Culture At Organizations – Ask Questions And Hear Answers But Watch Actions

Here is the funny thing that I have realized in the time between then and now, when the trainers were NOT talking to the membership coordinators they were making the best use of their time so they were, in essence, talking to their friends. We were new, temporary, and so few of us would be around for long enough to ever be elevated into the friend realm.

When I first started working at GoodLife Fitness as a membership coordinator I was filled with a blind or ignorant optimism about my future. It was my first official job working in a gym and in the fitness industry. While I had applied to be a personal trainer, the club was in need of sales people and decided to interview me for one of those roles. It didn’t really matter much to me one way or the other because I was ready for a change of industries having spent the first portion of my working life in IT as a manager. I interviewed well enough to get the job.

At the time I didn’t think much about it because it was not unusual for me to get hired for the jobs I interviewed for. None of them were much higher than entry level so taking a chance on me was a strategic decision – I have a degree and a fairly good attitude when it comes to the first few months of doing something new.

I didn’t begin to consider anything about it until a couple of weeks after I had been hired during the weeks following the on-boarding process. During this training, we were introduced to the sales system that the company used along with the scripts, features / benefits talking points about the gym and exercise in general, and some of the other aspects / services of the club. Pouring myself into the process I spent a lot of time doing my homework and practising the scripts and the fixed responses for common objections. I KNEW that I didn’t know what I was doing and opened myself up to doing exactly what I was told and adjusting my approach based on the feedback and coaching my manager provided. It was fun and I honestly enjoyed myself. It was also valuable. The company had either spent a lot of money to buy an effective system or they spent a lot of time developing one. While it was slightly stifling at the beginning, given that the push was to do what is outlined because it worked, but over time, you’d be able to adapt the approach to add more of yourself to make it more authentic.

I was conscientious and obedient, making the calls, booking the appointments, following the scripts, touring the prospective members, asking for the sale, overcoming the objections, asking and closing the sale, asking for the referrals, and then booking the new members into any of the orientation sessions that matched their fitness objectives. While I would never say that it was easy, it was very simple. You just needed to follow instructions, smile and be friendly, and as long as you did the activity that was outlined you would achieve the results that were predicted by the system.

At the conclusion of one of my early successful tours, during the new member hand-off to the customer service rep at the front desk, I happened to meet-up with one of the personal trainers. When I said hello, they replied with a reserved “hi” followed with a “did they just join?” Beaming I answered “yes” and their mood lifted completely. “Oh that’s great” looking at my name tag “Pat.” Jokingly I said “oh, I get to have a name now?” Their reply was stunning. “Yes, I might need to have to know it.”

I had calls to make so I laughed and walked away wondering what the heck I had just experienced. When I got to the sales office, I asked one of the other sales people if they had ever talked to that trainer. “I tried, but they didn’t seem very friendly. Rick is the only one who doesn’t seem to have a stick up his ass.” We laughed and got to work calling our leads trying to book people in for tours.

Over the next couple of days I started to pay more attention to the way the personal trainers interacted with the sales people and the rest of the staff. Other than Rick, the personal training manager, who was friendly and kind to everyone, the sales team were not treated with the same level of respect as everyone else by his team members. They were distant, landing as disinterested, and were kind of smug in the way a C level executive is at the company picnic. This all made me feel a little bit off. Up until that point I had not been thinking about it and was fine with the belief that everyone who worked at the club was just like me – enthusiastic, happy, and nice to everyone. Noticing their behaviour meant that I needed to change my view. But since I had been mostly clueless and noticed nothing strange before this, I knew that I didn’t have enough information to go on. Sure, maybe the club just hired personal trainers who were at least partial jerks, maybe all personal trainers were just jerks, or maybe something else was going on.

When faced with this dilemma I did what I always try to do, go to the source and ask some brutal questions.

The first trainer I spoke to answered my question “why do the trainers here seem to not have much interest in the sales team?” and it cleared everything up. “Because you won’t be here for very long. There is a turn over rate of 100% and frankly I’m fed-up getting to know people who just disappear after a few months. You get fired and never come back.”

He was right about the turnover. The other sales person who was hired with me lasted just a little more than two months (fired) and I moved on after five months (got a promotion to manage another location in a city a few hours away).

It seems important to mention that the club manager worked as hard as she could to make sure that we KNEW and followed the sales system and scripts as closely to the letter as possible. She was one of the best leaders that I have ever had and didn’t hold back when it came to coaching and being honest. She was very aware that she would need to replace the sales team three or four times a year as the low performers would get fired and those who remained would likely be given a promotion to a management role at a different club.

What was going on? At the time, everyone who worked for GoodLife Fitness at the club level was an hourly employee with the exception of the group fitness instructors, who all tend to be universally friendly people, and the personal trainers, who were not actually getting paid when they were at the club but not training anyone. It may seem petty and transactional, but any time the trainers spent at the club NOT training a client was their time. There was no financial reason for them to be there so most would just book it once their time was up. Sometimes they would talk to the customer service reps, which makes sense; given that customer service reps would only get fired for being unprofessional, most of them stayed at the job for years. The trainers were talking to their friends, so there was a value and investment factor for these interactions that was not there when it came to cultivating connections with the sales people.

Here is the funny thing that I have realized in the time between then and now, when the trainers were NOT talking to the membership coordinators they were making the best use of their time so they were, in essence, talking to their friends. We were new, temporary, and so few of us would be around for long enough to ever be elevated into the friend realm.

What does this have to do with corporate or organizational culture?

Recall the post People Act Like The Truth in which I discussed Heather’s habit of not believing the things that people say until she has seen them act in a way that validates that their brain also believes the things they are saying. Basically, we know that a person is speaking the truth as they know it when their actions and words are congruent. When they are not, you need to pay more attention to what they are saying because something is does not align. They are not talking about reality as they know it to be. They may be trying to get you to believe something that isn’t true, they may be trying to manipulate you into feeling a particular emotion, or they may be describing the world as they want it to be. You may not ever find out, and unless you notice the lack of congruence between words and actions and take the time to ask questions to dig in, you absolutely won’t.

Given that actions speak louder than words, we may need to adjust the value we place on the various input modalities until we become well enough calibrated to know that a persons words and actions are spawned from the same version of reality. We then need to ask them questions and listen and hear what they have to say about the organizations culture. We will also need to do this with a few people to make sure that their view of culture is aligned with what you have learned from others. The goal here is to track in on and surface the things on which everyone is aligned AND, if any exist, to surface the things for which they are personally aligned (words and actions) while being somewhat misaligned with the other people.

Take a moment to read the following definition / description of organizational culture while considering the question “what is the best way for someone to figure out the characteristics, qualities, and properties that combine to form the unique culture of a company?”

Organizational culture encompasses values and behaviors that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of a business. The organizational culture influences the way people interact, the context within which knowledge is created, the resistance they will have towards certain changes, and ultimately the way they share (or the way they do not share) knowledge. Organizational culture represents the collective values, beliefs and principles of organizational members. It may also be influenced by factors such as history, type of product, market, technology, strategy, type of employees, management style, and national culture. Culture includes the organization’s vision, values, norms, systems, symbols, language, assumptions, environment, location, beliefs and habits.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organizational_culture

If we assume that “best” in this context is combination of speed and accuracy allows us to get the most of each, watching the behaviour of the people who work for the company is better than everything else. Yes, looking vs. listening shifts a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of creating a narrative onto the watcher and it will slow the reveal of industry specific nuance – given that a baseline level of knowledge is required in order to begin to understanding what is going on – but the human brain works to generate a congruent narrative automatically when one is not provided and the particular method for making widgets is much more heavily impacted by culture than the other way round.

When we get right down to it, organizational culture is about how a group of people interact with each other and the physical world, how all of these people move information between themselves, how information spreads throughout the company and how these movements impact or change this information. All of these, save maybe how the information changes, are observable and can be understood without having to read or hear anything. This means that we could watch the goings-on of any company in any country that does not use our native language and we would gain almost as much insight into the culture as we would by watching and listening to the operation of a company that functions in our native tongue. The reason for this is very straightforward, ALL human beings move and interact with the world in exactly the same way, using the same sensory tools and the same mechanism for determining, planning and coordinating our actions. With few exceptions, the parts of the brain that are active when handing someone a piece of paper are also active when we watch someone handing off or receiving a piece of paper. This characteristic of the human brain allows for a type of mind reading such that potential explanatory context are generated that surface the intention of an action. It is fairly superficial and yet the lack of a specific why has little to no impact on our ability to determine the interaction dynamic between the two people and to shape our understanding of the general rules of the company.

When we take this back to my experience at GoodLife as a new sales person and imagine that I was watching things for the first time, it is easy to imagine that I would have noticed how the personal trainers did not interact with the sales team in the same way as they did with everyone else. Upon noticing, it is entirely plausible that I would have mind-read that they did not like the sales people. And when we think about it, that is mostly true. They don’t KNOW the sales people therefore they have not yet learned to LIKE the sales people. Their actions are congruent with the mind-read intention. So, while the specifics are not clear – they didn’t want to invest in getting to know people who would be gone in a month or so – the cultural aspect of it was mostly clear.

So what?

There are no lies in the actions we take, even when the actions are intended to deceive. Lies need language and exist within the narratives used to describe, explain, or capture the meaning of events. We should therefore rely on our eyes more than our ears when we are attempting to figure out how the world is and only reverse this when someone has demonstrated that they are an honest broker of the truth who works earnestly to deal in facts and acknowledgements of “I don’t knows” when they do not know.

There are normative rules that govern the way things interact with each other. These rules will spontaneously emerge over time and, given long enough, they begin to shape all aspects of the these interactions. People who are new to the theatre in which these interactions are occurring will learn and follow these rules simply by interacting with those who are well versed. They will learn them even if they are never taught directly. Organizational or company culture is made-up of these rules and once a critical mass is reached, the culture becomes self-correcting and self-sustaining.

Once established and learned by its members, the culture will be shamelessly modelled by the members of the group. From here, it will begin to impact everyone who engages the organization – vendors, customers, investors, etc. – evoking a feeling that people will associate with the company.

When understood and influenced effectively, words will no longer be required to shape behaviour and little effort will be needed to keep things going. While this will be helpful during the good and normal times, it is essential for the survival of a company during the difficult times when people are displaced from their normal activities because it ensures that the rules of engagement and interaction are maintained even when there are material changes in how someone performs their job.

People Act Like The Truth

You consciousness can lie, your body can’t. Given that people are more likely to tell a lie than to act one out, it makes a lot of sense to watch people more. When listening and hearing, it is best to keep in mind that they may be saying what they want to be true vs. what they know to be true.

Heather has a number of habits that make her a very effective leader. One of them is to never assume that what people say is completely true and to instead watch them closely to see what they do. I asked her why she does this and she replied with, “people act like the truth.” After letting that land and settle, she continued, “they are free to say whatever they want or to say whatever they think others want them to say, but they don’t act with the same intention. Their actions are going to be a reflection of what they believe is true about the world and they represent their best attempts to get what they want based on what they believe is true. If you want to know what people think listen to their works, if you want to know that they believe watch their actions.”

I have found this very interest. I tend to be someone who thinks out loud so what I believe at the start of a conversation is often very different from what I believe by the end of it. I also do a lot of thinking when I write; this more closely resembles what Heather was talking about. I have a very tough time writing something that I know is false and often find myself revising a paragraph to correct something that isn’t true, isn’t clear or is obviously misleading. Sentences will disappear only to be replaced with ones that paint a more complete picture of what I believe is fact. And my word choice will regularly include softening words to add distance for the notion that I have presented as true. “Generally”, “traditionally”, “often”, will find themselves in my writing to guard from the possibility that I unintentionally relate a falsehood.

I am capable of doing more traditional types of thinking – the stuff we do in our heads – and I enjoy it. Much of it is of a good quality but I am well aware that it doesn’t track as close to the truth as what I write or what I end up saying towards the end of a conversation. I’m free to think whatever I like and will use this thinking time to go to places that I wouldn’t write out simply because they do not, or not yet, have a firm foundation in reality.

Heather’s observation holds up with me. If I am going to think something that isn’t true it is more likely going to happen when no physical actions are taking place – speaking and writing are both physical actions. And when it comes to communicating what I believe is the truth, that is more likely going to happen when I’m communicating in a way that requires more physical movement.

I have a difficult time acting in a way that doesn’t reflect my view of the world. I suppose it isn’t impossible, it just doesn’t happen often enough for me to remember when it has. This is aligned with Heather’s observations so I’m willing to assume that it is true and consider what it means in practical terms.

Your consciousness can lie, your body can’t.

Given that people are more likely to tell a lie than to act one out, it makes a lot of sense to watch people more. When listening and hearing, it is best to keep in mind that they may be saying what they want to be true vs. what they know to be true.

In social situations, how people act is a reflection of what they believe. If someone acts disrespectfully towards someone else, it’s safe to conclude that they do not have a lot of respect for that person. Someone who knowingly cuts in front of other people in a line does so with the belief that their need to get to the front is greater than the collective need of those they cut off. It does not indicated that this is how they feel all of the time, cutting a line repeatedly would be an indication of that, just that in this moment in time their perceived need is greater.

If someone says they want something to succeed but do not take the necessary steps to move it forward, it is very likely that they may want it to succeed but that they do not believe it can or that they do not believe they have the capability to make it work. Sabotage is a great example of this; be it self sabotage or sabotage of another, it is a reflection of the belief that someone is unworthy of success.

The quality of business partnerships can be revealed by the actions of each partner. When one partner is doing the lions share of the work, they care more. When the other partner aware that they are doing a lot less of the work, it reflects that they believe they have a right to do less. This can indicate that they do not believe it is an equal partnership regardless of what they have said.

The nature of romantic relationships is also very clear when looking at the actions of each party. Like business relationships, the person who does more of the work likely cares a lot more about the relationship than the other. If one of the parties is not pulling their weight, it can indicate that they are not that into the other person, but it can also indicate that they do not believe the relationship will work or that they deserve to be in a good relationship. If they are aware that they are not doing their share, this lack of effort could be an act of sabotage, self or otherwise.

A lot of the point Heather was making focused on identifying the incongruence between words and actions because when they are out of alignment the person is not telling the truth. She wasn’t saying that they are necessarily telling a deliberate lie, just that what they are saying is not true. How could it be true if their actual actions are not the same as their words? Actions are real and have physical consequences in the real world. Words have a much smaller impact, one that is effectively zero when compared to the consequence of physical action. They may intend no harm and actually be trying to shape the future by saying something that they wish was true in an effort to make it true. Their actual intention will only be revealed after they act and any incongruence is revealed.

Heather uses this technique to pin point when and how to coach her staff or other clients. She doesn’t make a value judgment in the moment and instead tries to lend a hand and help them uncovered what they want while pointing out the fact that their internal world view does not allow them to act in a way that will move them in the desired direction. Very often people are unaware that their actions indicate their beliefs and that other people are able to read these beliefs very quickly. When this leaked information is revealed to them, they are nearly powerless to continue to broadcast the inconsistencies. At worst, the people adjust what they say so as to stop speaking falsehoods. The best outcome is that they become aware of the incompatibility between their wants and their world view and take strong steps to adjust their world view to snap it into alignment with what they want to have happen. Usually though, it is something in the middle with smaller action steps aimed at getting them to act in a way that is in-congruent with their limiting beliefs. Over time, this changes their belief because actions in the real world are evidence or proof of how the real world is. This cannot be ignored for very long and after a few of them, the transition occurs and there is a match between their words and actions, indicating progress.

This is why faking it until we make it is so effective at challenging beliefs, changing our emotional state, and changing our world view. Physical actions are based on what we know or believe to be true. It follows then that someone who not very social but acts in the way of a social person would provide the evidence they are in fact social. Someone who is not active but chooses to work-out intensely 3 times a week is in fact active. Someone who believes they are not worthy of love but takes the actions that indicate they have self respect and love for themselves will suddenly find themselves attracting the love of others. Someone who claims to be disorganized but sets about keeping their room in order will find their story dissolving to be replaced with statements about their organizational abilities.

The whole thing is very cool and accurate enough to use anywhere in your life. Even if the incongruency is not an indication of a mismatch between their desires and their beliefs, identifying it gives you a head start in where to look and what to consider when trying to make sense of peoples behaviour. I am sure there are other reasons why someone would say one thing and do another but the fact that they do this is important and should be explored. Maybe they are lying and are trying to get away with something; in such cases you are always better off confronting them about it. It may cost you a connection with someone who isn’t being honest with you. This isn’t a bad thing, particularly if you are invested in the outcome given that when we want something, we are very willing to ignore evidence and good judgment to convince ourselves that everything is fine. The only way you will know if there is a good reason to say one thing and do another is to ask the person about it when you notice it. Their answer will reveal a lot about the next steps you and they need to take.

Disruption = Destruction

Disruption technology is zero sum while innovative technology tends not to be. The reason for this is very simple, people have a certain amount of money that they are willing to spend on something, so when a disruptor shows-up, even if their service is significantly cheaper than what it is replacing, people are not going to have more money to spend on it. They may, for example, take more rides, but they are not going to be spending MORE money than before.

After the disruptors have done their thing, the world is a little worse off and a few people have way more money.

My wife absolutely loves watching me rant about Uber. She says it’s remarkable to see someone get so animated and passionate / angry about something that has very little impact on them personally. Her’s and mine is a click-wirr stimulus response type thing. My brain receives “Uber” as input and I’m set off. There is a glance from her and she disengages her hearing and starts watching the one man outrage show. I think she finds it amusing.

In the interest of full disclosure, I actually think that Uber is a very good service. While I do not have my own account, the two times I have used the service with someone who does have been great. The first time, I happened to leave my cell phone in the car, and getting in contact with the driver was very simple – he ended-up coming back to the drop off location so I could get it back. The second time was a drive to the airport in Las Vegas and the driver didn’t say much of anything, which is great because the more expensive cab ride from the airport a few days before was polluted with the driver complaining about Uber and how they were ruining everything. Listen buddy, that’s my rant…

My problem is not with Uber specifically, it is with “disruption” technologies because they are creating a shittier world as they make a few people a lot of money. Disruption technologies are things that break the status quo or present a new way of doing an existing business that makes things easier or cheaper for the user.

They need to be contrasted with innovative technologies that alter the underlying way things get done. Disruption tech does the same thing but in a slightly different way, while innovation tech accomplishes the same goal using a completely different method. Phrased differently, innovation solves a problem in a new way. Disruptor tech solves a problem the same way as before except it uses slightly different pieces. If we think about the Luddites, their concern was that the loom was going to put them out of work because it was a machine that did the same job as the people. That is disruption. Outsourcing your textile manufacturing to a country that has lower cost labour is disruption. Innovation is creating a new fabric. Convincing people that they no longer need to wear clothes is innovation.

The key distinction here is that with disruption technology, things remain more or less the same and most people who are not directly involved in the area will never notice much of a difference. Sure, prices may change, availability may improve, quality may change and how they engage the area might be different, but at the end of the day, fabric is fabric regardless of how it is manufactured. With innovation, the lives of the people will change more dramatically. Prices, availability, quality and method of engagement will probably be completely different, but there is a very good chance that an area will disappear outright and a new one will begin to take over.

The printing press is a great example of innovation. Before the printing press, ideas / stories were passed along via two main methods – word of mouth or in handwritten books. Monks have been credited with being analogs to the printing press in that a room of them would listen to someone telling a story and each would write out by hand what they heard. This was slow, expensive and imprecise; although it tended to yield more consistent results than the word of mouth telling of a story from one person to the next. These technologies were less than ideal and each made possible and very likely a multitude of errors given that what each person wrote was not necessarily the same and every new listener was going to remember certain parts of a story with more clarity than others. The invention of the printing press was an innovation in the purest sense of the word because it dramatically improved upon the existing methods for capturing ideas / stories / words. Exact copies were now possible, and these copies could be made years and miles apart. This lowered the cost of books and increased their range of distribution. The monks were liberated from the task of transcription, for better or worse, and the story tellers could continue to do their thing so long as there was someone who was willing to listen to them. The key thing is that the monks and story tellers were not simply replaced by other monks and story tellers, they were replaced by something that was completely different and vastly superior.

The internal combustion engine is another example of innovation. It eliminated the reliance on animals for transportation and dramatically increased the load that people could move around the streets and roads. Farriers, blacksmiths, people who built buggies and others were disenfranchised by the creation of the gasoline engine and the subsequent creation of cars and trucks. While this was bad for them in the short term, the new market that was created by automobiles offered ample opportunity to retrain and return to work. There was also an induced demand created by cars and trucks, which resulted in an increase in productivity, jobs, transportation, and an ease in life.

Keep this example in the back of your mind as you continue to read because it contains most of the positive things that innovation sets in motion and will be referenced again later when I talk about niche markets and hyper specialization.

I have no doubt that had I been around during the transition from horse to internal combustion engine, I would not have been ranting about it. While there were a few people who lost out, nearly everyone either recovered or received a boost in the quality of their life. Engines were not simply outsourced versions of horses, they were completely different things that required their own industry and infrastructure.

Now compare this to disruption technologies and the source of my outrage will become very clear. Political parties are a type of disruptive technology. At a simple level, consider liberalism and conservatism and assume that there are two political parties with one operating with one of these approaches. Assuming that there is a 50:50 chance between either party, half of the time will be spend being governed by liberal policies while the other half will be spend being governed by conservative policies. This polarity means that society will be, over time, somewhere in the middle. The swings back and forth will have the effect of stopping one set of policies and starting the other set, and vice-versa. This is disruptive, but it has a moderating effect and the longer it continues, the smaller the negative impact will be of the changes.

In this example, the politicians lose their jobs and some portion of the tax revenues will likely be reallocated away from some things and onto others. For the individual people who are involved, it will be tough, but they will adapt and hopefully get back on their feet quickly. The point is that a change in government is very much like a change in the colour of paint – the house remains the same, it just looks different.

A more relevant and destructive example is that of Uber. Uber is like one side of the two party system mentioned above. But unlike that example, Uber is brand new to the game and it now represents an alternative to the well established approach that has existed for a long time. This means that those who are already doing the jobs that Uber will replace have no history of dealing with change. Maybe some places had a second or third taxi company that represented competition for customers, but each company was held to the same rules in terms of regulation and each company was running effectively the same business model. While this wasn’t ideal, it worked and it offered a level of predictability to all of the players. The business owners knew what they were dealing with in terms of revenue and costs, and their drivers knew what they needed to do in order to keep their job and to grow their business / wealth. The government benefited from licensing fees and tax revenue. The riders benefited from knowing exactly what to expect when they took a taxi ride somewhere. While it wasn’t as good as driving your own car or being driven by a friend, the taxi industry satisfied a need and offered people the opportunity to get driven somewhere for a fee.

Along came smart phones, 4G / LTE, and someone with the motivation to see the world slightly different from the status quo. The idea is very simple in hindsight and could not have come to be without the advances in telecom and electronics manufacturing. But once everyone had the ability to remain connected to the Internet from anywhere via their own high powered handheld computer, the traditional taxi model becomes antiquated and revealed to be much less than optimal.

What is Uber? It is an app that facilitates connections between people while allowing for the location of each user to be recorded in real time. It isn’t a taxi company because it doesn’t have most of the things that a taxi company has. It is more akin to a parent who is going to pick you up from the party or bar and drive you somewhere for a fee, but instead of calling them to come and get you, you use a phone app. And unlike the taxi company, it is mostly decentralized having data centers and corporate headquarters in some city somewhere. There is no terminal or maintenance center for fixing the cars, and no office for the drivers and dispatch workers to go to. The dispatch step has been replaced with a computer program and algorithms to connect people who are requesting a ride to people who are offering a ride. The terminal and maintenance center has been eliminated because the drivers just go to where ever they go when it is time to get maintenance done. This means that Uber has much lower overhead than traditional taxi companies and fewer local employees performing support, maintenance and dispatch roles. These jobs evaporate and the lack of a physical office means that rent is not paid. While I am no fan of rent seeking behaviour, I am a fan of people having jobs and of the tax burden of a city being paid by as many people as possible. So the “technology” aspect of Uber has cost at least a few jobs and reduced tax revenue. However, this aspect of the company has allowed it to get out of, or away with not, collecting and paying tax on the rides, and for the drivers to avoid paying licensing and other regulatory fees. Income tax is also not collected or paid by the company for any of the people who are driving because they do not view them as employees. Added together these things amount to huge losses in terms of revenue for the city.

This is not a great situation, but it would only be so bad if Uber as a company was making money, but it isn’t. In fact, it is hemorrhaging money, which is odd given that the cost of doing business should be lower than for a traditional taxi company. They connect riders with drivers, determine the price of the ride and then take their cut of 25% of the fare price. They get an interest free loan for the period of time between when a ride is completed and when they pay the driver (their week runs Monday 4am to the following Monday at 3:59AM). And in-spite of these things, they have lost an average of around 5.4 millions US dollars per day since they started operating and something north of $20 million a day in 2019.

NOTE, it is kind of tough to get exact and up-to-date numbers for the company, but 2019 estimates are coming in at a loss of $8.5 billion. Q2 2019 losses were 5.2 billion of which $3.9 billion US is linked to IPO costs in the form of shares. Q4 losses should be in the neighbourhood of $1.2 billion, or around $13 million per day.

Let that sink in, if such a thing is even possible. The company plans on losing half a billion dollars this quarter after losing 5.2 billion last quarter. The company is on track to lose more than 6 billion dollars this year and in the nine years that it has existed it has spent more than 10 billion.

What the hell?

Who is making money if not the company, the newly unemployed traditional taxi workers, or the government? It’s kind of hard to say but the best guess would be any one who works for the Uber corporation and their associated vendors / service providers, the people who drive for them, and anyone who makes money maintaining their private cars. Traditional taxi drivers are making less, and many have had to supplement their work by driving for Uber or Lift.

The riders are seeing a value in it though as evident by their adoption of Uber as a form of transportation and the decrease in use of taxis. However, the evidence that Uber is cheaper than traditional taxis is not conclusive. At off-peak times and in some cities you will pay less for an Uber ride, but in other cities and during peak times it may be less expensive to take a traditional cab. That being said, many people do prefer Uber and use it exclusively. For them, it is a better option than traditional taxis and they are more than willing to continue to use it.

It’s worth saying that their app is very good and it makes things a lot easier for riders. It also seems to make things easy for the driver as well. Both of these are good, and the fact that it is easy for the drivers is important because most of their drivers are NOT professional drivers meaning they do not come from traditional taxi companies. There is a good chance that your Uber driver will have a full time job and will only work a few hours each day to generate some extra money. This is an important fact to consider given how difficult it is to generate a decent income driving for one of the ride share companies. The pay is okay if you have a full time job elsewhere, but as a source of full time pay most people cannot make it work. It is also a job that does not have any security or much recourse in the event someone levels an untrue accusation against a driver. The company is free to deactivate any driver or users account at will and has no obligation to get to the bottom of any disputes.

Did / do traditional taxi companies have a problem that a lack of any real competition allowed to continue? Yes, some of their drivers were less than respectful and would not get off the phone when they were driving. Some of them were rude and some of them didn’t seem to like people very much. But many of them were and are first rate professionals who care about their customers, their cars, and their profession. Getting a cab could be problematic from time to time, particularly during busy times, and the notion of having to talk to someone on the phone to request a ride is outdated and no longer necessary. People who travel a lot needed to know the phone number of the local taxi company, which is easy enough to do, but represents an extra step that an Uber account eliminates. The location feature of Uber also takes care of the open loop associated with wondering when the cab would arrive – it’ll be about 10 minutes doesn’t do much to quell the uncertainty of not knowing something. And maybe the price of a cab ride was higher than it should have been.

The fact of the matter is that Uber does, on the face of it, fill a need that its users believe they have. The traditional taxi companies didn’t seem to do much to address the concerns and instill loyalty in their customers, so when something else came along, people were willing to try it out and finding it to be a better experience completely jump ship. This is the nature of progress and the passage of time. Without adequate competition people lose their taste for blood and stop bringing their A game.

The problem with this has to do with weathering the storm while making the needed changes to win back customers. Traditional taxi companies do not have the bank roll that Uber does. Most are small businesses with thin margins that do more in the realm of keeping a few people employed vs. generating a lot of profit or wealth for their owners. They were also asked to pay a lot of business tax and their employees paid a substantial amount of income tax, along with whatever regulatory fees the local government was asking them to pay. The service they were delivering is not the same as the one that Uber is delivering and, as a consequence, it cost them a lot more money to remain in business. Yes, Uber identified the business that taxi companies SHOULD be doing – that of connecting those who need a ride with those who have room in their car and a willingness to drive people from point A to point B – but when they arrive in a city they are offering a ride share service and NOT a traditional taxi service. And they have deep pockets and have been able to lose money, an average of a billion US dollars per year, and not go under.

This is why they are considered a disruptor and it is why I really do not like the outcome they are causing to happen.

They are losing money, they are pushing traditional taxi drivers, workers and companies out of the business, the jobs they are creating are not the same as the ones they caused to be eliminated, and the only people who seem to be benefiting are the riders, the moonlighter who doesn’t need a full time job and the initial shareholders who have seen their initial investment jump in value. This is a big problem for those who are negatively impacted and a potential problem for riders in the future.

Without the bank roll to keep going, traditional taxi companies will start to cut cost in an attempt to stay in business. This means that their drivers will get paid less and the service quality may begin to drop (here I’m thinking about the driver from the Las Vegas airport complaining the entire way about how Uber and the local government were screwing him over as opposed to making the day of two people who were visiting one of the coolest yet strangest cities in North America). After some period of time, the company will close its doors leaving Uber and other ride share companies to service the city. This means fewer jobs and less tax revenue.

But now that Uber is a publicly traded company, they have a fiduciary duty to their shareholders to maximize profits. In an area in which they have no competition to keep prices inline and no government regulation to dictate the price they get to charge, they WILL increase their rates. This will mean that it will begin to become more expensive to take an Uber ride.

The end result for successful disruption technologies is less choice, higher prices, and lost revenue / income for people and, in the case of Uber, cities. Since the city doesn’t suffer a loss in revenue, it means higher taxes for those who live in the city and for the businesses that are located there.

Travis Kalanick, one of the founders of the company, has done very well. While he no longer works for Uber and wasn’t their leader during their IPO, he was given 117.5 million shares that he has begun to sell. The IPO price was around $47, the lowest the price has been since then was $25.58, and today it is trading around $37. He is a billionaire and will, in all likelihood, never have to think about having a need for money again.

So what?

Disruption technology is zero sum while innovative technology tends not to be. The reason for this is very simple, people have a certain amount of money that they are willing to spend on something, so when a disruptor shows-up, even if their service is significantly cheaper than what it is replacing, people are not going to have more money to spend on it. They may, for example, take more rides, but they are not going to be spending MORE money than before. But this doesn’t actually apply to Uber because the cost of the rides is not significantly lower. People have made the decision to pay someone to drive them somewhere so they are simply choosing who to give the same amount of money to.

The reason why innovative technologies tend not to be zero sum is because of induced demand. There will be a lot of people who lose out initially, but the new technology changes things in such a way that it ends up lifting almost all of these people up and then above where they were before.

This means that there are going to be a lot of people on the losing end of ride sharing. It begins with the traditional taxi drivers, moves onto the taxi companies and municipal governments, and will eventually begin to negatively impact us, the customer or end user. The winners are few in numbers, with the biggest being the early investors and the people who own shares in the company, assuming that it ever reaches the point of paying a dividend.

This topic is going to grow in importance over the next few years as AI, 5G, and acceptance of the gig economy make it possible for technology to do a job, or a portion of the job, that is currently performed by a human being. It is entirely possible that one day in the future your Uber driver will be a Medical doctor or lawyer who has seen the majority of their work transitioned over to an app or other piece of technology.

NOTE: This article was written towards the end of 2019 and reviewed during the first few months of 2020.

Empathy And Compassion Are Not The Same Things

If times are actually tough for them… They will likely need your help in identifying the problem, determining some solutions… If they actually want a better life, the last thing they need is company and particular not company that feels the same way they do.

There are two concepts that often get confused and they are empathy and compassion. They are not the same and they manifest themselves very differently in terms of behavioural outcomes and internal emotional states.

Empathy is the ability for someone to get into the mind state of another person, gaining a rich understanding of what it feels like to be the other people. If someone is sad, an empathetic person will relate strongly to their experience and feel sadness. Boundaries will be dissolved and it will become challenging to know where one person ends and the other person begins.

Compassion is the ability to care about another person while not becoming entangled in the others experience of an emotion. A compassionate person will be able to identify when someone is sad and they will want the other person to stop experiencing sadness, but they will not become sad themselves. There will be a strong boundary between the two people.

The problem with empathy is that it is generally not very helpful. Its value is used-up in a few seconds and then it very quickly becomes a problem. It may be useful to know what someone is experiencing, to get a thin slice of what this moment in time is like for them and to temporarily feel what they are feeling. This can help to establish the connection, to calibrate on what is occurring, and to get clear on what they are trying to get away from or maintain. After those things have been satisfied, it is best to wipe the slate as clean as possible and to focus on what needs to happen next. Doing anything other than flushing away their state to make room for your own will make you as unhelpful to them as they currently are to themselves. This is actually fairly difficult given that emotions are composed of neuro-chemicals that need to be cleaned-up completely before mental functioning returns to baseline.

The problem here is two fold. The first is that an emotional response tends to beget more of the same emotional response. It is very easy and more common than not to have a feedback loop that either sustains an emotional response or escalates the magnitude of the response. This is not helpful, and only compounds the problem when two highly charged people talk to each other. There is little chance that I’m going to be able to talk you off the ledge if I’m on the same ledge thinking about jumping too.

The second, and more importantly if you are interested in helping someone, it takes time for emotions to clear the brain and blood. During this period of time thinking will be impaired in predictable and profound ways. There is an inversely proportionate relationship between the size of an emotional response (the amount of neural chemicals released) and the activation of the prefrontal cortex. Triggering a full fight or flight response renders the prefrontal cortex off-line until the chemicals are cleaned-up. This makes sense given the evolutionary survival benefit of shutting down the part of the brain that inhibits massive immediate action and which generates thoughts and consideration of the future. In a true life or death situation, thinking about an action or the consequences to an action is more likely to lead to a premature death than running or fighting to neutralize the threat. But this kind of response is almost always way too much. Most of the time acting with some consideration for the future is the best course of action.

If you really want to be of service to another person, both of you will benefit when you have only a cursory appreciation of what they are experiencing and a desire to move them towards something they view as better – to know they are having a sucky experience yet to not share in that experience. If times are actually tough for them, they are probably experiencing the predictable cognitive impairment and cannot see their own way out of the situation. They will likely need your help in identifying the problem, determining some solutions, brainstorming the appropriate course of action and your guidance to shepherd them out. If they actually want a better life, the last thing they need is company and particular not company that feels the same way they do.

Compassion is what is needed in these situation and in most situations were help is wanted. To care enough to not becomes part of the same problem is an act of mercy and really the only moral course of action. By allowing your entire brain to work the problem you are proceeding down the only path that can lead to the elimination of their suffering. By choosing to empathize with them you are only multiplying the suffering and ensure that they get no help from you.

Listening And Hearing Are Not The Same

Listening and hearing are not the same thing and they both require a different response. When we are being listened to, it is dignifying and validating and often moves us towards self discovery. When we are being heard, the other person is often gaining insight into our state of mind that we do not yet have.

My brother is very good listener. He has always been good at helping me talk through challenges and arrive at a solution. He rarely tells me what to do, will only occasionally offer his opinion about the specific subject and is more inclined to relate a story about something similar that happened to him than to talk about the specifics of what I said. He knows that very often I think by talking so whatever I say at the beginning is not necessarily going to be what I would say at the end. In fact, how I think at the beginning usually bares no resemblance to what I think at the end. Conversations with him are easy, interesting and usually leave me feeling elated and energized.

My wife Heather is not a very good listener. She is distracted very easily and can be rather impulsive during conversations. She’s amazing to talk to provided I’m willing to go on a ride or if I have a very clear idea of what I’m attempting to communicate. If I know what I want to say, I need to get to it quickly because she doesn’t have the same capacity for listening that my brother does. In fact, if it take longer than 3 or 4 sentences to get out, it’s probably pointless to start it because the whole thing won’t be making it out of my mouth. I usually feel energized after talking to Heather but there will be times when I feel completely frustrated or overwhelmed.

Heather’s limited ability to listen does not have a negative impact on her insightfulness. In fact, she identifies what is occurring very quickly and this is why she stops listening. She’s very busy and has a large list of things that she wants to get to. Every moment spent on something is a moment that isn’t spend on something else. For this reason, she has learned to hear very quickly and basically checks out the moment she has heard what I am saying. This is different from conversations with Des. He doesn’t hear as well or as quickly, I think this stems from the fact that we are very different people and do not run a lot of the same mental code. He can listen very well but cannot hear because he doesn’t have the code that makes hearing me possible. He is capable of both listen and hearing his wife and they communicate very effectively.

Listening and hearing are not the same thing. Both are important, neither one is better than the other. Listening is more superficial. It is a critical component to remaining engaged and connected to someone. The words do not have a big impact on the listeners brain. It is as though there is a filtering process working to allow the essence of what is being said to have an effect on the brain of the listener. Insight and understanding are not required outcomes for a good listening. A good listener may never gain an appreciate of what the other persons experience of reality is like but their actions will help the other person get a better understanding of their experience of reality. By being listened to, the speaker gets the answer to the question “why am I saying what I am saying?”

Hearing is different. Hearing cuts through all of the noise and gets to the root of what what is being said. The words are only a small part of what the communication. Tone, context, idea flow, and word choice are also parts of it. The hearer notices these things as well and factors them into their understanding of what is going on. Hearing answers the question “why is this person saying what they are saying?”

For me, the outcome is very similar. Des allows me to get to it on my own and aims to say as little as possible. Heather gets clarity on what I am saying and, more importantly, why I am saying it much faster and lets me say as little as possible. Talking to Des is for me less frustrating because I don’t get cut off mid-sentence. But it also consumes a lot more of his time because the conversation will last as long as it has to. With Heather, I can get cut off quickly and have the thing explained back to me after a minute. This is more frustrating because if there is an emotional charge that is being burned off by talking the thing out, this process is stopped dead in its tracks. If I’m able to deal with that and when I’m able to let go of the frustration, the insights she offers up can be just as exciting as the insights Des’ listening allow me to reveal.

The biggest challenge with being heard while not being listened to is an internal challenge and it is one about ego. If I’m willing to let her solve my problem or at least reframe my mindset, everything is great. The breakdown occurs when I’m not open enough to hear the reality of what is going on. This can be a tough one to manage, particularly with a significant other. No one wants to feel vulnerable, like someone can read our mind because we know on some level that if someone is able to read our mind we can be taken advantage of or gamed. Being gamed represents an historic shortcoming because those who can predict our next action will be have a survival advantage over us because they can take our limited resources. It is an antiquated fear, but one that has a very long history in our evolutionary past.

It can also be tough to parse out the message from the messenger. When the message is bad and evokes negative emotion, transferring this onto the messenger can be automatic. Maintaining clarity when negative emotions are triggered requires mental effort and skill. When we draw the conclusion on our own, this triggering of negative emotion is suppressed / reduced. Plus, whatever unconscious processes got us to identify the conclusion are also working to influence the emotional response to the conclusion. Having Heather simply state what is going on and why it is happening can be jarring and it requires some time to appropriately process. I will get there, I will just go somewhere else first.

Listening and hearing are not the same thing and they both require a different response. When we are being listened to, it is dignifying and validating and often moves us towards self discovery. When we are being heard, the other person is often gaining insight into our state of mind that we do not yet have. If the hearer continues to let us speak and get to the moments of self discovery, they’ll be able to check-in and validate the conclusion against what they heard; this is the same thing as listening. However, if they preempt this moment of self discovery and state their finding, the outcome becomes potentially problematic and will require extra effort on the part of the speaker to initiate the needed mental processes to assimilate what has been revealed. Often times, at least with me, this can be tough, but it is worth it to take some time and work to respond as opposed to react.

It’s fair to say that when you are talking to someone who hears very quickly, you better be prepared to hear as well. Anything other than hearing isn’t going to be enough to effectively handle the conversation.

They Are Not Stupid, They Are YOU

There is a single objective reality on which each one of us construct our own individual experience of being alive. We are all given access to the same collection of molecules and their movements and are tasked with making sense out of them in such a way as to allow us remain alive using as little energy as possible.

Let me tell you two stories before I get to the point of this post.

There is a large group of people in the United States, although not a majority of the population, that cannot understand why Donald Trump’s approval rating is going up during the last full week of March 2020. They believe that he has screwed-up the response to covid-19 and are becoming increasingly alarmed at the increase in people who have tested positive for the virus along with the jump in deaths. To them, HE is the key reason why things have gone so badly off the rails. The administration was very slow to respond to the virus in a tangible way and in the main ways the scientists and epidemiologist have and had been suggesting. The key exception to this is the travel restrictions that were implements on January 31, 2020; although it is not clear that there is much agreement on what exactly this achieved and if it was in fact a travel ban.

At the same time, there is a large group of people in the United States, although not a majority of the population, that cannot understand why his approval rating is not much higher and has only recently begun to climb at a pace faster than snails. They believe that he has responded decisively, quickly, and powerfully, as a leader should in times of crisis, and that he is the one who will carry the entire country though this and back to the land of milk and honey. And they KNOW that if other leaders would start listening to him, the entire planet would be victorious over the virus and quickly be returned to the time of plenty. Until people get out of his way, things are going to continue to degrade meaning that what should only be a minor hiccup will become a major problem. One that HE is going to have fix when he gets reelected in November.

Now on to the post.

Like it or not, there is only one story here (or above). There is a single objective reality on which each one of us construct our own individual experience of being alive. We are all given access to the same collection of molecules and their movements and are tasked with making sense out of them in such a way as to allow us remain alive using as little energy as possible.

As such, there is no way that any one gets it right, and a very low probability that any two individuals share exactly the same version of things. Identical twins, for example, are as close to being the same as anything can be and their versions of the world are not exactly the same. The critical component therefore is how an individual interacts with these molecules and then in how these interactions impact the matter from which the person is constituted. With this in mind, it is clear that different people can have different experiences, or near identical ones, that will cause very similar interactions with their molecules. This will result in outcomes that are very close to the same.

Phrased another way, experience shapes outcomes MORE than biology shapes outcome. Both play a role, but given that biology doesn’t change much over time, experience does most of the heavy lifting.

This does not really map neatly on to any of the prevailing narratives being shaped by people in either of the two groups mentioned above.

Both sides say the same thing about the other side, the same things that people have been saying about the other side for as long as there have been two people who do not agree about something. What is most interesting is the most of the things they say are based on biology and NOT experience.

For example, some on the more liberal side of things will say “anyone who votes for Trump is an idiot” while some on the conservative side will say “anyone who doesn’t support Trump is an idiot.” Notice that neither side suggests anything like “people who vote for (or against) Trump have been shaped by their upbringing in such a way that they privilege certain things over others.” In fact, when you look back over the last 8 years or so for patterns in the exchanges between members from each group or from the broadcasts by members of each group, there is a lack of any agreement to respectfully disagree or to even see the other side as being a member of the same species. THEY are crazy, stupid, sheep, etc… and that is as far as it goes.

Note that I am not suggesting that no one is capable for performing this type of analysis or that there are not people who do it. I am saying that there is a tendency for people who have strong set-in-stone opinions to be much more vocal about them than those whose opinions are more loosely held and which are informed by evidence.

There is a level of unworkability in all of this, given how interconnected and mutually dependent everything is on everything else, and it is based off of the false assumption that people are different. Yes, on one very real level each person is different from every other person; the molecules from which “I” am composed are not the same molecules from which “you” are composed. You are not me and I am not you, and neither of us is anyone else. BUT we are more than just our matter. We are our matter PLUS the impact that our actions have on the physical world AND the impact that the physical world has our matter. So while it will always be true that we are not the same thing, when we view the world in terms of matter and consequences, we are no longer able to say that we are completely different. This may seem like a silly distinction but the material consequences of ones actions can become a part of another persons experience of being alive, or of that experience by many people, just as the actions of other people can materially impact us.

If we take identical twins as an example, because they are as close to being identical as human beings can be, we can easily see the divergent outcomes that are generated by having different interactions with the physical world.

Look at the following image of identical twins:

Image from https://www.historyofvaccines.org/

Both of them were exposed to the same pathogen – the smallpox virus – and the outcomes were very different. The twin on the right had been exposed to the smallpox vaccine while the brother on the left was not. The results are very different.

My point is that being genetically identical is not sufficient enough to ensure the same outcome. What is also needed is to have the same experiences, at a very similar time, in the same order, consistently for years. With reference to the image above, it is easy to imagine the similarity between two people who both received the smallpox vaccine and the difference in appearance between the two vaccinated people and the unvaccinated one.

When you are susceptible to and get exposed to smallpox, there will be a particular outcome. However, when you have had the experience of being exposed to a similar but much less severe virus before getting exposed to the smallpox virus, the outcome is completely different.

In the event it seems like I am comparing liberalism or conservationism to a virus be aware that I am doing EXACTLY that. Both of those political approaches, along with every other approach, is a collection of ideas that come together to form a view. There are merits to all of them just as their are shortcoming. When you take the time to consider each of them it can become very difficult to make a determination about which one is best, which one is the worst, and if any of them were designed to allow evil to flourish over good. The truth is that the world is much more complicated than what a simple binary “good” “evil” dichotomy is able to capture.

Context is critical, and without context we lose our ability to know what is going on and why things are occurring. Cell death, for example, is viewed as a bad thing – you really do not want your healthy cells to get killed or to die – and we take extra care to avoid things that will kill tissue. However, chemo therapy works because it KILLS cells; ideally it kills a small number of healthy cell but when battling cancer the death of healthy tissue can be viewed as collateral damage. IF the tumor is destroyed and the death of the person is prevented, it is viewed as a win regardless of the destruction to the surrounding tissue.

This is the point. The context in which one is exposed to an idea will contribute considerably to the impact that the idea will have on them. It is therefore very easy to imagine how the same idea can cause a very different outcome.

It would be a mistake to believe that any outcome is certain, even if we were to assume that we were able to control the nature, ordering and timing of every experience. Equally erroneous would be the belief that ALL liberally minded people believe exactly the same things just as it would be wrong to believe the same of conservative leaning people. In fact, MOST of what people believe is the same and while we tend to get fixated on the differences, most of the principles of political theory are shared between all of the different approaches. There are leaders, citizens, wealth, revenue, commerce, industry, and labour, as examples.

The most valuable thing we can take out of all of this is that we really do not know why people are the way they are other than being certain that biology and experience play a role to some extent. Given this, it is impossible to know that you would not hold the same views as someone on the other side of an issue had you not been exposed to different things than you were while you were growing up. The evidence for this is the fact that my great grand parents never learned how to used a smart phone while I did. Their lack of ability in this realm was not a consequence of their intelligence level, it was the outcome of their lack of experience with smart phones – given that the technology did not exist during their life time. We have every reason to believe that they would have learned how to use them had they been invented before or during their life time.

So what?

Consider leading with compassion and kindness before transitioning to the examination of experience. Being a human being is not easy. Life can serve-up one insult after another for you and for everyone. Just because we live through the ones life inflicts upon us does not mean that we will ever have any appreciate of the ones dealt to others. Take a breath and respond to others with less venom and force than seems appropriate.

Consider the possibility that the only thing that prevented you from holding the same views as those you disagree with is the luck of your birth. Had you been born into their body and them into yours, there is no reason to believe that you would believe the same things that you currently do.

Accept that every person has nearly exactly the same biology and the same brain as everyone else. There are very few actual outliers on the planet. Difference in talent and intellectual horsepower can make a big difference but when compared to any other species, human beings have effectively the same talent and brain power.

Finally, when considering making a value judgment about someone who does not hold the same opinion as you, stop yourself from making it. THEY are YOU and YOU are them; at least you would be if you had had the same experiences. We’re in this together and the longer we spend in a state of alignment with others, the great the contribution we will make to the quality of life for ourselves and for those who come after us.

The Anticipatory Anxiety Is Worse Than The Needle

It is the anticipation that causes most of the suffering…. The stress of anticipation has a chemical signature and physiological consequence. Every moment we spend anticipating what is about to happen is a moment of unnecessary agony. If it is going to be, get it over with and put it behind you. Even if the only up side is the elimination of this suffering, you are further ahead.

When I was younger I used to give blood. There are three reasons why I did it. First, it’s a good thing to do. It may help someone who needs blood, it could save a life. Second, there are the cookies and peach drink. When they sit you down to recover, they give you this super sweet peach drink and as many cookies as you want. They want your blood sugar to stay up given that they have just taken a pint of blood and in response, your body very likely initiated a stress response that moves blood sugar into the cells to power a fight or flight response. When this happens, it’s important to replenish the blood sugar quickly to prevent it dropping.

The third reason why I liked doing it is because it’s slightly painful but in a manageable way. It’s a safe type of pain, in a very control environment with almost no long term risk for a healthy adult male.

I remember the first time the blood bank came to our school and I excitedly decided to participate. There were a few of us who did it as a sort of dare – peer pressure / trash talk can have a big impact on the actions of people who are susceptible to social pressure. I filled out the paper work and waited for my turn. There was an anxious / excited feeling building which is kind of pleasant. It was a lot like the feeling I would get before teaching a cycling class. It’s a feeling that indicates an unknown in about to happen. I have no idea what would be next, just that in a few minutes a needle would be pushed through my skin into a vein in my arm and a quantity of blood would be removed. What that would feel like was a mystery, one that would be solved in the very near future.

It turns out that the pain associated with the needle is very small in magnitude and duration. It isn’t as intense as a bee sting, it doesn’t linger like a mosquito bite, and the sensation of blood leaving the body is almost imperceptible. At worst there is a slight lightheadedness initially and when you first sit-up but it’s closer to nothing than everything. Even the needle being in the arm doesn’t feel like much. The idea of it is a little more uncomfortable than the physical feeling of it. The thought “there is a needle in my arm” isn’t one that I had had before and given that it isn’t a natural part of life, it’s nothing that we innately put to rest or naturally habituate. In all the times I gaven blood, the thought of the presence of the needle was always the worst part, indicating just how trivial the actual pain is or just how profound the impact can be of thought, particularly when pair with focused attention.

The anticipatory anxiety was worse than the needle. It has always been worse than the needle. Vaccinations, at least since I have been 9 or 10 have always been the same way. In fact, the only time I recall a vaccination as being negative was when I was 5 or 6 and had to get the needle in the glut. In fairness thought, the process was awful.

It was at school and all the kids in a class were vaccinated at one time. In their wisdom, the process they came up with was tailor designed to make it as traumatic as possible. A small group of us were led into a room. There was bed set up, but it was behind a curtain. In front of the curtain was a couple of rows of chairs. The front row contained the “next to be vaccinated” kids and they would, when their turn came, stand-up and walk behind the curtain. Once the front row was empty, the second row kids would move forward and wait their turn. A new batch of kids would be brought in and take their place in the second row.

From an adult perspective, this process makes sense. After all, it’s just a small needle in the buttocks. They know that it is mostly painless because they have experience with it.

From a child’s perspective, it is terrifying. And rightfully so. If you were to be able to occupy the mind of any of the children, what is so horrible about it would become obvious immediately.

First off, we don’t know any of the players. We’ve never seen the doctor or nurse before. In fact, they only show-up at the school to put the kids through this ordeal. All we know is what we have heard from the older student had been thought it before (and they had the same miserable experience we were about to have). We don’t really know our teachers at this point – the brain of a five or six year old doesn’t really have much concept of social roles – and by default we trust every adult because we have to. But it isn’t a real trust that is based off of experiences, it is a trust that is a consequence of having next to no skepticism or critical thinking skills. So the fact that they are walking us into this room does little to put the mind at ease.

Second, the whole situation is kind of scary. Kids wait their turn to go behind a curtain for something to happen to them. Every child who goes behind the curtain ends up screaming and crying, and every child that is about to go behind the curtain witnesses this. They hear the shreeks of fear and then the cries of pain. And they never see the child again. Keep in mind that we were at the most 6 years old. The concept of there being a future does not yet reside in our brains. All we know is what we see / hear / feel and right now that is telling us that everyone who goes behind that curtain screams in pain and disappears.

Third, our time is coming. We know it is coming because a few minutes ago we were in our class room. Then some students are lead away. Then we’re lead away to take our place in a row of chairs behind the first group. Those kids are taken one at a time behind the curtain for God knows what, but it sure as hell hurts, and then we move forward to wait our turn. It makes no difference what anyone says because we don’t have a point of reference or experience to process this. Telling us that it doesn’t hurt for very long, that it isn’t very painful or that we have had vaccinations before is like telling us that we are made-up of billions of atoms. We don’t know what any of it means because we have no memories that we can access to help make sense of the situation. All we know is that, one by one, our friends and classmates go behind a curtain where a couple of strangers hurt them.

When my time came, I was told later, I didn’t handle it very well. I freaked out because I knew, not feared, knew I was going to die. And I was held down by strangers to have a needle stuck into my buttocks by another stranger. I was a hero and I fought valiantly, but I was no match for the nurse and doctor. I was a 10th their size and they had the benefit of being well versed professionals knowing a thing or two about leverage. There is a gap in my memory covering the last few moments before I was led behind the curtain and up until I was in the school yard recovering with the rest of the just traumatized kids.

Sure we wouldn’t get lockjaw, but would we ever feel safe again?

As I got older, the immunization process improved. Our triceps became the target muscle and that alone was enough to overwrite the impact of the buttocks ordeal. The health care practitioners stopped doing needles to us and began to let us consent. I suppose it was quicker to hold the kids down and get it over with, and there’s a very good chance that no a single child would consent to that first needle but I don’t actually care if their job was hard. They were doing something to us that was really negative given that any pain at all cannot be understood in rational terms by 6 year olds.

Needles do not hurt all that much. Breaking a finger or smashing your foot off of the leg of the coffee table in the dark is actual pain. The difference between the needle and the broken bone is that we KNOW the needle is coming. If we knew we were about to break a finger, we’d change course and just not break the finger.

It is the anticipation that causes most of the suffering. In almost every case, this anticipatory anxiety is worse than anything the world is going to bring us. The stress of anticipation has a chemical signature and physiological consequence. Every moment we spend anticipating what is about to happen is a moment of unnecessary agony. If it is going to be, get it over with and put it behind you. Even if the only up side is the elimination of this suffering, you are further ahead, but that is never the case, there is always another upside that makes the experience very worthwhile.

Our thoughts have a lot more power in manufacturing suffering than anything the physical world will reasonably bring our way. The needle is never as bad as the thought of the needle.

Generational Events – 12/3 Is The Next Regardless Of The Name We Eventually Settle On

Some people in North America had identified that things had changed a few months ago and were subsequently labelled “chicken-littlers,” crazy, or fear mongers. What are the chances that a virus that is impacting China could have any consequence on the rest of the world, plus, what party are these whiners from?

The world changed on March 12, 2020. Yes, this is a North American centred view of the world given that the world changed for China 2 months ago, Iran and Italy changed two weeks ago, and it has not yet changed for most of the African continent, but that is personal relativity for you.

Psychologist coined the term “flashbulb memories” to reference events that are so experientially profound that they are remembered with vivid clarity and significance. Since memory is an individual thing, the term does not speak directly to the collective or shared memories of a group of people or a culture; although many of the flashbulb memories a person has are shared with larger groups of people.

For example, I remember where I was and what I was doing when I heard that a plane had hit the North Tower of the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001. I can also remember very clearly where I was when I found out that my father had died and I am certain that most people have no idea where they where or what they were doing at at 8 am on January 29, 2012.

Generally speaking, these types of events have such a profound impact on ones identity that they end-up toggling “the way it is” to “the way it was” creating a new beginning. Other examples are the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the end of the second world war, the assignations of JFK and MLK, and the Challenger explosion.

12/3 is different for a few reasons. As mentioned above, China, Iran and Italy were dealing with it well before Donald Trump had his 9 PM press conference on the second Thursday of March.. This indicates that belief / subjective reality has more to do with crossing the threshold into the new “now” than objective reality. This makes pin pointing a specific date and time for this moment more challenging. Unlike a crash or death, the instant ones brain flips a belief switch will be determined by things other than demonstrable facts.

Some people in North America had identified that things had changed a few months ago and were subsequently labelled “chicken-littlers,” crazy, or fear mongers. What are the chances that a virus that is impacting China could have any consequence on the rest of the world, plus, what party are these whiners from? Well, the chances are high because there are so many people and so much travel from almost anywhere to almost anywhere else, and political beliefs are not relevant when it comes to listening and hearing what professional risk managers have to say.

And yet, here we are.

My biggest concern is not that I will die because of this, nor that Heather or anyone in my family will die. I have had to accepted that there is a small chance that someone I know and care about will not see the other side of this. That sucks for lack of a better way to describe it, but it has always been true that as we age our chances of seeing next year drop. People are born, people live, and people die. The cycle of life is just one of the unpleasant things about being born and accepting the temporary nature of being alive is something that we all have to come to terms with.

What I am most concerned about is the lack of alignment that 12/3 demonstrates. It is one thing to be 6 weeks behind the tone or mood of the people in China, given the late onset of the viruses impact on the day to day life of people in North America, it is an entirely different thing to be unaligned with other people who are being drawn into the event at the exact same time.

With generation events that have a singular cause contained to a single moment of time, this misalignment does not happen. There will be latency between the event and when an individual person becomes aware of it which will cause a wave of enlightenment to roll through society, but all of the people will agree that a specific thing happened at a specific moment in time. This will remain true even when people believe the event was caused by different things and when different meanings are given to the surrounding events. No matter what else they might think, the common thread among all people will be the shared agreement that a specific thing occurred at a specific date and time. Great leaders will leverage this collective understandings to get their people moving forward in unison towards uncovering and establishing a new normal.

What we are in middle of right now is very different. While nearly all people will be impacted by 12/3 to some degree over the next year, we will not be unified by it being a singular event or an agreement that of what exactly happened. Instead, we will break off into faction who share only a belief of who is responsible and who to blame. And that is the biggest problem that humanity is going to face when it comes to getting our stride back.

Counter factuals will be promoted and whataboutism will be used to justify or vilify the actions that were or were not taken. All of it will amount to talking fiction with the aim of sustaining the narrative that puts the blame and responsibility onto someone else.

“They broke it so they need to fix it” or “they didn’t do enough to prevent it from happening” or “well thank God the BLANK party wasn’t in power when this happened because things could have been so much worse” will get tweeted and posted endlessly as people sit around waiting for someone else to make the world whole again.

The fact that the entire planet is completely dependent upon everything else to maintain the complex and fragile system that makes possible life as we know it and life in general is in risk of being overshadowed by the lack of agreement on what happened and the role that each one of us played in causing it. Until we unite around something, take responsibility for our future, and begin to move in one direction together for the good of our species and all living beings, we are going to continue to stumble and fall.

No Idea How We Feel Or Think

I’m not bothered by the fact that I have no idea what is going on inside my brain. I no more feel like a servant to the machine than I feel like the pilot. Whatever it is I believe I am, it only exists as electrical impulses that arise and pass away each moment as the universe is recreated over and over again, in my brain.

Let’s get this straight, human beings have no idea why they feel the way they do or why they think the things they think. And to be fair it isn’t their fault because exactly no one understands the complexities of consciousness and how a thought moves from being electrical impulses in certain parts of the brain to being a thought in awareness.

Most people never think about thinking or consciousness. Most people never consider the processes that are involved with influencing thought. Most people assume that they are their consciousness and that they are in control of the machine.

But this isn’t the case. Consciousness, like understanding language, walking, feeling hungry, etc…. is just one of a multitude of mental processes that is occurring in the brain. Consciousness is, in fact, another unconscious thought process. All we are aware of is the outcome of the process not the process itself. This distinction isn’t all that important, it matters only when we consider that almost all of our thinking, almost all of the things we would consider thoughts, happen independent of our awareness of them.

Consciousness is built upon a rich infrastructure of unconscious thought.

David Deutsch

Recent studies in fMRI machines indicate that when given yes / no questions, the subjects brain reveals the answer BEFORE the subject consciously becomes aware of it. There are distinct “yes” and “no” activity patterns that can be measured BEFORE the subject consciously knows the answer to the question. There is a lag of up to half a second between when the brain activity signals an answer and when the person finds themselves saying the answer or becomes consciously aware of the answer. Half a second is a very long time, particularly when dealing with the human brain, an organ of billions of neurons and hundreds of billions of interconnections. The amount of processing that occurs during that period of time makes it appear to be an eternity as opposed to an instant.

When we imagine a simple yes / no question like “are you in an MRI machine?” fully unpacking the question reveals that it isn’t at all simple. Some of the examples of things that need to be sorted out, understood and factored into the decision making matrix are: what is an MRI machine, what is meant by you, what is a machine, what is meant by in, what is three dimensional space, what is a question, what type of question is this and how do I respond to that type of question. But before that can happen, parts of the brain that are responsible for processing the electrical impulses that come from ears need to sense, encode, process and convert to workable units of information that represent the question. This information has to be pattern matched to the long term memory about language. It goes on and on like this depending in how granular you want to go.

The subject in the MRI machine has no awareness of any of this happening. The machine operator may be able to see the activity moving around the brain, with some parts get brighter as they perform their function, but it all happens so quickly that in real time they don’t see much of anything. Slowed down and compared to other scans and detailed picture will begin to emerge. But not as it happens and not without the help of computers that process billions of cycles a second to help render an image that has meaning to the investigators.

All of that brain activity to say “yes” when asked whether they are in an MRI machine. It’s mind blowing to consider what must happen when faced with a tougher question. “What are the four most common things that you buy at the supermarket?” or “in what ways does elementary school resemble a capitalistic economy?” likely trigger 100s of billions of nerve impulses. We cannot even pretend to know what’s going on in our brains. Maybe, if we work at it, we can create enough mindfulness to have a decent idea what we are conscious of from moment to moment. We may even develop the ability to know what we are feeling from moment to moment or to develop the distinction to know when we are taking actions that serve a confirmation bias. But most people never consider that they are having thoughts and that they have the ability to think about thinking let alone choose to think about a though that pops up.

Personally, I find all of this reassuring because it shines a light on what we can do and what we cannot do.

Sure, we cannot know the answer to a question before the brain answers the question as being consciously aware of an answer is the last part of the process. We can, however, direct our attention onto things, maybe not completely, but we do have influence over the machine that is our brain. We can’t stop it from going where it’s going, but we can nudge it towards particular things. We may have some agency in determining what sensory information we seek out. And we do seem to have the ability to insert thoughts onto the white board that is our working memory and manipulate these ideas; in essence, creating that which does not exist, and push this vapour into the inner workings of the brain to generate output that is based on experience, long-term memory and our world view. We can rehearse and improve at things that are not happening, we can test run different scenarios and most impressively do the impossible by creating something that doesn’t exist.

Given all of this, I’m not bothered by the fact that I have no idea what is going on inside my brain. I no more feel like a servant to the machine than I feel like the pilot. Whatever it is I believe I am, it only exists as electrical impulses that arise and pass away each moment as the universe is recreated over and over again, in my brain.

Bravery Cannot Exist Without Fear

Being fearless is not the same thing as being brave. In fact, being fearless has nothing to do with bravery. It might even indicate that someone is acting like a coward and avoiding the things that scare them.

I once attended a seminar and the leader spoke about being fearless. They suggested to the group that everyone would be happier and make more of their lives if they simple did not have fear. At the time it felt like it was the truth. It landed like an profound realization that the only thing that was holding me back from the life I wanted was fear. There was a collective delusion in the group that somehow we had been given a magic pill and upon swallowing it the world was ours to dominate.

About a week after the seminar I started to realize that I was broken because the knowledge that my fear was all that was preventing me from making the life I desired wasn’t enough. I was the same person and I had the same concerns that I had always had. Fortunately the organization had other seminars that I could attend that would teach me more of the knowledge I needed to finally break through and be all that I was capable of. Who knew that self improvement would be so expensive and depend so much on people other than myself? I said fuck it and went back to my life being afraid of the things that made me scared and occasionally doing something that terrified me.

It turns out that the lesson they should have been teaching is about being grateful for fear. Fear indicates something significant. Some fear is very important to notice and listen to. When you are doing something dangerous, fear is there to tell you to stop. Mouthing off to people at a bar is a dumb thing to do so it should scare you enough to not do it. Driving recklessly or night swimming are two other things for which fear is the appropriate response. You will live a lot longer if you always maintain a healthy dose of fear for these two activities. I’m not talking about trying to get passed the fear of doing dangerous things. I’m talking about everything else, which is most things.

With fear about something that has no survival risk, the feeling of fear is information. It can reveal to us that we do not have confidence in our ability to do the activity or certainty that the outcome will be what we want; both are what we would expect for something we new at. Very few people are good at anything the first few times they do it so trepidation is natural.

Fear can also reveal that there is something at stake. Human beings are loss adverse so the notion of losing something should trigger some level of fear.

Fear can also be misinterpreted excitement. It is very hard to tell nervousness from excitement. It is possible that when we have fear for what we’re about to do, we are actually just excited about it.

Fear can also tell us that something important is about to happen and that our brain and body is just getting revved-up to perform better. There is a sweet spot when it comes to heart rate and performance and it’s well above your resting heart rate.

Now none of this matters if we give in to the fear and don’t take action. If we have no confidence in our abilities, we’ll never gain that confidence if we never do the thing. If we’re afraid of losing something, we will never gain the right to have that thing if we never take the risk, and we’ll never gain whatever is there for those who try. If we are simply excited, we are never going to actualize the reason why we were excited if we don’t do the thing. And if we are just getting revved-up to perform better, by giving in to the fear we’ll never experience the joy of that performance.

So no matter what the reason for the fear, a life worth living exists when we accept the fear and take action anyway. Sure, we will get hurt, we will lose things, there will be a cost to not being successful, but there will always be an upside. You will learn something, you will get at least a little bit better, and you will get some hands-on information about what the world is and how it works, or a way that it doesn’t work.

The lesson they were teaching at the seminar about being fearless is probably impossible but it is at least impractical. If there is no fear, there isn’t much reason to do something. There probably isn’t going to be much growth in it because you are so good at it that you know the outcome or it matters so little that it isn’t worth doing.

Instead, I would teach people that without fear there can be no bravery. Someone who is brave is afraid but does it anyway. They take action in spite of their fear. They know that the outcome is uncertain and they still do it. Being fearless is not the same thing as being brave. In fact, being fearless has nothing to do with bravery. It might even indicate that someone is acting like a coward and avoiding the things that scare them.

Brave people may act fearlessly but they are absolutely loaded with fear.

In fairness to the seminar leader, had they told the group that fear is a good thing and that without it, we would never prove to ourselves that we were brave, I don’t think many people would has signed-up for the next seminar. The truth is not a magic pill that they can sell. There is nothing proprietary about introducing people to the notion that being brave is a skill that we can learn by identifying the things that scare us and then doing these things in a progressive and systematic way. With each rep, we are over-reaching a little bit while learning the required skills and accumulating the wisdom that eventually make possible the most terrifying things.