Sunday, January 29, 2017

Motivation or Action

Does motivation lead to action or does action lead to motivation? Which one is the tail and which one is the dog? Its a bit of both. Motivation can (but is not required to) spark action. But many times motivation only causes me to be motivated and I end up not doing anything about it. Action on the other hand sparks motivation. This seems counter intuitive but I have found that the more effort and real action that I put into something, the more motivation I have. Maybe Newton's law has something to say about this as something already in motion takes less effort to keep in motion. Cal Newport's research in So Good They Can't Ignore You has found many examples of this as well.

This has some great implications. If you are feeling extremely motivated, its important to use it wisely. Realize that it means nothing unless it sparks action. I'd recommend channeling that motivation to do 1 thing. You just want to get motion, get action going.

On the flip side if you are not feeling any motivation (like for myself I've been wanting to write a book for the longest time), try to get yourself to start somewhere. Just take some action. Maybe try to lower the barrier to entry with a "shitty first draft" or get some brainstorming onto paper. Just start. Starting is actually a very difficult skill both personally and organizationally. I believe Seth Godin when he says that it is one of the most valuable skills for success.

I'm proud to have achieved some level of success in starting and continuing to write in this blog even though I'm only sometimes motivated to do so. I've managed to get into a habit of exercise by putting X's onto a shared Google doc with friends. I've manged to make significant long term changes to my diet.

My next step is to apply the same to starting a business. Even though I'd say the stakes are lower than those above, this one seems harder. Probably because its so mysterious and new to me. But I'm going to proceed forward in the only way I know how. By putting one foot in front of the other over and over again, however small (or large) those steps are.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Have the Right Gear

When I was In Malaysia ready to climb Mount Kinabalu I was prepared with my Northface shoes and  moisture wicking tshirt that I purchased from REI right before the trip. I noticed however that the porters who were able to sprint up and down the mountain used plain old leather shoes that seemed to be hand made locally with no grip on them and definitely no Gortex.

A similar incident happened during a trek to Machu Picchu. Most of the group that I was in had on all the trekking gear; Northface, Patagonia, etc. Waterproof this and that. Special hiking pants and trail running or hiking boots. But one of the guys, who I eventually became very close friends with, said that he didn't plan to do a trek in Peru before he came. All he had was his normal street clothes but he decided to tag along anyway. It was funny because he was a strong runner and in great shape so he barely broke a sweat along the entire route. Everyone else was in full hiking gear and struggling while he was in a plain sweatshirt and jeans. We joked that he looked like he was taking a regular stroll.

My point in these two events is that the gear means very little. We have to remember that activity specific clothing is highly marketing and in both cases it was unnecessary. In either case, looking back I could have tackled both mountains with regular walking or running shoes, a pair of gym shorts and any t-shirt (cotton or not). It really wouldn't have made much difference at all in terms of performance or comfort. Financially I would be better off because I wouldn't have had to purchase any extra gear. Especially trek specific clothing that I use less than 1% of the time. I could just use my 99+% use regular clothes. Now obviously you have to use your brain here, there are certain cases where it is just dangerous the be caught out with the wrong  gear or where specific gear is an absolute requirement. In many cases the product does add some level of improvement. But I think in a lot of cases someone is trying to sell you something and we confuse optional with necessity

Friday, January 20, 2017

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

About 8 years ago, I discovered Zen and the Art of Motorcyle Maintenance when I did a search for "Best software engineering books". Its not a typical software engineering book. In fact it is categorized as a philosophy book. But because it is NOT a software engineering book it allows us engineers to think of our work deeply in general and deconstruct some of the basic principals. I was just re-reading the book and I feel like I've learned so much more the second time around. I think its because the book is filled less with facts but more with questions and since I've added a lot of experience since I've last read it, I'll be able to think a bit more deeply on these topics, and thus the reading experience seemed completely different. Here's some of my notes
  • Don't ask "what's new?" Instead ask "what is best?". The latter cuts deep while the former is broad. (I have a note to test this out more. Regardless I want replace the "whats up/whats going on" question for something better)
  • Physical discomfort is important only when the mood is wrong. When you are having fun you rarely notice how bad the weather is. But once you are in a bad mood, then everything about the weather sucks. The weather was the effect not the cause
  • Signs of possible poor work
    • listening to music - You can't think hard about what you are doing and listen to the radio at the same time. 
    • Going fast - When you want to hurry that means you no longer care about it and want to get onto other things.
    • Being detached from the job. Not caring. Cutting off at 5pm
  • "It was the attitude that found it, nothing else". Pirsig is talking about finding the issue with a motorcycle through careful testing and contemplation. I think this is brilliant think back that the hard software bugs that I have found were more due to my attitude
  • Some things you miss because they are so huge. We were seeing,looking at the same things but from a completely different dimension
  • Motorcycle riding is romantic, motorcycle maintenance is purely classic. People tend to think and feel exclusively in one mode or the other and in doing so tend to misunderstand and underestimate what the other mode is about
  • We can't remember every detail or else our mind would be too cluttered to think. We take a handful of sand from the endless awareness and call it the world
  • The ultimate test’s always your own serenity. If you don’t have this when you start and maintain it while you’re working you’re likely to build your personal problems right into the machine itself. (Don't program when anxious, frustrated, angry, etc.)
  • The only real learning results from hang-ups, where instead of expanding the branches of what you already know, you hve to stop and drift laterally for a while until you come across something that allows you to expand the roots of what you already know. An example is Newton expanding reason to account for instant rates of change.
  • Remove the degrees and grading system and you get real education. After removing grades it turns out that the more serious students were the least desirous of them. The more lazy ones wanted the grades because it told them if they were getting by. Grades cover up a failure to teach. When removed people have to question what is really being taught.
  • Mountains should be climbed with as little effort as possible. The reality of your own nature should dictate the speed. If you get bored, speed up. If you get tired, slow down. Then each footstep isn't just a means to an end but an event in itself. The middle of the mountain sustains life, not the top. (This remind me of a Sivers article)
  • Ego goals are destructive. Victories are hollow, you will need to prove yourself over and over again. The ego climber rejects here, wants to be there. Gets there and is unhappy with it. He just wants to be further up the trail.
  • Your mind gets stuck when you try to do too many things at once such as writing what to say and also what to say first at the same time. Try splitting this out by brainstorming
  • Stuckness should not be avoided. It's a predecessor to all real understanding. Egoless acceptance of stuckness is a key to understanding Quality.
  • If you’re going to repair a motorcycle an adequate supply of "gumption" is the first and most important tool. The thing that must be monitored at all times and preserved before anything else is the gumption.
There's also so much deep discussion on Quality and what it is and why it cannot be defined. Its funny because even at work we were having a discussion with management as the engineers felt we were sacrificing quality and then it led into a discussion on what quality was.