Tag complexity

The End Game

The following is an email I wrote to a friend speaking in some depth about what I describe as “the end game.” I will expand upon several aspects of this communication in future posts, but I think sharing the original message here is valuable in itself.


The question you posed – “what is the end-game?” – is one that I have considered for many years. Ironically, you are the second to ask this within a 2-month timeframe (a friend of mine, whose personality is somewhat similar) asked me the very same thing.

I think what I enjoy most in life is the ability to think critically.

The inner struggle that I have been in for as long as I can remember is to “get closer to” sources of complex subject-matter. I think that will pursuit will always be a source of discontent in my life, with varying degrees. At some level, I have learned that this underlying discomfort is normal.

To elaborate, I find myself concerned when things get too “easy” from an intellectual or creative standpoint. In the past, this would equate with abandoning the topic for another. Now, I’ve adjusted my approach in that I will try to stay engaged but do so in a different way. That could be something as simple as getting the work done more efficiently or approaching the topic in a completely different manner. But, at some level, and for certain topics, I feel I am simply pushing the same pieces around on the same board. My goal is to find “boards” that allow for expansion; I have found “design” to be one.

This belief was further reinforced by a quote from Garry Kasparov in his book “Deep Thinking:”

“It’s also a better of opportunity cost. If the focus is too heavily on optimizing, nothing new is created and stagnation can result. It can be too easy to concentrate only on making something better when we might be better served by making something new, something different.”

Two years ago, I went to the GPU Technology Conference in San Jose to explore topics that are beyond my (current?) reach. I went to a talk where the speaker was giving a talk about personal performance. The question I raised in the session was essentially:

“How are some people able to rise to such a level where they are giving talks about complex topics, as discussed in this conference, while others are merely spectators?”

Needless to say, not everyone can be a visionary, but it was a question that I have been thinking about for a very long time. The answer he offered was one in a book called “Deep Work” by Cal Newport.

At the heart of deep work is an intense ability to focus, particularly on challenging subject matter. The book goes into a fair amount of detail in terms of overall strategy and the underlying benefits of “deep work.” Over the past several years (even prior to this talk) I have been steadily working to improve my ability to concentrate and deliver work of increasing quality and depth.

To this point, I recently formulated a deep work “spectrum” to help me understand where I fit within this journey. I have included some early notes about this below.

[Author Note: The details of this spectrum will be discussed in a separate post.]

To bring this email to a close, I fundamentally believe that everyone has untapped potential. As an example, if I look back at my personal training (read: exercise) journey over the past decade, I have made material progress. Surprisingly, I am at a point where I am comfortable with where I am in this space. I could go further on this journey (and likely will), but I have reached a point where I feel I don’t have to.

The difference for me in the intellectual/creative space is that I have not reached a similar juncture. In fact, I feel like I am still far away. Fortunately, I fundamentally believe that the principle of “deep work” is a clear path towards reducing this gap. And while I have made material strides over the past several years, I am really only at the starting line in terms of how deep my concentration ability can go. The benefit of this ability is a greater likelihood of producing new and innovative “work” which is very important to me.

(To be sure, there are other many other (psychological) barriers to realizing “greatness” but I am trying to address those separately, although they play a critical role nevertheless.)

Destiny?

In February of 2010 I wrote an article entitled Victim of Changes where I explored three contrasting perspectives of how one views positive and negative events as they relate to the broader context of their life.

Since then, I’ve recently discovered a trend; those who say that “everything happens for a reason” has experienced some significant pain or trauma.  While I am sure there are exceptions to this claim, I can’t think of a reason why someone would use this phrase if they had not gone through this type of experience.

From my perspective, it’s an interesting contradiction – by causing pain, God has, in some respect, prompted (forced?) these individuals to believe in him (or at least in some higher authority or plan).  This, I think, has always been a struggle for me.

I mention this particular phrase primarily because it resurfaced the other day in a lunch meeting with a past colleague.  Later on, that comment prompted me to think about what has happened and where I am in my life today.

But is this where I am “supposed” to be? “Supposed” assumes there is a predestined path for me (and for others).

For argument’s sake, if there was truly such a path, does emotion still play a role?  For example, if adversity strikes, does it benefit you (or anyone for that matter) to feel sad or angry about it?  If adversity was part of “the plan” it ultimately doesn’t matter what you feel about it – “it just is.”

Think about it. If you truly believe that there is a higher authority and that “everything happens for a reason” then at some level, negative emotion should not exist in your life.  If something bad should happen to you, “that’s life!” and you should quickly (and naturally) move on to the next chapter, next relationship, etc. void of any negative emotion or lingering concerns / doubt.

At some level it’s a utopian existence.  After all, in this frame of mind you’ll feel good all the time!  (“it’s part of the plan!”)  But of course, the emotional disconnect will be there; when unfortunate events occur, your lack of emotion may prompt the question “Do you even care?” to which you’ll naturally reply “Care about what?”

Using the phrase “everything happens for a reason” is a logical response to a nebulous, confusing and sometimes painful life path.  It’s another example of why the human dynamic is so complex; using logic to rationalize the unexplained, but subsequently claiming that “logic” has no place in one’s life – i.e. “life planning is meaningless”, “don’t analyze, just enjoy ..”, etc.

I can, of course, see the partial foolishness in this argument.  One is going to feel certain emotions regardless of their belief in a higher authority or “master plan.”  And, at some level, you almost have to believe that there is a predefined destiny for you.  Not believing this in some capacity can result in emotional and physical stagnation.

As of me, history will dissuade me from using this particular phrase, but my replacement belief is a combination of the following:

  1. Anything is possible.
  2. A belief in oneself is perhaps the most important religion of them all.

Complete Admiration.

Duality.

What makes you happy?

Can you become happier through analysis of what makes you happy?  Can you gain greater understanding of other people’s happiness through similar analysis?  I think the answer to both questions is “yes.”

I recently purchased the second season of George Lucas’ The Clone Wars.  Overall, I’m completely thrilled – so much so that I am starting to think the series is better than the original trilogies.  As I progressed through each episode, I found my level of happiness directly linked to a few select scenes.  While I was happy watching every episode, I couldn’t stop but wonder why certain scenes were more “joy-provoking” than others.

Let me share a few examples to further explore this concept.

In the episode entitled “Cargo of Doom”, there is one scene where a bounty hunter named Cad Bane has jumped into a parked spaceship to flee from Anakin Skywalker.  Once Bane jumps into the spaceship, there is some brief animation as he turns on the ship’s power.  This is visible through the illumination of lights within the ship’s cockpit.  What really excited me was the sequence of lights that illuminated within the 1-2 second interval.  Instead of just showing a single illumination (i.e. the ship is now “on”), the animators took the time to show a purposeful sequence of illumination (spatial relationship and number) giving the sense of multiple subsystems and overall complexity.

Once the ship has taken off, and Anakin is forced to jump off the wing to avoid injury, the camera follows the ship briefly as the wings are lowered and the ship accelerates.  While difficult to convey here, the chosen camera angle illustrates the significance of the situation, the complexity and acceleration of the ship, and the sheer size difference between the ship, the hangar and humans on the ground.

So, what are the themes that comprise this scene? (i.e. why do I like this scene in particular?)

Themes: technology, complexity, purpose, attention to detail, “part of something larger”, perspective, power, energy, spatial relationship, design

In another episode (“Landing at Point Rain”), there is another scene that I simply love.  The Republic is taking heavy losses against the Separatists.  After much delay, Y-wing fighters are deployed to the planet to provide critical assistance.  The scene begins with a surprised Obi-Wan Kenobi followed quickly by a ground-level camera angle that shows the rapidly approaching Y-wing (a “fly-by”).  While the scene lasts all of two seconds (~60 frames of animation), the sheer power and acceleration of the spaceship combined with an equally powerful sound effect makes for a very immersive scene.

Themes: “feeling of being there”, magnitude, realism, sound, surprise, immersion, perspective, uniqueness, influence, control, sense of scale, speed

While I could describe other scenes that produced similar euphoria, I’d recommend renting or purchasing the series to witness this creative masterpiece for yourself.  What’s important here, however, is the opinion that one’s ability to describe the themes associated with feelings of joy and happiness can ultimately open up new opportunities for oneself and one’s connection with others.

To expand upon this latter point, when interacting with others – either as friends or as colleagues – you can learn about people by truly understanding the facets of the things that provide them with joy.  For example, the statement “I enjoy watching The Clone Wars” is one level of understanding, but as you’ve just seen, it’s simply scratching the surface.  Uncover the themes behind one’s enjoyment and you can learn a great deal.

Think about movies you’ve watched, books you’ve read, or places you’ve visited.  If you find yourself in a state of euphoria, ask yourself why.  What are the descriptors behind the event?  What do those descriptors say about you, and can you increase those feelings through additional exploration?

The (New) Hierarchy of Needs – Part I

“The real goal of any project is to have a team where each individual is striving to be the best.  If each team member can work within an environment or “operating structure”  such that they are able to realize their full potential (i.e. she/he is involved and engaged) and reach a state of “flow” (self-actualization), the collective team will ultimately build enough positive momentum to virtually guarantee project success.” – Adrian Daniels

A little over a year ago, I wrote an article that discussed how Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs could be employed in other paradigms other than pure survival.  One such paradigm is the use of this hierarchy in project management.

Project management is a discipline that is more complex than a process or project plan.  Remember, people = complexity.  Understanding what motivates individuals to go “above and beyond”  and mastering team dynamics is what differentiates truly successful projects from average ones.

The concept that I’ll cover in the next several posts is intended to help project managers and participants really understand the interpersonal aspect to project management.  If you envision project management as a scale, the process and core “plan” are ultimately balanced by the interpersonal / psychological concepts described here.

As you take a closer look at this project management hierarchy, think about how this structure can be employed in your project(s) (or in ones that you participate in).  Can you employ the entire hierarchy or just elements contained within?  If you were to alter the ordering, what would it look like and why?

The benefits of using this hierarchy are limitless.  By taking advantage of this paradigm, I am confident that you, your team members and your project will  benefit.

The Crystal Ball.

“Begin with the end in mind” is based on the principle that all things are created twice. There’s a mental or first creation, and a physical or second creation to all things. – Stephen Covey

One of the many things I’ve learned in project management is that “starting with the end in mind” is one of the best methods to ensuring a successful outcome.  When your team has a clear sense of what need to do from the beginning, task definition and assignment activities come naturally and the team is able to spend more time focusing on the “day-to-day” issues vs. continuously wrestling with an ever-changing scope definition.

A similar approach can work extremely well when envisioning your future.

An article in the Futurist magazine entitled “Envisioning your Future: Imagining Ideal Scenarios” suggests that:

… having a vision is to be an idealist.  This idealism should not be confused with unrealistic ideas; it should be used synonymously with having “a standard of excellence”.  A person that is by nature a visionary looks into the future as though it is filled with possibilities, not probabilities.

If I look at my future based from who I really am, and document a clear description of what that future looks like, my life starts to become what I’ve created for myself.

After much thought, I came up with the following personal vision:

“My vision for the future is comprised of positive experiences that intertwine my ‘personal’ and ‘professional’ lives into a single life structure.  Because of this, the long-held notion of “work-life” balance is lessened, and at its extreme, no longer required.  By thinking strategically, I am able to spend my energy on activities that pay dividends over both the short and long-term.  A continuous and purposeful stream of explicit and implicit challenges allows my mind to expand at an accelerated rate.  With this expansion comes possibilities, and possibilities spark further action towards an ideal state called “Ultima”.  My relationships are continuously expanding, but only at a rate where the relationships themselves are developing at a natural and lasting pace.  My ability to see the unique qualities of each person and strive towards relationships that are, at their core, genuine, helps build strong partnerships that ultimately become central figures in a life structure built around growth, energy, complexity, awareness and intensity.”

Fortunately, I think this is fairly representative of what I want my future to look like.  The next step is to take this concept and apply it to my design firm.

What does my business vision look like?  I’ll talk about that in my next post.

Discovering Situational Awareness.

This post discusses a topic well known in the aviation field known as “situational awareness” (SA).  I first learned about this topic several years ago when I was learning how to fly.  The book I read is part of the larger “Controlling Pilot Error” series and is, not surprisingly, called Situational Awareness.

The summary of this text is as follows: (excerpt from Amazon.com)

Do you pilot with constantly acute mental accuracy and analysis? This book helps you to: overcome the passive pilot syndrome involved in many aviation accidents; learn to “prepare to be aware”; sharpen perception of your surroundings; build a second sense for detecting loss of SA; recover quickly from temporary disorientation; and learn about cockpit avionics that warn of SA losses.

When I read this book, I found this concept interesting because I (naively) believed I would be better prepared to deal with this problem once I got in the air.  In the subsequent flight lesson I quickly learned how one can lose situational awareness and just how difficult it is to retrieve it.

In contrast to other flights, the day when I lost situational awareness came when there was an increased amount of traffic and I had not flown for 2-3 weeks.  The combination of these two variables resulted in my loss of situational awareness.

When things become disorienting, whether it involves poor weather, increased radio chatter, or heavy traffic, pilots of all experience levels (not all) have a tendency to redirect their attention to the airplane’s controls and gauges vs. focusing their attention outside the cabin.  Much to my surprise, I (not to mention my instructor!) found myself doing just that – it was almost like my eyes were somehow drawn to the interior of the cabin trying to make sense of what was going on.  Needless to say, this can be very dangerous and has been a factor in many fatal accidents.

In many flight manuals and texts, the recurring message is: “Fly the Plane!”.  The gauges and radios are there to supplement your experience, but they are not there to keep the plane in the air – that’s your primary responsibility.

While this concept sounds simple enough – it can be very challenging.  To learn how to manage complexity and to mentally “remove” yourself from extraneous “distractions” takes practice and understanding.

In my next post, I’ll share some of the recommendations from the text that help one understand, maintain and re-gain situational awareness.  While this has applicability to flight, it also has applicability in normal life – including the workplace.