Conversations, Arguments, and Intelligence

I have had this tab open on Chrome for a few days now and finally had an opportunity to read it. I didn’t want to peruse it because I knew that it will be of great value. Not something that would cause a dopamine rush in the immediate but something that I will have to read, let marinate, and then apply. This article/essay is written by Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI and the first president of YCombinator. His work has come across my newsfeed quite a few times. I don’t know how I feel about Paul Graham (who is the founder of YCombinator) but I really enjoy Sam’s opinions and work.

Good and bad arguments. Arguments are critical to growth but there can be good and bad arguments. I have tried to summarize a few thoughts about conversations in general.

The Impact of Good arguments:

  • Good conclusions
  • Learning new things for everyone involved (new ways of thinking)
  • Building new relationships with people that can challenge ideas
  • Philosophies rather than about particular scenarios

The Impact of Bad arguments:

  • No conclusions, illogical dialogue flow
  • About things that don’t matter in the grand scheme of things (this might be the most important point)
  • No set rules for dialogue
  • Conversation in bad faith sometimes under the pretext of playing the “devil’s advocate”

Communication in General​

Knowing what to say and when i.e. the importance of communicating clearly stems from intelligence to absorb the situation quickly and generate insights. This is somewhat related to wit and coming up with humorous responses. However, keeping in mind a caution not to be generous to myself, and at the risk of indulging my narcissism I will say that this form is not the only form of intelligence. I say that because while I might not be the quickest to respond in a given situation, I do usually take a more holistic and complete view than do other people around me. I think both ways of thinking and/ or intelligence are important and one is not more important than the other. Also, in all candidness, it might also be important to say that awareness and slow thinking is sometimes more important to evaluate a given situation, especially if long-term thinking is of any value.

Most challenges arise out of a lack of understanding the situation clearly. The problem arises because challenges do not get defined at an early stage in the solution process. If there is one thing from my role in consulting it is to take 80% of the allocated time in understanding the problem at hand and 20% of the time in coming up with an answer. One could almost say that part of understanding the problem actually makes it easier to come up with an answer and that is why it only needs 20% of the time. A majority of which (the 20% time noted above) is basically a framing our understanding of the problem and its solution per the audience.

Hustling at Everything

After a couple of conversations I realize that everything I am trying to do with my job, family, health, and life in general can fit easily into the category of a hustle. It’s not discouraging or meant to be inspiring, it just is what it is. I’ve realized that I can get comfortable not easily but I can eventually. The only way around that is to remind yourself of your “why?”. It sounds easy when I put it like that but it’s not that straightforward.

The meditation today was major distraction. I don’t know when I will really be at a position to say that I was lost in serene understanding of what I am and how I connect with this universe. I don’t know if I ever will, though the effort continues. At least I can sit for 10 minutes without any major hiccups and I can even say that I’m expecting to take it forward to 20 minutes. All this sounds constructive until I am made to realize perhaps I need meditation.

Notes at the game

It’s just so disheartening to see you in all your comfort and leisure picking on a thing that’s fragile and unsure of itself.

You could have chosen to go the other direction but you picked on her, him?

Were you aware about the intricacies of reality around them? Had life also treated you the same or had you the privilege to suckle on the teats of abundance a bit tad bit too long?

In this time of rife, trials and tribulations, both personal and otherwise came to the fore. It was just a virus but it could be anything, a war or even an asteroid. Challenges result from inadequacies boiling over, both individual and us as a people.

A Career and Pursuits in Life

Life is not easy and it comes with all its variabilities. There are those that become successful and are beacons for other people to follow and then there are those who remain an employee and sometimes feel they are unable to find their true passion. It seems that they live a life that has always just craved for more without ever being satisfied. This conundrum of finding out what their passion is, is usually not even a concern for other people. There are several parts to this and I’ll start with initial advantageous positions or luck as some would call it.

David by Michelangelo, being protected from repair

There are regional factors that push a person to pursue a particular career. There are advantages and disadvantages based on genes, locale and gender among other things. As much as organizations would like to portray that they do not discriminate, human beings were not created equal and some are predisposed to find success in fields where they find themselves. An artist who is gifted to understand the abstract and convey emotions in images might not have the endurance of a long distance runner and how he or she produces VO2 max. There are differences and the opportunities to pursue a career are almost infinite for all practical purposes. However despite natural dispositions when you attempt do pursue something with everything you have got and even fail there is some success in that. You might not be the best in terms of outcomes but you have suddenly become the best version of yourself.

The endeavor usually is to find the efficient frontier where your skills with the role that adds most value to an organization or society at large. What further complicates this matter is that no one is born with skills but they need to be developed. One can be predisposed to be good at something but that does not mean that he or she will be skilled at that job. Developing a skill takes time and consumes resources, of which in my personal opinion time is the most expensive. The level of skill required to learn depends upon the value of the job role in society. When we first understood the properties of gold and the scarcity of gold in nature mining became important. A miner would be one of the most lucrative jobs and even an unskilled miner would be a highly compensated one. Today a miner would be one of the lowest paying jobs but a civil, mechanical or chemical engineer specializing in rare earth metals mining research would be one of the most highly paid jobs, perhaps even one of the most coveted research fields. As the field develops the skill required to make the same money changes because the value addition of that level of skill changes. The people who got in early and perhaps endured to pursue the field even when it didn’t seem attractive have gained something from doing that.

To complicate things further as a species we have lost touch with reality. To begin with the relatively normal mind which exhibits what is called neuroplasticity. We meld situations and emotions together to construct frameworks. No, that’s not neuroplasticity but we also do that. Neuroplasticity means that the mind can change over time, in response to pressures, which can be both physical and psychological, and develop a constantly evolving method to interpret and memorize things. This can be a good thing as well as a bad thing. When people want to encourage themselves they construct an image of a desirable future in their head. If they would like to do that they use the emotions I wrote about above and create imaginary, motivating voices or forces inside their head to push them to strive. When people feel metaphorically crushed under pressure, they have done the opposite. The neuroplasticity of the brain means it also succumbs to pressure and degrades in its performance in a detrimental way.

This does not even begin to tell the story about why human beings are the way we are or behave in life but it sheds some light on the complexity. What has all this got to do with career choices? To me it seems like given all these factors trying to find the perfect career is like finding a needle in a hay stack with a magnetized needle which needs to be magnetized, but with a changing polarity every thirty minutes and the hay stack changes every 25 minutes. Confused? It doesn’t even compare in complexity to real life. One can carefully use their surroundings to create a “perfect” life. Heck, sometimes it almost feels like Tim Ferriss even counts the number of tea leaves he puts in his tea… when using tea bags. Or you can just live life as it comes and fine tune everything that life throws at you. Seldom people forget that Tim Ferriss or almost anyone who seems to get everything right probably only looks at the positive and has opportunities that came by their way for no real action on their part.

An artists impression of the brain in action by Andrus Ciprian

Didn’t get the perfect job? Do your best at what you’ve got and attempt to understand the people around you. Didn’t fare well at the interview? Learn what you can do better the next time. All this might sound like positivity and let’s all hold hands and sing kumbaya but it’s not. There is a realization you need to have before you get into that job. There are aspects of the job you will hate from your gut. Even if you don’t do anything and decide to sleep on the couch and cook eggs and eat breakfast and sleep days and nights or watch tv and play games and just idle around. Even if you do that there will be aspects of it that you will hate. I’m not saying that you will begin to hate aspects of it. I’m saying you will hate aspects of it from day 2. Almost everything in life from your mother’s love to choosing a coffin has perspectives. A job role in a career is somewhere in between those two extremes. Yes, admittedly there can be more of nice and less of bad in a particular role but remember that thing I told you about neuroplasticity? You an choose what you define as nice and pursue that. Even hard and difficult things.

Our definitions of nice and bad don’t really mean anything in the grand scheme of things. So, what does all this mean? One just had to pick up things and roll with them. If you fall short of what you need to do, yes there are choices that you do other things, yes there are other things that you will like and there are other choices that might have the promise of a better future but if you fall short of what you need to do that is on you. Whether the person is a janitor in the high school or a managing partner at McKinsey. Your job is only how good you make it and you are the only person who will judge your standards. When we were told to choose a career when we were younger we were lied to about how we should look at life. We should not choose what to work at but we should choose how to work. Diligence matters whatever the career, whatever the role, wherever one is located.

I have seen this more than a few times in my life now. People desperate to understand what they want to do and what they would like to pursue. The objective should not be to find a career that is enjoyable or intellectually fulfilling instead it should be an intellectual pursuit to find excellence in whatever one begins to pursue. Leonardo d. Vinci was only a scribbler who was curious about the monster in the cave and Michelangelo wanted to understand how a hammer worked. Pursue excellence do not pursue excellent careers.

A signal of the times. Who are we?

Moxie at one end of the spectrum who signifies freedom, technical wizardry and liberation beyond the minute details of day to day life. Moxie, in all probability is not even his real name. He doesn’t need to be identified by his real name because his work identifies him. His work lays the foundation for major messaging platforms around the world. I do not know if he’s attentive to that and if there aren’t a lot of people who’ve written about his enamor and wonderful personality. My guess it there aren’t many who have scrutinized him from that perspective because they haven’t had the need to do that. Yet, his signature lies on almost a billion messages sent across to people across the world every single day.
In a tribe he wouldn’t survive very long but alone he’d go the distance. People in his community wouldn’t understand him or his deal and they would find it hard to look at things from his perspective. As a result, he’s suffer politically.
Adam at the other end who signifies himself as the leader of a technology group while he’s lost in the day to day distractions and attractions of life. There is nothing related to technology about his company and neither is he a leader. He “leads” topically because his structure supports this image of a traditional leader of a tribe. He seems personable and he is tall, which signifies that he has the physical attributes of a leader in the wild. His smile seems genuine and he seems to understand the context of most conversations when he’s intently listening to the on-goings of meetings and directions that are being given to him. In reality he’s just playing along and putting on a face. I don’t know this but I’m speculating.
In a tribe he would be considered the leader because he could rally along everyone to a common cause but he depended on a coterie of advisers. People who would fill in the gaps in his understanding. Unfortunately his advisers and backers seem to have massive gaps of their own. There are people who invested in him and his vision without actually scrutinizing his intent. He might still pull it off and be successful if he can manipulate the masses. He’s perfected the manipulation on a small scale in one on one conversations.
Faith in people and investments as a mirror for societal mindset. Indicative and reflective of the mass mindset and the structure of society today.
However, WeWork and Signal lead very different life-cycles as brands in the minds of the consumer. Most people don’t know about Signal, the app or Signal, the protocol and they don’t care to know about those details. Yet, WeWork is all over the news for the notorious founder, his “exciting” life, the recent public offering of stock among other things. I feel this reaction to the these two companies is a result of the average public mindset today. People have become more topical and transitory in their engagements. There is a lack of depth in relationships, conversations, feelings and the daily on-goings.
Credit culture and how it’s perceived by the people who are driving that culture is something that I would have liked to extend this post into but I’ll reserve that as a separate post for another time.

Love, Light and Peace,