Surround Yourself With Curious, Creative, Sponge People

I spoke recently with some entrepreneurial friends about what we look for in a person. As the saying goes, you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with, and if that’s the case, then you better be selective about your friends.

As I went through my criteria, I noticed a delicious metaphor coming to mind. All the people I enjoy spending time with, want to spend time with, and respect or admire have one thing in common: they are sponges.

What do sponges do? They soak up stuff in one place, and then they squeeze them out somewhere new, leaving the overall surroundings more desirable. That’s exactly what my favorite people do. In a sponge, it’s absorbent and squishy, but in a person, it’s curious and creative.

Sponge People Are Curious

Sponges are not conscious, but a person wielding a sponge is. And what does a person wielding a sponge do? They look for areas to clean, for places that need sponging. One would not call the resulting entity curious, but you could call it inquisitive, exploratory, questing, even ‘thirsty’ for water. Those are all great ways to describe my favorite people as well – thirsty for knowledge.

Sponge people are curious. They want to know why the world is the way it is. They question incessantly in order to understand. They are open minded individuals who languish without new ideas and perspectives. Without something to explore or a mystery to tinker with, they cannot indulge their intrinsic desire to know more about the world around them.

As a result, an intellectually curious person becomes an interesting person, because their incessant questions eventually turn them into esoteric experts, knowledgable about every subject slightly, or one subject deeply.

In my eyes, the best friendships bring interesting, relevant, new things into the lives of each participant. A good friend will find the things they think you like and share them with you, enriching your life with novelty and theirs with a shared interest. In this way, they act as filters, screening out the vast expanse of boring reality into the choicest bits they know you’ll like. It’s one reason why friends are great!

A curious friend will always have something new to brighten your life with, because they can never satisfy their inquisitive spirit. And since they are your friend, chances are the things that excite them are things that excite you. So a curious friend will always bring exciting new things into your life.

Sponge People Are Creative

A sponge has only done its job once it is dry. What use is a bloated sponge that never releases the water it soaks up?  It is only then that it becomes useful. Otherwise a sponge could only be used once, while one that releases its water can be used again and again.

A true sponge person is one that is curious, but also puts that knowledge and wisdom to use in the form of something creative. They are not content merely to soak up and experience new things, but also wish to add something new to the world of their own making.

It doesn’t matter what that thing is. A creative person is interesting to talk to regardless of their medium, for you have all the more to learn from the ones outside of your interest, and you can share tactics and hone your craft with those you are more familiar with. What’s more, you can start relationships with creative people more easily because you can get a sense of who they are and what they stand for without talking to them, through their creations!

A creative person thus becomes more effective at curiosity that a solely curious person could ever be. A curious person can only explore what is in front of them, the parts of the world she knows about. Even with fellow curious friends who filter out the vastness of reality for relevant interests, they can only explore what they and their associate are aware of. But a creative person will work less and experience more. Their creations bring great things into their life all on their own..

How? Like attracts like. If you see a piece of art that strikes a chord with you, read a book you empathize with, or otherwise experience a creation that speaks to your worldview, you will probably want to learn more about the creator. Except for the stupendously famous, most creators are quite accessible –  only an email, tweet, or click away. Once you find them, you will tell them about how their creation made you feel, what you think it means to them, and share other creations that it reminded you of.

In this way, the creator recruits others to her curious cause. She has an army of admirers and supporters who feel a kinship to her through the creation, and they all want to tell her about similar things or experiences. She is more powerful than the uncreative curious person, because she does not have to devote time to discovery. Instead, she devotes time to creation, and her creation passively recruits other people to her curious cause.

Be a Sponge Yourself

The best people to surround yourself with are those who take in and put out. Needless to say you should do the same. You gain all the benefits of a curious, creative person, other curious, creative people will want to spend more time with you, and you gain the satisfaction of learning more about the world around you while adding something uniquely of your own. 

Weekly Review #85: Female retweets, Raising billionaires, and Should vs Must

Tech

Men are retweeted more than women, because male hashtags express content, not emotion. Hm, I see evidence like this everywhere, hope it’s not confirmation bias to my hunch that men are more analytical, women more emotional. Both are important!

The Story behind the Productivity App Momentum is a helpful backstory about the journey to the top of the Chrome store.

Relying on a single marketing channel will doom you to failure - here’s a postmortem of a founder who relied on SEO

Early Slack internal memo on shaping markets, not just products, is a great read for any true innovator.

Pigeonly serves the US prison population through streamlining mail, sending photos, and the like. Founded by a former prisoner. What a great, underserved market!

Max and Mila is an app for swiping through potential baby names with a partner, towards agreement. Apparently there’s more than one app like this, too.

Lifehacks

Sex life matters more than money towards happiness. Stats back it up – it’s about fulfilling relationships. Speaking of which, that myth about money not buying happiness past 75k/year isn’t true. It’s based on a study that measured happiness by how many times someone experienced positive emotions in the past 24 hours. When you measure happiness by the disparity between the life we want to live and the reality, things get more complicated.

Charles Tips on how to prepare kids to be billionares: is a great read:

“There is only one path to getting wealthy: exploit opportunity. The whole purpose of what I’ve stated above is to equip your children with the tools to spot and build on an opportunity to add value to the world. 

How will you know you’re on the right track? The vast majority of people you meet are inert. One in ten or twelve has scalar energy–they liven up the event. One in a thousand or so has vector energy–the ability to channel effort to a purpose and pull others in their wake. The only way a human being begins to become a vector force is to Find and Embrace His or Her Passion, and that can be a bit quirky. 

You should be getting glimpses of that talent to pursue purpose with passion all along, but it doesn’t mature until adult years. It is such a rare thing that schools are not at all equipped to teach it. Even the best MBA programs teach you how to go to work for that guy rather than be that guy. So, if you can pull it off, you will not only have enriched your children, you will have enriched the world.”

Sam Altman on turning 30 echoes Charles- the days are long but the decades are short. Cut out the negative, ruthlessly pursue the positive.

The rationale behind the SCOTUS dissenters in the landmark gay marriage case this week (yay!) is interesting: TLDR the Constitution says nothing about marriage. Letter of the law, yes, spirit of the law, no. It’s an old piece of paper! Write laws that fit the times!

Fun

VICE’s Tao of Terence Mckenna is a counterculture primer on the counterculture icon. I need to explore this guy’s work more.

Paul Krugman battles Austerians in what would be a boring economic article but was turned into an awesome Flash sidescrolling beat-em-up. More articles animated  like this please!

Elle Luna on The CrossRoads of Should and Must is a tech manifesto that I somehow missed from last year. Should is what everyone else tells you to do; must is what you really want to do, what your heart tells you to do. For Elle, she designed killer app likes Uber and Mailbox, but really wanted to be a painter, and now she is.

Raises big concerns in my mind – but good for her. Isn’t the output of a designer more valuable than art? I’d say she positively impacted way more people doing her Shoulds than her Musts, which is a better path towards fulfillment than doing what makes you feel good. Everyone has their own path, I guess.

Until the robots take over, though, it’s a privileged person indeed who can afford to take the Must path, both metaphorically and financially.

Don’t Give Advice; Share Experiences

Image from Pryere on flickr

My blog can come off as pedantic and scolding. Anything that pretends to offer ‘life optimization’ tips would be, what with all the ‘you shoulds’ and ‘you shouldn’t's. Yet I have no idea how to live well, broadly speaking. I’m figuring out as I go, just like everyone else. Even geniuses are novices outside their narrow fields of expertise. But we can all share what we learn in the process, and enrich the lives of others along the way.

So here I go, telling you how to live once again. I say you shouldn’t ever tell someone what to do. You can only tell them what worked for you. Nobody knows what you should do except you – you are the only one who has the necessary information. you have more information about the decision at hand than anyone else on Earth. You alone know where you’ve been, what you want, how your mind works, where you might like to go – the works.

Taking Advice is Outsourcing Personal Decisions

To let someone else decide what is best for you (which is essentially what you do by taking advice) is like a CEO outsourcing a tough business decision to a consultant.It makes the CEO’s job easier, but there’s no way the consultant knows what is best for the company. They know what has been best for similarly sized companies in the past, but that’s irrelevant; we’re not talking about those companies. 

In Ben Horowitz’s The Hard Thing About Hard Things, he mentions being paralyzed with doubt and uncertainty when his company was in dire straits, because he knew that no matter how much advice his well qualified advisors and fellow executives could give him, they only know pieces of the puzzle. He alone as the CEO had it in its entirety. As he should – the CEO’s job description is to know everything and make the executive decision that will steer the company safely forward.

That said, there’s a reason CEOs hire consultants and advisors. Why slog through some problem from square one when there’s millions who’ve confronted the same issue before you? Thus exists the fields of coaches, consultants, advisors, psychiatrists, and so on. They’ve seen your problem before, which means they’re better prepared to help you deal with it. Why not pay them for their hard-earned experience and do exactly as they say?

Advice Is Individual Experience Generalized

This VC explains why not perfectly: “Advice is one person’s experience generalized. It’s a single point of view with all kinds of survivorship and attribution bias. Advice can be terribly dangerous when used as a substitute for thinking.” There is value in advice, but it can never compare to the efforts of a well-informed individual who knows their own needs better than anyone else. How, then can one effectively take advice into account?

Scott Britton uses two axioms to help him take advice constructively that could work. He asks himself “Does this person understand my current position” first, so that he can rank the advice appropriately. Sometimes your spouse has better advice than the expensive advisor, because they know you better. Don’t discount intimacy for expertise.

Secondly, he asks himself “Do I want this person’s life?” Since advice is individual experience generalized, if followed it will likely lead you to the same point that the advisor currently occupies. Similar to the saying ‘never trust a skinny cook’, never take advice from someone you don’t respect. The advice of those you do respect can be the best, but make sure you think through the framework they used to get there for yourself.

For example, I immediately purchase books when more than one person I admire recommends them to me. If two such people recommend that book independently, it must be worth my time, and the investment cost is low. If they recommend something bigger, like a trip, expensive course, or the like, I will think it through more seriously. But since I respect them and ‘want their lives’, so to speak, I take the advice seriously.

Life Is a Dark Room We’re All Fumbling Through Together

This is the best way to take advice. Find someone with expertise who knows you well, and remember that they are a different person with a distinct life path and goals. Use their experience to come up with the best result for you. Likewise, there’s no reason to tell someone what to do;  but sharing what you did and how it worked or didn’t will be helpful.

That’s what I (and most nonfiction writers, I daresay) try to do – not give advice but rather, to share what pitiful few things I have figured out in life. This blog is fundamentally descriptive, not prescriptive. We all face similar problems in life, and sometimes a second opinion comes in helpful. Plus there’s the value of a fresh perspective; another pair of eyes out in the world helping expose you to things worth knowing.

Life is a dark room that we’re all fumbling through together. We don’t know where we are or where we’re going, but we know where we’ve been. So we shout directions back to loved ones, alerting them to something dangerous here, and something lovely there. It’s up to us to decide whether we want to trust the directions of those ahead of us, much less if what they’re talking about is at all relevant to our position.

Weekly Review #84: Hacking App Retention, 9 to 5 Alternatives, and Integral Philosophy

Tech

Growthverse is one big gorgeous ecosystem that relates all the marketing tools available today (mostly enterprise stuff though)

Helpshift has a solid series on improving your app retention numbers

Tell Google algorithm to find shapes in photos, then run it again and again until those shapes actually appear. Crazy!

Lifehacks

Chairman Zhang built a 60 story skyscraper in 19 days, and that’s just the start. Vertical cities built out of lego concrete is next (!)

My buddy Nat has another great post for college students looking for alternatives to the 9 to 5.

MUSE headbandsenses your brainwaves and matches it with music. Not sure if I trust the tech, but sounds awesome.

Big Reddit AMA about starting the Wet Shave Club is a comprehensive look at what it takes to be an entrepreneur. Definitely check it out, along with this hilarious Hacker News post about the lengths people will go to imitate their favorite founders.

Fun

Slate review of Lev Grossman’s great The Magician’s Land  points out that the story is more about Julia than Quentin, although both are Lev. I asked the author himself at a recent book signing whether such personal modeling was intentional, and he said “I just tried to imagine awesome things, and by the end I realized they all fit into my life.”

I discovered this excellent philosopher named Ken Wilbur, who attempts to tie together all human knowledge (eastern, western, science, art, all of it) into one theme he calls Integral Philosophy. Mark Manson has a good intro to his stuff – I’m still exploring but am excited by how much this lines up with my subjective/objective writings.

Four Fires That Fuel Entrepreneurs Through The Grind

from Montecruz Foto on flickr

originally posted at Startup Grind

There’s no logical reason anybody should want to be an entrepreneur. The only guarantees are zero job security, truly dire success rates (90% of startups fail), and years of lonesome struggle against titanic opposing forces. Why would any sane person willingly choose this path over the safer road of graduate school or an established career path?

It comes down to the person. Any successful entrepreneur must have a primal forge powering their resolve, or else they will succumb to the forces of monopoly, apathy, or disbelief that work constantly against their fledgling enterprises. Entrepreneurs are entrepreneurial because they have to be; it is not a choice but a compulsion. They are driven by emotional instincts that override common sense and allow them to push forward through tremendous obstacles.

For this is the defining feature of successful entrepreneurs -  not intelligence, cunning, or domain knowledge, but resolve. Call it perseverance, call it grit, call it whatever you like, but entrepreneurs don’t give up. There’s a reason they call it the Startup Grind.

As Elon Musk puts it, “Starting a company is like chewing glass and staring into the abyss.” No human can withstand such an experience without a blind fire to fuel their resolve.

Such fires eat their owners alive, since they can never truly be sated. As Michael Lewis relates in his book The New New Thing: A Silicon Valley Story,

“The person who makes his living searching for the new new thing is not like most people, however. He does not seriously want to sink back into any chair. He needs to keep on groping. He chooses to live perpetually with that sweet tingling discomfort of not quite knowing what it is he wants to say. It’s one of the little ironies of economic progress that, while it often results in greater levels of comfort, it depends on people who prefer not to get too comfortable.”

Entrepreneurs must recognize which base instinct is fueling them, and learn to relish the process as well as the product. Otherwise they will end up unfulfilled, no matter how many IPOs left in the wake.

After years of living in Silicon Valley, dozens of conversations with entrepreneurs, and personal research, I’ve noticed that most entrepreneurial motivations come down to one or more of the following:

Money

An entrepreneur motivated by money does what she does because she sees a business opportunity in it, and nothing more. She may have domain knowledge, see a unique opportunity for arbitrage, or possess a profitable vision, and so she ditches the paycheck of normal business in favor of the potential for even bigger riches.

Many people erroneously assume that money is the only reason entrepreneurs do what they do. But it is actually the weakest of the motivations, since the desire for money is an extrinsic one – it comes from culture, not from the inside. We all know money can’t buy happiness, and the money-preneurs do too. But even so, they tell themselves things will be better if they had a bit more cash. They will always chase after the next dollar, and likely stretch their consumption lifestyle to match the paycheck no matter how large it becomes.

Extrinsic motivators like money will never bring meaning or satisfaction to those that seek them – one must find motivation intrinsically, within oneself. Here are 3 intrinsic motivations, but they vary in intensity.

Curiosity

The curious entrepreneur is motivated by the need to know and understand. They are autodidacts, who long ago realized that they could learn more outside of the classroom than in it, and so began teaching themselves through voracious reading and networking with industry experts. At some point they found a hole in the public body of knowledge; a piece of information that does not exist but should.

It is at this point that the autodidact becomes an entrepreneur. They use their specialized knowledge to create something new, be it information or a piece of technology. As long as it’s useful to others, it can be sold, and then the academic becomes the businessman.

Curiosity is a stronger motivation than money because it is intrinsic, and because the process of learning is more enjoyable to them than the process of earning money. Money is a commodity you must spend to use, but knowledge provides value to the owner through possession alone.

Such entrepreneurs are thus more powerful than those driven by money. But unless they also share qualities of the last two motivations, they will not match them in ferocity.

Injustice

Remember the saying “Hell Hath No Fury Like A Woman Scorned?” The same is true of the entrepreneur driven by injustice. This person experienced a wrong early in life that they haven’t been able to shake off.

It could be anything, or nothing: maybe nobody took them seriously, maybe their parents mistreated them, maybe they were ostracized on the playground. Whatever the wrong was, these people carry that feeling with them into adulthood, and they draw power from it.

Entrepreneurs driven by injustice are more ferocious than those driven by money or curiosity because for them, it’s personal. They seek validation beyond all else, which makes starting a business a great way to receive it in the form of money, press, or success.

I doubt such people will ever be able to feel fulfilled unless they address the wrong directly. You cannot fill a hole in your psyche with business alone. But as long as they have that fire burning, they are as driven as any person can be. They will outwork all others in their quest for validation, although they may lose relationships along the way to suspicion or distrust.

That said, a legitimate business survives solely on the value it provides to society. Hopefully the good provided in such cases outweighs the bridges burned along the way.

Passion

The last type of entrepreneur is the most powerful, for they are in the game for love of the game itself, not the outcome. They are not driven by the pursuit of knowledge, money, or validation so much as the pursuit itself – to accomplish something worthy of being accomplished.

I have seen a variant of the this sentiment reflected again and again when talking to entrepreneurs. Sometimes they can’t quite capture it in words. It took a non-native English speaker to cut close to the heart of the matter – he said “I do this because it is the only thing that makes sense.” Such reductive logic brings to mind climber George Mallory‘s timeless answer to the question of why he wanted to climb Mt. Everest: “Because it’s there.”

The passion entrepreneur rejects the safe, established life because it is the only way to live for them. They are people who ‘prefer not to get too comfortable’. They will never be happy with a clean suburban house, 2.5 children, and an assured retirement. A life lived without risk and adventure is not worth living. The passion entrepreneur does not ask Why, but Why not? They endure the trials of entrepreneurship because it is the only thing they see worth doing.

This is why the entrepreneur motivated by passion will always win over those motivated by money, curiosity, or injustice. They eat hardship for breakfast, not because of what it brings, but because they are looking for hardship. The passion-preneur will win every time, because they take a whipping from the world and come up asking for one more.

The curious entrepreneur may turn away, content with the knowledge gained thus far. The money entrepreneur may turn away to find another way to generate revenue with less hardship. And the injustice entrepreneur will bear it all, hoping that the world takes notice of his sacrifice. But the passion entrepreneur endures because this is what she came for.

What fuels you through your Startup Grind? Is it passion, or something else?