Archive for June, 2012

Rockets and Science

June 19th, 2012

Rocket science is fun not only because of the rocket you end up launching but the science that made it possible to make it so.

Just because now and then someone pops up to democratize rockets doesn’t render the science obsolete, but it takes away quite a large portion of the sense of achievement for the scientist.

So despite all the talk of looking at the big picture, labelling yourself as someone building and launching rockets, there might be more value in focusing on and emphasizing the thing you actually do.

Niche size

June 16th, 2012

What’s the size of a niche, preferably one you can seize? Because they keep getting smaller, they need to be smaller the more you want to be the first or maybe only one who caters to and for it.

Sports, for instance. Do we need another sports channel? Maybe not. Okay, make it one step smaller. Do we need another football channel? Maybe not. One more smaller. Do we need a sports channel for the football team of one state? Maybe… or maybe not. Do we need a sports channel for the football teams of one single city?

You see where it’s going. The big “niches” have already been taken, in most cases in such quality that it’s not worth putting up with it. So the obvious thing to do is to find the niche inside the niche. Once again, somebody was having this idea before you, bummer. And in terms of big media, i.e. magazines or TV, doing another iteration often is no use, because the audience keeps getting smaller and smaller, or, to connect the issue to numbers, the cost per reader/viewer starts to increase significantly because attention doesn’t increase proportionally.

That said, the question “Do we need another…?” is misleading in economical terms. When it comes to consumption, we have barely a scarcity of anything. The point is, when you’re not able to make a profit of owning the niche, why have it?

Instead of this deductive approach maybe an inductive one yields better service. A doctor is of most value to those who hurt. And it seems in general, western societies don’t hurt a lot at first sight. But we do, and often we’re not aware of it, because, and this is where the fun kicks in, for every obvious pain we’ve been educated to have there’s a remedy. Well, of course they’re placebos, because those who make them don’t intend to cure us.

So where’s the beef? Well, I think we as human beings want to feel alive, as much as we can. It’s only frustration that lets us drug ourselves down with consumables of whatever kind. If you turn your focus on how you can make people feel alive, that’s where the fruitful niches are.

…in my underwear

June 15th, 2012

Going through Hugh MacLeod’s latest book last night, I felt reassurance that writing the last post the way I did was the right thing to do (at least for now). After all, what’s the point in trying to be insightful and witty fot its own sake? What’s the point if it’s not personal? It’s not about whinging or bragging or ranting, it’s about making use of this medium as a means to discover oneself, or one’s self.

Now I’m smiling because I was really wondering why I had such a writer’s block over the last months. It’s not that there were no ideas (after all, ideas are here), but I felt some strange obligation to express them in a reasonable, insightful, generalized, pragmatic way. Bullshit. Self-imposed limitations like these prevent most people from releasing what’s inside them. What a waste.

So here I am, actually not in my underwear, trying a slightly different approach of writing, and I’ll see shere it gets me. For now, I’m happy.

The environment in which you thrive

June 14th, 2012

Do you know what it is?

Frankly, until yesterday, I didn’t. I had some sense of what it might be, but when reading Masters of DOOM the other day, I got a clear idea of what it is. For instance, John Carmack, the genius programmer of legendary video graphics engines of games like DOOM and QUAKE (and all the other stuff id software did), was at his best when being left alone. All he needed was a computer and sufficient supply of pizza and caffeinated diet soda pop (according to the book). The other John, John Romero, was quite the opposite, outgoing, loud, kinda rock star, you name it. He preferred distraction around him most of the time, until the other John would show him the results of his coding. Then he would completely freak out about what they could do with this new graphics engine, and he’d sit down and create level after level of a new game that would set new records in every aspect of video gaming.

And there’s a lot of examples, especially in popular culture, where two similar but completely different indivduals meet and get to work: John & Paul, the two Steves, the two Johns. They found someone with an innate understanding of what they were about. They could bounce ideas off each other, sometimes getting into a fight because each one was convinced his way was the way to do it, and in the end, they would not end up with a foul compromise, but a solution that mostly contained only the best parts of both sides.

For me, an environment like that is where I perform best too, when I have someone who I can bounce off ideas to without a lot of explaining, someone I share one or more passions with, but who can be completely different (which most humans are, despite common belief I have never come across anyone who was like me — everyone is special in their own way, which is great). This is where I thrive. In the place I currently work, there is no such environment. It’s more, sort of, indifferent, everyone’s tending to their own business. Which is okay, but over the past weeks I kept wondering why despite working massive hours and getting stuff done I didn’t feel that high you get when performing at your best.

Realizing this, I was bristling with energy this morning, I couldn’t contain myself. I got stuff done. I felt performance, though the environment hadn’t changed. It was just the insight: “I do best when it’s so-and-so. Ain’t got that now. Do it anyway.” And obviously, it didn’t last all day, but the overall effect was a good one. Today felt good.

So after all, I just wanted to point out that the environment is quite an important influence on your performance. This is not a new finding in general, I’m aware. But what is important is just how little it takes to make it so. It’s just, in David Kushner’s words, flipping a single bit —such as having the right opposite— that can change your personal experience. And if not, being aware of this may not improve it right away, but it may answer the why question if you’re not doing as well as you know you can. And then you move on.

The ubiquitous canteen

June 8th, 2012

Several years ago, British comedy artist Eddie Izzard did a brilliant parody of Star Wars. In case you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the video:

And there’s a big truth in there, because this happens all the time, to almost everyone, almost every day. So instead of getting pissed because everyone around you is acting like a jerk (from your perspective), you might wanna remember this and have a good laugh.

Epilogue

June 7th, 2012

Somehow it’s a proof of concept, multiple concepts to be precise. When I purchased “Turning Pro” the other day, the draft for the last post had been lying around for two weeks as a scribbled note, I was just too lazy to sit down and post it. As a matter of consequence, an idea that would have been (also been perceived as) being original now appears to be a paraphrase of another. Which is why it’s really important to ship the stuff you come up with, because an idea without execution has little value.

Becoming a Master

June 7th, 2012

It’s a choice, as most (if not all) things are. You don’t stop learning, but the mindset is different, because you set a goal and determine yourself to achieve it no matter what. This is very different from perfectionism, which is the quest for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, or as Steven Pressfield quite rightly writes in his new book “Turning Pro”, it’s a symptom of fear. The counterpart of perfectionism, by the way, is utility – settling for “good enough”. Both are the results of fuzzy goal setting, which many people tend to because it feels like a safe bet. Not only do you have some leeway in terms of a preempted excuse if the result lingers on the utility side, but also a higher chance of exceeding expectations, the thinking goes. And while one may think that this never works in the big picture, it does if for instance a whole company applies it. For some time, it will give them enough comfort on the inside, but on the outside this company fails. But this is another story.

For the individual, becoming a master, or turning pro, remains a conscious choice. And as Steven Pressfield writes, it’s free, but not without cost, it demands sacrifice. And it’s not for everyone.

Check the cables

June 1st, 2012

Just a little piece of good old advice. If it’s not working, always make sure everything’s hooked up properly in the first place. Might save you hours of idle trial’n error.