It’s legal, but is it ethical?

We tend to justify the shady practice of certain business people (especially if we’re friends) by saying “well, they have to find a way to make some money” or some flavor of “everything they do is perfectly legal”.

I’ve been thinking about this recently while thinking about much of the banking system we have.

When we care more about a business practice that is legal and not how ethical it is, we set in motion a mindset that prefers massive, document-heavy, bureaucratic-laden systems that favor the insider who knows the legal tricks to game the individual out of their money.

Legally, of course. He would never want you to think he’s doing anything wrong (or unethical).

I think this is one reason that I’ve always preferred things to be more simple and straight forward. It’s probably why we all feel uneasy when getting entangled with lenders and banking institutions. All those pages of terms, all this money on the line, and your plastic smile assuring me that everything will be just fine.

Everything will be fine while the banker is sipping a cool drink on a yacht of the coast of the Hamptons while you sit in traffic waiting to punch the clock at the 9-5.

Sometimes I just have to rant in my thoughts and then it comes out in these posts. :)

Slow and painful, disheartened and jaded

Man is a social animal and not much is better than to be with a good group of people who “get” you.

When you’re working through life alone every set back feels like a sledgehammer pounding down and crushing you. Slowly and painfully you get back up and bit by bit you get disheartened and jaded.

When you are with your community a sledgehammer like blow will knock you back, but the closeness of the community helps absorb the blow (even if just mentally) and you step back and are able to recompose and get back on track with more confidence and the peace of mind knowing that you’ve got brothers on this hand and that.

Also, a good community will force you to push yourself harder to keep pace. The side effects are more personal (and business) growth and also an even greater sense of well-being because you’re living a more productive life.

Salesmen sell the sizzle, but the artist is concerned with the steak

The salesman is concerned with the outward-facing elements of a product, service, or other sellable kinds of stuff. Essentially, what can work in his favor to make a buck of the product.

The true artist wants the insides to be as beautiful as the outsides. There must be substance and depth to what he creates and takes to market.

If you’re concerned with the stitching on the inside of the custom tailor pants you’re selling as much as the stitching on the outside, you’re one of a rare few artists we have left in this day and age.

Sizzle is fun, but steak has a soul.

Burn the boats!

In the year 711, the Arabic commander, Tarik landed near Gibralter in modern day Spain where he took his army of around 10,000 men to face an army of 100,000+ as he began his conquest of Spain.

The first order he gave upon landing was for his men to burn the boats.

Afterward, he gave a famous speech where he extolled his men that they had only the sea behind them and the enemy before them and they carried only their swords and their courage.

Long story short, he won the battle in a decisive victory and went on to become a hero in the Arabic world and is fairly well known even to this day.

The lesson is that you never burn your enemies boats but you always burn your own boats. Put yourself in a position where you must succeed and you’ll see just how capable you really are.

*NOTE: I missed two days of writing posts here. Not sure how I’ll even survive. :)

The merit in losing arguments (especially on Facebook)

When an idealist cannot balance his idealism with day-to-day realities, his life ends up a mess.

He will believe he's persecuted or a martyr (and maybe he is). But is it possible to hold your ideals while being a practitioner who steps outside of the abstract world of ideals and into the day-to-day realities?

It’s easy to be a talker who holds a few grandiose ideas. It’s easy to be the person who does nothing while expecting everyone around him to uphold his standard of acceptability.

It's easy to talk when you don't have skin in the game.

It’s much more difficult to be the person who has skin in the game, who stands to lose something and still stick to your standards.

Having something to lose will force you to examine your standards and determine just how deeply you believe them. There is something valuable about having strong objective standards in the abstract AND applying them wisely in life.

To stand to lose something and still make good decisions and not lose your sense of morality is the difficult thing.

The person who points and demands of others (who stand to lose much) while he stands to lose very little is hardly respected by others.

So when it comes to winning vs. losing arguments: losers win arguments in the ethereal battlegrounds of the abstract, winners win in real life.

Test what you believe. Stand to lose something. You’ll find out what you actually believe (and where you could be better). Maybe it's good to lose the war of words to win in life.

Keep going and keep taking risks

When things get difficult or when you’re not sure how it will all work out. Or maybe you’re just frustrated with where things are at the moment, don’t stop moving.

As the saying goes, “If you’re going through hell, keep going!”

Find the “why” behind what you do and cling to that purpose. Every moment of doubt, recall the purpose and press on.

Avoid using a difficult or stressful period as the excuse to avoid risk and agility in your business as well. It can turn a difficult time into a time when innovation and leading from the front come to a screeching halt.

Keep your head up and keep going.

More effective at everything

You can randomly fling mud against the wall with no real purpose and expend a ton of energy, but not get anywhere.

Or you can create systems of how you do things, build schedules of when you do them, and do the research to learn why you must do certain things.

The second approach allows you to take those random bits of time you have and use them far more effectively than you otherwise would.

This applies to any business, sport, or other endeavors you undertake. Whether you’re creating art, compiling data for research, driving for Uber, baking cakes, or taking care of your kids.

Systems, schedules, and an understanding of why you're doing what you are doing will make you more effective at everything.

Your customers don't care about you or what you want

Your customers will only buy and consume what they’re interested in.

But as an artist, or creator, or businessman, too often we get caught up in offering what we think is best.

That’s when we shrink our customer base and our growth stalls.

Researching your market is a valuable element of what we do and it’s more than just what you or I think the customer should want.

Saving all relaxation for the weekend

Just how much more could we get done if we gave away a day or two a week?

The idea is simple. Sacrifice Monday - Friday entirely to working as hard as you can. Maybe get a short and intense workout in each morning and read a little, do the things that make up your morning and evening routine, but no other entertainment. No sports, no watching TV/Netflix, etc…

But then spend all of your remaining two days resting or playing or whatever way you break down the time.

I know, don’t we already work for the weekend? Not really. We get home from work and still have 4 hours to watch TV, or whatever else we choose to do. We add the weekend time off to that.

I’m talking about extreme workloads for five days and two days of total rest and relaxation. It’s how I’ve tried to live, but I’ve never quite been as disciplined about it as I could be. That’s going to change and I think it may take my productivity and balance in life to a new (good) level.

I did just talk about pacing a couple of posts ago and that is important. This idea regards the overarching approach to a week of work. Pacing would apply to how you structure each day individually to avoid running out of steam.

Focusing on unhappiness (and why it’s good)

Unhappiness itself isn’t good, but focusing on it is good.

When we focus on happiness we find that we are chasing something that always seems out of reach.

We avoid thinking about unhappiness because it’s scary and we think it will depress us or worry us, etc…

Like most things that seem obvious at first glance, this is a backward way to think.

When we focus on what makes us unhappy and what outcomes make us unhappy, we start to see the good in all the things around us and we begin to subtract the things that bring us unhappiness.

We gain control over those things and ultimately over unhappiness itself.

It’s better to hate losing more than they love winning. You’ll find you win more and you’re happier about those wins.

Pacing and blowing myself out

On July 4th I took my bike and set out to ride a planned 23-mile route. I knew there were some hills, some tall and steep hills, that I had to climb, but no problem.

Except there was a problem. I raced as fast as I could for the first 9 miles and completely blew myself out by the time I’d finished the bulk of my climbs.

I felt in no mood to finished the 13-14 miles of flat terrain left because I failed to pace myself.

If you pace yourself and do 8 good, solid, focused hours of work today and tomorrow, that better (and easier) than trying for 16 hours just tomorrow.

Pace yourself today and think of tomorrow. Pace yourself tomorrow because you already paced yourself today.

Don't wait for why

Not waiting for what, but waiting for “why”.

I’m very guilty of not doing something until I understand how it will work. Sure, I can see others around me doing it and there is much visible evidence that it’s a good thing to do, but still, I wait and try to learn about it before just doing.

It’s something I need to stop. Should I wait to fully understand how my workout changes my insulin response, my metabolism, my hormones and how all that affects weight loss, or should I get in the gym and get on the treadmill? Should I examine a thousand different diets, or stay away from sugars and carbohydrates? Seems to work for millions of folks losing weight, so why wait until I can understand it?

Just. Start. Doing.

Stop being afraid of the downside

Especially when the upside is huge or even so big we don’t know how huge it is. Did the makers of Facebook or Google understand just how much that technology would change the way we learn and communicate?

They ignored whatever small risks were there and did the thing and the sky was the limit.

So what about you and me? We tend to get stuck thinking we’ll look dumb, or people will be critical, or our boss or parent won’t be thrilled, etc… so we don’t take the risk. BAD.

The metric is simple: if the perceived upside is greater than the potential downside (even downside that may be uncomfortable for us) we ought to pull the trigger and take the risk.

I’m very guilty of playing not to lose and it’s why I haven’t really won much of anything. Not yet at least. I must start taking more risk.

The problem with PLAN B

If you approach a project with anything less than full effort and focus, should we be surprised that the outcome isn’t quite what we would like?

How much are we leaving on the table because we’re too scared to “risk it all” and let go of the resources (time, money, focus) we’ve given away to our "plan B".

If we focus much on a "plan B", "plan A" isn’t going to end up being good. This then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because we’re then very happy we have "plan B" on which we may fall.

But we fail to see how we’ve cut the legs out from under "plan A".

They called me “Mr. River”

Mainly because I ebb and flow day-to-day. Some days it’s so easy to sit down and write a million thoughts. Other days the thoughts are like dragging out rats stuck in a sewer pipe.

Today an internet buddy of mine is attempting to write 100,000 words and complete a draft of a book project. I think the plan is for him to begin writing at 6 AM EST and continue for roughly 20 hours. You can follow the live progress at write100k.com if you happen to see this blog post in time.

Today is more of an ebb than flow for me. Tomorrow will be better.

This is how wasting time can be good

Do you really waste time? Einstein once said that creativity is the residue of time wasted. So is it really wasted, or is it a method of your mind’s agility restoring itself?

Either way, I suppose I could spend a little more time on work and with my kids and a little less time engrossed in podcasts or YouTube videos.

I downloaded this app called “RescueTime” recently (they have a very disagreeable logo/branding) and it’s amazing and scary and eye-opening to see how consistently my work levels ebb and flow.

I can see areas of the day where I relax for 2-3 hours, every single day. I also constantly feel like I’m about 6 hours behind at the end of each Friday.

If I can take those “wasted” hours and decrease them by 40%, I’d have a great balance and I’d have plenty of time to finish all of my things each week, still spend time with my kids, still get to the gym and workout, and (most importantly) I could get 7-8 hours of sleep each night.

You will also feel zero guilt when you do burn a few hours on recreation or relaxation. You’ve worked hard and you know that this is your body and mind recharging itself for more work and a great purpose in your life.

See if you can find a way to track your “wasted” hours and optimize a little to squeeze more life out of your days.

Learning the moment or learning forever

As I look around at my peers in the fields of art and technology, I see many people focused on learning about practical things that have to do with right now.

“What’s the best strategy for gaining followers on X social media platform?” or “how can I best leverage my email marketing list?” or “how to take advantage of loopholes in the stock market“, etc… things that will still be “right now” in 20 years.

But what about the classics? What about the psychology and history that goes into that social media strategy or email marketing, what about the understanding of systems, statistics, and economics that goes into that stock market strategy?

Is it better to learn the surface stuff that in immediately applicable every day? Or should we focus more on deeper learning and studying the things that have stood the test of time?

Most “innovations” fail

Just because you work hard enough or have an incredible idea doesn’t mean you will succeed. Very often that is the recipe for success, but it’s no silver bullet.

For every incredible film that becomes a cult classic, there are a hundred that are shot just as well with stories just as captivating that never get seen. The same is true for every good book.

This information, however, should not discourage you from trying to innovate or write. Just that you must be aware that your hard work must be joined with a great product and great marketing to promote and sell the idea.

Combine hard work, a great product, and good marketing and then I’d say success is imminent.

Take nothing for granted, expect to have failures, and expect to work 10x what you initially expected.

Keep going and keep auditing yourself.

The difficult thing about beauty

When we make things beautiful it makes the contrast between what is ugly even more stark.

When we clean our car next to the dirty, unkempt car, it looks that much nicer.

As we work to make things beautiful we will face resistance from ourselves in the form of fear of not being able to stand as tall in the presence of this thing of beauty that we’ve created or seen.

We will also face resistance from those around us who don’t like the uncomfortableness of the beautiful thing we’re making that challenges them to become better and live up to what they’re capable of when they see this object of beauty we make.

Beauty in terms of neatness & order, an amazing photograph, an incredible painting, or an incredible piece of artwork we see created should remind us to keep pressing to a higher mark and become something better than what we can be.

Beauty shows the contrast between what we are and what we could be; for that reason we often push away beauty or feel jealousy toward it.

I think we should look at beautiful work created by others with appreciation and allow it to spark within us a drive to be better at everything we do.

Beauty in humans is a different issue. I’m writing about the beauty that we’re able to create, not the beauty you were (or were not) given thanks to your genetic composition.

The future of photography, no more smallpox, and flying cars

Like we see with many things, older is better. Older stands the test of time. The time which is a fire that burns yet leaves no ashes.

Today we suffer from a newness bias. What is new must be better, more progressive, etc… etc…

It’s easier to predict the future not base don what we think will be added to humanity, but what we see that can be removed.

We removed smallpox, but we never added those flying cars.

We’re seeing cities become more and more bicycle friendly (removal of many gas-burning cars), and not being outfitted for those afore-mentioned flying cars.

All this to say that the future of photography will be the reduction of trendy trinkets. Gone will be the colored filters, the over-cooked color treatments, the gimmicky prisms, the grotesque posing styles of Avante Garde high fashion.

It could be replaced with a few new methods that will also be cast aside shortly thereafter as well, but photography will always have its roots in what has stood from the beginning:

1. Simple, well-composed frames.

2. Good light.

3. Beautiful posing.

Those three things will stand longer than any fad or trend our industry sees (or suffers from).