Saturday, August 24, 2013

"The business of life is too important to be taken seriously."

I previously asked whether a goal worth pursuing must be challenging enough so that there is a real possibility of failing to achieve it.

It's important to emphasize that failure does not diminish the goal or the attempt.  Most (all?) of us are afraid to fail.  So we don't attempt (and not attempting is worse than failing, I think) or we attempt timidly (and thus increase our chances of failing) or we quit after our first failure.  

My approach to overcoming the fear of failure is to remind myself that one of my life goals should be to fail often.  Fail as many times as I can, as quickly as I can.  Try different approaches.  Learn different ideas.  Maybe I was just unlucky in my first five attempts. Try, try, try.

Consider Gerald M. Weinberg's take on failure:
[S]ooner or later everybody stumbles. It helps to understand why you stumble, but most important things can be explained only in jokes, riddles, and paradoxes. Survival requires that we learn to laugh things off and start over, which leads us to the next paradox: The business of life is too important to be taken seriously.
 Seriously, where did we get such a ridiculously serious idea that we won't fail ever?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

That doesn't apply to us . . .

From Carmen M. Reinhart & Kenneth S. Rogoff's This Time is Different:
"The essence of the this-time-is-different syndrome is simple.  It is rooted in the firmly held belief that financial crises are things that happen to other people in other countries at other times; crises do not happen to us, here and now.  We are doing things better, we are smarter, we have learned from past mistakes.  The old rules of valuation no longer apply."
Such confidence was abundant in the years leading up to the financial crisis that started in 2007.

Today, the stock market is just below its all-time high reached in early August 2013 and above top reached in 2007 before the crash.  Some people believe we're due for another epic crash while others think March 2009 was the generational bottom for the market and that we're in another long-running stock market boom (though there will be short-term market declines).

I have no idea where the market is going.  For years after the 2007-2009 market crash, I expected the market to resume a sharp decline and drop further than the low point reached in March 2009.  The market has more than doubled since then.  Having a dogmatic view blinded me to trading opportunities.

Since then I've truly accepted the possibility that the market can go much higher.  And of course the market can go lower.  Whatever happens, we live in very interesting times.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

"Past glories are future graves."

From Gerald M. Weinberg's The Secrets of Consulting:
"As soon as you lose your nerve, you stop investing in new ideas and try to milk your last idea for the maximum return.  But as soon as you lock onto a single idea, your days as a consultant [or anything else] are numbered."
"I've come to understand that my anger [when somebody copies my ideas] actually is a symptom of something else - a strong feeling of inadequacy.  I'm afraid that I no longer have what it takes to turn out new ideas.  Instead of reacting by creating a batch of new ideas, I start grasping for ways to protect the ones I've already produced.  In short, I've lost my nerve."
"Past glories are future graves."  [Or, as John Wooden said: "Success is never final, failure is never fatal.  It's courage that counts."]
I enjoyed the book a lot.  It's one of those books that seems superficial until you realize that the clear, breezy writing contains deep insights.  I hesitated to read the book because I thought it was for a narrow audience of technology or management consultants.  In fact, the book offers universal insights on working with others, problem solving, and becoming a better person (not just a better consultant: Weinberg notes that we're all consultants from time to time).

Thursday, August 15, 2013

What's "outside" the universe?

An idea that is always weird and amazing to me:
"When the universe begins to expand, it won't be spreading out to fill a larger emptiness.  The only space that exists is the space it creates as it goes."
"The singularity has no 'around' around it."
That's from Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Book: The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

Several days ago I read for the first time The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.  It's a short children's book, but it raises serious issues.  

The story is about a boy and a tree.  As the boy grows up, the boy spends less time with the tree.  When the boy does come back to the tree, the boy asks for money.  When the boy is an adult, he asks for a house.  As an old man, he asks for a boat.  The tree sacrifices itself to give these things to the boy. 

Is this a story of unconditional love, like that of a mother for her child?  Is it a story of an unfair relationship where the boy takes advantage of the generous tree?  Is it a story of redemption when the boy returns to the tree as a very old man and the boy just wants to sit on the tree? 

My interpretation of the story is that helping another person can mean very difficult sacrifices on the helper's part. (Some might argue that assistance that doesn't involve real sacrifice isn't really assistance.)  I think one can justifiably say that the boy could be more self-sufficient and that the tree could say no to the boy's demands to encourage the boy to be more independent.  But what if the boy can't fend for himself? 

And if we choose to help such a person, a person who cannot fully take care of himself for whatever reason, then we'll have to make real and difficult sacrifices (of our time, resources, energy) to help.  And such charity and love are special things.