Category Archives: Curiosity

Before the Law

What can Franz Kafka’s parable, written in 1915, tell us?

Before the Law

Before the law sits a gatekeeper. To this gatekeeper comes a man from the country who asks to gain entry into the law. But the gatekeeper says that he cannot grant him entry at the moment. The man thinks about it and then asks if he will be allowed to come in later on. “It is possible,” says the gatekeeper, “but not now.” At the moment the gate to the law stands open, as always, and the gatekeeper walks to the side, so the man bends over in order to see through the gate into the inside. When the gatekeeper notices that, he laughs and says: “If it tempts you so much, try it in spite of my prohibition. But take note: I am powerful. And I am only the most lowly gatekeeper. But from room to room stand gatekeepers, each more powerful than the other. I can’t endure even one glimpse of the third.”

What exactly is “the law?”  I’m sure it’s something real, but it doesn’t matter.  Alfred Hitchcock once said that every movie is a search for the MacGuffin.  Every character in the story lives or dies in relation to quest for the MacGuffin.

How often have you confronted a gatekeeper?  That mysterious person with unknown power.  They appear to hold the key you need.  Their power emanates from the knowledge you need.  Knowledge they often don’t possess.  Their greatest power comes from your insecurity.  The gatekeeper represents your desire to stay safe, risk nothing, step back.  Thank God that gatekeeper’s there!  Otherwise, I’d have to actually step through that gate, without any obstacle to block me.

The man from the country has not expected such difficulties: the law should always be accessible for everyone, he thinks, but as he now looks more closely at the gatekeeper in his fur coat, at his large pointed nose and his long, thin, black Tartar’s beard, he decides that it would be better to wait until he gets permission to go inside.

The gatekeeper isn’t there to grant permission.  Access isn’t his to grant.  Our hero focuses so intently on every last detail of the gatekeeper that he gets to avoid thinking about what lies beyond the gate.  The biggest challenges in life aren’t delivered in the first step but in the thousandth.

The gatekeeper gives him a stool and allows him to sit down at the side in front of the gate. There he sits for days and years. He makes many attempts to be let in, and he wears the gatekeeper out with his requests. The gatekeeper often interrogates him briefly, questioning him about his homeland and many other things, but they are indifferent questions, the kind great men put, and at the end, he always tells him once more that he cannot let him inside yet.

Status quo is warm and comfy.  Pursuing the mundane is safe.  Busying ourselves with the day-to-day tasks gives us something to do, but doesn’t move us any closer to what lies beyond the next gate.

The man, who has equipped himself with many things for his journey, spends everything, no matter how valuable, to win over the gatekeeper. The latter takes it all but, as he does so, says, “I am taking this only so that you do not think you have failed to do anything.”

All the preparation in the world is meaningless without the desire to put that preparation to work.  To take what you’ve learned and test it in the real world.  To learn the real lessons that come from experience.  To make the mistakes that can cost you everything…and nothing.  To risk real failure, and real triumph is what makes life most interesting.

During the many years, the man observes the gatekeeper almost continuously. He forgets the other gatekeepers, and this one seems to him the only obstacle for entry into the law. He curses the unlucky circumstance, in the first years thoughtlessly and out loud, later, as he grows old, he still mumbles to himself. He becomes childish and, since in the long years studying the gatekeeper he has come to know the fleas in his fur collar, he even asks the fleas to help him persuade the gatekeeper.

How long have you waited for someone to pick you?  How long have you waited for your stars to align?  Stars are part of a perfectly ordered and yet totally chaotic system.  Their alignment is rare and temporary at best.

There are about 6 billion of us on this planet.  The law of averages (and large numbers) works against us being picked.  More likely, our small piece of the world is waiting for us to choose, and run in that direction.

The gatekeeper isn’t good or evil.  He has only one function.  To guard the gate, and warn us about the challenges that may lie ahead.  Nothing more, nothing less.

Finally, his eyesight grows weak, and he does not know whether things are really darker around him or whether his eyes are merely deceiving him. But he recognizes now in the darkness an illumination which breaks inextinguishably out of the gateway to the law. Now he no longer has much time to live. Before his death, he gathers in his head all his experiences of the entire time up into one question which he has not yet put to the gatekeeper. He waves to him since he can no longer lift up his stiffening body.

We don’t have to grow old for our vision to fail.  That can happen at any age.  It’s easy to lose focus.  It’s easy to find darkness in the midst of all the light.  We each have beacons of light to guide us if we choose to look in their direction.

The gatekeeper has to bend way down to him, for the great difference has changed things to the disadvantage of the man. “What do you still want to know, then?” asks the gatekeeper. “You are insatiable.” “Everyone strives after the law,” says the man, “so how is that in these many years no one except me has requested entry?” The gatekeeper sees that the man is already dying and, in order to reach his diminishing sense of hearing, he shouts at him, “Here no one else can gain entry since this entrance was assigned only to you. I’m going now to close it. 

Woe is me!  I’m the only person in pain.  I’m the only person with these challenges.  I’m the only person struggling.  The world is so unfair.  The deck is stacked against me.  Get over yourself!

Never assume you’re the only one struggling.  I saw a quote from That Gratitude Guy (look him up) recently that said, “Never compare your inside to their outside.”  Excellent advice.

Each of us has a path to follow.  Sometimes it’s smooth.  Sometimes not.  We will encounter obstacles on our journey and even more gatekeepers.

The most powerful gatekeeper of all is fear and the stories we tell to hide it.

No one else can overcome your fear.  That task is assigned only to you.

Photo Credit:  Unsplash, Joshua Earle.  Why this photo?  Why not a photo of a gate, a bureaucrat, darkness, or fear itself?  This photo reflects a beacon of light and an “impossible” next step.  Here’s hoping he finds his way past fear and towards the light.

 

It’s (Just) an Experiment

spacex-71870

Failure has a strange power.  It can provide the most effective lessons in life.  And yet it’s also a source of fear, anxiety, stress, and a reason many choose not to try.

How is it that some people can launch new ideas, new ventures, new strategies, new hobbies, and new friendships without fear of failure?

I think they’ve realized it’s all an experiment.

Experiments are there for us to test a hypothesis.  See what works and what doesn’t.  See what’s provable.  Experiments are ways for us to demonstrate, first to ourselves, that this new idea can actually work.

What if it doesn’t work.  What if it fails?

That’s just it.  Experiments are, by their very nature, free from failure.  The experiment that “fails” merely proves or disproves an idea.  The experiment itself is a success either way.

The continuous journey to explore and experiment leads to the opposite of failure.  The outcome of each experiment is merely another observation in a long series of experiments.

When a person’s sense of self-worth and self-esteem are wrapped around the execution of something new, the experiment’s natural flow can be compromised.  The experiment can’t function properly since the “owner” is working so hard to tilt the results away from his definition of failure.

The true experimenter gets to explore without fear of failure.

In fact, the failures pave the way to new successes.

 

Photo Credit:  Unsplash–SpaceX

 

 

Solving Interesting Problems and Finding Failure Along the Way

Failure_Target

There I was, listening to a Tim Ferris podcast, featuring Seth Godin (a great combination, by the way).

Seth said a lot.  When it came to our education system, he said it’s geared toward making compliant workers to serve the industrial complex.  I can’t help but agree with that assessment.

He said our education system should instead focus on two things:

  1. Teaching our children how to solve interesting problems (where the answers can’t be Googled),

and,

  1. Teaching our children how to lead.

As I listened, I completely agreed.

And then, only one day later, I was presented with an interesting problem.

Kip was telling me about a problem he likes to ask his programming candidates.  He gave me the problem with a look that said, “Surely you’ll be interested in this problem, and you’ll be able to figure it out.”

Wrongo!

As he explained the problem, my mind wasn’t looking for a solution.  Instead, I started wondering why I’d spend time on this problem, could I Google it (you can), how long would I have to struggle with it before he’d give me the answer, and what would an HR person say about asking this particular question (ever focused on compliance).

Meanwhile, he stood there expecting me to attack the problem, to ask follow-up questions, to start searching for a solution.  I gave him nothing.

Disappointed, he realized I wasn’t working the problem.  He gave me a hint, trying to get me to engage.  No dice.  I wasn’t tackling the problem.  I wasn’t even curious.  I waited for the answer.  In fact, I noticed I was thinking about something else (probably having to do with where we’d be eating lunch).  I hadn’t even tried.

Here’s the problem (it’s called the three light bulb question):

A windowless room has 3 light bulbs. You are outside the room with 3 switches, each controlling one of the lightbulbs. If you can only enter the room one time, how can you determine which switch controls which light bulb?

An interesting problem.  One I had chosen to not solve.

A problem that a younger version of myself would have loved.  It requires logic, imagination, a willingness to fail, and enough confidence to know, really know, that I can find the solution.

Here’s a small hint.  You’ll need to use all of your senses to find the answer.

For me, the question that’s more interesting than the light bulb problem is why I chose (almost automatically) to give up before trying to solve it.

I can tell myself it’s because I’m not a programming candidate, or that I don’t have to prove myself by solving the puzzle.  But, these aren’t the reasons.

Could be a lack of confidence.  Somewhere, deep in my subconscious (or maybe right on the surface), I didn’t know that I could solve the problem.  Queue the white flag.

That’s not the root cause.  In that same subconscious place, my mind saw an opportunity to fail.

Failure is not an option.

Failure is embarrassing.

Failure exposes our weaknesses.

How could it be that the younger version of myself would have tackled this problem with gusto, but the more experienced version sees an opportunity for failure and runs the other way?

I’ve purposely faced failure countless times in my life.  I remember being the guy who “poked the bear.”  I loved the unsolvable problem.  My job often involved turning around “unsolvable” situations.  Failure lurked around every corner, but it seemed normal to me.

There must be something else happening.

The narrative.  That’s the message we tell ourselves (and others) about our core beliefs.  It describes what makes us tick, our mission, why we do all the crazy things we choose to do.  It doesn’t matter if the narrative is always true.  It’s our narrative, and it drives the way we perceive our place in the world.

Years of status meetings, monthly reports, strategy reviews, and all the rest taught me to avoid failure.  Don’t miss the goal.  Give yourself some wiggle room.  Make sure you have buy-in from everyone before launching that new idea.  Don’t take any unnecessary risks.  Don’t go out on a limb…you might fall.  We have shareholders who expect a return.

Without realizing it, I allowed my narrative to morph.  Failure avoidance found its way in.

What’s the easiest way to avoid failure?

Don’t take up the challenge.  Avoid the risks.  Don’t poke that bear.  Let someone else try.  Say “No.”

But, failures teach us the most valuable lessons in life.  The quickest way to stop learning is to avoid failures.

The truth is, avoiding failure is the biggest failure of all.

Something I’ll remember the next time I’m faced with an interesting problem, or an opportunity to fail (which are often the same things).

Want the answer to the three light bulb question?

Here’s one more hint.  Your sense of touch will come into play.

By now, I’m sure you’ve figured it out.  If not, here it is:

Turn on two switches (call them A and B) on and leave them on for a few minutes.  Then turn one of them off (switch B) and enter the room.

I’ll let you figure out the rest.

The Questions We Ask When Someone Dies Are the Wrong Ones!

  • How old was he?
  • How did he die?
  • Did he suffer at the end?
  • Was his family with him?
  • Various versions of:  Who is he leaving behind?  How are they doing?

These are all worthwhile questions.  They show how much we care.

They also provide a small glimpse into our future, and the future of the people we love and care about.  We will each take our final breath someday.  It’s just a question of when and how.

These questions do more to quench the morbid curiosity we have about our own future than to learn about the life of the person who just died.

We used to receive a local monthly newspaper.  I was always fascinated by the stories in the obituary section.  Each person had a story.  An arc through time.  Milestones.  Achievements.  Lives they touched.  But, these were merely stories someone else had written to encapsulate an entire lifetime into a few paragraphs of highlights.

It’s impossible to capture someone’s life in a few paragraphs or even an entire book.

Our lives aren’t just a series of events and milestones.  They’re an almost infinite collection of moments.

Moments that often seem trivial when they happen, but are anything but trivial.  These moments would probably never make the “highlight reel.”  These are the moments that (with the benefit of hindsight) are turning points in our life, and the lives of the people we touch.

Our lives are also a feeling.  An energy.  An impression we leave behind.  It’s not tangible, and it can’t be seen or touched.  But, it touches everyone around us.  It’s something they can only describe with a far-away look in their eyes when we’re gone.

The questions we ask when someone dies miss what really matters.

I’d like to add some new ones:

  • What are the moments you shared with him that you remember most?
  • What stories did he tell you?
  • Which stories had the most impact on you?
  • How did he make you feel when you were around him?
  • How did he impact the direction your life is going?
  • What did you learn from him and the way he lived his life?
  • What type of energy did he bring to your life?
  • What impression did he make on you?
  • What comes to your mind whenever you think about him, now that he’s gone?

And, one final question to consider while we’re still here:

How will those that you love and care about answer these questions after you’re gone?

 

Later…

Later creates room for compromises.

Later lives for tomorrow.

Later keeps lists.

Later allows us to avoid.

Later tells us why we’re preparing.

Later delays forgiveness.

Later is born from hope.

Later connects without really connecting.

Later captures what we imagine.

We often try to create what happens later by our actions today.

Later provides direction.

Later reduces today’s expectations.

Later can hijack the present.

Later is the carrier of our dreams.

Later gains power when it remains vague.

Later simplifies execution.

Later is where many careers will find their stride.

Later is where the craziest ideas go to die.

Later tells us it’s okay to delay.

Later is where big ideas find their future.

Later makes it okay to add complexity.

Later drags us reluctantly forward.

Later makes today easier.

Later makes today harder.

Later isn’t guaranteed.  It can easily turn into never if we allow it.

Later only matters in the present. By the time we get to later, there’s a new later that will once again seem more important than our new present.

There’s more to say on this subject.  I’ll probably get to it later…

Self-Talk

It’s not what you say out of your mouth that determines your life.  It’s what you whisper to yourself that has the most power. –Robert T. Kiyosaki

The first person to give you feedback is yourself…in the form of self-talk.  You have 24/7 access to your internal talk track.  Your messaging is unfiltered and brutally honest.

Does unfiltered and honest mean accurate?  Does it mean valuable?  Not necessarily.

The truth is that no matter how incorrect your self-talk is, or how much you try to ignore it, you are your most trusted advisor.  You have the most power over yourself (for better or worse).

Negative self-talk is easy.  Bad news travels fast, especially when it doesn’t have to travel.

Positive self-talk is harder, and sometimes difficult to believe.  Our positive self-talk can sound a bit crazy, which makes it easier to discount.

Status quo is powered by doubt in our positive self-talk.

The most successful people I know face challenges with self-talk.  They happen to believe their positive self-talk just a little more than the negative.

The negative is right there, trying to hold them back.  Somehow they’ve found a way to focus on the positive, finding ways to push past their wave of doubt.

They’ve usually found kindred spirits who can help strengthen their positive self-talk.  A support network that reinforces their crazy ideas.  The best support network doesn’t fully buy-in to the crazy.  They merely create an environment where it’s okay to explore the crazy.  To bring it out in the open and let it breathe a little.

And, that’s the real secret of self-talk.  We all have negative and positive self-talk rolling around in our heads.  But, if we can allow the positive to get a little breathing room, that’s usually all it takes to win the internal battle against the negative.

Here’s the challenge:  The war between negative and positive is never over.  You have to win it one battle at a time.

The Puzzles We Build

 

jigsaw-puzzle_pieces

When was the last time you assembled a puzzle?

Did you do it yourself, or did you have help?

How long did it take to assemble?  Minutes?  Hours?  Days?

In our house, whenever we started a puzzle, it was an “all-hands-on-deck” affair.  We’d all start working it.  Some of us would focus on organizing the pieces to make them visible.  Others would dive right in and start putting pieces together.

I worked the edges.  It’s the only thing that helped me get my bearings on the puzzle.  Start with the flat sides and establish a border…then work into the middle.  Working from the middle, out, was way too random for me.

“Hey, does anyone want some hot chocolate?” always seemed like a good question for me to ask after about a half-hour of diligent work.  With marshmallows.  Without looking up, I’d get some slow yesses and a few grunts.  By the time I came back with the hot chocolate, I was always amazed at the progress.

I’d get back to working the edges.

Each of us had our specialty and our own pace.  Some of us were easily distracted (me).  My wife would stay focused for hours…one piece at a time.

“Hey, who’s up for a break from the puzzle?  Maybe we can hit it again in a couple of hours with fresh eyes.”  I was always a proponent of fresh eyes.

But, then we’d get most of the edges completed.  I’d get my own personal rhythm, and I could start to see the patterns.  The puzzle started to take shape.  First, in my mind and then on the table.  My perspective on the puzzle and my ability to add value to it changed as the image emerged from all the pieces.

I don’t know if my wife and daughters (or anyone else who’d stop by and get sucked into the assembly project) went through the same evolution in their perspective as I did.

Our latest puzzle is a new business (actually, an existing business that we recently purchased).  Once again, our family is building a puzzle together.  This time, it’s not at the dining room table with a clear picture of the final product.  In fact, new pieces are being added to this puzzle all the time.

Once again, we’re each approaching the puzzle in our own way.  Center-out.  Edges-in.

Distractions?  Definitely.

Is an image beginning to emerge?  Yes.

The best (and most challenging) aspect of this puzzle is that it’s never finished.  It grows and evolves.  It occasionally leaves us feeling a bit perplexed.  But, it also takes beautiful shape before our eyes as we continue to build, one piece at a time.

Anyone up for some hot chocolate?  We’re gonna be here a while!

 

 

Speedometers Steal Speed

“The cheetah is the fastest animal on earth.  It can reach speeds of up to 65 miles per hour as it pursues its prey.  Just look at its awesome speed, as it chases down that gazelle!” – Every Nature Program about Cheetahs

Do you think the cheetah has any idea how fast he’s going?

What about an eagle as it dives through the air to reach its prey?

Does the pelican think about his speed as he dives into the water to catch dinner?

Does the pole vaulter know how fast she’s running just before her jump?

What about the downhill mountain bike racer?

The answers to these questions are obvious.  For each to be effective, none are looking at a speedometer to determine their next move.  They aren’t referring to some magical heads-up-display to tell them how they’re doing.

In their critical moment, no measurements or brilliant strategic insights will impact the outcome.  They will succeed or fail based solely on how they perform, in the next moment.

The moment is all that matters.

Speedometers don’t make speed.  They provide external feedback and nothing else.

How often are you slowing down to check your speedometer, instead of focusing on your next critical moment?

Truth is, your moment is all that matters.  There’s plenty of time for feedback later when it’s not stealing your speed.

Are You Willing?

“I know this now.  Every man gives his life for what he believes.  Every woman gives her life for what she believes.  Sometimes people believe in little or nothing, and yet they give their lives to that little or nothing.  One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it and then it’s gone.  But to surrender what you are and to live without belief is more terrible than dying—even more terrible than dying young.”  –Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc lived less than twenty years.  Yet she fought for her beliefs and made a huge impact on history.  She died for her beliefs at an age when many are just beginning their life’s journey.

She knew what she believed in.  She knew what it meant to sacrifice for her beliefs.  Ask anyone who serves or served in the military, a first responder who runs into a burning building to save others, or a newly formed priest who has answered God’s call.  These are just a few examples.  Each of them know what it means to sacrifice for their beliefs.

Sometimes our beliefs emerge quietly without our knowledge.  We go through life, making seemingly inconsequential decisions about what we will and won’t do.  We decide who our friends are, and how much we will let them into our lives.  We decide when to listen.  We decide how honest we will be with the world around us.

We establish habits for living our life, and we go on our merry way.

Do you know what you believe in?  Really?  Do you know what you believe to be true?  Do you know what is important in your life?

Have you made the quiet time in your life that’s necessary to consider these questions?

What if it turns out that the things you believe in aren’t manifested in the way you live?  Are you willing to change your habits?  Are you willing to eliminate the things that don’t support your beliefs?  Will you support your beliefs in the way you live, and the way you work with others?  Are you willing to make your beliefs the centerpiece of your actions in everything you do?

Joan of Arc was right.  One life is all we have, and then it’s gone.

Where are you in that one life?  Is it too late to examine your beliefs and change the way you live?

The answer is clear  But, it won’t become obvious until we make quiet time in our lives to reflect.  When we do, we find it’s never too late to examine our beliefs and change our life.

Every day is a new beginning if we choose to make it so.  It doesn’t matter what happened in the past.  It doesn’t matter who wronged you.  It doesn’t matter if you had a terrible childhood.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve missed opportunities in the past.  It certainly doesn’t matter if you failed in the past.

All that matters is learning what you believe in.  Then, deciding what to do with that new knowledge, starting today.

The only question is:  Are you willing to find out?

 

Beliefs and Values

h/t:  Matthew Kelly

Keeping the Wonder

In the beginning, before we’re experts, the following are easy questions to ask:

  • I wonder if this will work.
  • I wonder how this works.
  • I wonder who can help me if this doesn’t work.
  • I wonder what’ll happen when this works.

Once we become the expert, our expertise means:

  • This will work.
  • I know how it works.
  • I’m the one that people come to when it doesn’t work.
  • I’ve seen this work a million times, so I know exactly what’ll happen when it does work.

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few. –Shunryu Suzuki

Expertise means knowing.  Knowing usually repels wonder.

But, powerful things can happen when expertise is mixed with wonder, instead of being separated from it:

  • I wonder if there’s a better way to make this work.
  • I wonder if I can eliminate this entire step and get the same result another way.
  • I wonder who I can help learn more about how this works.
  • I wonder how my customer views the way this works.

The expert who keeps their wonder is willing to search for new ways, new answers, and even new questions, in a quest for continuous improvement.

That same expert might even wonder (pun intended) if their expertise can solve an entirely new set of problems.

True innovation is almost always impossible without its main ingredient:  wonder.

The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.  –Aristotle