28 May

Sam Harris on Lying

Sam-Harris

Sam Harris is one of the sharpest thinkers I had come across. Here are some excerpts from one of his thinnest books, Lying. Though the book is not as well thought out as some of his other works, I culled out these gems from the book. I put a Heart next to the ones that hit a chord somewhere. Though, you might want to put your heat next to something else:

  • We often behave in ways that are guaranteed to make us unhappy. Many of us spend our lives marching with open eyes toward remorse, regret , guilt, and disappointment. And nowhere do our injuries seem more casually self-inflicted, or the suffering we create more disproportionate to the needs of the moment, than in the lies we tell to other human beings. Lying is the royal road to chaos. Heart
  • Endless forms of suffering and embarrassment could be easily avoided by simply telling the truth.
  • The boundary between lying and deception is often vague. It is even possible to deceive with the truth.
  • People lie so that others will form beliefs that are not true. The more consequential the beliefs— that is, the more a person’s well-being demands a correct understanding of the world or of other people’s opinions— the more consequential the lie.
  • To lie is to intentionally mislead others when they expect honest communication. Heart
  • To speak truthfully is to accurately represent one’s beliefs.
  • If one is not sure whether or not something is true, representing one’s degree of uncertainty is a form of honesty.
  • The intent to communicate honestly is the measure of truthfulness. Heart
  • Even liars rate their deceptive interactions as less pleasant than truthful ones.
  • Deception and suspicion are two sides of the same coin. Research suggests that all forms of lying— including white lies meant to spare the feelings of others— are associated with less satisfying relationships.
  • Honest people are a refuge. Heart
  • You know [the honest people] will tell you when they think you have failed— and for this reason their praise cannot be mistaken for mere flattery.
  • Honesty is a gift we can give to others. Heart
  • [If we are honest,] we can simply be ourselves in every moment.
  • In committing to being honest with everyone, we commit to avoiding a wide range of long-term problems, but at the cost of occasional short-term discomfort.
  • To [be honest] is also to hold a mirror up to one’s life—because a commitment to telling the truth requires that one pay attention to what the truth is in every moment. Heart
  • Honesty can force any dysfunction in your life to the surface.
  • Lying is the lifeblood of addiction.
  • Ethical transgressions are generally divided into two categories: the bad things we do (acts of commission) and the good things we fail to do (acts of omission).
  • Sincerity, authenticity, integrity, mutual understanding— these and other sources of moral wealth are destroyed the moment we deliberately misrepresent our beliefs, whether or not our lies are ever discovered.
  • Responding honestly to the subtext would not be lying.
  • Unless one commits to telling the truth in situations like this , however, one finds that the edges creep inward, and exceptions to the principle of honesty begin to multiply.
  • False encouragement is a kind of theft: It steals time, energy, and motivation that a person could put toward some other purpose.
  • [Lucy] lied so effortlessly and persuasively that Jessica was left wondering if she had ever been deceived by Lucy in the past.
  • Failures of personal integrity, once revealed, are rarely forgotten.
  • A commitment to honesty does not necessarily require that we disclose facts about ourselves that we would prefer to keep private .
  • Psychopaths can assume the burden of mental accounting [of lying] without any obvious distress.
  • Lies beget other lies.
  • When you tell the truth, you have nothing to keep track of.
  • Tell enough lies, and the effort needed to keep your audience in the dark eventually becomes unsustainable. While you might be spared a direct accusation of dishonesty, many people will conclude, for reasons they might be unable to pinpoint, that they cannot trust you. You will begin to seem like someone who is always dancing around the facts.
  • No one ever quite confronts [the liars], but everyone begins to treat them like creatures of fiction. Such people are often quietly shunned, for reasons they probably never understand.
  • Liars trust those they deceive less than they otherwise might— and the more damaging their lies, the less they trust, or even like, their victims.
  • To lie is to recoil from relationship. Heart
  • Lies are the social equivalent of toxic waste

Sam Harris makes me realize that my biggest personal achievement is that I have trained myself to lie very little, if at all.

I ‘think’ that I never lie on things that are consequential (though I do succumb to the temptations of occasional white lies). I make it a point to indicate the probability of my uncertainty when it matters. I never pretend that an intentional act of omission with the intent to deceive doesn’t amount to lying. Neither do I intentionally mislead someone when a truthful communication is warranted!

Note: Of course, I don't confuse protecting my privacy with lying.

Stopping the habit of lying some twenty years ago was a great character builder. Being married to someone whose take on honesty is very similar to my own has been the single biggest blessing in my relationship. If there is one trait that I would love for my son to pick up from me, it would be my soft corner for honesty. Luckily, I see no reason why that won’t happen.

26 May

Dragons of Idea Age

Dragaons of Idea Age

In the last five posts, I argued that we have just entered the idea age, another renaissance, and what can we do to prepare for it. This post is about the unique risks that idea age is bringing to your business/career.

Exponential Growth

Exponential growth is a double edged cutting sword. If you not on an exponential growth, or if you are on a slower exponential curve, someone else will set up so much of lead over you in a short time that you might as well go home and hand your boots!

Different-exponential-curves

The graph above shows two exponential curves, one growing at just twice the rate of another. But the difference is startling even after a short growth run. WhatsApp, which is a company designed for the exponential era, has half the market capitalization as Tata Enterprise. WhatsApp employs just 55 people and is 5 years old. Whereas, Tata enterprise employs a small country and it is more than a 100 years old.

Because a competitor growing at faster exponential rate can set a very large lead over others, the slower growing company will soon be marginalized and fail to be of any significance to anyone.

Agility over Accuracy

Early-exponential-start

Because exponential curves grow quite quickly, a delayed start is worse than slow start! In the exponential era, agility in terms of quick start and quick execution is more important than getting things right. Time and again, companies and countries have proven that being faster (Thailand) is better than being right (India). Among the exponential companies, everyone is expected to be reasonably accuracy. But that is just the entry ticket. The real differentiation is the speed at which they execute their business.

Software is Eating the World

marc-andreesen-software-is-eating-the-world

Marc Andreeson (of Netscape fame) famously told that ‘software is eating the world’. Everything is getting digitized. Healthcare is the next industry that is dangerously close to getting disrupted by digitization.

Giants like IBM, Google, Qualcom, Apple, etc. are working on solutions that will record better health data, analyze it better, do better diagnosis, do cheaper diagnosis, etc. They are all in the verge of producing a working commercial solution over the next few years. When they are rolled out, the current healthcare model will be stood on its head.

Other disruptions that are already under way are Uber and Airbnb. Uber is disrupting taxi services all over the world. They own no taxi cabs (only thing they own is an app), but there are talks in the rumor mill that Uber is going to be the next $ 100b company. By the way, when self-driven cars become common place over the next few years, services like Uber will kill automobile manufacturers too.

Airbnb is disrupting hotel services all over the world and it is already valued around $10b. Airbnb too doesn’t own a single hotel room. Only thing they own is an app!

If software companies can disrupt taxi services ‘and’ automobile manufacturers, what do you think they will do to your business! It is a question that is worth pondering over hard and fast.

Network Externality

Network-externality

Imagine you invented fax machine. Just after you made the first fax machine, when there is only one fax machine in the whole world, the utility of the machine would have been zero. After all, who would you have sent a fax to!

But then, when you made the second fax machine and put it in someone else’s office, your own machine will become valuable. Thus, with the addition of every fax machine in the world, the value of your own machine goes up. Not only that, when a new fax machine is added to the network, the utility of everyone’s fax machine goes up too!

The value of fax machines around the world keep going up when more people start using it. Eventually, the utility of fax machine becomes so high that no one can afford not to have a fax machine. In other words, the network effect becomes so strong that it traps you inside it. The cost of breaking away from the network is too high that the network becomes self-perpetuating.

That is network effect or network-externality.

Software companies are much more dangerous when it comes to exploiting network externalities. Because the cost of servicing an incremental user is next to nothing, software companies can quickly grow the network of their users. That’s why in software, the leaders like Windows and Oracle have always had upward of 90% market share!

What we must take note is that all software-enabled services, like FaceBook, Google Maps, Airbnb, Uber, etc. are also enjoying the advantage brought to them by network externality.

So, if and when your business is going to be digitized, you can be sure that it will be yanked so fast and so definitely that you will have no option but to walk away. What is really bad about it is that the software company that is going to eat your meal doesn’t even have to have an office in your country!

What now?

Ask yourself these questions:

  • If Google (or Airbnb or Uber) wanted to get into your business today, how will they do it?
  • Can I do what they would have done?
  • Do I have the capability in me to manage an exponentially growing business?
  • If my answer to one or both the questions above, what can I do to acquire the missing capability? Or, what would be my Plan-B when someone starts digitizing my business?
Click Idea Age for all posts related to this project
24 May

Idea Age is here. How can you get yourself ready?

Idea Age It is not a secret that we are facing exponential threats from resource crunch and environmental degradation. This 5 post series argues that in response, we are inventing a new idea age.

  • Exponential Threats talks about the seriousness and inevitability of growing threats humanity is facing.
  • In Exponential Technology, we argue that our technology, our best ally, is not sufficient to tackle these threats. We will also need unprecedented level of human ingenuity.
  • In Origin of Ideas, we see where human ingenuity comes from.
  • In Age of Creativity, we see that we are entering an era of unprecedented global creativity.
  • In this last post, we address how you can prepare for the idea age

 It’s all about Networks

To understand creativity, we need to understand networks. Network

  • Creativity is the process of combining two or more existing ideas (shown as a ‘node’ in the image above) in a new and useful way.
  • Every idea is a network of two or more ideas. So, each node is a network in itself.

We can use the image above to represent a single brain by taking each “node” as an idea (or knowledge or information) inside that brain. Or we can use the same image to represent creativity at the level of a society. Then each node is taken to represent an individual brain. A network becomes ‘stronger’ when the number of nodes or the interconnection between the nodes increase. Now, let’s see how we can prepare ourselves for the idea age.

Idea Age is also Exponential Era

We live in an exponential era where changes happen in ever increasing pace. One bad thing about the exponential era is that the difference between the winners and the ‘also-ran’ is huge. Exponential Era We are presently in an important point in history. People who ride the exponential tide now will have a very different future from the people who remain in the 20th century. Of course, we are not arguing that the life in the bleeding edge of exponential era must necessarily be better than the slow and steady pace of the past. But some like it hot. And fast. Here are few simple things you can do to hitch your super-exciting exponential ride.

Get out of Paucity Mentality

Openness will be a substantially important hallmark of the idea age. People who operate with paucity mind-set are usually too afraid to open up. In the Idea Age, operating in isolation are too slow. Also, team consisting of different skill sets is usually much more effective than a genius operating in isolation. The difference will be more striking with passage of time.

What are the things that you are too afraid to share? What is the worst thing that will happen if you start sharing them? How do you know you are right about it? Don't forget to apply this question to your personal life too!

Become an Idea Altruist

In Idea Age, everyone has an idea that they don’t have enough time to implement. So, you are less likely to have your idea stolen today. Start sharing your ideas. You can start by sharing ideas that are not critical to your livelihood. And then move on to sharing life-or-death secrets. When you start sharing ideas, you become visible to others with similar interest. They might incorporate your ideas in their scheme of things, or lend their ideas for you to use, there by making both of you better off.

List three ideas that you think others will benefit from. And how can you share them with others? Blog, FaceBook, talks, forums, interest groups, white papers, stories...?

Education and Experience

Education is a journey. Not a destiny. Never stop educating yourself. We have cart load of online educations resources available these days. Some of them are listed below:

Most online education resources are free. There are interest groups, discussion forums, group efforts… In Idea Age, education is a life long process. Every time you learn something new, you increase the number of idea-nodes inside your brain.

If self-education is not your cup of tea, try by learning something that you love. It does't have to have practical value.

Once in a while, learn something that is completely unrelated and irrelevant to you. In an area where you already have proven expertise, any new learning will bring only incremental advantage. When you deal with a completely unrelated subject, anything you learn will increase your knowledge graph by a huge margin.

Of course, we shouldn't forget that 'doing' is a form of learning too! So, go and do something that you haven't done before.

More importantly, block time out for solitude. Most people require some quite time once in a while to digest and assimilate what they have learnt.

Future favors the Networked

Idea Age is all about networking of ideas. Learning increases the number of idea-nodes inside your head. To increase the number of nodes outside your head, connect with other heads. Identify at least one person from each of the following category and connect with them:

  • People who have common interest
  • People who have no common interest
  • Idea altruists
  • Super-networkers
  • Life-long learners
  • Opinion makers

Have habits built into your life that provide ample networking opportunities. For example

  • Participate in networking events
  • Write/talk about your ideas
  • Participate in online forums
  • If needed, block out time every week (or every day) specifically for expanding your network

Of course, when you are expanding your network, you must take care to ensure that the quality of your network is maintained at all times. Or else, you can easily end up being inundated.

Network. Look for quality, similarity and variety.

Healthy Body and Brain

Of course, if you can’t maintain a healthy body and a physically fit brain, none of the above really matter. Here are some basic guidelines for maintaining healthy body and brain. These are rudimentary, but non-negotiable:

  • Maintain healthy weight
  • If you have cardiac or glycemic issues, eat low GL, zero oil, no dairy, vegan
  • Moderate alcohol, no smoking
  • Supplement with multivits, antioxidants, Omega 3, etc. Anti-ageing?
  • Exercise
  • Sleep prepares the brain for creativity

Here are three best kept secrets that will help you live much longer and have a healthier life:

  • You are the designer of your body – at least, from this point on
  • Your brain starts dying when you stop learning
  • Your body starts dying when you stop having sex – except when you go on calorie restriction, in which case you extend your lifespan, but shut down your sex drive

A New Chapter?

In all probabilities, Idea Age is mark of a new chapter in human history. By the time this renaissance is through, our lives would have become more different than any of us have dreamed of. When you prepare yourself to enter the Idea Age, I want you to keep one thought in your mind: You are very likely to live past 100. If that is true, how do you plan to spend the additional time?

This post has four prequels and they are listed below in their order
- Exponential Threats identifies the growing threats that are going to hit is so fast we won't have a choice but to change our present way of living
- In Exponential Technology, we argue that our technology, our best ally, is not sufficient to tackle these threats. We will also need unprecedented level of human ingenuity.
- In Origin of Ideas, we ask where human ingenuity comes from.
- In Age of Creativity, we see that we are entering an era of unprecedented global creativity.
23 May

Age of Creativity

Age Of Creativity

This 5 post series addresses as to how “we are facing exponential threats from resource crunch and environmental degradation and in response, we are inventing a new idea age”.

  • Exponential Threats identifies the growing threats we are presently facing
  • In Exponential Technology, we argue that our technology, our best ally, is not sufficient to tackle these threats. To do that, unprecedented level of human ingenuity should come into play.
  • In Origin of Ideas, we discuss the source of human ingenuity, both inside an individual’s head and across the society.
  • In this post, Age of Creativity, we will see why we are entering an era of unprecedented global creativity.
  • In the last post, we address how you can prepare for the coming Idea Age

There are a bunch of reason for us to believe that we have entered a new age of creativity. Another renaissance. But in its scope, this one will be like no other. By the time it has run its course, humankind would have, I speculate, made a clean break with the past.

New Knowledge

Creativity is a process of combining existing ideas/knowledge in a new and useful way. The process of creativity can be thought of as forming new connections in a network of ideas. In a network, addition of a new node encourages sprouting new connections (image below).

Network with newNode

If we are considering idea generation at social level, then we can treat each human being as a node in our network. As we have seen in an earlier post, bigger human population creates more new nodes.

But if we ignore the physical containers of idea/knowledge/information, every new discovery or idea becomes another node in the fabric. When a new node is added to a network, it makes new pathways possible (image below).

New Node New Pathways

Birth of an node (idea) increases the number of existing connection (ideas), which in turn increase the possibilities of several more connections (ideas) germinating.

Note: If you have already noticed the fractal nature of ideas, you will find intuitively understand the recursive nature of the paragraph above.

Thus, the new ideas increase exponentially in quantity! Today, we are seeing important new ideas coming in every day, with each new idea begetting even more ideas. We are getting inundated with creative opportunities. Understand the idea-inundation is key to preparing for the age of creativity.

New ideas have another interesting effect. When we come across novelty, it increases the levels of a brain chemical called dopamine. Among other things, dopamine inside our brain increases the alertness and focus.

 

Note: Dopamine is also responsible for feel-good and libido. It also plays a major role in romance. Effect of dopamine is designed to wear off with repeated exposure. Translation: Less novelty, less dopamine.

Brains are built in such a way that we love to work with novel stuff. Novelty tickles our brain cells into working with them. With so many new things popping up all around us, we are all gradually becoming idea generating machines (the only way to work with a new information is to integrate it with the rest of our knowledge base, which is same as forming new connections to the novel idea).

New Tools

Vast majority of younger generation is familiar with tools for data analysis, visualization and (product) design. These tools are helping us to combine ideas much more easily, and with far less resources and time.

We also have massive interest-groups online, who come together to create, fine tune, implement and exploit new ideas. Idea generators get almost instantaneous quality feedback. Instantaneous feedback is the corner stone building expertise in any domain.

Global Size Melting Pot

Large Melting Pot

Today, we not only have more than 7 billion brains in the network, these brains are also inter-connected in a way that was unheard of even 25 years ago! While internet is the pipeline through which the connectivity happens, we have several internet-dependent devices that improve the quality and pay-off of the connections.

Social media is one such device that helps us extract more juice out of global connectivity. The world has now become a huge monkey-see-monkey-do society, with each of us learning from everyone else. Because we all show our best face in the social media, we are learning positive habits/attitude from each other in unprecedented speed. And by helping us to learn to express ourselves in small steps, social media is helping us all to become creative.

Other devices that help us make the world one huge melting pot are online communities, special interest groups (already discussed above), cheap access to markets, free online education, etc.

Attitude Shift

Honey Bees

We are not strangers to the win-win nature of idea sharing. However, we have had tremendous reservations in sharing ideas that brought power and money. But that has changed now.

Today, we have more opportunities than any one of us can handle alone. Besides, the speed of change is so rapid that there is not enough time for a single person to build sufficient expertise to exploit a domain. Consequently, we are beginning to more freely share all sorts of ideas. In a world where a product has a typical life cycle of 3 to 5 years, one lone individual trying to build an edifice out of a single idea over 20 years is often a recipe for disaster.

We are also going through another important attitude shift: We are rediscovering the pleasure of belonging to a community.

We are social animals. We seem to be biologically pre-disposed to deriving pleasure from sharing. We are taking the pleasure community to new levels by becoming pioneers of sharing. We already share things from cars to clothes to house. Sharing, or Collaboration Economy, is becoming the next big thing and a manna for the folks keen on sustainability.

Role of Current Economy

american-financial-crisis-comparison

With the global recession, the people in the West now have more time than they have money. The resource crunch is incentivising them to become more creative and democratizing the process of idea generation.

In the same time, masses of people in the developing countries across Asia and Africa are leaving poverty behind. These people now have some surplus time and money. They are beginning to explore things beyond basic survival. There is a good chance that this population, which has leapfrogged into knowledge world, will be more adapt in working with ideas than the earlier generations that came off the boat.

Threat to Survival

The last factor that democratizes the idea generation process is the pressure from the serious survival threats that our civilization is facing presently. Because of their exponential nature, the threats will hit us so fast that our existing creative infrastructure won’t be able to handle them. We will end up recruiting all creative faculties, every human brain that is ready to contribute.

In the next article in this series, we will see what we can do to prepare for the idea age.

22 May

Origin of Ideas

Origin of Ideas

This 5 post series will addresses as to how “we are facing exponential threats from resource crunch and environmental degradation and that in response, we are inventing a new idea age”.

  • Exponential Threats identifies the exponentially growing threats we are presently facing
  • In Exponential Technology, we argue that our exponentially growing technology, our best ally, is not sufficient to tackle these threats. To do that, unprecedented level of human ingenuity should come into play.
  • In this post Origin of Ideas, we discuss the source of human ingenuity, both inside an individual’s head and across the society.
  • In Age of Creativity, we address as to why we have reasons to believe that we are entering an era of unprecedented global creativity.
  • In the last post, we will address as to how you can prepare for the coming Idea Age

Before discussing how human creativity is likely to save the day, we must first understand the origin of ideas, either inside a human head, or across a society. After all, there are striking similarities between both types of idea generation.

Human Mutation and Population

First, a small detour. Faster Human Mutation A paper was published in 2007, showing how the rate of human mutation was picking up speed with time. The reason was discovered to be the rising human population! More humans meant more mutations. More mutations, of course, meant more variety and better chances of human race continuing to eke a living. According to Matt Ridley, as he argued in this TED talk, there is one other thing that becomes more common with increase in population: Ideas. Ridley argues that since people make ideas, where there are more people, we have more ideas generated. But ideas funny creatures. With ideas, 1+1 = 11. Value of an idea goes up multi fold when it is in the midst of other ideas. For example, take the idea of petroleum mining. When this idea is not combined with any other idea, it has zero value (imagine a guy digging out tarry goo, with no idea what to do with it). But when it is combined with other ideas like IC engines, automobiles, jet planes, plastics, war, pollution, etc., the idea of petroleum mining becomes a formidable! Idea Having Sex Each idea makes several others come alive. To better understand how ideas work, you can think of ideas having sex (an analogy introduced by Ridley in his TED talk). But since ideas combine in every which way possible, we should think of them as polyamorous, egalitarian, libidinous and indiscreet! Ideas Are Indiscreet But the value of an ideas is derived from its ability to combine with other ideas. Not from its ability to stand alone. According to Ridley, an environment that fosters mixing of ideas is much more productive and valuable than sheer IQ. For example, industrial towns like Tiruppur and Sivakasi pop up out of nowhere to become an island of superior performance only because these towns end up having a bunch of people thinking, eating and breathing closely related ideas. Interestingly, a reasonably large population is needed to sustain idea generation and specialization. And when it comes to playing the idea catalyst, no population is large enough. There is evidence from the past that China stopped advancing its science and technology when it cut itself out from rest of the world. Similarly, it is my personal belief that India fell short of exploiting its potential to innovate when it decided to cut itself off from the West (the chief idea generators at this point in the history) after obtaining its political independence from the British.

Creativity Inside your Head

Interestingly, creativity inside your head works in a very similar fashion: Generating a new idea inside your head is just a matter of combining two or more existing ideas in a novel way. To foster your own creativity, you will need rich knowledge base. The more ‘idea raw materials’ you work with, more appropriate will be the ideas generated by you.

Ideas

You get to work with more ‘idea raw materials’ when (a) you are knowledgeable and (b) you get to retain more of what you learn. Retention is partly genetic, partly due to repetition and partly due to physical health of the brain. Of course, we will have better understanding of memory as more research throws light on the subject.

Next  to memory, your ability to communicate between different models of your brain is important to combine ideas in a novel way. The physical health of your brain like blood circulation, health of the myelin sheaths insulating the axons, etc., determine how well you can combine ideas inside your brain and create new ones. If the circulation is poor (supplies of less energy) or the myelin sheaths are damaged (increased noise level during communication), all energy hungry neural operations like creation of new ideas get down regulated.

Sustained attention is a faculty that is known to play an important role in creation of new ideas. As if, the longer you hold an idea in the center stage of your head, the more opportunities you give it to finding a suitable  partners to hook up with.

Living and interacting with people who have a knack for creating new ideas certainly helps your own creativity. They teach you that it is alright to come up with new ideas and supply you with building blocks for generating new idea.

Most importantly, learning to suspend one’s critical factor is an important ingredient of personal creativity. People have a tendency of snuff out new ideas, even before the idea was given a decent chance.

Of course, intention/motivation is another huge factor in fostering personal creativity.

The last factor in personal creativity are external. Some people respond to external pressures (e.g. impending deadline) by becoming creative. In these people, pressure activates their norepinephrine, increases their mental alertness and actually makes them more creative. Another brain chemical that increases the mental alertness is dopamine. Dopamine levels in the brain increase when you are faced with a novel situation, when you are suitably rewarded or when in love (among other things). Typically, when you are in any of these situations, the level of your personal creativity go up.

Interestingly, we have entered an era that supplies ample quantity of several factors that we saw above. In the next installment of this series, we will see as to how creativity across the globe is in the process of reaching unprecedented levels.

REFERENCES:

- This post is a sequel to Part-1, Exponential Threats and Part 2, Exponential Technology
- All the posts in this series are based on the presentation Idea Age is Here