Stop waiting for the Right Idea

Let me tell you a secret; chances are you'll never have the Right Idea. It won't show up on your doorstep, slap you in the face and give you its business card. If you don't have the Right Idea, make finding the Right Idea the first point on the agenda after you quit your nine-to-five job. If you look for it you'll find it. If that's too scary for you, maybe you don't want it bad enough. And honestly, that's perfectly OK as long as you can admit it to yourself.

In fact, the Right Idea is a myth. It doesn't exist. Once you expose it to the real world your Right Idea will change, get chewed up, spit out, change again, transform into a pupa and go through a metamorphosis before it emerges a butterfly (even then it might get eaten by a bird or lizard). It's all part of the process.

The wonderful thing is, you don't need to wait for the Right Idea. Just go. Do your thing. Jump and the parachute will appear.

How I hitchhiked from Austria to Sweden

How I hitchhiked from Austria to Sweden

In the end it went much more smoothly than I anticipated. I took off from Feldkirch, Austria on Saturday morning. My gear consisted of a backpack, a sports bag full of clothes and a cardboard sign with "Kiel" and a large smiley face on it. This is how it went down:

Day one​

After packing up the last of my stuff I got out of the house at 9 AM Saturday morning. The first thing I did was have breakfast in the center of Feldkirch while laying out my strategy. I would take the bus out to the edge of town to get closer to the highway access ramp, and use a cardboard sign with "Kiel" on one side and "Frankfurt" on the other. This would allow me to experiment with the efficacy of going for a far off location vs. a closer one.

I got off the bus at a stop I knew was close to the right highway. After walking for a couple of minutes I found what I thought was a good place to hitchhike. With my heart pounding I turned to face traffic, held up my sign and stuck out my thumb. Trying to maintain a natural smile and trying make eye contact with the drivers racing past, I stayed at this first location for about half an hour without so much as a single car slowing down. Mildly disheartened I decided to get closer to the highway access ramp.

After walking for another few minutes I was basically standing on the access ramp. Here I again turned to face traffic, and this time it only took 5 minutes before it happened. A car stopped.

Cognitive Biases - How Your Mind Distorts Reality

I just found this great slideshow through lifehacker.com. It gives a nice visual summary of the main "psychological tendencies that cause the brain to draw incorrect conclusions", split up into...

  • the 19 social biases.
  • the 8 memory biases.
  • the 42 decision-making biases.
  • the 36 probability / belief biases.

I especially like the memory bias Cryptomnesia, "a form of misattribution where a memory is mistaken for imagination, or the confusion of true memories with false memories". Scary stuff.

Want to get meta? Consider the Bias Blind Spot, or "the tendency not to compensate for one's own cognitive biases"

So do you really make your own decisions? Really?

An egomaniacal social experiment

The results are in. A few weeks ago, while working on a Master’s program application, I had a revelation. After having just finished answering an essay question pertaining to my perceived best and worst qualities, I realized that the material I had produced was severely lacking. How could I be satisfied with my own highly biased and subjective view of my own best and worst qualities? I needed objective data!

So I made a list of the 30 people I believe to know me best in a professional context. I then proceeded to create an anonymous survey using Google Docs, prompting these 30 individuals to list my three best and two worst qualities as they saw them. In exchange I promised to not only reveal and submit the results of the survey in the aforementioned application, but also to publicly post the unfiltered results right here on my blog. 

So here they are... the unfiltered results. 16 people were graceful enough to respond. The ones who didn’t respond have likely changed their minds as to my sanity. Please feel free to view the Google Spreadsheet.

I also took the liberty to somewhat subjectively group the answers into “categories” for the purposes of plotting them. Here are some pretty charts:

 My Best Qualities

My Best Qualities

 My Worst Qualities

My Worst Qualities

I was vas very happy and surprised to see that the results strongly coincided with the qualities I had listed about myself before I initialized this egomaniacal experiment. 

Thank you to all who indulged me by participating. 

UPDATE: I want to emphasize that the questions were completely open-ended. Check out the spreadsheet to see exactly what participants wrote.

The duality of digital media addiction

I’m not going to have internet access in my room for the next five months. At first this irritated me, as it limited my internet browsing to perhaps one hour per day. I didn’t understand why I had to access the internet so badly though, and soon enough I started seeing this initial problem as healthy. I found it easier to get to sleep on time, I felt more relaxed (or perhaps more complacent), and I felt more connected to my surroundings. I no longer had hundreds of interesting pieces of information constantly buzzing around in my head, and I was no longer fanatically pondering the latest ideas and ventures popping up in various technology industries. 

And that’s when I changed my mind once more. I don’t like the fact that my mind isn’t endlessly processing new innovations and opportunities. Being plugged in, and spending hours browsing the web or listening to the latest tech news podcasts, is what fueled my creativity and gave me my edge. I now understand that I am willing to accept the added stress of consuming copious amounts of digital media for the benefit of keeping my mind sharp and updated. 

Is there a way of having the best of both worlds? You tell me. 

A self-indulgent post on being grounded in snowstorms

I'm stranded at the airport, and it looks like I'm going to be here for a long time. I arrived at half past five in the afternoon after fighting my way through a train network completely brought to its knees by what seems to be a Europe-wide snowstorm (it's the beginning of the end people). As I type out this impromptu blog post the clock on my laptop reads 00:52, and in four hours I'll be at the  ticket counter praying, figuratively speaking, to have my previously cancelled flight re-booked for that same day. 

Whereas you might think I'd be frustrated over this, I have been quite content the entire time. Joyful at times, believe it or not. Even as my mind and my patience slowly but surely evaporate, I can't help but feel that this simple yet somehow meaningful life experience is worth the trouble. Wouldn't life be horribly boring if things always turned out the way they were supposed to, or "if your flight always arrived on time" so to speak? Is it not equally important and fulfilling to have unpleasant experiences as it is to have pleasant ones? By thinking this way you will rarely loose your cool, but is it a sign of resilience or a sign of complacency? Is it truly a useful cognitive construct? And am I only being philosophical because my brain is in desperate need of REM sleep?

Time to get another Starbucks coffee. 

A Take on Education: Teach Problem Understanding, Not Problem Solving

Education as it is designed today kills passion. It has happened to me countless times that I've taken up a university course on a subject I found fascinating, only to come out of the course thinking; "Hm, that subject is in fact quite boring and mundane." Why is this? Partly because courses tend to give you ways of solving problems you're not sure exist. A lot of time is spent teaching you how to overcome and deal with problems, as well as why that particular method works. But very little time is spent convincing you that the problems you are learning to solve are actually relevant in real life. In other words, we are taught to solve problems that have no relevance to us until five years later when we encounter them in real (working) life. 

"Ah," you say. "So now (in real working life) we can finally use the problem solving methods we learned five years ago. All is good." Not quite. When you did your course five years ago you weren't paying attention because the problem wasn't relevant to you then! You won't remember anything. And if you do, you spent much more time drilling the information into your head than you should have needed to. And... if you were doing a technical course the information will be outdated to the point of irrelevance after five years anyway. 

The solution? Focus education on getting students to understand and experience practical PROBLEMS... NOT solutions. Once they get to hit those metaphorical walls for themselves, you can teach them the solution methods as more of an afterthought. If students are REALLY taught to understand and feel the problems that will face them later in life, they will hunger for solutions to the point of looking up problem solving methods themselves. Beyond that, they might actually think up better solutions than the ones they would have been taught! As a teacher that's a scary thought, but also a wonderful one.

You've Confused Me!

I recently participated in a management course in the form of UNITECH International's Start-Up Week, and I've found that one particular technique/trick really stuck with me, namely the power of "You've confused me" over "I don't understand". Whenever a peer is trying to explain a concept or argument to you, and you can't make any sense of what he/she is saying, there are basically three things you can counter with if you want to understand the message:

The worst of all is the classic "Sorry, could you repeat that?". This will promt your conversation partner to do exactly that; repeat the monologue word for word. If the explanation didn't work the first time, it will most likely not make sense the second. 

A slightly better approach is to simply say "I don't understand". This will result in a repetition of the monologue, but slightly restructured and perhaps with different word choices. You might even get your partner to speak more slowly and clearly. The problem, however, is that YOU are still the one responsible for the exhange of information. YOU are supposed to be able to recieve and make sense of the information coming your way, no matter how it's presented. 

For effective communication, the best thing to do is to shift responsibility for the information exchange to the sender. Instead of "I don't understand", say "You've confused me!". Thus you make your peer responsible for structuring the information in a way that can be easily understood, and the result will be a complete reworking of how the concept or argument is communicated. 

Many people find it uncomfortable to shift responsibility of their own understanding away from themselves. This is just something to get over. After using "You've confused me" in groupwork and casual conversation for the past couple of weeks, I can confidently say that it makes communication of complex ideas much smoother. 

UPDATE: I want to thank David Ward of www.wardconsultants.com for allowing me to post this technique. Check out his website if you enjoyed it. 

The words of Tom Peters, Uber-guru

I read another manifesto on ChangeThis that I have to share. It's "This I Believe! Tom's 60 TIBs" by Tom Peters (referred to as Ur-guru of management by Fortune and Uber-guru by The Economist). The manifesto is a collection of 60 ideas, with subsequent explanations, that'll change the way you think about business... and life. Here are my 10 favorites:

  • #4 Question Authority (And hire disrespectful people)
  • #5 Disorganization wins! (Love the mess!)
  • #10 Big stinks. (Mostly.)
  • #11 "Permanence" is a snare and a delusion. (Forget "built to last." It's yesterday's idea, if that.)
  • #12 Kaizen (Continuous Improvement) is... Very Dangerous Stuff.
  • #19 Action... ALWAYS... takes precedence.
  • #20 He who makes the quickest, coolest prototypes reigns! (Think: Demos. Stories. Heroes.)
  • #21 Haste makes waste. (So... go waste!)
  • #22 Screw-ups are... THE... Mark of Excellence. (Corollary: "Do it right the first time" is an... Obscenity.)
  • #31 Design = New "Seat of the Soul"
  • #33 "Dramatic Difference" = Only Difference worthy of the name.
  • #40 Stop doing dumb stuff. (Systemize the process of un-dumbing.)
  • #43 Take charge of your destiny. (No option.) It is a Brand New, Brand You World. (Distinct or... Extinct.)
  • #45 Pursue... Adventures... in every task.
  • #49 Life Is Sales. (The rest is details.)
  • #51 Management Rule/Role No. 1: GET THE HELL OUT OF THE WAY. ("Manager" = Hurdle Removal Professional.)
  • #53 Change takes however long you think it takes.

OK, so those are actually my 17 favorites... but I didn't want to cut any out so there you have it. Go here to get the manifesto. 

Guy Kawasaki on starting a business without the BS

I found en excerpt from Guy Kawasaki's book "The Art of the Start" in the form of a manifesto on ChangeThis (a great site). It's basically a list of 5 things that entrepreneurs should do when starting a business. Here's my summary:

  1. Make Meaning: Your idea should add value to the world. Creating something with actual meaning is gonna be an important motivator when things get tough.
  2. Make Mantra: Forget the mission statement! Create a Mantra instead. A mission statement is a pointless 30 word sentence that no one understands and even fewer remember. A mantra is a 3 or 4 word phrase that you and your employees can't help but repeat in your heads over and over. Check out the manifesto for examples.
  3. Get Going: Before you lose yourself in your favorite word processor, writing pitches and financial projections, you should create a prototype or start offering your services. It doesn't need to be perfect. The hardest thing about getting started is getting started.
  4. Define your Business Model: According to Guy Kawasaki, this process consists of answering two questions; "Who has your money in their pockets?" and "How are you going to get it into your pocket?"
  5. Weave a MAT: This one is hard to describe in a couple of sentences, but I can tell you that MAT stands for Milestones, Assumptions and Tasks. It's basically a simple way of creating an action plan for your business. Again, check out the manifesto.

What I found especially appealing with this advice was the brutal simplicity of it. Business is littered with complexities and BS. It's refreshing to take a step back and look at entrepreneurship using common sense, combined with Kawasaki's years and years of experience.

If you want to check out the manifesto it's right here.