Remember Martin: Ask open-ended questions

Read this in a blog today: “Asking open-ended questions encourages the person you’re conversing with to think critically and therefore to be more engaging because open-ended questions allow the respondent, not the asker, to control the response.” In my experience, I agree.

My favorite Open Ended questions:

“How did you…”

“In what ways…”

“Tell me about…”

“What’s it like…”

I used some of these on my 4 year old during facetime today. Instead of “how was school?” which tends to get a one word “good” or “bad”. I asked “Tell me about school today?” and got a very long story with drawing, lunch, snacks, dancing, etc.

Remember Martin: we wary of spectacle

I am in transit again. Sea->lax. In the airport lounge working. Monday night football is on. The Seahawks. Many of my friends are there. Many of them took the whole day off to go to the game. An entire day watching I’m grown men play a game that most of them had exactly zero stake in.

This reminds me that my attention is one of the few things I actually have to give the world. There is a limited amount of it. Distractions are always pulling at my attention. But being a “sports fan” is another level of distraction. It is actually a commitment to watch the spectacle every time it is on. It is not a short term distraction like a game of poker. It can become an identity. People become attached to their status as a “fan”. All that time, all that attention toward a spectacle that does not improve the world or themselves in any way. Ok, if you are in that business and that is your life I understand being part of the spectacle. But what could be accomplished in the world if all the attention of all the fans of Monday night football went to something else? It seems like an enormous squandering of an incredibly precious resources.

This is not a call to stop watching sports for anyone else. Only a reminder to myself why I chose to NOT be a “fan” of any spectacle sport. I have made the affirmative decision that I would rather spend my time doing just about anything else. It is an absolute negative return on investment for me. At one time I had season tickets to the Seattle Sonics. But I used those times to go with friends and family to create memories and close business deals. I have never read a sports page or online stat site in my life. The minute the game is over I am on with life. I use the spectacle as a connection framework to improve relationships. It is good for that. But I have never been attached to the games or teams themselves.

Remember Martin: be wary of spectacle. Be very choosy with your attention. If you attend spectacle do so in support of a personal relationship with those you are with. Not a commercial entity.

DO THIS: Upgrade your brain function

One of the amazing things I am able to do as CEO of Upgrade Labs is to run a bunch of NOf1 experiments on myself. Lately I have been very interested in how to upgrade brain performance in the short and long term. At Labs we have an astonishingly easy to use tool called the WAvi which tests things like brain voltage, beta/theta ratio, and P300 delay (a measurement of executive function). I recently ran a test on myself before and after a 100mg injection of NAD. The left is before, the right after. Brain voltage went up 38%! All the red areas are active. P300 delay was also improved over 20 percent. Which brain would I rather have? Yea the one on the right.

While I was able to feel the effects of nad in prior trials, this is the first visual and measurement I have of what is actually being upgraded in the brain. Very cool stuff. With anything you are considering to add to your life, design a way to test and quantify how it is working and to what degree. I am going to repeat this test with caffeine and nicotine and a couple other things to compare the magnitude of the changes for different things. Stay tuned…

DO THIS: read “A calendar of daily wisdom” from Tolstoy

Ryan Holiday recently mentioned an all but forgotten book from Tolstoy which the author claimed was really his culminating life’s work. A Calendar of Daily Wisdom is Tolstoys attempt to summarize the best advice he had read over his lifetime into a daily inspirational work that could share his version of how to live a good life from authors and thinkers around the world. He quotes from the likes of Kant, Marcus Aurelius, Buddha, the Bible, the Koran, and event the Talmud. It is wide ranging and refreshing in how much similarity there are in the core ideas across cultures and time. While a bit heavy on the religious themes and invocation of faith in a higher power, it is clear that the goal of all philosophy and religion is to give is insight to live a good life NOW. I have added reading the days inspiration. From this to my morning routine and I recommend you do too.

Some selected quotes:

One of the key questions we face is whether our lives end after death. Whether we believe in eternity or not determines our actions. Therefore, it is crucial that we determine what is mortal in us, and what is eternal, and that we cherish those things eternal. Most people do exactly the opposite.—After BLAISE PASCAL

It is not the place we occupy which is important, but the direction in which we move.—OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES

The only real science is the knowledge of how a person should live his life. And this knowledge is open to everyone. Leo Tolstoy

DO THIS: Best public speaking advice I have received

I do quite a bit of public speaking.  At one time I spent six months with a TED talk coach.  I believe the TED folks have dove very deep into what makes a compelling presentation, especially of an idea.  And most talks are really selling ideas, getting buy in from the audience on something in a way they were not previously thinking about.

These are the four most important takeaways from that coaching.

  1. Practice out loud. In front of a mirror.
  2. Few slides as possible.  One to three.
  3. Care.  About your subject. About your audience. (see #4)
  4. Honor the time your audience is giving you.  Give value.

 

DO THIS: Test your health age (I am 37 vs 55 biological)

I am a nerd about data.  One thing I constantly do is take different tests which measure different health metrics.  One which has been very scientifically validated is the World Fitness Test.  It is a questionnaire that uses an algorithm to calculate VO2Max so you can take it online.  While I prefer the actual VO2Max test done in the lab, these algorithm results are similar to actual, so their science is good.  I am 55 years old biologically and have the fitness level of a 37-year-old.

As this about any investment you are considering making…

I do a lot of private investments, over 90 so far.  People are pitching me all the time.  I have made many bad investments and a couple of good ones.  The other day this questions popped into my head after one pitch:

“Am I getting paid or getting laid?”

“getting paid” means investing in a strong business with good fundamentals, strong team, and great growth (actual not pro forma).  Even if the business isn’t profitable, if there are solid fundamental margins, they are able to attract customers at a good cost and they are solving a real need, the business is likely to work.  As I evaluated all my investments, the ones that I was “getting paid” returned about 4X the average return.

“getting laid” means investing in a sexy dream.  The team may be great, the market is huge, the product idea sounds amazing, but the execution has not delivered the fundamentals yet. There is still much execution to turn the dream into a product and a business.  Many times founders want a valuation of over $10M for their dream with little or no execution.  As I evaluated all my investments, these tended to perform below average.  Basically because it took more money than the founders thought to execute and “get paid”.

Now the Unicorn is BOTH.  A strong fundamental business in a huge sexy dreamy market.  There have been a couple of those, having nothing to do with my intelligence in picking them, just pure dumb luck.  The Unicorns performed 10-20X the average. That is why they are unicorns.

I am not telling you how to invest, or which type to invest in.  This is just one of may questions I ask myself before investing.   I weigh this against the valuation, stage, management team, my investment size, risk tolerance at the time, and make a decision.  What asking this question has done for me is to REDUCE the number of “getting laid” deals I do.  Not because there is anything wrong with them, but I can identify them up front more easily and I know the average returns are less.  So I tend to pass.

DO THIS: Use failure as a “reset” time

Was reading an interview with Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk and he mentioned this about Brad Pitt:

“Brad Pitt had made some movies he wasn’t particularly happy with – one was Meet Joe Black – and he said every movie is the antidote to the one you just made; that the real blessing of failure is that it is the only thing that gives you the isolation and time to reinvent yourself. If you’re moving from success to success, you don’t have that daydreaming period that will allow you to come up with something new and unique.”

That parallels my experience.  Failure is never fun.  I have been fired before.  I have had companies fail. I have had investments fail, losing millions.  But after failure, a weird thing happens: space opens up.  You are free of the responsibilities to make your last thing “successful” and have the open space to daydream and create.  Remember this: failure opens up space.

 

DO THIS: Apply First Principles Thinking to your Health and Fitness

A couple of years ago I heard Elon Must describing First Principles thinking.   Turns out most of us reason by analogy and we must in order to get through life.  When you pick up a taco, you must trust that every other taco you have eaten in that place has been good and you haven’t gotten sick, so you are very likely to have a good taco.  But if you want to invent a new taco, you have to ask the question, What are the components that make a taco, how do they work together to make a “great” taco?

For the last year I have been applying this way of thinking to my health and fitness.  In the past, I would read a book about a particular fad diet or workout that worked for someone I know, and my monkey mind would say “I can do that, seems to work, I will try it out.”  That is reasoning by analogy.  It worked for X, therefore, it should work for Y.  In health, most of my friends just live how they want and trust that the doctor will fix them when they break. This is reason by analogy.  Turns out a flawed analogy when you dive into medical error rates and start to question your doctor about stuff he doesn’t know about (which is alot – anything outside his/her specialty). So I started to ask myself a couple questions:

  1.  Do I like to work out? or do I want the results of working out?
  2. Do I like to meditate? or do I want the results of lots of meditation?
  3. If I want to build Muscle, is workout X the best way to do that? Or are there faster, better ways?  If the first principle is “build muscle”, is the solution being sold by the “fitness guru” the BEST way?  or Their way?
  4. Does my doctor decide on diagnosis by first principles or by analogy? Does he have time to get to first principles?
  5. Is the “cure” being sold for anything, actually getting at the first principle cause of the problem? or symptoms?

Turns out I got many bad answers.  First principle thinking is hard and causes lots of brain activity.  An analogy is much easier.

Here are a couple of stories where thinking about first principles has changed my decisions on a couple of vectors:

Sinus infections:

I used to have serious chronic sinus infections.  I went to a lot of doctors.  Most prescribed antibiotics or surgery.  One of my friends is a John Hopkin’s trained ENT surgeon.  When I asked him he said (surprise!) “Surgery.”  Hammer, meet nail.  So I asked him how the surgery to make my sinuses larger would fix the root cause which was infection/inflammation.  He said it wouldn’t, there would just be more room for the inflammation and it shouldn’t be a problem.  So I kept looking for something which would fix the underlying problem:  Infection and Inflammation.  I ended up with a sinus rinse which killed it and it has never come back with regular use.  Why treat symptoms if you can figure out the cause?

Fitness: working out

I like to ride by bike and surf.  But are those “fitness strategies”?  Not really.  They are activities.  They do some muscle building and cardiovascular strengthening, but only for those activities.  If I like to surf and bike and want to be fit enough to do those activities, do I just do more of those activities or are there other things that can be done to keep me in top shape for those activities.  The “weekend warrior” problem is real.  Doing an activity you like on a weak base is not a good strategy.  So how to stay fit for the activities I want to do without being a professional at them and taking all my time on them.  I added the Vasper machine twice a week for 20 minutes. Doing that I am able to surf and bike longer and stronger when I can fit in the time for those.  The First Principal is Stay fit with minimum time so when I need fitness, I have it.  I want to be fit, I don’t want to be a professional athlete.  I want to be able to do activities I love, AND have time for work and family and all the rest.

Depression

I used to suffer from bouts of clinical depression.  Is depression caused by a lack of Prozac?  Then why do doctors prescribe Prozac for depression?  Is depression caused by not enough one-hour sessions talking with someone on a couch?  What is the root cause (first principal) of depression?  Depression is a lack of happiness.  Maybe creating more happiness would reverse the happiness/depression balance and tip over.  So I added a gratitude practice, meditation, neuro feedback, and some other things which got to the root cause of the negative emotions and substituted positive emotions.  Depression gone.  This one was one of the most powerful times when I realized that the “CURE” which was being described was NOT getting at the ROOT CAUSE of the issue.  Depression is not a lack of Prozac or talk therapy.  95% of our emotional reactions are triggered by the subconscious which is not the part talking on the couch.  You have to get to the root causes.

Next time you are looking for a solution to any health and

The Path to true Happiness, through stuff

Was listening to Bulletproof radio today with Dave and Jack Canfield.  Jack recounted a dinner with Ken Behring where they were discussing how to get to true, lasting happiness.  Ken said his path had four phases.

  1.  Stuff (get some money and buy the stuff you always thought would make you happy).
  2. More stuff (since the first wave didn’t work, buy some more – bigger house, bigger plane, etc.)
  3. Different stuff (Ken bought a football team – the Seahawks, just to try something new).
  4. Purpose.  Finally, find a purpose.  That will deliver lasting happiness.  Ken founded a charity providing wheel chairs to the third world.

This path rings true to me.  As it is similar to my own.  I will put more thought into my particular steps, but I like this frame on it.  In the end it is about purpose and the people around you who share that.