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Letter sent on Feb 6, 2017

Strategies For Deeper Connections, Social Media, Reading More Books, and Deliberate Practice

Photo, Unsplash

Over the coming months at The Mission, we’ll be documenting our journey, and rolling out some new initiatives to deliver even more value to our readers and writers.

To help get the resources we need to make our plans happen, we’ve been considering several sponsorship offers.

Up until recently, we weren’t excited about any of the potential sponsors.

Around that same time, I started doing some consulting behind the scenes. As the consulting started to ramp up, I realized I needed to keep better track of invoices and expenses. So, I started to research what would be the best software to take all of those worries off my plate. All my research pointed to one solution- FreshBooks.

FreshBooks is a product I use and love… Plus, it turns out that several people on the FreshBooks team are fans of The Mission. After some great conversations with them, I couldn’t be more excited to welcome FreshBooks as our sponsor for February!

Check them out!

FreshBooks makes the best (and best looking!) cloud accounting software and an easy to use mobile app. I’ve felt the pain of being disorganized in business (I’ll share that story publicly soon), and am committed to keeping better track of everything finance-related this year. FreshBooks makes that a breeze. Plus, they publish amazing content and resources to help anyone start or grow their business. If you’re a freelancer or small business owner who wants to generate six or seven figures of revenue… I’d highly recommend subscribing to the FreshBooks blog.

If you get a chance, be sure to thank FreshBooks on Twitter or Facebook for supporting independent media like The Mission.

Life & Health

Over these last few weeks, I’ve continued with one of my focuses for 2017- to deepen the relationships with people I want to work with over the long term. Whether it’s been new friends, other founders, or potential investors, I’ve gone out on a limb and insisted on meeting in person more often.

So far, it’s been enormously rewarding. When you spend more time with people in person, there is an incredible amount of information transferred. To form long lasting relationships with trust, in person meetings are a must. The practice of transferring and receiving all the subtle social cues is highly underrated. Try it- wherever possible, suggest meetings via video calls instead of voice calls, or choose in-person meetings or walks (aka the Steve Jobs preferred method for meetings).

One of those in-person conversations over the last week was about how-to read more books, and the downsides and upsides of social media. This was a powerful conversation for me, and perhaps it’s one that every social media user might want to consider. In that conversation, my friend recommended this recent article on the subject, by Charles Chu:

In the time you spend on social media each year, you could read 200 books

Who tracks their time spent on social media? Who wants to read more books? I’d hazard to guess that almost everyone would like to better manage their digital inputs and read more good books. This was a great article to spark that challenging debate:

“How much time does it take to read 200 books a year?
First, let’s look at two quick statistics:
The average American reads 200–400 words per minute (Since you’re on Medium, I’m going to assume you read 400 wpm like me)
Typical non-fiction books have ~50,000 words
Now, all we need are some quick calculations…
200 books * 50,000 words/book = 10 million words
10 million words/400 wpm = 25,000 minutes
25,000 minutes/60 = 417 hours
That’s all there is to it. To read 200 books, simply spend 417 hours a year reading.”

Reading 200 books doesn’t have to be your goal. The sad part is, most people haven’t yet experienced the magic of what reading one or two books per month can provide.

If you want to start by reading just one or two books each month, you only need to schedule a half a dozen hours per month for reading.

With the pull of social media, reading more isn’t an easy habit to start. Social media is a powerful distraction, and for me, it has been an impediment to reading more.

This isn’t to say that social media is all bad. But it does seem to be similar to reality TV.

While reality TV may show us a false world, it might be a better option than the average movies or TV series. Social media is like reality TV in that it gives us a window into the more perfect aspects of others lives. It shows us situations that are in the realm of the “adjacent possible.” Yes, social media is addictive and might put strange social pressure on us, but ultimately, we control the streams. I think in some ways, social media is actually a step up from most pessimistic movies, news stories, or violent fantasies that currently masquerade as entertainment.

Some of the best thoughts on limiting or cutting out social media altogether come from Cal Newport, a computer scientist and author at Georgetown University:

“My second objection concerns the idea that social media is harmless. Consider that the ability to concentrate without distraction on hard tasks is becoming increasingly valuable in an increasingly complicated economy. Social media weakens this skill because it’s engineered to be addictive. The more you use social media in the way it’s designed to be used — persistently throughout your waking hours — the more your brain learns to crave a quick hit of stimulus at the slightest hint of boredom.
Once this Pavlovian connection is solidified, it becomes hard to give difficult tasks the unbroken concentration they require, and your brain simply won’t tolerate such a long period without a fix. Indeed, part of my own rejection of social media comes from this fear that these services will diminish my ability to concentrate — the skill on which I make my living.
The idea of purposefully introducing into my life a service designed to fragment my attention is as scary to me as the idea of smoking would be to an endurance athlete, and it should be to you if you’re serious about creating things that matter.”

The challenge is, how do we cover the downsides from the services and keep the upsides? Is it possible? The type of mindset outlined for this type of fastidious measurement is outlined in Nassim Taleb’s Antifragile where he gives the example of Seneca. Unlike most Stoics at the time, Seneca was a student of philosophy and became incredibly wealthy. He protected himself from the downsides of wealth by using philosophy:

“So he (Seneca) played a trick on fate: kept the good and ditched the bad; cut the downside and kept the upside. Self-servingly, that is, by eliminating the harm from fate and un-philosophically keeping the upside.” –Nassim Taleb, Antifragile

So how do we cap the downsides of social media and other services designed to lure us in and keep us addicted, while capitalizing on the upsides they provide? Contrary to popular belief, the upsides are many- opportunities, distribution, new ideas, attacks from haters, trolls, and insane people (which further bolster and fortify your mindset), etc…

The method of judging those benefits versus the costs is an intensely personal question. But, it’s one that each of us might want to consider. Does using social media provide you more upside than downside? How do you know? Feel free to click respond and leave a comment to let me know.

The exciting thing is that social networks are not static. They are currently evolving into a new, and perhaps better, form of TV. We see snippets of this with everyone creating and launching “story like” video products to allow others to peer into their lives.

Social networks do seem to be empowering individuals to explore who they are, by putting their life on display. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing.

In a sense, I see the upside of social networks as nudging many people to explore the idea that:

“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are” –Joseph Campbell

If we decide to use social networks and any technology in this pursuit, we’ll have a much better chance of capping the downsides and attaining the upsides.

Tech & Business

This last week, I finished listening to Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson.

Peak, Audiobook Cover

Peak is a powerful book for anyone interested in creating new technologies, succeeding in business, or finding more contentment in life.

What follows are five of my favorite quotes from the book, with a few of my own thoughts added below each quote.

1

“This is a fundamental truth about any sort of practice: If you never push yourself beyond your comfort zone, you will never improve.”

This is easier said than done because going past our comfort zone in daily activities is not pleasant. But either we learn to be the master of ourselves, or we’ll be a master to our fears. It’s a cliche, but each day we insist on staying inside our comfort zone is a day we’ll have more regrets at the end of life.

2

“Abilities gradually deteriorate in the absence of deliberate efforts to improve.”

We must work hard to improve and get better, otherwise we’ll get worse. It’s hard to hear but true. In the West, we have so much abundance you can literally achieve financial freedom just by showing up and hoarding your resources. But I think subconsciously, more people are realizing that the path of security coupled with allowing their potential to deteriorate leads to a hellish existence.

3

“Even the most motivated and intelligent student will advance more quickly under the tutelage of someone who knows the best order in which to learn things, who understands and can demonstrate the proper way to perform various skills, who can provide useful feedback, and who can devise practice activities designed to overcome particular weaknesses.”

Humble yourself in order to learn from the best. It’s not easy, and can be a challenge paying the expensive prices that come from being taught by the best teachers… but do it anyways. It’s easy to develop a belligerent mindset of, “paying for advice and accountability is something that suckers do.” It’s much harder to remain a perpetual student who is curious about how much they have to learn, and respectful of those who teach it.

4

“The first step toward enhancing performance in an organization is realizing that improvement is possible only if participants abandon business-as-usual practices. Doing so requires recognizing and rejecting… prevailing myths.”

Each organization and company can quickly develop dogma, and company culture can rapidly devolve into a cult that is fanatically wrong about many things. These errors might be simple narrative fallacies or an obsession with self-destructive behaviors (hello Silicon Valley alcoholism!). If companies are serious about improving, they have to be willing to consider objective, outside analysis and critiques of their beliefs.

5

“Call it “the New Year’s resolution effect” — it’s why gyms that were crowded in January are only half full in July and why so many slightly used guitars are available on Craigslist.”

Almost everyone quits. Almost everyone knows what they should do but they don’t do it. Each month is a chance to double down and get the systems and habits and people into your life to ensure you don’t continue to flake out, quit, or sulk back to comfort and a world of alibis.

Peak was a great listen, and I highly recommend it for anyone and any business who is brave enough to hear the truth:

You can have, do, or be almost anything you imagine.
But, there are prices to pay (deliberate practice, training, and work) for all those things.
The prices you have to pay might be excruciating and take years.
Pay them anyways. Do the work. Explore your potential.
You won’t regret it.

Science & Makers

In other science and makers news, congrats to Sean Everett and Timothy Busbice, the founders of the AI startup, Prome.ai and friends of The Mission. Prome is a biologically inspired machine learning and AI “hard science” startup that the two have been working on for years.

They recently won an AI award:

In their award statement, they said:

“…we aren’t wasting our resources attempting to reinvent 100 million years of biological R&D.”

Humanity is waking up to the idea that hundreds of millions of years of evolution, and painstaking sacrifice and literal crawling through the mud… might have a thing or two to teach us.

Slowly, science and makers will continue to realize that biomimetic and bioinspired design are the philosophical paradigms that will dominate technology creation over the coming decades. We’re seeing traces of this bioinspired design emerge in many places:

Bat Robot Offers Safety and Maneuverability in Bioinspired Design

Image: Science Robotics. Side note: I’d be willing to bet that DJI’s CEO has already contacted the team or made them an offer. Expect scientists and makers like the ones we mentioned above to be funded or snatched up for in-house R&D by companies aligned with their creations!

Here is a video of the Bat Robot.

In a sense, these companies and scientists are honoring all the sacrifices and trauma that have been made for the sake of survival (evolution). This is a stark contrast to the scientific practices of the last century which largely involve exploiting nature for quarterly profits. The trend towards humbling ourselves to learn from nature is an exciting movement that humanity is making to becoming more sane. We live in exciting times.

Art & Design

Against Edenism- This was an excellent article to help take the abstract idea of “heaven” in a future life and present a gentle reminder that we are allowed to focus on building a heaven on earth. Wildly optimistic? Maybe. But I’m with the article’s author:

“I badly miss the misguided optimism of a Faust — at least he was motivated to try to do something about everything that was wrong with the world.”

Best Album- I’ve been a Sigur Ros fan for over a decade. The strings group, Vitamin Strings Quartet, has an excellent album that covers many of Sigur Ros’ best songs. These are some of the most relaxing songs I’ve ever heard. Perfect for background music while working, cooking, or getting anything done around the house.

That’s it for this week!

As always, the #1 thing you can do to help support The Mission is to engage!

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