All posts by Robert B O'Connor

The Real Meaning of Passion: Day Four

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You decide to get to a better place, a place where you will be more than you are now. You have a new plan and new stuff. There’s a new you waiting just down the road. You’re so passionate. Finally, you’re on the right path.

Day One of the journey is fun. A warm sun beams down out of a blue sky, flowers perfume the air, the birds sing, and there’s a spring in your step. It’s all smiles to the people you meet on the road to self-improvement. This will be shooting fish in a barrel.

On Day Two, the fish in the barrel begin to shoot back. There’s a chill in the air. The flowers are drooping and it looks like rain. You walk on, though, still pretty chipper: You’re gonna do this!

On Day Three, the songbirds have given way to crows, your feet are sore, and you have a headache. You keep moving, though not as far as yesterday.

The Real Meaning of Passion : Day FourOn Day Four you wake up in a dark and swampy place. Your diet book is in tatters, your new running shoes are filthy, your backpack smells like garbage, and you are nauseated and depressed. The path is now watery mud festooned with litter, poison ivy, and abandoned tires. The crows have given way to flying monkeys and your fellow travelers look like zombies.

You approach a wobbly rope bridge slung above a deep canyon. This is the border between where you are and where you want to go—between dependence and freedom. You can’t recall your Day One enthusiasm. Looking back, you spot a friendly face. Your bad habit is waving to you from a limo. It has hot coffee, blankets, dry clothes, and a light. There’s a cooler in the trunk.

You realize how unpleasant your life is without your bad habit. It takes your mind off your troubles. You two share pleasing rituals: the fire ceremony of lighting a cigarette, the sacred offering of the platinum card, sexual euphoria, fragrant incense from the barbecue pit, the whirling trance of chasing the big deal, ice cubes ringing in your drink like the bells of a mountain shrine.

On Day Four you experience the real meaning of passion: suffering. How much suffering depends on how much discomfort your bad habit helps you avoid. Day Four lasts a month.

You set out on Day One to be free of your bad habit, to become better. But you need what you need right now. You retreat to our bad habit, our status quo, what doesn’t require any effort. Becoming better is hard, and we are soft.

Can we be afraid of the right things? Can we ever move on from what is comfortable? Many people never get past Day Four. Many people never cross the border. Many people never grow up.

Unexplored places on the early maps of the world were noted with dragons and the words “There be monsters.” Gumption is for going there.

 

 

 

How do you soldier through to Day Five? Gumptionade – The Booster for Your Self Improvement Plan will help you figure it out.

Gumption is Creative

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Houston, we’ve had a problem.”
– Jim Lovell, astronaut

How will you stay alive in a crippled spacecraft after you’ve used up the lithium hydroxide air filters that fit the round canister in the Apollo 13 lunar lander—now your lifeboat? You will asphyxiate if you can’t remove carbon dioxide from your atmosphere, but your remaining air filters fit only the command module’s square canister.Gumption is Creative

You proceed to make creative use of the means at hand. You invent “an adapter for the square command module canister from cardboard, a plastic bag, a sock, and a hose from one of the crew’s pressure suits.” Creative use of the means at hand.

How can the German owner of a Polish factory save his Jewish employees from concentration camps? Schindlerjuden is how. Oskar Schindler made astonishing use of his means at hand during World War II—an industrial smelter, metal oxides, bribes, falsified records, scotch, black market dealings, and above all salesmanship—to create a “war effort essential” enamelware production facility. Employees of such a factory could be hidden in plain sight.

What do you do when you are building the University of Virginia and need to know where to put paved pathways? Thomas Jefferson instructed the builders to wait a couple of years and then pave the trails people made in the grass as they walked from where they were to where they wanted to go. He used the means at hand—the student body—to make a map.

Sam John Hopkins of Centerville, Texas, wanted a guitar, but was too poor to buy one. He solved his problem by using the means at hand: a cigar box, scrap wood, wire, and glue. That is how Lightnin’ Hopkins got a guitar. Creative use of the means at hand is resourcefulness. Along with courage and common sense, resourcefulness is gumption.

What can you do with your means at hand? Gumptionade – The Booster for Your Self Improvement Plan will help you figure it out.

 

 

i. “…a plastic bag, a sock, and a hose from one of the crew’s pressure suits.” 
Gene Kranz, Failure Is Not an Option (New York: Berkley Books, 2000), 328.

Gumption is Resourceful – Part II

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“I had an interview with the Board of Guardians of St James’s parish, on the
evening of September 7. In consequence of what I said, the handle of the Broad
Street water pump was removed on the following day.”

                                                                                      — John Snow

Physician John Snow invented epidemiology during the terrifying London cholera outbreak of 1854. He went door to door in Soho, the most affected area, counting the number of people in each house who had been sickened. He then drew a map of the neighborhood, showing the number and location of confirmed cholera cases.

Gumptionade Cholera Map

There were no public water lines. Households obtained their drinking water from pumps scattered around the city. Water from Soho’s Broad Street pump was considered superior.

This was before germ theory, but not before germs. Snow’s map gave him vision. He saw the correlation between cholera cases and households using the Broad Street pump. He saw microbes without the benefit of a microscope. He saw cholera moving invisibly through water.

This contradicted leading scientists, who believed that cholera and other urban epidemics were caused by “miasmas,” bad air found in densely populated areas. After Snow convinced the parish Board of Guardians to remove the handle on the Broad Street pump, he discovered that its water had been poisoned by sewage from a nearby household cesspit.Gumption is Resourceful

John Snow saw the footprint of cholera and translated it into statistical fact, the means at hand to end the outbreak. Vision. Resourcefulness. Gumption.

Public health medicine in London in the 1850s was practiced under conditions of uncertainty and unpredictability—in what is now called a low-validity environment. An example in our own time is online dating.

It’s wise to develop simple formulas for decision making in low-validity environments. In London’s cholera epidemic, it was the households’ source of drinking water and cases of cholera. In online dating, it’s age, education, and income. It’s resourceful to draw a map.

Dr. Snow drew a paper map of cholera’s footprint. Steve Jobs carried a map in his head of a mass consumer market that did not yet exist. Billy Beane of the Oakland A’s took sabermetrics and mapped undervalued baseball players.

All three used the means at hand to see what others could not. The baseball establishment, Xerox, and the leading scientists of Victorian England had narrower vision. They did not recognize the new facts. They were not resourceful. They lacked gumption.

You operate in a low validity environment much of the time. Improve your own vision. Look for facts about yourself. Map the things that you do.

What big opportunity is right in front of your eyes? Gumptionade – The Booster for Your Self Improvement Plan can help you see it.

Gumption is Resourceful – Part I

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We don’t need more strength or more ability or greater opportunity. What
we need is to use what we have.” —Basil Walsh (p.23)

Steve Jobs got a tour of Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in late 1979. Part of the tour was a demonstration of the Alto, a prototype personal computer running point-and- click software, using a device called a mouse.

It was like a veil being lifted from my eyes,” Jobs later said, “I could see what the future of computing was destined to be.

Gumption has the knack for finding ways to get things done. Gumption is resourceful. Resourcefulness is characterized by vision, i.e. the ability to see the means at hand, creativity, and WhoHowness (a word I invented to name the indispensable skill of knowing who and how to ask for help).

Vision

Apple was also working on an easy-to- use small computer. At PARC, Jobs saw that Xerox had solved many of the problems Apple’s engineers were struggling with. Just seeing that the problems could be solved was the means at hand for Apple to solve them too.

Gumption is Resourceful. "We don't need more strength or more ability or greater opportunity. What we need is to use what we have." Basil WalshApple introduced the Mac in 1984, priced for the mass consumer audience. Xerox never made a commercially successful computer. Jobs saw what Xerox could not because:

  1. He was the only Steve Jobs in the room, and
  2. He had vision.

They were copier-heads who had no clue what a computer could do,” he told his biographer. Xerox lacked the experience Jobs got from selling the Apple I and II to consumers.

Jobs had vision. Xerox looked at the Alto and saw the means at hand to sell thousands of computers to businesses already using computers. Jobs looked at the Alto and saw the means at hand to sell millions of computers to consumers who did not yet own one. His vision made Apple more resourceful than Xerox. Apple had more gumption.

What big opportunity is right in front of your eyes? Gumptionade – The Booster for Your Self Improvement Plan can help you see it.

i. “I could see what the future of computing was destined to be.” Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011), 97. 25

ii. “They were copier-heads who had no clue what a computer could do.” Isaacson, Steve Jobs, 98.

WHAT COURAGE IS FOR

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“Everybody has a plan, until they get punched in the mouth.”

– Mike Tyson, boxer

You decide to get to a better place, a place where you will be more than you are now. You have a new plan and new stuff. There’s a new you waiting just down the road. You’re so passionate. Finally, you’re on the right path.

Day One of the journey is fun. A warm sun beams down out of a blue sky, flowers perfume the air, the birds sing, and there’s a spring in your step. It’s all smiles to the people you meet on the road to self-improvement. This will be shooting fish in a barrel.

On Day Two, the fish in the barrel begin to shoot back. There’s a chill in the air. The flowers are drooping and it looks like rain. You walk on, though, still pretty chipper: You’re gonna do this!

On Day Three, the songbirds have given way to crows, your feet are sore, and you have a headache. You keep moving, though not as far as yesterday.

On Day Four you wake up in a dark and swampy place. Your diet book is in tatters, your new running shoes are filthy, your backpack smells like garbage, and you are nauseated and depressed.

The path is now watery mud festooned with litter, poison ivy, and abandoned tires. The crows have given way to flying monkeys and your fellow travelers look like zombies.

You approach a wobbly rope bridge slung above a deep canyon. This is the border between where you are and where you want to go—between dependence and freedom. You can’t recall your Day One enthusiasm.

Looking back, you spot a friendly face. Your bad habit is waving to you from a limo. It has hot coffee, blankets, dry clothes, and a light. There’s a cooler in the trunk.

You realize how unpleasant your life is without your bad habit. It takes your mind off your troubles. You two share pleasing rituals: the fire ceremony of lighting a cigarette, the sacred offering of the platinum card, sexual euphoria, fragrant incense from the barbeque pit, the whirling trance of chasing the big deal, ice cubes ringing in your drink like the bells of a mountain shrine.

On Day Four you experience the real meaning of passion: suffering. How much suffering depends on how much discomfort your bad habit helps you avoid. Day Four lasts a month.

Everybody has a plan, until they get punched in the mouth. Mike Tyson, BoxerYou set out on Day One to be free of your bad habit, to become better. But you need what you need right now. You want to choose better, but you don’t want to give up what you have so long enjoyed. Courage is for confronting these two irreconcilable desires— and doing what needs to be done.
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On Day Four, we retreat from the emotional strain of being responsible for ourselves. We retreat from active to passive. We retreat to our bad habit, our status quo, what doesn’t require any effort. Becoming better is hard, and we are soft.

We speak of lacking willpower. What we lack is the courage to bear the suffering that comes with personal change and growth. Can we be afraid of the right things? Can we ever move on from what is comfortable?

Many people never get past Day Four. Many people never cross the border. Many people never grow up.

Unexplored places on the early maps of the world were noted with dragons and the words “There be monsters.” What is courage for? Courage is for going there.

A Way to Be Wrong Called Hindsight Bias

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Your mind projects wrongness on the world via hindsight bias, the sense that what happened was bound to happen.

Hindsight Bias - The tendency to believe, after learning the outcome, that you knew it all alongRandomness does not look random. You overlook the decisive role of chance.  Certainty is an illusion. And this illusion can cover the rocks while you sail right onto them. Wrongness.

Bill Belichick is a lucky so-and so. Have you seen his girlfriend? His New England Patriots’ brilliant success over the last dozen years seems so inevitable now: the future Hall of Fame quarterback; the genius coach; the great organization. How else could it have turned out?

Differently. Their first two Super Bowls wins came from field goals of more than forty yards, kicked in the last ten seconds of each game. The Patriots’ most recent titles came when their opponents pulled defeat out of the jaws of victory. Totaling results from their nine Super Bowls, the Patriots have been outscored by their
opponents by 38 points.

The Patriots’ image is improved by hindsight bias. We remember the past imperfectly. We forget the parts that don’t fit the narrative we have now. We remember the skill but forget the luck. Wrongness. 

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Imagine all the people in the world are sitting in one room. Each holds a coin. They all stand up and begin flipping their coins. They sit down when it comes up tails. The last person standing will have seen their coin come up heads thirty-two times in a row.

There’s no skill involved. It’s a function of base size: We started with seven billion coin flips. But our winner could be forgiven if she thought she were something special. She is not. She is no more likely than you are to get heads next time. (This concept applies handsomely to high-flying mutual funds, by the way.)

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When you see a successful person, you are often looking at the winner of an extended series of coin tosses. Probably smart and hardworking, since those characteristics dramatically leverage the value of luck. A coin-toss winner nonetheless.

Hindsight bias obscures the role of chance in their achievement. As Paul Getty said, the secret to success is to get up early, work hard, and strike oil.

Would Ray Kroc, builder of McDonald’s, have sold billions of hamburgers if the owners of a drive-in restaurant—the McDonald brothers—had not astounded him by purchasing eight of his Prince Castle five-spindle Multimixers? Would George W. Bush have been president if he had been born George W. Guànmù? Do you
want fries with that?

It seems so certain now, but what were the odds that Bill Gates would become the richest man in the world? Gates is brilliant, hardworking, and visionary. He is also lucky.

In 1968, when Gates was in the eighth grade, the Lakeside School Mothers’ Club invested the proceeds from a rummage sale into a computer terminal and a block of time on a mainframe computer in downtown Seattle. This decision dramatically increased the possibility that a kid at Lakeside Middle School could learn computer
programming. Had the mothers’ club bought the sorely needed movie projector instead, Bill Gates might have ended up a lawyer like his father.

A few years later, fledgling Microsoft was working on a programming language for IBM’s first PC. As it happened, IBM was unable to purchase an operating system for the PC from Digital Research, the likeliest vendor. IBM asked Gates if Microsoft could help.

Although Microsoft did not have an operating system, he said they could (you have to take your luck). They bought one from Seattle Computer Products, tweaked it for the PC, and sold it to IBM for fifty thousand dollars. Microsoft kept the rights. Gates’ shrewdness displayed dramatically increased the positive effects of his good luck. But you still could not have predicted Microsoft’s extraordinary success the day before IBM said yes. Bill Gates won more than his share of coin flips along the way.

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Hindsight bias is wrongness that distorts the past. Because common sense learns from the past, hindsight bias is wrongness that weakens common sense. When you look back, don’t forget: things didn’t have to turn out this way.

Learn more about ways to be wrong to get yourself on the path to being right more often.

[i] “Randomness does not look random.” Nassim Taleb, Fooled by Randomness (New York: Random House, 2004),
54.
[ii] “…hindsight bias…” Scott Plous, The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making (New York: McGraw-Hill,
1993), 138.
[iii] “…by purchasing eight of his Prince Castle five-spindle Multimixers?” Ray Kroc with Ronald Anderson,
Grinding It Out—The Making of McDonalds (Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1977), 6.
[iv] “…a bright kid at Lakeside Middle School could learn computer programming.” Stephan Manes, Paul Andrews,
Gates: How Microsoft’s Mogul Reinvented an Industry and Made Himself the Richest Man in America (Seattle:
Cadwaller & Stern, 2013—Kindle Edition).

A Way to Be Wrong Called Loss Aversion

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The hunter makes a hole in a coconut. Bigger than Monkey’s hand, smaller than Monkey’s fist. The hunter fills the coconut halfway with rice—Monkey’s favorite food—and stakes it tight to the ground. Monkey happens by, reaches into the coconut, and grabs a fistful of rice.

Now Monkey is stuck. Now the hunter returns. Will Monkey drop the rice and escape? Maybe not. Maybe Monkey wants rice too much. Monkey is in danger of dying from loss aversion. She bears risk of capture to avoid the pain of losing a fistful of rice. She is caught by her thinking before she is caught by the hunter.

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Loss Aversion. Evolution designed your brain for survival, not self-awareness. GumptionadeDan and Amos both want to see their Jumbos play the Bombers—bitter rivals—tonight. They both live in the same suburb, about an hour’s drive from the Fudge Forum, home of the Jumbos. Dan bought his ninety-five- dollar ticket to the game this morning. Amos bought his a few months ago. It starts to snow around 4:00 p.m. It is soon obvious there will be dangerous weather tonight. The Jumbos and the Bombers will play the game, but Dan and Amos face the disappointment of missing it.

Which of them is more likely to risk the drive? That is to say, which of them is more likely to be wrong? Having bought his ticket this morning, Dan will chase his ninety-five dollars through a blizzard, notwithstanding the fact that on any other weeknight, ninety-five dollars would not be enough to get him to drive all the way downtown and back in a light drizzle.

Dan fails to stop and ask himself two simple questions: “Would I drive through a blizzard if I had been given this ticket?” He would not. “Then why would I do it now?” After all, a ticket is a ticket, regardless of where it came from. That is so logical. People are so psycho-logical.

Dan starts toward downtown and ends up being dropped off at home at 4:00 a.m. by the state police, his car abandoned on the highway, not having gotten within ten miles of the game.

The force of loss aversion made Dan’s imagined pain of regret loom large in his unconscious mind. He accepted great risk to avoid this loss. Wrongness. Where was his common sense? Where was his gumption? Where, Monkey, where?

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In December 1965, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons reached number three on the Billboard chart with “Let’s Hang On (To What We’ve Got).” This is a cry that originates deep in the human unconscious. Loss aversion was—and is—a subset of death aversion.

To stay alive, Your Hairy Ancestor had to survive the process of getting food and shelter. Loss of food threatened death by starvation. Loss of shelter threatened death by exposure. Movement invited attack by other survivors, including saber-toothed tigers and fellow proto-humans. Replacing lost necessities was uncertain at best and fatal at worst.

The threat of loss received a more powerful response than the opportunity for gain among those individuals who survived long enough to be your ancestor. Reference points laid down a million years ago influence your intuitive response to modern threats, including threats that are more symbolic than actual.

Such as the loss of a ninety-five- dollar Jumbos ticket. Not a life or death matter, but you would think so by what happened. Why don’t you have more common sense? Why can’t you tell the difference between real and symbolic threats? Why this wrongness?

Because, as Leonard Mlodinow neatly put it, evolution designed your brain for survival, not self-awareness.

 

Learn more about ways to be wrong to get yourself on the path to being right more often.

 

[i] “Monkey is in danger...” - Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (New York: William Morrow & Company, 1974),303.

[ii] Which of them is more likely to risk the drive? [Chasing Losses]. Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2011), 343.

[iii] …evolution designed your brain

A Way to Be Wrong Called Anchoring

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You and several other people are sitting in a room. At the front of the room is a numbered game wheel, the kind you see at a fair. A man spins it. The wheel is rigged to stop on 65. You are not told this.Anchoring, a way to be wrong

It stops on 65. The man asks everyone to write down that number. He then asks you to answer a few questions, including this one: “What percentage of UN member states are African?” [i]

The answer that you and the others give averages out to 45%. The average answer of a different group of people, who saw the wheel land on 10, was only 25%.

Really?

The wheel stopped on                            Resulting Estimate of African UN member states

65                                                                                                 45%

10                                                                                                  25%

Like most of us, you have a weakness in your thinking called anchoring. You can be influenced by an irrelevant number on a game wheel. Your logic about African states and the UN is psycho-logic.

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Disinterested speculation about the UN is one thing, but would anchoring ever affect an important personal decision? Yes. A woman whose maiden name is Brown is more likely to marry another Brown than a Smith or a Jones, despite the fact that there are more Smiths and Joneses out there. People are anchored to their own name. [ii]

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It’s not helpful to be influenced by irrelevant reference points. It’s just normal.

Your brain does a lot of work without asking your permission. It’s good that you don’t forget to breathe. But anchoring and other glitches in your automatic thinking weaken your common sense.

Here is a checklist to help you overcome these glitches and make better decisions right now.

Learn more about ways to be wrong to get yourself on the path to being right more often.

 

 

[i] What percentage of UN member states are African? Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2011), 119–20. 130 

[ii] People are anchored to their own name. Leonard Mlodinow, Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior (New York: Pantheon Books, 2012), 19.

Pull Up The Anchor Before You Set Sail

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The Simple Key to Success That Almost Everyone Overlooks: Pull Up Your Anchor Before You Set Sail

Man muss immer umkehren” (Invert, always invert) [i]

-Mathematician Carl Jacobi (expressing the idea that many hard problems can be solved by turning them upside down)

 

“If my job was to pick a group of ten stocks in the Dow Jones Industrial Average that would outperform the average itself,” Warren Buffett once said, “I would try to pick the ten or fifteen worst performers and take them out of the sample and work with the residual.” [ii] He inverts to solve a hard problem. Warren Buffett starts towards success by first noticing and removing failure.

"Pull up your anchor before you set sail" Robert B. O'Connor, GumptionadeYou are the captain of your ship. For heaven’s sake, pull up your anchor before you set sail. You want to have more money? Look first at how to spend less. Making more money depends a great deal on factors outside of your control. Spending less does not. Start there. Invert.

You want to lose weight? Look first at how you gain weight. Do you eat too much when you are upset? Do you drink soda? Do you require that dieting be painless? Invert. Start your weight-losing plan by identifying and removing your worst weight-gaining behaviors.

You want your best customers to spend more? Look first at how to prevent them from spending less. Find out what they don’t like about doing business with you and remove that. Then add things they might buy.

How can you find someone to love you? Start by removing the things that make you hard to love.

Invert your normal behavior. Instead of looking for what might work, look for what hasn’t. Look for the predictable causes of failure. Start with a To-Don’t list.

Pull up your anchor before you set sail.

 

Notes:

[i] “Man muss immer umkehren” (Invert) “Wikipedia contributors, “Carl Gustav Jacob Jacobi,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Carl_Gustav_Jacob_Jacobi&oldid=626833898. Accessed March 18, 2015.

[ii] “…pick the ten or fifteen worst performers and take them out of the sample, and work with the residual.” Frederick F. Reichheld, The Loyalty Effect (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1996), 190.