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Monday
Apr192010

von mises on politics

Who could argue with what economist Ludwig Von Mises wrote in 1940?

"The usual terminology of political language is stupid. What is ‘left’ and what is ‘right’? Why should Hitler be 'right' and Stalin, his temporary friend, be 'left'? Who is 'reactionary' and who is 'progressive'? Reaction against an unwise policy is not to be condemned. And progress towards chaos is not to be commended. Nothing should find acceptance just because it is new, radical, and fashionable. 'Orthodoxy' is not an evil if the doctrine on which the 'orthodox' stand is sound. Who is 'nationalist,' those who want to bring their nation under the heel of the Nazis, or those who want to preserve its independence?"

The same terminology is still used freely. Seventy years on. Why? Because politics is the art of exciting people into doing things they aren't that interested in. Whenever "language is stupid"- PR and advertising are more obvious examples- then the objective is usually to create excitement. Being excited is fun, brain boxes like Von Mises were not against this, but they thought it healthier, I suspect, to not confuse excitement with actually getting something done.

Tuesday
Apr132010

luxuries you cannot afford

comparing self to others

thinking of the future by lying on the sofa

planning your entire life out instead of finishing the project at hand

demanding a flattering identity rather than a workable one

undervaluing the freedom of not having a job

self pity in any of its myriad guises

Sunday
Apr112010

feelin' old?

Feel old in a good way today. It's not impossible- for example reflect on how lucky you were to see something that is now long gone.

Friday
Apr092010

selling using the lego principle

Any parent proud of his or her IQ must wince and squirm when facing the prices charged by Lego.

Lego, especially outside the US, is incredibly expensive. A kit to make a small space pod or tracked vehicle will cost $20 or more. But all the cheapo copies of Lego are useless. I know because I started to buy them and discovered there were always a few bits that didn’t fit. I began to really appreciate the very high quality of Lego and its ongoing inventiveness. I played with Lego as a child and it’s better now. I now feel good, almost, when I spend big amounts on Lego kits. I feel I am buying something really worthwhile and lasting. Crazy? Maybe- but what is monetary value except the value we arbitrarily give to something? Scarcity makes things expensive- but it changes not a whit the real value of something. If Lego halved in price it would still be great- but maybe I wouldn’t have looked so carefully at it and consequently appreciated it so much.

If you are worried what you offer is too expensive remember we live in an abundant world. If people want what you have to offer they can always find the money from somewhere. And the more they pay the more they will FIND value in it. Experiment with the Lego principle: the more you charge the more people will discover the hidden value in what you sell. This is different from snob value, I'm not proud of my kid's lego in the way I might be proud of a Montblanc pen (which are inferior to Sailor pens from Japan I might add). It's not like designer perfume which loses perceived value when it is lowered in price. What interests me beyond the great microeconomic example of how a monopoly (kind of) can charge what it wants, is the way I have psychologically come to terms with paying insane sums (80USD once for a kit my son made in minutes. minutes!) for small bits of plastic. It's like those penniless villagers from upper Egypt who somehow get $5000 together to stow away on a leaky boat to Italy. Even a 'wealthy' westerner like me thinks that's a ton of money for a one way trip in the hold. When you have decided that you need this thing you'll pay. I think maybe that when pricing something to sell you shouldn't even consider the purchasers capacity to buy, the size of their purse, their income. You should focus entirely on increasing their desire. Certainly when I've been 'sold' that's what happened.

Thursday
Apr082010

the oxbow lake effect

Aardvarks, especially smart ones, have an aversion to complexity. Their burrows can become veritable warrens until, at a certain critical moment, they are abandoned. Whereupon it is those natural lovers of complexity, nay, even chaos, the wild dogs who take over, and make more complicated the already labyrinth-like underground dwellings so recently vacated.

The labyrinth- navigated by Theseus with the help of Ariadne’s ball of string. A sliver of a link but one worth making. String, you see, can bundle up as we all know into one hell of a complex knot, a Gordian knot no less that only a lateral thinker like Alexander can defeat- slicing through it rather than trying to untangle it. He knew, you see, that tangle complexity can never be defeated.

Tangle complexity appears too in the strange case of the Norwegian coastline. As students of fractal geometry will know, the coastline of Norway is riven into fjords, and fjords on fjords and fjords on fjords on fjords. You get the picture: in a variation on Zeno, the coastline is potentially of infinite length and can certainly be never measured. What I’m projecting here is a sort of speeded-up vision of the coastline over eons of time, the fjords just multiplying and lengthening all the time. This is tangle complexity- it just gets worse. It just gets more and more complicated over time.

There’s no feedback mechanism to control the growth of the complications.

But not all complexity is tangle complexity, which is akin to, but not identical with, entropic decline. When we think of unavoidable complications which are brought on us in order to alleviate or solve some ongoing problem, then we’re in different territory; then we are in the realm of the oxbow lake effect.

As students of geography know, the oxbow lake is the result of a river running through easily erodible land. As it wobbles the curves are carved out (water flows fastest on the outside of a curve thus digging it wider) and eventually the river begins to loop back on itself. Finally, though, the two sides of the loop meet and a redundant lake- the oxbow- is formed- and the river is much shortened and much straighter. Until the process starts all over again.

So, in terms of complexity, the river gets more and more complex, ie. loopier and less straight, until at that sudden breakthrough point when the levels connect together and shorts out the bit that becomes the oxbow lake.

Shorting-out, or shortcutting-out is a good description. In any system, that becomes too complicated, but has some over riding purpose, the levels will shortcut out after a while. As Steven Strogatz has shown complicated architectures very often develop the ‘small world effect’; ie. six degrees of separation. (if a sample of 100 people each know 50 more people and this is repeated through six people the total pool is 31 billion- in other words much bigger than the world’s population. So you can connect to anyone in 5 or 6 people, even Saddam and Stalin). Implied is a certain degree of non-isolation. Inuit in the 14th century would have to be excluded I imagine. The ‘mechanism’ of six degrees is: shortcuts happen when there is lots of connecting going on.

What the ‘oxbow lake effect’ does is take this further, it suggests that any system that is non-trivial will develop shortcuts causing an oscillation in states of complexity. In the oxbow lake effect the shortcuts happen because of the nature of the erosion. Over time the erosion effect exaggerates any wrinkle in the river’s length. It is pure positive feedback- making left turns more left and right turns more right. But when this uninhibited positive feedback effect is contained within a bigger system that limits it (in this case the limitation is the water flowing downhill to the sea) then the positive feedback eventually negates itself and the system as a whole exhibits negative feedback characteristics.

Students of history will be familiar with the law of unintended consequences: politicians, usually, set out to rectify something and end up exacerbating the very thing they wanted to improve. There’s some joyous poetic justice involved here- but only if your heart is a little cold. One of my favourites was the UN anti-desertification program that actually found the largest increase in desertification where all the research vehicles at the study centre were turning in and out and driving around and actually causing a major increase in…desert.

Then there’s the second world war, to change pace a little, where an attempt to avoid another catastrophic war by making the aggressor weak, ended up fuelling such resentment that another war broke out.

In fact you only have to study a few cases to realise that the law of unintended consequences is the RULE rather than the exception. People see something complicated, they try to fix it, they make it worse…until it somehow ‘shorts-out’ and fixes itself.

There is fixing something complicated by making it more complicated and fixing something complicated by creating an ‘oxbow lake’. Maybe we should look for potential oxbow lakes before we rush in to fix things that have defeated many many people before and are hideously complicated.

Perhaps the oxbow lake effect is evidence too of a motive power for the mysterious ‘black swan effect’ invented by Nicholas Taleb. Here, big strange things- like the recent credit crunch- just ‘happen’. Of course one needs to be wary of trying to predict a real world phenomenon from a few nice analogies, nevertheless, if one flies over a river a few months, years even, before the breakthrough is made and sudden redundancy happens, one can safely predict some pretty major falls in riverside real estate values on the soon to be formed oxbow lake.

One should, as a smart aardvark, be on the look out for the oxbow lake effect. What is overcomplicated and just begging for a shortcut? You might need only add one more plank to create a massive saving or create a great innovation. 

Tuesday
Apr062010

the smartpoint versus the tipping point

Most people are familiar with positive and negative feedback, otherwise known as vicious and virtuous circles. With positive feedback the more something happens the more it happens. It’s fuelled by its own increase. This is the vicious circle: a drunk man wants to drink more, a fat woman eats to assuage her guilt at being fat, which makes her fatter, so she feels guiltier and eats more, or global warming in its current projection- the warmer it gets the more CO2 there is in the atmosphere the warmer it gets.

Negative feedback is control feedback, a virtuous circle. A sober woman drinks a little, she feels a little different so she slows up drinking. A thin man eats too much, feels bloated and stops eating. The running man feels hot, starts to sweat and cools down.

Negative feedback takes care of itself. But many of the problems of the world fall into the positive feedback corner. Indigenous Amazon Indians have lost their land. They protest violently. The world loses sympathy. While the world looks the other way they lose more land. An explosive child gets frustrated by rules and explodes with anger. His parents punish him for breaking the rules of politeness. He gets even angrier as he has just violated even more rules. An unfit man doesn’t feel like exercising so he doesn’t, and gets even less fit.

OK- you get the picture. Now take the fat variant: fatsos  feel less fit, do less exercise, get fatter, do less exercise, get fatter etc. This is very hard to break. Where do you start? Do you cut into the food supplies, do you force the fatties to run and eat pain instead of breakfast, or a bit of both? How do you decide the targets though? How much exercise? How much weight loss? That’s not easy and that’s where attempts to solve problems fail.

But all you actually need to do is shift to a negative feedback situation. Ordinary shaped people feel fit enough to do exercise so they remain ordinary shaped. This is the Aardvarkian Smartpoint. The point where a positive feedback situation flips to becoming a negative feedback situation. Vicious becomes virtuous. Once it’s virtuous you can forget about it. It’s running itself. It’s solving itself.

Instead of fixing on hopeless or imaginary targets when trying to solve a vicious circle we should look for the aardvarkian smartpoint. The smartpoint becomes the focus of our efforts. With a fat person you have to ask them, or they ask themselves, not ‘what weight do you want to be?’ because that is unreal. Rather, ‘at what weight will you feel like exercising’. Chances are it’s higher than the ideal weight. But that doesn’t matter. Because once they are into a virtuous circle they can easily get down to an ideal weight since they are now in control of the checks and balances.

With an explosive child one should ask, not ‘how can I get him to behave’ but rather, ‘at what point does he not explode at rules’. All you need to do is keep the rules, and his irritability below that point. Let’s say you can’t get up early enough to do something that lacks urgency but is still important. Instead of focusing on an ideal ‘early time’ that is probably demoralisingly early, fix on a smartpoint, a time that is early enough for you to do a reasonable job and see the benefit of getting up early. You have become more aware of what is involved. Once convinced of the benefits it’s easy to get up earlier still.

The smartpoint is somewhat different from the tipping point. Tipping points are more concerned with macro effects such as contagion and the spread of disease. The tipping point is often a positive feedback loop created by a critical number of viral connections. It is about spreading and increase- good or bad. The smartpoint is about control. It is a precise micro effect: the move from a positive feedback to a negative feedback situation.

The smartpoint is an intervention device for breaking vicious circles. Most addictions are characterised by a vicious circle- even coffee drinkers think they’ll feel ‘better’ after yet another coffee, and so it continues. But take the coffee example- instead of trying to give it up think of how much coffee you need to drink to feel a sense of discomfort. Over the days find your smartpoint. That shift from trying to fight yourself to becoming aware is a first step to getting out of an addiction pattern.

Smartpoints help, too, when perfectionism spoils everything. If you have a project, say a novel, that won’t work ask yourself where the smartpoint is. At what point does this novel ‘work’ as opposed to ‘not work’. You may be surprised that what at first seems hopeless really needs only a few small but important adjustments. Once a novel ‘works’ you’re in virtuous circle land, as further improvements suggest themselves.

With an expedition I ask where the smartpoint is regarding team numbers. At what point does this expedition become unviable? (the circle being: too few people makes the trip feel ‘unreal’ which serves to turn off attracting people). I find that the viable number is usually not that many, lower than you first imagine. Once you have that core number the project feels ‘real’ and it’s easier to attract others if that is required.

I guess the essence of the smartpoint is that it shifts a vague desire into becoming real. It does this by causing an increase in awareness. And by utilising our knowledge of the benefits of virtuous circles. Instead of making people run the whole way its like saying ‘you only have to run to the bus stop- and then the bus will take you home.’ That’s a lot easier isn’t it?

Monday
Apr052010

how to make money from your passion

Money can arrive, like Manna, directly from the clouds above.

Mostly however, it chooses these four channels.

It arrives through:

Employment

Self-employment

Passive Income Stream- You are the Employer

Passive Income Stream- Automated ie. From book royalties, internet advertising, referral sales, rent.

You can lifeshift into anyone of these financial styles, though the more radical the lifeshift the more you will tend towards self-employment and generating passive income streams.

Follow the dream or follow the money

Your dream work, the work that is most meaningful to you, might come with a wage attached. If you want to be a commercial diver, bush pilot, tour guide- you will find work that is reasonably, sometimes very well,paid.

But many people have dreams that at first sight seem deeply unremunerative.

Richard Noble was salesman for the steel company GKN. His dream was enormous- become the fastest man on earth. This was a dream that would cost millions, you would think, and certainly not earn him anything.

Noble pursued his lifeshift relentlessly. He knew that if he looked like a contender others would back him. So he spent $2000 on an old jet engine, bolted it to a homemade chassis, got permission to use an airfield for a day, crashed- but in the process established himself as being in the business of record breaking.

He then set about finding sponsors. Finally he built and drove the car that beat the world record.

After that he was assured of making money from books, talks, and consulting. Instead he went on to break his own record and be the first to smash the sound barrier on land- for a budget of 10% of the £25 Million budgeted by race car team Maclaren.

He used the experience gained in these high risk ventures to develop a new light aircraft and to lecture to companies on his methods and experiences.

Noble’s book ‘Thrust’ is a great inspirational read and full of great ideas for potential lifeshift money makers. Noble’s talent is to build a team of lifeshifters- who see the project as the meaningful  work in their lives. By harnessing the incredible power of lifeshifting he achieves wonders.

He is a great example of how money follows the dream.

Peter Canning is a paramedic who lifeshifted from being a speech writer on health matters. He went from talking to acting. But he is employed by a company- one that he doesn’t always see eye to eye with. However the rewards of saving people’s lives out there on the street outweighs the straitjacket of conventional employment.

Frank Nasre started his carpet business as a self-employed salesman and shop manager. He was good- and innovative- the first to realize that under appreciated Afghan carpets suited the wood floors many Australians have. His breakthrough was when he realized “There are better salesmen out there than me.” He employed them and was able to devote his time to searching out locations for a new shop. He had gone from self-employed to employer.

Pablo lifeshifted from being a hedgefund manager to being an artist living in Ibiza. His art makes very little money- right now- so he lives by doing translation of business documents for one company. The work is easy and he can do it when he wants. His primetime is occupied by painting and employment serves this.

Peter Nelson does what he did as a child- build treehouses. He lifeshifted into his dream profession twenty years ago and now is both self-employed, is an employer as well as enjoying passive income streams from books and videos. Nelson has commandeered the niche (invented it you might say) of master treehouse builder. It sounds crazy- but last year Alnwick Castle- where the Harry Potter films are shot- paid $7million to build a huge treehouse that is also a 120 person restaurant. With lifeshifting anything can happen!

There are several basic principles involved with solving the money question. One is: what you may hate, others may pay to do.

Mike Treibold lifeshifted from an office worker to professional dinosaur hunter. Much of fossil preparation involves meticulous work chipping away the substrate of residual stone. He nearly exhausted himself doing this alone until he realized people were only too keen to volunteer just to be near anything to do with dinosaurs and to learn the trade. And then he found some were better at preparing dinosaur bones than he was.

No Money on the Horizon

At first your lifeshift may look like a non-starter when it comes to making money. Top aikido teacher Robert Mustard spent years in Japan learning his skills. He had no idea that he would one day do it for a living- for him it was just what he loved to do. He returned to Canada with a 6th Dan and a towering reputation. Over time he built a good living  from teaching at his own dojo and at seminars.

One of my favourite lifeshifters is Peter Vido, the obsessive scythe enthusiast and co-author of “The Scythe Book” that has run to several editions and is still very much in print twenty years after being published. It would be hard to find a more obscure lifeshift  niche than scything (for those in the dark it’s a long handled sickle for cutting grass and corn) but Vido’s fascination comes over both in his book, website and instructional videos. He also runs seminars to teach scything (it’s all in the sharpness of the blade).

Long Tail Lifeshifters

The scythe man illustrates the so called Long Tail phenomenon where obscure subjects can be remunerative through the internet’s ability to link up enthusiasts from all over the world. The long tail can be put to work by lifeshifters worldwide.

There may be nobody in your town interested in finding new rock art in the Libyan desert. But Hungarian Lifeshifter Andras Zboray has built a business, FJ expeditions that links everyone in the world interested in Saharan rock art. Through his extensive website, CDs and translations Zboray attracts clients for his expeditions to search for new art- mining the long tail to make a good living in his chosen work.

By harnessing the power of the long tail almost any lifeshift can be made remunerative.

The stages of making money from an interest are:

1)Build your competence in your chosen lifeshift- not difficult because it’s your dream work, what you find most meaningful.

2) Establish a website with an information heavy content. Providing real value with updates in the form of news, reviews and useful blog material.

3) Publish a book on lulu.com publicized through the website. Produce dvds, courses, talks etc.

4) organize events that combine travel with teaching people your lifeshift skill.

5)Combine travel or tourism with your interest- courses in exotic locations that trade on the value added of being a holiday as well as a course.

I have followed this method with the successful Explorer School where my Lifeshift interest in exploration has been built into a business providing courses where people can learn exploration skills.

Enjoy MINTS- Money Is Not The Solution

Except it’s hard to because it very often is. You want to do a course, it costs money. If you had money you could lifeshift couldn’t you? You want to write a book, if you had a nest egg you could take time off and concentrate and write that book. But you don’t have money. So you can’t lifeshift.

Don’t get me wrong. Money is the ultimate supertool, one of the best combination spanners in the workchest. With money you achieve so much, so quickly. Everyone needs money.

But a solution is never universal. First you need to define the problem. When you know the problem you can address it. Perhaps you will need money, but perhaps not.

You want to go rock climbing- you could pay a lot of money for an adventure holiday or you could join a club and pay virtually nothing to learn.

You want to get the spare time to write- if you only you could afford a two week break at a special hotel you know you could do it. Quit the demanding job and get all the spare time you need working evenings to support yourself. Clive Cussler quit his high power advertising job to work in a divestore while he wrote Raise the Titanic.

You need a top camera to be a professional- if only you had the money to buy it you could make that lifeshift. Again you can always find a group, club or institution that owns such equipment, you can also meet people who can loan you their gear through such an institution, you can even offer to review such equipment and then use it while you have the chance. When I worked as a professional photographer I identified the cheapest pro-camera and borrowed it from a friend. The solution wasn’t money- it was people.

Money can be a snake, a motivator. The story goes: a man was dying of thirst in the desert. He collapsed and was about to expire when he saw a snake. full of fear he ran and ran...until he reached a well and his life was saved. After he had drunk his fill he saw the snake again and began to curse it. But the snake reminded him that he had saved his life...Money is needed to do certain things like travel and live. But it can get you to some interesting places and doing interesting things. Alright, get a job, earn that money, quit the job, use it for what you need it for. It’s that easy.

No question crops up more often than “so how do you pay the bills?” When you are doing, full time, what you want to do you have no status riding on your job. You couldn’t care less if you’re a dustbin man or a doctor. Ranulph Fiennes, the world famous explorer, was once seriously considering becoming a waiter at Claridges Hotel- the tips were so big he’d be able to take enough time off to make expeditions for half the year.

So the short answer to the money question is that you make a bare living in the time left over from doing your passionate interest. You can save money and live off that, or you can work odd hours- any hours as long as they do not infringe on your primetime.

The longer answer has to address how you make your lifeshift into your breadwinner. There are many ways to do this and we've examined some here. But first its important to think about money in a different way.

What usually happens is that people don’t really know how to make money from their passion so they restrain themselves from going full blown obsess ional which is sometimes all that you need to do before you start making money from it.

There are also transferable jobs which prey on any interest and make it a commercial viability. These are writing, video making both entertainment and instructional, sponsorship, equipment sales, photography, courses and seminars, lectures, tourism and hospitality.

When people want to change their lives they are usually looking for a way to also make a living. This is, in 90% of cases, what derails a lifeshift. In the beginning you cannot hope, expect or need to make your living from what you love. It’s the first commandment of lifeshifting. If you try to make money too soon from what you love then you run the risk of poisoning your interest. Yet at the same time, I believe it is possible to make money out of any interest given enough time and energy spent really mastering that interest. With Lifeshifting to make money you have to locate your interest in as high an earning a market as possible. For example, I once tried to make money selling a homebrew product I had invented. But the homebrew market as a whole, in the UK, is only worth about £2 million. The chance of making a good living is limited. You can therefore relocate your interest to either the teaching and educational market or the entertainment market. Remember if you can’t sell candles, sell candle making kits. Once you have a business that sells information and learning you can then piggyback product sales onto that. Ray Mears, as well as making TV shows, runs survival courses. After the course is over you have the chance to buy some of the excellent gear you have used. The sales of equipment naturally complement the courses.