Categories
Thought

I have a few questions too

A few questions worth thinking about.

What do I hold to be true but have never questioned the underlying assumptions about it?

What will not cease to be true in the next decade or century, and why do I think so?

What blind spot am I oblivious to based on my experiences and privileges?

What do a lot of people believe to be true, but you think is false and overrated?

What do I consider to be false or untrue now but can be right and true if in a different context?

What can still be simplified but still seem irreducibly complex? And how do I know it can’t be further simplified?

What simple explanation am I ignoring because it doesn’t conform with my expectations?

What is not been said that I need to hear? What should be said that I am not saying? What is holding me back?

Is my perception of what’s in front of me true? How will I know when it’s no longer true?

What should I be logical about that I am ignoring because of the several data that confirms my previous beliefs?

What am I ignoring because of how abundant it is or how invested I am? The story of the two fishes wondering what water is in David Foster Wallace’s ‘This Is Water’ comes to mind.

What is the best result if the opposite of what I want happens?

PS: One of my favorite writers, Morgan Housel wrote some questions that prompted mine. You should check it out too.

Categories
Leadership Thought

It’s still a beautiful world

The happenings in my home country some days ago left me numb for several hours. Though it is difficult, I have learnt to find peace and beauty from a place of introspection. It’s in moments like these that I turn into my journal for things I want to remember.

I found one of those letters that reaffirmed what I want to remind myself and those I love; I don’t remember how long it’s been here, but I found peace reading it, over and again.

“I hope you find the kind of love that makes you a softer person. The kind of love that makes you want to be a better man or woman, the kind of love that believes in you and supports you, that stands by your side… I hope you find someone who shows you just how deeply you can feel, just how deeply you can love. I hope you find something real, because nothing is more beautiful than loving someone who loves you back. Nothing is more beautiful than loving someone who builds you a home in their heart.

I hope you find acceptance. The kind that rings through your bones, the kind that quiets the voice inside of you that tells you that you are not good enough, or that you are falling behind. I hope you forgive yourself for the mistakes you have made, for the past you keep alive inside of you. I hope you learn to let go — of the things you had to do in order to heal, or to grow, or to survive. You are doing your best. You are human. Please don’t ever forget that.

But most of all, I hope you find yourself out there. I hope you figure out your heart, I hope you figure out your mind. I hope you learn how to be kind to yourself, how to embrace the journey you are on. I hope you learn how to be proud of the person you are becoming, I hope you learn how to be proud of where you are — even if it isn’t exactly where you want to be. I hope you learn to fall in love with the process, with the messiness of life and the confusion of it all.

At the end of the day, I hope you find what you’re looking for out there. I hope your life inspires you.”

In the face of despair, it is easy to grow numb and weary. But you shouldn’t. You can nurture your spirit to shield you in time of distress.

“Whatever your labours and aspirations in the noisy confusion of life”, a favourite poem titled Desiderata admonishes, “keep peace in your soul.”

It is still a beautiful world.

I first shared this on The Daily Vulnerable on October 23, 2020.

Categories
Thought

Our fears don’t tell the whole story

Chude Jideonwo and I reflected on the happenings around the world and decided to publish this piece in July 2019 – this was before neither the Coronavirus nor George Floyd happened. I’m syndicating it here because it reminds me that while it is easy to think that things are getting worse, we are still living in one of the best moments humanity has experienced.
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Do humanity’s best days lie ahead or behind us? It’s the eternal question in the post-Enlightenment world. We were forged and evolved in fear; that’s how we survived the jungle. Thus it is reasonable to see the world as one in which hope is an endangered species.

This feeling is valid. But valid does not mean true. In his book, Factfulness, Swedish professor Hans Rosling described the pervasive cognitive bias that can lead to a feeling of doom: “We must recognise … when we get negative news, and [remember] that information about bad events is much more likely to reach us. When things are getting better we often don’t hear about them. This gives us a systematically too-negative impression of the world around us, which is very stressful.”

Although there is a lot of bad news, Rosling reminds us that there is just as much good. But the positive developments are hard to notice because good news, often, isn’t news enough for the media — it doesn’t sell — and gradual improvements are not dramatic enough to be news.

The resulting focus on pain and despair distorts reality, not just because the news may be false or exaggerated, but because it can lock you in an echo chamber, and feeds you with self-reinforcing messages: the world is dangerous; no one is safe; we are doomed. These are feelings that have been amplified in a world led by the likes of Donald Trump, Jair Bolsanaro, and, probably soon, Boris Johnson.

But these feelings are not benign. Not only can they have a major effect on an individual’s self-esteem, but negative perceptions of the world can also affect how we interact with it.

Last year, a study published in the journal Science by Harvard professor David Levari and colleagues examined this problem. “In a series of experiments, we show that people often respond to decreases in the prevalence of a stimulus by expanding their concept of it. When blue dots became rare, participants began to see purple dots as blue; when threatening faces became rare, participants began to see neutral faces as threatening; and when unethical requests became rare, participants began to see innocuous requests as unethical,” the study found.

In other words, human brains are wired in such a way that even if the frequency of bad news were to decrease, we would start to expand our definition of bad news and keep finding more of it. One way to deal with this bias is to know it exists and to consciously seek out information that challenges our biases.

So, if you are feeling overwhelmed by the state of the world, remember this: humanity has made considerable improvements in the several dimensions of human well-being. If you were alive even less than 200 years ago, there is a 90% chance that you were illiterate. The likelihood of getting killed in a war is slimmer than it used to be some decades ago. Access to education and learning is at an all-time high and we are living longer, healthier and wealthier lives than at any other point in history. 

That doesn’t make irrelevant the news that loneliness and depression are on the rise, and that the wealthier and safer the place you live, the more likely you may be to commit suicide. We just need to replace a story of doom, with a truer story of progress.

One of the lessons we have learnt from our work of equipping young Africans with happiness and resilience skills is this: our fears are boring. These fears, heightened by clouds of doom, distort our acceptance of the opportunities around us. 

These fears are the same fears that have been around since people gained cognition: Will I be happy? Will I find love? Will I be healthy?

But we know that what is really exciting about us are the things that lie at the other spectrum of emotion: creativity, collaboration, trust, faith and, as the Harvard Grant Study reminds us, love and mutually rewarding relationships. (The study has tracked 268 men since 1938, during the Great Depression. It is continuing and has expanded to include women and the men’s children.)

Nations have risen out of destruction and poverty, people have overcome heartbreak and trauma, communities have grown through lack and scarcity, and people around the world have linked up to make things better for people they do not know.

We know that the world, and our lives, can get better because we have the example all around us every day.

There is no need to deny all the things that remain wrong in our world, and the work that yet remains ahead. But we must never forget that despair is not the complete story. Reality is more nuanced than that single story, and the reality — our reality today, and the reality of human progress, based on all the data we have from history — is that our world has in its belly an abundance of the good and the beautiful.

A version of this piece appeared on Mail & Guardian on July 5, 2019.

Categories
Thought

The Daily Vulnerable

As some of you are aware, I’ve been involved in managing The Daily Vulnerable since it was first launched by Chude in February 2018. It was one of the first set of products at Joy, Inc.

It has now grown into a community (over email and blog) of people sharing their vulnerabilities and other things that make us human daily. Yes. Daily!

Every day, we hear people talk about successes, fearlessness, victories, glory. But how about the things we never talk about – our fears, insecurities, doubts, mistakes, flaws. Or the people who slash us everyday with selfishness, thoughtlessness, and a lack of consciousness. We talk about them on The Daily Vulnerable every day – so you know you are perfectly, rightly, human, and you learn how to go beyond these daily foibles and be your best possible self, every single day.

We’ve had people who are considered as famous, and those who don’t consider themselves famous. We’ve read from experts and those just starting out. From individuals with material wealth and others whose wealth isn’t material. Because, regardless of where you are in the spectrum and filters society creates, we all feel these things.

Vulnerability is a gift. It is, as one of my favorite vulnerability researchers –  Brené Brown – once noted, the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it is the birthplace of joy, and creativity, and belonging, and of love. Without vulnerability, it is difficult to form deeper relationships with others.

Some of the best conversations I’ve had are with people who, regardless of what others (read this as pundits, magazines, society) say about them, have the courage to be imperfect and the strength to be vulnerable and the wisdom of long term perspective.

You can read The Daily Vulnerable blog, and let me know what you think. Yes, you can also share on The Daily Vulnerable. Let’s discuss over email or over the phone (email is damola at joyinc dot xyz).

Categories
Thought

Suspending GDP?

I’ve been having some thoughts lately about how the economy, as we measure it, is being affected by the global pandemic.

Will this be the perfect time to do away with GDP for good, and start using a more comprehensive approach for measuring growth and progress?

For those who remember, the modern concept of the GDP was a recent innovation in human history. Recent, in this context, is the year 1934, when the US Congress decided it was the best option after the World War and Great Depression.

Economic activities in several countries across the world are affected, but more than these activities, we all are paying attention to social well-being. We are paying attention to the things that count, the things that make us human. We are paying attention to trust, to community, to well-being, and flourishing.

This is the best time to rethink our priorities, to bring to reality the things we’ve learnt from the BeyondGDP movements. Even if we don’t get to change it, at least, we can talk about and consider it.

Will we?

Categories
Thought

Beyond the rays

Since he released his book, Principles, I have grown eager to read almost everything Ray Dalio produces.

There are some areas I don’t fully agree with him – to my own peril – and some other areas I do.

This, however, is spot on.

“The three big questions worth answering are 1) What is the value of human life relative to a unit of economic activity, 2) What is the value of necessities relative to luxuries and 3) Who will and should benefit from all the money that is being created?”

One of the beauty these times have given us is a clear way of filtering through the noise and focusing on signals that matter – our collective humanity, the place of social connection, of family and flourishing, using technologies to accelerate the functions we want, without being slaves to the technologies themselves.

It is sad that we needed a global pandemic to remind us of the importance of love. Now, that we have this reminder, we can hold on to the lessons we’ve learnt in improving this civilization, pruning away the less relevant norms, and influencing what practices, systems, and policies stay with us.

We can do, and be, better.

Categories
Thought

In the Dot

One of the first few things you experience on any flight is how little things seem to be from above. Flying has a therapeutic effect on me; it gives me a gift – a re-calibration of perspective. A reminder that several of the things being fought for are relatively small. And beyond materialism, what matters more is the essence of being.

That perspective is also richer for those who have seen the earth from space. The early landers on the moon talked about how small the earth is.

Thirty years ago (on February 14, 1990), this photo of the earth in the context of the expanse of space was taken by Voger 1. The earth – with billions of people with various dreams, aspirations, and our politics, culture, systems, infrastructure, and wealth – is that Pale Blue Dot.

“Look again at that dot. That’s here, that’s home, that’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena.”

Carl Sagan’s words may not have made sense enough then. But today is another day to embrace that overview effect and see things for what it is – a pale blue dot – and recognise your place in this dot.

Categories
Strategy Thought

Decision audit

A few days ago, we did a decision review exercise within the company. The exercise was simple: we listed out all the decisions we took in the previous year, we reminded ourselves why each decision was taken and decided – based on the outcome – if it was a good decision, poor decision, or a neutral one.

This process got me thinking about why the same may be important in our individual lives. With what you know now, what was the quality of each of the decisions you made last year?

I have a different version of this, – more targeted at who I want to be; more in the sense of the character, learning and behavior I am imbibing, and how this influences the adventures I embark on.

Give yourself this gift too.

[Update – January 23]

After publishing this post, it occurred that I should make a clarification.

It is possible to make a good decision and still end up with a ‘bad’ outcome. Sometimes, several of the decisions create lasting outcomes are those that have positive second to third-order consequences, even if they seem bad at the interim. Those decisions are results of second-order thinking.

Don’t confuse the difference. Not all bad outcomes are bad. Some good, may seem bad, so they can be good.

Categories
Thought

On using willpower

Your willpower is finite. It is only available for a limited time.

The person you refer to as lazy may not be. What if they were assigned that responsibility after they have exhausted their willpower?

I think Garry Keller gets it right when he says you need two types of willpower to succeed. The willpower to do the right thing without distraction or disturbance. And the strength/willpower to support what you have done or avoid sabotaging it.

Implementing new behaviors will tax your will power – except you start from the point of least resistance, making it easier to take the first step to sustain that behavior.

The energy you put into filtering distractions, resisting (or fighting) temptation, suppressing emotions, restraining aggression, suppressing impulses, navigating an environment ridden in fear, or trying to impress others will take a toll on whatever is left of your will power.

Flow happens when we align our interest with the willpower available. Focus on what matters first when you still have your energies intact. And this is not new advice. Paul Graham has written about maker schedule and manager schedule. Cal Newport has encouraged deep work – carving out time to concentrate on the most important things without any distraction.

If you can, create a natural environment that filters away those things capable of draining your energy, so you can invest it in the things that matter.

Categories
Thought

Principles and Consequences

When making a decision, it’s best to think from the first principle. Most problems are better solved when they are directed from the first principle order.

Though the first principle lens is often the best in solving problems, I’ve observed that several people prefer ignoring this, and put forth solutions that may be easy in the interim but have a poor effect in the long term.

Which are you more interested in? Solving a problem or ensuring the problem is solved?

For the first, you may ignore the principles and get a patch-up that works in the interim until time unveils the truth.

The second requires we delve into the root cause and make amends from the first principle.

Categories
Thought

Before you say you can’t

About two years ago, I read this piece and found it highly valuable.

Before you conclude that you cant get something done, or be happier, answer this simple set of questions:

“Have you tried EVERYTHING? Have you exhausted every possible option, scenario, combination, tool, and approach? I do not simply refer to the ones that you knew of at the time you decided to undertake your task. 

I mean, have you also researched possibilities that you hadn’t known about?  Have you determined whether or not there is another person out there that has performed the exact same task you are attempting, or at least something similar?  Have you exhausted this research?  Have you read every book, blog, journal, magazine, bathroom stall, and website? 

If the answer to any one of these questions is “no,” then go back and try again.  Because you don’t truly know if you can do something until you have tried absolutely everything.”

Some more questions from Rob.

Really, trying everything may be exhaustive, but isn’t that the point? Isn’t the point to bring all (okay, most) plausible scenarios together, and eliminate as it demands?

I remember reading Seth sometime in 2014 when he advised that you make a list of “every complaint someone might have about a particular product, every media outlet that might be interested in your story, every time you’ve ever been rejected and what it has cost you, every successful product in this category that you’ve ever used, and why, every person you know who might help you reach the person who can help, every reason your current project might not work, every person you’ve ever met who would be perfect for this job, every person who deserves a thank you note, every animal that might be part of a name for this product, every reason you can think of to use what you’ve made, every successful restaurant within three blocks.”

Okay…that is almost exhaustive. But you get the point.

Categories
Thought

No Vacuum

There are two things I have had some people disagree with me – lightly – over: the existence of self-made people and the genius of heroes.

No one is self-made. We are all products of our time, our interactions, our environment (well-curated, for some), and the people, ideas, assets, and aspirations in our respective universe.

I am not the first to believe this. Even O. Wayne Rollins – who was described as a self-made entrepreneur and innovator several decades ago – was credited to have declared that there is no such thing.

Time conspired to make the situation the way it is. Consider if you were born a century ago, when education was different, or when strength is accessed not by intelligence but physical strength. When only the strongest man – based on physique was regarded as successful.

And that brings me to the second premise.

You know, I love the strides of heroes. I actually have some personal heroes – some of them are no longer living, some are. I admire their courage. I am grateful for their gifts – the products and ideas they help create.

However, if they had not done it, someone else would have.

Imagine if Bill and Paul had not started Microsoft. If Richard didn’t label those businesses ‘Virgin’. If Seth or Morgan didn’t share their insights frequently. Imagine if Paul (and his ‘co-conspirators’) had not started Y Combinator, or if your friend/mentor/hero did not start that company/product.

The world would have missed their exact perspective – at least not in the way we cherish it today. Maybe we still would have known them for something else.

How about those products, those services, companies, and ideas? Oh, those ones will still have existed. It may take some years – or months – before someone else gets it done.

“Nature”, as Kingsley Bangwell reminded me one beautiful morning in April 2012, “abhors a vacuum”.

Categories
Thought

The Learn Test

Will you want to learn about a thing if you know you can’t tell anyone about it?

Can you take that trip – for the joy of learning – without seeking social approval? Can you tour the world without sharing on the ‘gram?

Can you make things – art, codes, books, products, anything – without sharing it in your name?

I’m not saying you should, rather, I feel it may bring you closer to redefining the metrics you use in deciding what is worth pursuing or not.

I call it the ‘learn test’.

Categories
Thought

This is the most important skill for the future – and it is not AI

[This is an edited script of the TEDx talk at the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Nigeria on November 2, 2018]
Sometime in 2014, I joined a conversation about the New Vision for Education at the World Economic Forum on Africa. That session was focused on finding solutions to the talent-skills gap, skills needed in the 21st century, and the roles of stakeholders to fund education for growth and create a new vision for education on the continent.

A few months after our meeting, the World Economic Forum released a report containing what is now referred to as the ’21st Century Skills’ and other recommendation about the most required skill set by 2020.

Some of the skills recommended, the top 5, I believe, are complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, people management, and coordinating with others, and some 5 others.

In the next decades, our world will experience a lot of changes. Improvements in learning, culture, science and technology will have us dealing with an era where automation, adaptive computing and algorithm-led decision making are the new normal.

I will readily acknowledge that we don’t need to wait a few decades for this to happen. It already is. This exponential change will influence every part of our human experiences.

For the most part, it will be such a good thing.

Imagine walking to the MANCOT park and it’s a driverless bus waiting to take you to camp, or to farm. Where there is no one telling you not to shunt, and when someone does, we don’t need to shout ‘No shunting ooo… No shunting!’, rather there is an automated level of the disciplinary reward awaiting that person.

That’s the world where our labs are filled with 3D printers for experimentation, where we have virtual reality simulation of how to operate animals, and use augmented reality lenses to identify plants and trees. What else? Payments and exams will be easier. And life outside the institution will await us, patiently.

The downside?

With this increase in computational power, comes information abundance, several people may get caught up in echo-chambers and groupthink, and you will be faced with the need to constantly redefine the idea of what you consider as your identity.

In that world with so much noise, there will be a constant battle for your attention. Let’s not think too far; as of today, we are experiencing a rise in personalized advertising, algorithms tracking your every action online and artificial intelligence getting better at understanding some of your emotions.

One of the core skill sets I think we need to cultivate to remain sane and flourish now and in the future, is the ability to effectively direct our attention, understand ourselves well enough and harness our emotions.

In spite of the tremendous progress we have made, as humanity, in the fields of technology, innovation and exploring outer space, I’m intrigued that we do not seem to have made comparable progress in exploring our inner space and understanding the soul. Or maybe I’m wrong.

You see your emotions being played upon – almost out of your control – as you scroll through your social media feed, making comparisons, taking in the news without gauging, and get controlled by prompts from your smartphone.

For several of us, our attention is being captured by free information, free services, free entertainment, free data (as we think of it) and is then resold to advertisers.

Like someone once said, our attention have now become monetized. Silence, quiet and internal serenity are becoming more scarce when we don’t pay attention to them.

And this is a dangerous reality.

I have always believed in the sanctity of education, leadership and the use of technology to promote innovation, solve problems and build a future where people can be the best they can be. A future we can be proud of.

So, last year, I embarked on an adventure that led me towards further understanding of human flourishing, emotions, the themes of happiness, joy, and resilience. I was propelled by the possibilities of seeing Africans (and Africa) leapfrogging our challenges by leveraging the evidence-based power of positive emotions.

The scores of evidence that I encountered in books, lessons from other nations and cutting-edge research across the fields of positive psychology, economics, neuroscience, philosophy, and divinity all lead to the same conclusion. Our emotions matter in the quest to living a flourishing life.

Why do we feel fear, envy, anger, resentment? Why do we heal faster when we are happy? Why does fear have the capacity to paralyze us? How do we define and process these emotions? Why do our feelings either cloud our judgment or help us decide better? Why do we sometimes shy away from being vulnerable and authentic? I don’t have answers to these questions; they are for you to think about.

The purpose of emotion is to stimulate reflection. When we pay to seek to focus on our emotions and attention, we start defining the mental models underlying why we think the way we do, why we act the way we do and why we cherish the perception of the world we hold. You get to understand and question your implicit biases.

Most of what we have been taught – by our well-meaning parents, teachers and the environment – may not be true, may not be worthy of controlling our attention. Each of us will have to find what is worth your thought and attention. [Only the individual transcends].

Understanding our emotions and what triggers our attention helps us gain more clarity about ourselves. It helps you gain clarity about yourself, which is one of the most important factors to living a flourishing life – a life where you are your best possible self.

While it may be difficult to admit this, several of the decisions we make are based on our emotions, not just our actual conscious and analytical will. You need to build up your internal control system, understand that before we look at external metrics to explain how the world works, the most counter-intuitive, but important thing to do is to look inward.

Often, our emotions help us look inward, sometimes we look too inward that we go so far away from reality. The decisions we take are often through the lenses of these emotions. Sometimes, this is a fine thing to do. Other times, it’s not. The difference is when we refuse to look at the situation, and understand our emotional state before taking action. When we fail to understand our emotions, we may find ourselves responding not to our realities, but to the reflection in our minds.

[But you can choose to either be rational or irrational]. With your emotions, you can decide to either be rational or irrational. By rational, I meant dissecting and understanding the root of the emotions you display. By irrational, I meant you following your emotions without first understanding them.

One way to be rational is to defer the nudge to fit your actions and that of others into categories. It is to defer the nudge to make judgments based on our previous preconceptions. Instead, it’s best for us to sit in with it and dissect the emotions behind each action.

Your ability to think for yourself will be one of your most precious possessions now and in the future. That ability, to place your attention on something, not because you were triggered by external forces (and there will be a lot of that), but because you choose to.

When we develop and understand our emotions, we become better at scaling adversities, building resilience, embracing empathy and unlearn helplessness. We start using internal metrics to measure whatever we call success.

With this in mind, as a society, we must find new metrics for measuring knowledge, growth and whatever we call success. Gatekeepers in our education system will need to move away from focusing on memorization as a way of testing knowledge (with memorization, I refer to what some of us understand more as la cram la pour).

Harnessing your attention helps you keep your mental balance, it supports your decision to keep learning, know yourself at a deeper level and to keep reinventing yourself. Because you will need to do a whole lot of that in the future.

Many young people in this room will likely gain experiences across several careers in the span of your lifetime, what may help you thrive most will likely be how skillful you can harness both your emotions and your attention.

Focus your emotional energy at being the best version of yourself. Understand human nature – without the interference of culture and other societal constructs. You have to give yourself permission to fully embrace your humanity, the frailties and simple complexities that come with being human.

If you ask me what I consider the most important skill as we prepare for the future of humanity, I’ll tell you this: it’s your ability to harness your emotions and attention and reinvent yourself regardless of what situation you are.

Once these twin skills are cultivated, they can serve as a foundation for other skills we talk about – like digital skills, coding skills, analytical skills, new language skills and several others that will conspire to make life worth living. You will need your mental and emotional balance more than you may imagine in the years ahead.

Categories
Thought

What you don’t want

Sometime in August 2019, I found myself thinking of the person I am becoming.

I caught myself in this thought and stopped. I have done this before; defining what I want, who I want to be, and what gifts I want to share with the world with love and care and a cheerful heart at due seasons.

“I needed to also write who I don’t want to be”, I reasoned.

I don’t want to be that human, who at eighty is old, broken and bitter. I don’t want to be that person who shrinks away from his inner depth in fear. Or that person who breeds contempt, who nurses eternal grievances or who shuts his heart to the world – and himself.

I don’t want to be the human who has things that he didn’t do because he entertained the fear of the unknown, or of scorn, or of failure. Or the human who has an idea of what a secured ego is, and strive tirelessly to feed the needs of this ego ideal.

I don’t want to be that human who chooses self-preoccupation over the other things that matter; deep-rooted relationships, trustworthy communities, and flourishing societies. I don’t want to be too busy to love, too distracted to listen, too entitled to practice the trio of wonder, and gratitude and forgiveness, or too overwhelmed with motion to embrace stillness.

And when I falter, as human beings do, I don’t want to be the human who ignores his frailties or doesn’t empathize with himself, forgive himself and learn from that and every experience.

I don’t need to be that human who waits till he is eighty to assess the things above when he can do that today, and now. Neither should you.

You know what you want.

How about what you don’t want?