things which reside far below you--out of reach and out of harm's way. 

Distance always makes us brave and prone to an often artifical sense of courage. We can convince ourselves that proximity is experiential. Some of us even think that watching Youtube is interchangeable with real life. We assume things. We fill in gaps with what we think not what we have experienced. 

We scan, we surf, we get bits and pieces. And if we are not careful we make snap judgments, form strong opinions, develop personal narratives and even make life choices based on these fuzzy unexplored ideas.

Snorkeling-2

I had the chance to hear Eric Schmidt and his colleague Jonathon Rosenberg discuss their new book, How Google Works. I have always been interested in how Google builds and maintains its culture of innovation. They discussed their hiring process. They determined that 5 interviews yielded the best results in getting to know the candidate. They rigorously evaluate the interviewers for the quality of their hirings by comparing scores to hires and performance. But what was most interesting to me is that passion was the determining factor in their interviews. Here's what they do. They probe what the candidate is passionate about and then deep dive on that topic. Anything the candidate declares as his/her passion is fair game--Could be directly related to the job or an avocational pursuit. They look for depth of understanding, true emotional connection to the subject matter (afterall this is THEIR passion!) and evidence of their capacity for curiosity and learning. Not surprisingly, some candidates have no depth to their passions --"no depth means no passion". Saying so does not make it so. A strong candidate who displays depth of engagement, intellectual capacity, and personal committment to a passion has the potential to make it at Google. Either you got it or you don't. But Google ferrets out the snokelers from the deep divers!

I have been doing something similar for decades. I can not tell you how many times I have asked a candidate about THEIR passion and I am given this general drive by passion response: "Oh I am passionate about (subject) but I don't have the time now to pursue it." Like a secret admirer in middle school. "I love her but she does not know who I am." :)

Please do not use the "p" word like this. And don't let friends say such things. 

Things discovered during the snorkeling of life are potential passions. They are interesting things, curiosities, and maybe interests. They become passions through your relentless interest in them. You are quasi obsessive compulsiveness about them. You own these topics, you stalk them, you can't get enough to quench your thirst and hunger. What are your potential passions?

Deloitte has been studying the role of passion in increasing performance of companies. They concluded, "To address perpetually mounting competitive pressures, organizations need workers who bring passion to their jobs to navigate challenges and accelerate performance improvement. Yet only 11 percent of U.S. workers surveyed by Deloitte possess the attributes that lead to accelerated learning and performance improvement."

For those of us who have traversed start-ups, big companies, and non-profits, you know this. People with passion for life and their work make a huge difference. They perform at a higher level. This is what Google does at the front end--to find those with the capacity for passion. And Deloitte finds that deeper divers accelerate organizational performance. So passion is in demand!

Can passion be learned or acquired? Yes! You can have a small constellation of passions. Professional and personal. Things that you have made a committment to pursue and advance. Expertise, a cause, an issue, a hobby.  

I love Warren Buffett's advice to pick the top 25 things that you want to embrace in your life-potential passions. Then reduce it to the five most important. 

Once you have chosen the top 5, Warren then asked “but what about these other 20 things on your list that you didn’t circle? What is your plan for completing those?” Most people say “Well the top five are my primary focus but the other twenty come in at a close second. They are still important so I’ll work on those intermittently as I see fit as I’m getting through my top 5. They are not as urgent but I still plan to give them dedicated effort.” Warren responded sternly, “No. You’ve got it wrong.Everything you didn’t circle just became your ‘avoid at all cost list’. No matter what, these things get no attention from you until you’ve succeeded with your top 5.”

Passion and life is about focus. The more divided your attention, talent, and time is--the less passion you have. 

Your passions define you, they differentiate you, they give you an edge. More important, they make your life meaningful to you!

So continue to skim, scan, and snorkle, but pick out a handful of things to explore and embrace. Dive and lose yourself to find yourself. And don't dive alone. Engage your network, seek and create new networks, to guide and accelerate your pursuit of passions. 

No time like the present to Dive! Dive! Dive!

Thanks for reading. John