Embracing Detours…and other Tips

Kevin Kelly embracing failure

I love all these tips for life by Founding Editor of Wired Magazine Kevin Kelly, “103 Bit of Advice I Wish I Had Known,” but was especially struck by how many (25) echo the theme of embracing failure to various degrees (thanks Steve). Having passed a senior milestone birthday myself last year, I have an intensified appreciation for the insights of a life well lived (and not so well at times)

  • Dont keep making the same mistakes; try to make new mistakes.
  • When you forgive others, they may not notice, but you will heal. Forgiveness is not something we do for others; it is a gift to ourselves.
  • Three things you need: The ability to not give up something till it works, the ability to give up something that does not work, and the trust in other people to help you distinguish between the two.
  • Ask anyone you admire: Their lucky breaks happened on a detour from their main goal. So embrace detours. Life is not a straight line for anyone.
  • The best way to get a correct answer on the internet is to post an obviously wrong answer and wait for someone to correct you.
  • Don’t wait for the storm to pass; dance in the rain.
  • Half the skill of being educated is learning what you can ignore.
  • The advantage of a ridiculously ambitious goal is that it sets the bar very high so even in failure it may be a success measured by the ordinary.
  • A great way to understand yourself is to seriously reflect on everything you find irritating in others.
  • 90% of everything is crap. If you think you don’t like opera, romance novels, TikTok, country music, vegan food, NFTs, keep trying to see if you can find the 10% that is not crap.
  • You will be judged on how well you treat those who can do nothing for you.
  • We tend to overestimate what we can do in a day, and underestimate what we can achieve in a decade. Miraculous things can be accomplished if you give it ten years. A long game will compound small gains to overcome even big mistakes.
  • Thank a teacher who changed your life.
  • Your best job will be one that you were unqualified for because it stretches you. In fact only apply to jobs you are unqualified for.
  • It’s thrilling to be extremely polite to rude strangers.
  • Getting cheated occasionally is the small price for trusting the best of everyone, because when you trust the best in others, they generally treat you best.
  • Prescription for popular success: do something strange. Make a habit of your weird.
  • Dont believe everything you think you believe.
  • Actual great opportunities do not have “Great Opportunities” in the subject line.
  • Dont bother fighting the old; just build the new.
  • Your time and space are limited. Remove, give away, throw out things in your life that dont spark joy any longer in order to make room for those that do.
  • For a great payoff be especially curious about the things you are not interested in.
  • Every breakthrough is at first laughable and ridiculous. In fact if it did not start out laughable and ridiculous, it is not a breakthrough.
  • Rather than steering your life to avoid surprises, aim directly for them.
  • Aim to die broke. Give to your beneficiaries before you die; it’s more fun and useful. Spend it all. Your last check should go to the funeral home and it should bounce.

Embracing ‘S*cks’

  • · “Whenever anything sucks, I like it! It’s going to make me tougher. It’s going to give me a good story to tell…It’s going to bring us together…You know how they make you form a bond in military training? They make you do stuff that sucks. Bootcamp! It’s a suckfest…So when something sucks…good!”

Another 5-letter word is the centerpiece of Jocko Willink’s speech to the troops which Hugh MacLeod highlighted this speech in his post “No Peril, No Reward”:

  1. When things start to really suck, he says “Good!” because when things suck it gives both the opportunity for one to get stronger and for the team bonds to get tighter.
  2. The strongest cultural bonds are built in times of greatest peril (eg. during times of actual combat).

Peril tends to do a few positive things: it drives innovation; it also creates intense collaboration and deep emotional connection. This is one reason why we will often see war metaphors in business. Lives might not be on the line, but the life of a product or organization might be.

Best Starting Word for Wordle

Wordle best starting word

What word do you start Wordle with?

My wife and I enjoy a good sparring game of Wordle over our morning coffee and like all devoted Wordle players, one of the top conundrums is choosing the best starting word. I’m not the first person to write about this topic, but I think I have taken a different approach and have come up with a bit of a different answer.

Most of the articles about “best Wordle starting words” reference the bot analysis done by current Wordle owner itself, The New York Times:

  • One mathematician created an automated bot to test over 12,000 words, while online urban legend suggests words like ‘Irate’ or ‘Salet’ are best because of their vowels. In creating their WordleBot, though, New York Times has found ‘Crane’ to be the best place to start while ‘Crate’, ‘Slate’, ‘Slant’ and ‘Trace’ are also very good guesses, as are ‘Lance’, ‘Carte’, ‘Least’ and ‘Trice’.”

But people are not bots. I decided to play card counter in the Wordle casino and simply look at letter frequency by position to optimize the odds of hitting a useful letter (and actually, if the letter is a miss then it rules out the highest percentage of words by definition).

I started with a list of the 700 most common words 5-letter words in the English language (to filter out the esoteric and foreign words not included in Wordle). I then cobbled together a little Excel macro to count letter frequency by position (the results are shown in the table below).

With the positional frequencies in hand, the final step was to find the word with all of its letter in the highest frequency position. If I just took the top frequency letters, you would get “SOALE”. Which unfortunately is not a word. By using a top 5 position scoring system (like they do at track and field meets), the highest scoring word I could come up with was “SHALE” which has the #1 letter in every position except the 2nd (which is the 4th highest letter).

A high ranking post by Tom’s Guide took a similar approach, but used a much bigger dictionary of “common words” and came up with a different words, namely “STARE”. He too came up with words that weren’t real (ie. his top possibility was “SOARE”). But the methodology is arguably a bit unscrupulous because it did searching of known “solutions” to Wordle. 

The real difference between Tom’s analysis and mine is whether (a) “H” or “T” is a higher frequency 2nd letter, and (b) whether “L” or “R” is the higher frequency slot in the 4th position.  Another consideration is that “T” and “R” are more generally common letters than “H” or “L” (so more likely to hit a gold-shaded letter in the word, but just in the wrong position).

Wordle letter frequency

Embracing Imperfection 3

Embracing imperfection 3

  • “The farther a man knows himself to be from perfection, the nearer he is to it.” – Gerard Groote

Another installment in the sub-theme of imperfection. Count of Seth Godin to provide further fodder with his piece Abandoning perfection:

  • “It’s possible you work in an industry built on perfect. That you’re a scrub nurse in the OR, or an air traffic controller or even in charge of compliance at a nuclear power plant. The rest of us, though, are rewarded for breaking things. Our job, the reason we have time to read blogs at work or go to conferences or write memos is that our organization believes that just maybe, we’ll find and share a new idea, or maybe (continuing a run on sentence) we’ll invent something important, find a resource or connect with a key customer in a way that matters. So, if that’s your job, why are you so focused on perfect?”

As turns out, Scott King had a fashioned an entire philosophy out of abandoning perfection dubbed “Debrism”:

  • “It’s about the pursuit of perfectionism. It’s also about the notion of not being able to let go, being trapped in a cul-de-sac in search of The Masterpiece, and consequently producing nothing. So, I think Debrism might be more negative than punk, unless you embrace the act of non-production or incompletion as an art form, or unless you try to find art and purpose solely in the pursuit of ideas, with no obligation to ever make these ideas concrete or public.”

And a fitting close on the eve of Eid al-Fitr:

  • ·”Perfection belongs only to God, the rest of us make mistakes” – Islamic saying

Turning Clutter to Craft

  

World Art Day today. Bernard Bras shows how an apparent mess can be striking art when framed in a certain way. You have to watch this short video to appreciate the ingenuity of his embrace of chaos and a literally transformative perspective on it.

If you have a budding Dali or Banksy in your family, take a steer from these art appreciating parents below on framing the creativity of your own young creators…

Child wall artist

(thanks Mark)

Novel Failure

Writers failure

  • Your problem might not be that you don’t have enough good ideas. You problem could be that you don’t have enough bad ideas.” – Seth Godin

International Book Day today. Embracing failure is part and parcel of the artistic world both as a subject of art and a rite of passage for most artists. J K Rowling’s Harvard Commencement speech, which I happened to be at for my 25th Reunion, is one of the more prominent examinations of artistic adversity recently. Rebecca Brown posted a piece, ‘Failure: An Appreciation’, in The Stranger which highlighted numerous literary examples (as well as story synopses of parables on the theme including the stories of ceramic artist Young Sook Park and ‘the First Cedar Basket’)…

  • “’The Fiddler,’ written in 1853, was one of a number of works dealing with the theme of ‘failure"—another was ‘The Happy Failure,’ another was ‘Bartleby, the Scrivener’—written by Herman Melville after the disastrous reception of his novel Moby-Dick.”

Happy reading (or unhappy perhaps).

Embracing Strategic No’s

· “There’s no learning without trying lots of ideas and failing lots of times.” Jonathan Ive

Happy Birthday to the legend that is Steve Jobs. Probably the most frequently cited luminary on this blog. In this video ((minute 29:00) his design rotégé Jony Ive shares a story of Steve’s embracing “no” (thanks Steve):

  • “[Steve Jobs] beat me on the focus about 84 to 3…When you meet somebody who really knows how to focus, it’s quite remarkable. And the way that he would measure and help me to improve my focus score was to ask me ‘how many times did you say “no” today?’…And I would have these ‘sacrificial nos’ (and he would know that they were sacrificial no’s), but he would say ‘Come on Jony, how many things did you say ‘no’ to…that you really, really wanted to do?’…The discipline to turn your back on something you believe in passionately, but so that you can apply yourself to what is at hand, I think is remarkable.”

Embracing Near Death

near death

Fear is not unfounded when catastrophe is looming nearby. An encounter with failure can be a near death experience that inspires new perspective.

My father, Rev. Edwin Lynn’s favourite sermon was titled “It Could Have Been Otherwise” which talked about the life affirming impact of a near death experience he had when a tree fell on his car. A number of friends who have survived cancer describe how the experience shifted their life priorities putting greater emphasis on a seizing and appreciating each day.

Such mortal danger confronts businesses as well. Harvard Business Review published a piece “Companies Can’t Be Great Unless They’ve Almost Failed” which describe

  • · “But the more important part of the story, the lesson that applies to all kinds of companies in all sorts of fields, is that every one of these star performers faced at least one ‘near-death experience’ during the course of its long-term success. I don’t mean a few quarters of sluggish growth or a one-time product flop, but a radical shift in its market, a major technology disruption, or a disastrous strategic bet that threatened the company’s very existence. In the case of Balchem, a huge investment in a new coating technology was so slow to pay off that the company lost 53% of its market value in less than 13 months. Ultimately, it took “patience, grit, and good luck” to transform Balchem from a basket case to a superstock… ‘When it comes to innovation,’ she argued, ‘the same hard-won experience, best practices, and processes that are the cornerstones of an organization’s success may be more like millstones that threaten to sink it. Said another way, the weight of what we know, especially what we collectively ‘know,’ kills innovation…Why can knowledge and experience be so lethal to innovation? Because when we become expert, we often trade our ‘what if’ flights of fancy for the grounded reality of ‘what is.’”

The scourge of the pandemic has confronted individuals and businesses with more life-and-death consequences than either have experienced for over a generation.  And the world inches out of the worst impact, the silver linings are to be treasured (eg.  revolution in work practices), the harsh lessons must not be forgotten (eg.  preparedness), and appreciation for simple things should be accentuated to new heights (eg.  an evening with friends).

In my dad’s talk, he reads the Jane Kenyon poem “Otherwise” which poignantly portrays the appreciation that near death experiences evoke:

Otherwise

  • I got out of bed
    on two strong legs.
    It might have been
    otherwise. I ate
    cereal, sweet
    milk, ripe, flawless
    peach. It might
    have been otherwise.
    I took the dog uphill
    to the birch wood.
    All morning I did
    the work I love.
    At noon I lay down
    with my mate. It might
    have been otherwise.
    We ate dinner together
    at a table with silver
    candlesticks. It might
    have been otherwise.
    I slept in a bed
    in a room with paintings
    on the walls, and
    planned another day
    just like this day.
    But one day, I know,
    it will be otherwise

Embracing Fear

Gapingvoid - embracing fear

One of the examples by Paul Bloom of embracing discomfort is many peoples’ enjoyment is embracing fear through such activities as watching scary movies and participating in adrenalin sports. But fear can also make all sorts of exploring discomfort zones an adrenalin powered rush. Hugh picked up on this perspective in one of his recent posts:

  • · “In the right hands, fear is not a handicap, but an advantage. A tailwind, not a headwind…Fear, when used properly, drives us forward. They say courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability to feel the fear and do it anyway. Any good soldier knows this, going into battle.”

Embracing the Limits of Pleasure

Sam Harris - Limits of Pleasure

Happy New Year! My New Year’s Resolution is to post in a bit more regular (and timely) manner on this blog. One of the podcasts I enjoyed over my holidays was Sam Harris’ “The Limits of Pleasure” which explored why humans do very often seek out and value what is, for all intents and purposes, failure. Or worse, suffering. He spoke with Paul Bloom, the author of The Sweet Spot: The Pleasures of Suffering and the Search for Meaning:

  • Why do people get pleasure from certain forms of controlled suffering? Why do we take hot baths, go to saunas, do martial arts, run marathons, go to scary movies, listen to sad songs…Some suffering is not in the service of ‘pleasure’ but in the service of ‘meaning’ and ‘purpose’…If it didn’t involve suffering, it wouldn’t be meaningful.”

The discussion explored the dynamic of embracing suffering appreciating that it’s not about getting an anvil dropped on your head. Instead, Bloom identified a couple of characteristics critical positive suffering:

  • Voluntary – “My argument is about ‘chosen suffering’. ‘Unchosen suffering’ is a very different thing.”
  • Moderate – “The suffering that does us the most good is of the intermediate sort.”