The theoretical animal

We are theoretical animals. We spend our entire lives analyzing our immediate environment, theorising on how to solve our most immediate problems or improve processes. We think of having conversations with beloved people, we think of carrying out actions we have planned for a while with relatives and friends, and we think of starting new projects. Yet we do little to implement them and put all this knowledge into practice.

Can you relate? You read several books on a topic, but the ideas accumulate in your mind without actually finding an exit that can lead you to execute them and eventually evolve and improve them. You wanted to build a robot but you never got started. You wanted to learn a new programming language, but you never ended up writing a single line of code. You think of going to the mountains with your partner, but there is always something coming up in between. You have been thinking of writing a book for a while, but the paragraphs got stucked inside your mind, maybe a few lines left through your hand and pen, but you never ever finished it. Your mind continuously thinks over a grandiose idea for a mobile app, but you never coded it.

Do not worry, you are not the only one. This is in fact a natural human trait. But you can escape from here if you know how, and enjoy a happier life. Because self-realization leads to happiness.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

In which level of the pyramid would you say you are?

You have probably seen the pyramid above in some articles or books about realisation and self-help books. Is called “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs”. Keeping it short, the ultimate level of realisation is living life to its full potential. This is accomplishing in life everything one is capable of, becoming the most you can be. This is the level where high performers live (think of Elon Musk, Oprah Winfrey or Nelson Mandela). We have the knowledge on how to take the elevator through all the other levels. In most of the countries in the world physiological needs are being taken care of, and the world nowadays is safer than ever was. We have the tools to meet and interact with people all around the world effortless. Despite this, many fail to be happy due to a lack of self realisation and accomplishing goals. We remain blocked in the theoretical side of the river, and never jump into the practical side.

The truth is that the theoretical knowledge means nothing. It is useless. If you do not put it into practice you can´t evolve it and iterate over your own ideas. Knowledge without practice is like the car without the petrol. You will admire the staticness and uselessness of it.

At Google, Jake Knapp began running sprints in 2010. He worked with teams such as Chrome, Google X or Google Search. He claimed that ideas needed to be done, done and done. Put into practice. Feedback should be collected early, and then you should iterate over it. This is the principle at the Google LaunchPad Accelerator, where I mentor start-ups from different countries to build successful products. Assumptions must be corroborated or discarded as soon as possible to be successful. And the only possible way is to start getting things done now.

Move from the theoretical animal into the practical beast

Before start thinking big, take baby steps. Do put in practice the following behaviors to stop being a theoretical animal and becoming a top-performer. Escape the wheel of theoretical death.

  • Carry a pad and write every day all your thoughts, analyze them and evolve them — clear writing is a good sign of clear thinking.
  • Be fanatical. You need to be able to keep your mind obsessed over something 24 hours a day. Obsession is a gift.
  • Do publish your imperfect book, your imperfect app and your imperfect application. Imperfections are real, and people like real things. Don´t be a plastic flower. Early release will give you valuable feedback. No release will give you no feedback. There is a Japanese concept, Wabi Sabi (侘寂). This means that cracks and scratches should be embraced. Make your cracks and scratches public.
  • Invert the order. Instead of learning the theory while wishing of having time one day to apply it, do start applying first and worry later about learning the theory. Do not worry about consistency or quality now, only worry about producing something tangible to evaluate what went wrong, what has been good and how can you improve it. This is the very basic of agile methodologies.

A pottery teacher once divided his students into two groups. The first group would be evaluated based on the number of pots they would make during the course. If they produce 100 pots during the year they would get a degree of 10 over 10, if they produce 90 a 9, etc. The second group, however, was told it would be evaluated based on their best pot. Throughout the course they would only have to make a pot, and their note would depend on how good this individual pot would be.

Can you imagine who produced the best pot?

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