Stable self illusion

We tell ourselves a story about the stable self illusion. This illusion involves telling ourselves that our personalities are stable over time. They were formed long before today and won’t change for the rest of our lives. All attempts at change are, thus, useless.

But, that isn’t true. The longest running psychological study (63 years!) just released results that confirm that. Just as our physical traits change over time, our personality becomes virtually unrecognizable.

One study doesn’t a strong conclusion make. So, here’s a different question – how many of your friends behave in exactly the same way they did ten or twenty years ago? What about you?

Everywhere I look, I see change – both conscious and unconscious. Our environments and company constantly shape and mold us. We tend to associate that shaping and molding to kids. But, those of us who enjoy studying human nature know that we don’t really grow up.

Telling ourselves that we can’t change is our way of letting us off the hook. We can, and we do.

The best part of this story is that it isn’t too late to move toward our aspirational self. We can start today.

The audience we deserve

The odds that we’ll start out with the audience we think we deserve is near zero. Very few start out that way. And, those who do are either rich or lucky – both of which are low probability events.

There are, however, two problems with thinking in terms of what we deserve.

First, we deserve very little. As a general rule, we owe a lot more than we deserve. And, second, entitlement isn’t a strategy that leads to happiness.

Instead, we’re better off viewing every opportunity to show up and perform as an opportunity to level up and push ourselves to get better.

In time, we earn the opportunity to serve an audience.

Carrier and mega cities

In 1902, Willis Carrier was hired to remove humidity from a printer. He noticed that his invention not just removed humidity but also cooled the air. Everyone seemed to want to eat near his machine! Thus, Carrier air conditioners was born.

He debuted his air conditioner in a Manhattan theatre during Memorial Day weekend – an oppressive place in the heat. But, as the AC effect began to take over, all the furious hands waving fans dropped and everyone enjoyed the movie. Thanks to Carrier, the concept of a “summer blockbuster” was born.

It took until the 1940s before air conditioner sizes became miniature enough to fit in a window (original machines were larger than that of a truck). This impacted human settlement like no other invention – hot places like Florida now became bearable. Similarly, new mega cities – previously exclusively in temperate climates (New York, London, Paris) – came from tropical climates. Singapore, for example, is new age mega city made possible by the AC.

Artificial cold also led to developments in technology around artificial insemination and eggs storage. Cold, thus, changed human reproduction patterns along with settlement patterns.

Ice seems at first glance like a trivial advance: a luxury item, not a necessity. Yet over the past two centuries its impact has been staggering, when you look at it from the long zoom perspective: from the
transformed landscape of the Great Plains; to the new lives and lifestyles brought into being via frozen embryos; all the way to vast cities blooming in the desert. – Steven Johnson


Source and thanks to: How we got to now by Steven Johnson (This story of “Cold” is continued from parts 1 and 2)


This story and quote is part of “The 200 words project.” I aim to synthesize a story from a book (and, occasionally a blog or article) I’ve read within 200 words consecutive Sundays for around 45 weeks of the year.

Inflows and Outflows

Finance, both in business and our personal lives, can both be complex. Debt, equity, valuations, EBITDA, are just a small sample of the kinds of terms involved. However, things become much simpler when we think of finance in inflows and outflows.

In personal finance, if our earning (inflows) is greater than our spending (outflows), all is well. The bigger the difference between inflows and outflows, the better things are. The same applies with revenues and costs in business.

This extends to other contexts as well. For example, businesses succeed when customers acquisition is greater than customer churn. And, sports like soccer have goals scored (inflows) and goals conceded (outflows). However, soccer coaches can spend all their time optimizing for average distance run and average number of passes. Managing by complexity and proxy metrics is an easy trap to fall into.

So, every once a while, it is worth taking a few minutes to look at the big picture. For our finances, it could just be a few minutes every week to understand how we’re spending relative to how much we earn. As long as that difference is positive, things are good. Of course, we should then ask ourselves about how we can save and invest more.

But, the main thing in business and life is to keep focus on inflows and outflows. And, our job is to keep the main thing the main thing.

Hiring for intercept versus hiring for slope

When we’re hiring for a role, we could choose to hire for slope or intercept.

Hiring for slope means foregoing a bit of goodness in the short term for someone who you believe will learn quickly and deliver good long term results. Intercept, on the other hand, is looking for someone to solve the current problem well.

Most organizations experience this conflict when hiring for new roles. Often, they ignore internal transfers because they believe the candidate with the perfect experience is out there somewhere. However, in the long run, a high potential internal candidate may be a much better choice as they’ll ramp up quickly while also deliver great performance within the context of the organization’s culture.

There isn’t a right answer here. I think the right mix is likely going to be somewhere in the middle. However, many organizations like to believe that they’re always on the look out for potential. But, more often than not, hiring managers are encouraged to look for intercept over slope.

A question for every hiring manager and organization then – how often do you hire for slope versus intercept? And, is it the mix you desire?

Fearless leader, Courageous leader

We often use the term “fearless” leader to describe folks we’re leading us. I wonder if we can replace the “fearless leader” idea with “courageous leader.”

Fearless points to the absence of fear. But, fear is useful in parts as it helps alert us to risk. And, being oblivious of risks is a recipe for bad decision making.

Courage, on the other hand, is about realizing that there are things more important than fear. To be courageous, we must first acknowledge our risks and fears – and then choose to push forward because we care.

We don’t need more fearlessness. Courage, on the other hand, is always in short supply.

Hans Rosling

I still remember the first Hans Rosling TED talk I watched – “The best stats you’ve ever seen.” It was mindblowing.

Hans Rosling passed away last week. Luckily for us, he’ll still live with us through his talks and incredible work at Gapminder. I haven’t watched nearly as much of his work as I’d like to. While I’m sure I’ll do so in time, I did ask myself – why did his passing away strike such a chord?

I think it is because he is an amazing example of someone who elevated something commonplace, boring even, with intensity and passion. Hans was a statistician who drew insights from data. But, he did so like an artist.

Martin Luther King Jr  once said – “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

Hans took this idea to a whole new level. It is amazing how good our presentations can be if we put the same amount of thought to them as Hans did. And, his work will be a reminder that we will live in perennial ignorance if we’re not making the effort to understand the data in front of us. It is the data that enables us to see what is possible and be, in his words, “possibilists.”

It is a reminder we need now more than ever.

Respect.