Notes from a meditator

Meditation is strange.

Why would humans need to block out time to sit and do nothing? Seems silly.

Yet I’m slowly understanding- it’s not a natural thing for us to do BUT we’re not living in our natural environment.

We are simply not built for the overstimulation of life today.

Meditation then, is a tool to handle life in 2020.

It really does work! One of the many “best kept secrets” hiding in plain sight.

The AI revolution

Robots are coming.

Are we doomed?

The stage is set. Google’s DeepMind AlphaGo vs Ke Jie, the world’s number one go player.

It’s May 2017, 20 years after IBM’s Deep Blue bested World Champion Garry Kasparov on a chess board.

Go presented a much more difficult challenge for AI to crack due to the sheer volume of possibilities.

After the first two moves of a Chess game, there are 400 possible next moves. In Go, there are close to 130,000.

Therefore the “brute force” learning of possible moves that had bested Kasparov could not be replicated here.

AlphaGo didn’t just win, it decimated Jie.

To many, this was too much to bear.

There goes humanities final stance!

Google had started AlphaGo off by feeding it 30 million human moves. But after this it progressed to teaching itself new strategies.

But there is good news. Whilst it seems AI is on the rapid ascent to general intelligence that is a different ballgame all together. Alphago was still just data crunching, simulating possible outcomes. The real world is far too complex to achieve this.

We do then have one ace up our sleeve. Human creativity.

Making a splash

Our best ideas come in the shower. Or so the saying goes.

Well, this is certainly true for James H. Crocker.

Back in 1993 James Crocker worked as an engineer for NASA.

He was a member of the team tasked with fixing a faulty mirror on the Hubble Telescope, as it sped through space. Not a straightforward task.

The challenge was not only getting a fix up there, but how exactly it should work.

Many months and millions of dollars were spent, before the solution came from the most unlikely of places.

James Crocker’s shower.

Whilst in the shower he was hit with a eureka moment when he noticed the straight forward mechanism used to adjust the heads position. Crocker realised this was exactly the solution to Nasa’s mirror issue.

A few months and a rather high tech version of Crocker’s shower later, and the Hubble was back in business.

So what’s happened here?

This is a classic example of divergent thinking, or an idea taken from one domain solving an issue in another.

It is amazing what can happen when we step away from our desk.

Friction

I dread to think how many hours I’ve wasted scrolling through social media in my lifetime.

Why do we waste so much time?

Because it’s easy!

Every idle moment our brain craves a soothing scroll through our facebook/IG/Twitter feed.

These social media platforms are literally designed to consume our attention.

Earlier this year I had enough, and deleted my Facebook and Twitter accounts.

The result?

I turned my scrolling to Linkedin!

The problem here is a lack of friction. It’s was too easy for me to do.

I have now found a solution. Last week, I turned my Linkedin account over to my younger sister, Freya.

Freya has changed the password and I no longer have access.

Every time I want to check Linkedin or post, I now have to message Freya and setup a zoom call on which she shares her screen and we run through any actions.

Ridiculous. Right?

But it works!

Amazing what a little friction can do.

No one’s watching

Really. No one.

This has perhaps been my most liberating realisation in the last six months.

I used to weigh every decision with how the world at large would respond.

Anything from the font used on a website I was updating to the t-shirt I would wear to the gym.

Sounds silly, and yet it’s only now I’m starting to realise no one’s watching.

People see- sure. But it doesn’t matter.

In fact, they’re far too busy worrying about what you’re thinking of them to think anything about you.

Yet worry they should not!

As you, in turn, are far too busy worrying about what they’re thinking of you to think anything about you.

And so the world goes round.

Fascinating.

The book factory

Let’s try a thought experiment.

Imagine two book factories.

Both factories have 10 writers, and both outsource their sales and marketing to external agencies.

Let’s assume the sales and marketing efforts our comparable for both. At first glance, one would expect these factories to perform similarly. But there’s a key difference.

Factory one

Factory one has a strict 9am-6pm policy. All writers must be at their desks by 9am, work through to 1pm when they can have an hour’s break for lunch, and then work for four more hours until 6pm.

Lunch is a low key affair. The writers, frayed by the long working hours, avoid discussing their work at all costs.

The weekends are a similar story. The writers are overjoyed to escape at 6pm on Friday and don’t give a thought to what they’re working on until the dread that creeps over them on Sunday evening.

Factory two

Factory two has a different policy. They have no set hours and can come and go as they please.

These writers spend much less time at their desk with most of them averaging two hours work in the morning followed by another hour in the afternoon.

The rest of the day is spent either together or engaged in activities outside of work. With their extra time, the writers read widely, have rich social lives, and spend hours engaged in excited debates about what they’ve working on.

Which factory do you think sells more books?

In my own simulation of this game two interesting things occur.

First of all factory two actually sells more books despite clocking up just 3 hours a day writing time compared with the 8 hours of factory one. The writers may spend less time typing but when they do type their stimulated and rested minds pour words on to the page.

Second, you can probably guess. The difference in quality of books produced is huge between the factories. This doesn’t lead to two or three times the sales, as one might expect, but thousands of times more books are sold by factory two who frequently feature on bestseller lists. The books of factory one often don’t clear the 100 copies sold mark.

The idea is this:

Less time spent working and more time spent both resting and stimulating the mind can lead to a huge improvement in both the quantity and quality of work produced.

Maybe you’ll read this and think “Of course this is the case for writers but surely not for sales people or managers.”

I disagree.

As we enter the age of automation more and more jobs are becoming about creative problem solving.

Good decision making is becoming more necessary than ever.

Good moods

Every situation is more pleasant when faced in a good mood.

Every single one.

I find myself drawing on this regularly.

What’s more, I find it’s possible to put one’s self in a good mood.

In fact, the simple idea that I can put myself in a good mood is usually enough to put a smile on my face.

Useful.