Why I am developing/testing self assessment and analysis tools

Martin Office (10)

As I walked out of the theater at the premier of The Matrix, while everyone else was talking about the game changing special effects and innovative fight scenes, I was obsessed with something else.  The Red Pill and the Blue Pill.   The nagging brain worm that something wasn’t right with the world, there was more underneath if you could just find it. The idea that we are asleep to reality most of our lives and it is possible to wake up and maybe even tap into some superpowers.

For the last three years I have been indulging this brain worm on a deep dive into waking up and becoming aware. Waking up is hard.  Sleep walking through life is so much easier.  I enjoy wandering and bumping into trees and having random experiences along the path, but sometimes I end up stuck in a traffic circle, or endlessly distracted by shiny things.  At that point I need tools, catalysts, doors finders. Lately I have been digging into the science behind finding your path and am uncovering some helpful self assessment (wake up) tools.  I hope to get as many of them as possible into easily digestible forms for broad distribution.  I am not a therapist and don’t play one on TV.  These are examination tools and you are the patient and doctor.  Hopefully some of the pointers help you down the path, but you are the one that has to take the steps, open the doors, decide on the direction and keep going.  The Red Pill or the Blue Pill.  Your decision.

Not making a decision is making one.

Ignorance is not an excuse nor is it bliss.

Only you can figure out yourself.

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A step along the path of life: The new car on your 16th birthday

Along the journey of life there are many paths, many doors, many side trips and some major milestones that mark significant achievement and can change the path/journey in significant ways.  Getting my first car was definitely a defining moment in my life (even though I didn’t appreciate the significance at the time).  Yesterday, with the benefit of 36 years of hindsight, I set my own daughter on the road with her own car.  The experience has caused my monkey mind to go into overdrive, some of which I share here.

Yesterday my daughter Finn turned 16.

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For the past year she we have been practicing driving, talking about driving, reading books on driving, taking courses on driving, and generally obsessing about the day Finn can drive herself around.  That day came yesterday.  2016-05-29 12.37.50

Getting a drivers license and your own car has got to be a high order American coming of age ritual.  It is a big step up on the road to independence.  It lies on a foundation of trust, learning, responsibility and achievement.  As a parent the decision to provide a car required contemplation (is she ready?) and not an insignificant amount of mourning (no more time together driving around town).   Finn earned the car through hard work and deserves all the freedom and responsibility that comes with it.

Martin Tobias at 16 was not ready for his own car.  While I doubt my parents put as much existential angst or contemplation into the issue as i have given the demands of 6 other kids around the house and far less money to go around, looking back, it was a very good thing that the 16 year old Martin Tobias did not get a car.  I was rebellious, irresponsible, boundary pushing, and generally an unhappy kid.  I had already been in the hospital three times from thrill seeking bicycle accidents.  As high school graduation loomed large and all my friends already had their college plans locked down, a stark reality hit me.  If I didn’t get my shit together I would be working in the damn pizza parlor my whole fucking life. I got my shit together.  Just before heading off to college I invested my pizza cook savings into a $300 1972 Ford Galaxie 500.  I loved that car because it was mine.  I was ready for that responsibility.

What does it mean exactly to “being ready for your own car” ?  My criteria include:

  •  A demonstrated history of responsible decisions. (demonstrated self regulation)  Choosing to do the homework instead of hang out with friends.  Saving money instead of spending it all. Ability to eat only one piece of cake.
  •  Significant attention to detail.  Driving is all about attention and pattern recognition.  80% of collisions are caused by driver inattention.  Even without the distractions of music, texting (1 in 4 accidents), et al, can you pay attention to details when necessary?
  • Ability to take on part of the financial and logistical responsibility.  When you spend your own hard earned money (job or allowance) on something you take better care of it, reinforcing responsibility.  Saving for a car was the #1 reason I got a job in high school.
  • An absence of clearly dangerous behavior traits.  If your child has problems with drugs or alcohol or depression or has clear impulse control issues, wait on the car.  You do not “owe them a car” because their friends got one. You owe it to them when they are ready, or when they make themselves ready.

Now I know many parents don’t put this much contemplation into what the car at 16 means in life. Plenty of parents are just happy to get the kids out of their hair and get more of their own time back.  But 16 is two years before most kids head off to college (a top 3 milestone) and definitely the beginning of the end of childhood.  How do we recognize, honor and note that transition in our lives?  With the decline of traditional religious adulthood rituals (Bat Mitzvah, Quinceanera, etc.) how do we do this?  Making a big deal about the car and what it means has served well as a coming of age ritual for generations.  Not everyone does it, but it works well for those that do.

All this stuff was sloshing around in my head as I sat down to feed Harper, my 9 month old.

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Driving day for Harper T-15 years.  Suddenly a horrific thought came to my mind.  Would advancements in transportation technology destroy the first car ritual for Harper’s generation?  How will Uber change individual car ownership in 15 years?  What about self driving cars (my Tesla is already there, but hobbled by software and liability issues)?  If technology could free all that driving time to do other things, would we choose to free up that time?  Coming of age rituals very significantly across the world and have changed over time, but I am not sure I am ready to see this one go.  With regret I predict that Harper will be very unlikely to have a significant coming of age experience around getting her drivers license and first car 15 years from now.  By then she will likely have already been shuttled around town by inexpensive on demand transportation services of all types for many years.  Why waste time driving yourself?

As with many monkey mind sessions, I am not sure there is a solution in here.  Mostly observations.  After having so much swirling around I have found it helpful to name the major feelings that arose around this issue.  The Coming of Age Car Crisis elicited:

  •  Apprehension.  For all the trips without me Finn will take.  With all the increased access to the unknown now, access to the harmful, the hurtful, the danger in life will also increase.  Letting go is very scary.
  • Humble.  By the wonderful person Finn has become, one who is ready for all that comes with a license and a car.
  • Excited.  To see where the road continues to take Finn.  And for my own next chapter without all the driving of her and her friends around.  For where the path goes from here.

Stay tuned for more updates from the path of life and invitations to contemplation.

Some of my favorite teen driver resources:

How to Drive: Real World Instruction and Advice from Hollywood’s Top Driver

Take the Grit Test

Practice beating fear and facing the flinch. 

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A couple months ago my 15 year old daughter asked me how she can overcome some of her fears.  The “I don’t like to be home alone at night or walk down a dark alley” type.  At the time I was stumped. As a manly man if a buddy had asked that question the obvious answer would be “grow a set you pansy!” Followed by endless shaming until the guy admitted he wasn’t a wuss anymore. As a man I have been shamed out of fear my whole life.

A little birdie (years of therapy) in my hypothalamus sat up and urged me to take a different tact with my daughter.  So I mumbled something about “you only get good at things you practice” and proceed onto google.  Four months, much reading and many trials later I actually have found a few things that are appropriate for exactly the situation I have: a 15 year old girl with normal age related anxiety  in a few areas and a desire to get a little more gritty and tough.

We tried the first fear buster test at home tonight.  Watch the video of my attempt below.  Hat tip to Julien Smith in The Flinch for this technique that I have added onto.

Directions are simple.  It takes less than two minutes.  Get up right now and go to your cupboard.  Pick out a little used but once loved coffee cup or glass.  Hold it out in your hand at arms length, shoulder height.  Now drop the cup!  Yes you heard me drop the damn cup!  Now clean it up.  Sit down and write a list of every feeling that you felt before during and after dropping the cup.  Use a feeling list like this if you have to.  Naming feelings in detail reduces their power over you.  You can just notice them like anything else.  “oh, there is dread.  And his friend fear.  How interesting.”  This exercise takes you through (slight) emotional distress, into analysis and onto (hopefully) some increased awareness and confidence all in less than 10 minutes with very little risk to life or limb.

It took my daughter a couple tries before she could drop the cup.  The flinch made her arm go limp a few times before she pushed it aside. All the training to be careful and don’t break things.  Yet there was her father giving her permission to break stuff and there would not be any consequences.  The monkey mind couldn’t deal. Couldn’t reconcile the conflict.  Multiple disaster scenarios raced through her head. Fear and dread took over. But with my encouragement she pushed through and found out that that nothing bad happened.  She stared down the flinch and won.  One step at a time. Keep building and practicing and larger fears will lose their sway.

Like anything else the journey starts with the first step. If you want to get tougher try the cup drop challenge. All you have to lose is a little fear and a cup you don’t use anyway.

Some thoughts on “enough”. 

Read this story about Joseph Heller ( author of catch 22) today on quora.  Fits right in with some other thoughts I have been having about happiness.  

As the new year is upon us and many people are thinking about what they want to do different in the new year than last I have been hearing many things that all basically come back to ” I want more”. Whenever I want more it has always lead to unhappieness. What I am starting to realize is that is not the lack of the thing that causes the sadness (because after getting the thing I have never ever been completely satisfied).   It is the search for more (or less) that is the source of the unhappieness. The key is to accept “enough” and enjoy the now.  

Last year my New Years resolution was to end the year with less stuff than I started. I was on a paring down kick.  I completely failed.  Oh sure I went though the garage and drove two trucks of stuff to the st Vincent de Paul and a load to the dump.  But I also bought a bunch of new stuff all of which seemed absolutely necessary at the time despite my best overall intentions.  One area of explosion was kids stuff.  How does that stuff seem to multiply at 10x the rate of anything else in the house?  

Have not figured out New Years resolutions incorporating these new learnings yet. But stay tuned.  

The Book agrees 

I have been contemplating much of my life on the fact that truth can only be found when you know the opposite.  You can’t understand white without seeing black.  What is left without right?  What is true without a lie?  Pleasure without pain is meaningless.  So many things can only be truly understood when you also understand their opposite. 

This morning I am re reading The Book from Alan watts.  He says  


Maybe that is where that brain work came from.  However long ago I read it I have found it to be true all my life so far.
 

Someone asked me “how do I get happiness?”

Stop looking for it. 
No really I mean it. Some questions start out from a bad place that makes the answer impossible or pre ordains certain categories of answers (or precludes others). The form of your question has this flaw.  
Something that can be “gotten” must be a person, place or thing right? Something that can be found must have a path to it somehow. It must be a destination. It must be somehow discoverable to anyone with the right finding/getting tools.  
In my experience happiness is something completely different. I find it much more part of the journey than the destination itself. Happiness comes in glimpses here and there. Happiness is only appreciated when it’s opposite is also experienced. In fact happiness is heightened greatly when in very close proximity to fear and pain. 
In my experience there are three different modes of being in happiness and I need a good balance of all three to be able to answer the “are you happy” question in the affirmative.  
Happiness of pleasure: physical as well as mental pleasure. All animals know this one.
Happiness of grace or gratitude: since I write this the day after Thanksgiving this should be top of mind while this form of happiness is typically taken for granted the rest of the year. This is the happiness you feel when being thankful or recognizing grace in your life. For noticing the things larger than yourself. 
Happiness of excellence. A job well done makes one very happy. Doing hard work, yes going through unhappiness in service of something larger can lead to much greater happiness. This kind of happy can only be experienced after achieving a goal built on many failures and struggles. 
So stop trying to get happiness as a possession. 
Eat a piece of cake 

Look up at the sun and be thankful for its warmth

Set a high goal and achieve it through hard work. 
String enough of those experiences together, figure out how to create happiness on demand after any set back. Then when anyone asks you the question “are you happy” you will know how to answer yes.

What I learned from Kindle

white kindle

I bought my first kindle the day they launched way back on March 3, 2009 (thank you Amazon for remembering every order I have ever done with you).  At the time I was in a mode of buying every new gadget that came out.  I wanted to stay well ahead of the Jones.  The vast majority of gadgets I have bought over the years (like 99 percent) are no longer in my life.  The kindle is.  That got me thinking: why?

First lets back up for some context:
I have been re-reading Lila by robert Persig on the metaphysics if quality.
” the increase in versatility is directed toward Dynamic Quality.  the increase in power to control hostile forces is directed toward static quality.  Without Dynamic Quality the organism cannot grow.  Without static quality the organism cannot last.  Both are needed.”

Have also been remembering much of his ramblings in Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenance after spending quite a bit of time wrenching in the garage lately.  I have been thinking about what are Quality products/experience/people quite alot lately.
E-book readers generally and the Kindle specifically is basically an overall higher quality experience of reading than anything else.   For me it is 10x higher quality.  In venture capital, when Unicorn hunting, you always look for the product that is 10x better than the previous product or it’s competitor.  That is because to cause a seismic shift you have to be an ORDER OF MAGNITUDE better.  20% better doesn’t disrupt whole industries.  10X does.

So ok, Martin, how specifically is the Kindle 10X better than paper books for you?
1. I read 5x more than before.  Amazon says I have 396 books on my Kindle.  I read 2-4 books at a time, switching with my mood.  Not possible with old books (and not possible to store all the old ones!)
2.  Cross platform ease of access (Kindle on every device) means my books are available in many more places than old books.  I can read any of my 396 books anywhere, anytime.  One of the great maxims of my investment philosophy is “Americans are lazy”.  Do anything that enables me to be lazy (like forget my books on a trip) and you have a winning product.
3.  The paper white screen.  It is better than reading a paper page.  It has its own back light.  The font can change.  There is no eye strain.  You can read it in the sun.  Far superior to the Ipad or a computer LED screen.
4.  Long battery life. I basically never charge the Kindle, nor do I obsess about it running out of power.  My books are always there (again see lazy).  The Kindle is a hassle free, low maintenance device and platform.  Oh, and I have never seen it blue screen.
5.  Portability, always large selection and variety.  In the age of dead tree books, on a trip I had to pre plan which books i wanted to read because they added weight and took up physical space.  What if my mood changed? or i found out the book sucked?  Now all options are available, and the integrated store means ALL options are ALWAYS available.
6.  The highlight feature. I read a quote from Joseph Campbell recently when responding to someone who asked him what he did for a living (at that time he was unemployed in Woodstock NY).  He replied “I underline books”.  I am also a book underliner.  But how do you access those nuggets, the book essence after you close the thing and put it on the shelf?  All those ah’ha moments are lost, locked away.  No longer with Kindle.  Your notes are available in the cloud anywhere, anytime.  Need to find that cool quotation from that book for to send your friend?  No problem.  Books and your insights from them have become interactive and available apart from the physical form of the book.  Now that book knowledge can be hyper linked all around the world.  I wonder if anyone has done any studies on the potential increase in overall usefulness of knowledge now that it can be dispersed so readily in hyperlink quotes rather than requiring each person to read each whole publication?  How much has our collective IQ gone up?

All the great things said, the Kindle ecosystem still has some growing pains to work out:
Mostly Industry Obstructionism.  The industry preventing a superior user experience to preserve a legacy business model.  Like uber  changing taxi and amazon/Apple TV replacing Comcast. The old guard doesn’t want to die and uses all tools at their disposal to elongate their life.  The incumbents are fighting masterfully to preserve the old low quality user experience because of their bottom line.

What is on my Kindle Wish list?

Some way to involve. To local book shop. I like the personal touch and personal recommendations. I just wish I could buy kindle from them even at a premium to pay them for the service they provide.  Book recommendation bots are ok, but I like talking to people and wish I could support them if I decide to buy the product they recommend in a different format.

 

This all brings me back to the thoughts around Quality.  It is clear that one man’s Quality may be another mans Hell.  Kindle definitely exposes this Quality paradox.
While the platform delivers a 10x higher quality experience to the reader (and author in terms of greater access and readership). it significantly disrupts the value chain and delivers a lower quality experience for many middle men (and potentially marginal authors).

Lets drill a bit deeper into exactly how the Kindle ecosystem lowers quality for middle men in the book business

1. Less middle men are needed overall.  Authors can go direct to devices with computer delivery and recommendations.  2.  No trucks and printer a and all that physical stuff in the middle
3.  The value of the bookstore clerk is diminished.  Not in actual value to the reader but in their proprietary database of reading knowledge and relationships has been surpassed by the central shared pattern recognition database and algorithms   A primary benefit of the book store clerk was as a guide.  What should I read next?  I like this author what do you suggest?  I have a daughter of this age, what do you suggest?  All those questions can better be answered by a central database than a proprietary closed node on the network.
4.  The store is not needed as a delivery mechanism either. So now what is the store?  What can the store do that the computer can’t?  The best have reinvented themselves as stop on book tours. Event spaces. Etc.
5. Book Venture capitalists (publishers) are lost.  Publishers used to be taste makers. Venture capitalists. Because they understood the distribution system and how to get a return on their investments. They no longer do. While the new platform does have a way to do venture capital as publisher it is not clear and not all under the control of the publisher anymore. The one who controls the platform (apple, Amazon, etc) now is at the table eating. Less money for the VC, less people willing to cultivate authors, invest in authors, promote authors, etc.

My advice to the legacy Book Publishers and their supply chain?
Resistance is futile.

The transition to a superior publishing system for both authors and readers is being held back by legacy publishers.  This is a delay.  But in the end it is unsustainable as due to the tendency toward quality.  The Kindle is a higher quality consumer reader experience by 10X.  You can’t put that off forever.

Summary of what i have learned from the kindle.  Focus on making the consumer experience of higher quality than the competition and all else will follow (even if slowly)

 

ps: just out today:  Amazon opens physical book store.  So now I can see a book, get a recommendation from a person and buy the kindle version without feeling bad.  Now that is what a book store is supposed to be!