Distilling Gold from Crap

In REWORK, Jason Fried talks about selling your by-product.

By this, he means that any work you do involves other steps along the way which the customer never sees. There’s a way to repackage all that other stuff to provide value to somebody.

He uses the example of the distillation of crude oil to make fuel. The by-products end up being used to make plastics.

In lean, we are taught about ‘muda’ or, waste. There’s wasted time, wasted effort, wasted material, wasted money, wasted information, etc. Lean teaches you to eliminate waste as much as possible, continually doing things more efficiently. But it’s true that there’s a good alternative to this: make the waste into something a customer wants & will pay for.

I’m so bad at this! Even in photography I was one of those notorious folks who was constantly being asked to share the other 99 photos which never saw light of day for the 1 which did. People were really hungry for my ‘by-product’ — the photographs that were still good & meaningful but not my best.

Unfortunately, I lose interest quickly and move on to the next thing. It’s a blessing as an artist to assess your work, grow from it, and promptly forget it, but I can’t help but think this is actually shooting me in the foot. I can get better at doing more.

A well-lived life is a beacon. It acts as a guiding light to everyone who encounters it, illuminating their paths to taking up the torch themselves.

Guiding Light (via unsplash)

This is a core focus of StokeQuest: leave a breadcrumb trail as to how you achieve a result (regardless of whether you call that result success or failure) and get better at documenting your process for others to understand. It’s the cornerstone of the scientific world. Even in scientific publication though, the typical means of conveying information and ideas are horrendously antiquated. And in the rest of human endeavor, often absent altogether.

In business, I’ve seen that the most successful companies are quite good at identifying what’s important and finding ways to preserve and evolve that knowledge for future generations. They have memory and they build upon what they know. Businesses which are stuck have never ingrained a disciplined sense of communal sharing — the act of trying to simplify one’s own learning experiences to dramatically improve the learning curve of others.

“If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” -Isaac Newton

I’m focusing specifically on the by-products which enhance human knowledge and inspiration. We don’t have good words in English for this ‘life-as-beacon’ kind of teaching, a cooperative learning endeavor to which everyone adds their own flame. The very work ‘teacher’ conjures an individual expert at the head of a classroom. The idea of ‘learning’ ends up being something totally anchored in self as opposed to ideas like ‘society’ or ‘community’ which would seem absurd if left to an individual.

There’s no good reason to believe that learning and teaching are anything other than large-scale cultural efforts.

Teaching and learning, at their core, are about communal values for spreading knowledge, wisdom, and spirit. We just don’t have a good word for that sort of teaching.

Until we do, I might call it ‘torch work’ as in — passing the torch of human endeavor.

My own torch work needs to evolve.

(Via Unsplash)

I have a plan to share small-scale, in-process pieces of my life and experience, crafted in a way not to brag about my life but to inspire and guide others in greatness (and steer them away from the many things I do wrong!)

In doing this, I think there will be a by-product to my own benefit — I think I will live a more joyful life, with greater self-awareness.

See my recent post on the mountain bike race I just did for an early foray into this territory.