Beauty is ten million giant butterflies in Alexander McQueen high heeled shoes, walking over the Brooklyn Bridge reciting arcane prayers to Venus, during an eclipse of the moon.

– Joel-Peter Witkin


Well said…

So the question for those of us here tonight is how we, all of us, can better reflect America’s hopes. I’ve served in Congress with many of you. I know many of you well. There are a lot of good people here, on both sides of the aisle. And many of you have told me that this isn’t what you signed up for — arguing past each other on cable shows, the constant fundraising, always looking over your shoulder at how the base will react to every decision.
Imagine if we broke out of these tired old patterns. Imagine if we did something different.
Understand — a better politics isn’t one where Democrats abandon their agenda or Republicans simply embrace mine.
A better politics is one where we appeal to each other’s basic decency instead of our basest fears.
A better politics is one where we debate without demonizing each other; where we talk issues, and values, and principles, and facts, rather than “gotcha” moments, or trivial gaffes, or fake controversies that have nothing to do with people’s daily lives.
A better politics is one where we spend less time drowning in dark money for ads that pull us into the gutter, and spend more time lifting young people up, with a sense of purpose and possibility, and asking them to join in the great mission of building America.
If we’re going to have arguments, let’s have arguments — but let’s make them debates worthy of this body and worthy of this country. …
That’s a better politics. That’s how we start rebuilding trust. That’s how we move this country forward. That’s what the American people want. That’s what they deserve.

– Barack Obama, State of the Union Address, 2015.01.20


On Games

“Just because you’re winning a game
doesn’t mean it’s a good game.”

– Seth Godin


Asset Transformation

I’ve been toying with the notion that business, for certain, and possibly life in general is all about asset transformation. Basically, taking one or more assets and transforming them into other assets. We transform our skills and time into money by means of a job. We transform our charm and other personal characteristics into friendships by means of social engagements. Google transforms the audience it develops from web searches into money by means of providing space for advertising. It goes on and on.

The key elements of an asset transformation include the source assets, the resulting assets and the process of transformation. It’s really interesting how well this maps onto the basic planning pattern; Step 1 – Figure out what you want, Step 2 – Figure out what you have that’s relevant, Step 3 – Figure out how to get from what you have to what you want. All planning has these elements though when performed out of sequence it often results in poor planning.

Within this are also the notions of growth and consumption. Consumption is probably the easiest to think about. If you have a fixed, finite asset and you apply a process that consumes that asset in the transformation to another asset then eventually you run out of the supplying asset. Sometimes this ok or at least necessary. Consider the asset of time as it relates to your life. Until we reach Kurzweil’s singularity it’s fixed and finite for each of us. Efficiency, of course, is all about how much resulting assets you can get from the supplying assets. Lots of people have opinions about how to make life more efficient.

If that’s a little to abstract, just think about the gas in your gas tank. It’s an asset you use to get from point A to point B by means of a car. Eventually it runs low or out and you have to get more by transforming the asset of cash into the asset of gas by means of a service station.

Growth is more interesting. It seems like there might be at least two types; feedback growth and forward growth. Feedback growth occurs when a supplying asset is also a resulting asset. It doesn’t necessarily need to grow. Catalysts for example aren’t consumed by a process but are assets necessary for the process and are effectively products of those processes. Systems with network externalities do grow based on feedback, these do need to work in concert with other assets that are consumed. For example, social networks grow as a function of the number of participants, but this is at the expense of the pool of people who are not part of the social network yet. When that runs dry the process stops.

Forward growth may be just feedback with a longer loop. For example, when you are young opportunities (an asset) are relatively few, but one of those opportunities is to get a good education. Having a good education provides you with many more opportunities that you had otherwise many of which aren’t further education but also weren’t available before you got your education.

The notions of investment and profit apply to these growth modes as well.

If you were to say that this is just another way of looking at dynamic systems, then you’d be right. The relabeling though, seems to help me to identify opportunities that might be hidden. It’s certainly interesting to look at business opportunities through this lens.


Architecture for Life as a Project

With most projects you need a way to structure and decompose your mission into various actionable parts. Portions of this decomposition are called architectures. A layered architecture for life is probably as good as any for a start. Here are some of the elements.

  1. Mission – Who am I? What impact do I want to make on the universe because I was here? What impact do I want to make on the universe because I am here? What mission will keep me engaged and compelled for as long as I’m here? How much is this a function of unaddressed framing created for me earlier in life? What do I want it to be? What is my purpose? Who gives it to me?
  2. Vision – Given my mission, what does my ideal life look like? How clear is this vision? How rigid is it? Is it achievable? If so, what if I did? Would I be ready to die or is it just a step along the path?
  3. Strategy – What are the principles that I’ll apply to achieving my vision? What families of tactics will I apply?
  4. Milestones – What intermediate milestones do I want to achieve along the path? What milestones are imposed upon me due to selected strategies? How much flexibility do I have or want to have? What assets will I have developed at each milestone? What course of future action does each milestone support?
  5. Plans – How do I get from where I’m at to the next milestone? What assets will I utilize? What technologies and techniques will I apply? How does this plan decompose into milestones and plans (aka tasks)? Plans need to be executed effectively and then efficiently (this may be a chosen strategic principle). How will I know when I’ve achieved the milestone? How will I know I’m on track? What is my delegation strategy (this is part of assets utilized)?
  6. Maintenance – What do I need to maintain while I’m working on my plans? Maintenance is support of assets that I’ll need to execute future plans. How do I maintain these assets most efficiently? Assets need to be maintained efficiently. How will I know that the asset is being adequately maintained?

It’s amazing how fractal this is. A vision is just a milestone. A task is just a plan in the small. Strategies, techniques, and technologies all come from the same bucket. Only mission or rather purpose stands alone.


Pondering Bill Cosby

A friend recently posted an article on Facebook regarding the rape allegations against Bill Cosby. There are enough women who’ve come forward that are saying they were assaulted by him to make it look like more than just someone taking advantage of a celebrity. If these things are true then it looks like he’s done some very bad things in his life. If they’re not true then we’ll forever need to look skeptically at anyone claiming a celebrity has assaulted them. This isn’t just tabloid fluff.

There’s layer upon layer of consideration here. As usual I visit as many as I can think of. The first and most obvious is how I feel about rape. It’s unambiguously abhorrent. Rape converts a person with all of the value and potential that they bring into an, often disposable, object. It violates our most basic social mechanism; our ability to trust others to let us act in the ways we see fit and to experience the joy that this brings. In other words it converts trust into fear. For me, as a father, a grandfather and a friend, it transcends rational and becomes visceral; both pain and anger. I’ll just leave it at that. In my value system it doesn’t have any positives.

Given the significance, deciding how much I believe the allegations is no small matter. While some seem to like to get caught up in the euphoria of the crowd and media, I prefer to own my conclusions. We all have public and private personas that are to a greater or lesser extent compartmentalized. Over time it’s usually to a lesser extent as the boundaries wear thin. For a celebrity their business is their public persona. Bill Cosby has had more than one extremely well managed public persona over the course of his career1. The most recent seemed to bring a lot of good to our society. Public personas have the benefit for us of being public record. Pretty much everything done in that persona has been witnessed by large groups of people, have been recorded or both.

Private personas are another matter. These are the things that few have seen and little is recorded. To learn about them you often have had to have been there or have had to know someone who was. The rape allegations are about at least one of Bill Cosby’s private personas. We can only indirectly know what really happened. If only one woman had come forward it would have been a tough battle for her; her word against his and a planet full of people who’ve learned to trust him. But many women have come forward and there doesn’t seem to be any connection between them other than Bill Cosby. This tilts the story strongly in their favor. An argument is being made that it took a long time for them to come forward and that this should tilt the story back in Bill Cosby’s direction. Given that one of the accusers talked to a reporter (who didn’t do anything about it) in the early 1980s, perhaps they didn’t wait so long afterall 2. This can never be conclusive, but the weight isn’t in Bill Cosby’s favor at the moment.

The next layer of consideration is that from a social perspective Bill Cosby is a complex person. If the allegations are true then he did some very bad things, but he also brought a lot of joy into people’s lives and a positive influence for many others as well. Are the things that he said and did now bad because he behaved badly during some less public moments in his life or do those things stand on their own regardless of who delivered them? The laughs from the Bill Cosby show were enjoyed in the moment. It’s possible that they changed the lives of a few in ways that I can’t speculate on. Unfortunately after this thinking about Bill Cosby going forward may generate feelings other than joy and in a way this cancels those earlier moments out. The positive influence is another matter. For those that “own themselves” that influence remains positive because it changed the way that they think and behave. For others the positive influence he provided may have only tentatively constrained what they viewed as acceptable. There’s risk of them believing that they now have permission to behave badly. These are some of the extended consequences that come from the choices you make in your life.

There’s also the matter of how to think of Bill Cosby as a person. Few of us can claim that we didn’t do many foolish things in our younger days. If these allegations are true then it goes well beyond merely being foolish. All that being said, what kind of person is he now and how does this matter to me? As an extreme example, it kind of relates to trying to figure out how I should feel about the death penalty. Are people who have done really bad things hopeless and irredeemably dangerous or are they recoverable and able to add future value to our lives? Sometimes they are and sometimes they aren’t. In this case I don’t know enough, but the likelihood has been diminished.

To leap to a much more extreme layer, how should I think about this given the possible structure and nature of the universe? In some interpretations the universe was just created complete with memory and history. Nothing ever actually happened. It’s just that all the right bits are in the right places to make us believe there’s some continuity from some earlier time. Another interpretation is that there are an infinite number of universes. This means that all possible things that could have happened have happened in some universe. In some universe Bill Cosby never raped anyone, in some he did and never got caught, in some he did and did get caught soon after the fact, in some he was accused but the allegations were later proved to be false, and on and on. If this is true then what I’ve discovered is that I may just have been in the wrong universe at the wrong time. I’m pretty sure that I don’t know how to wrap what’s left of my head around that.

I do feel a sense of loss due to these events. Had I known more I may have chosen a different universe, but this is the one I ended up in. Why should it be easy when it can be hard.