Meaningful specifics, useless cogs and a house of cards

11 July 2016
11 July 2016 Tenaka

I find it refreshing when, in the ever-increasing pace of modern life, I stumble on serendipity. I’d venture to guess that you and I are similar in that we live our lives with a certain degree of predetermined deliberation as we go about getting things done, so you may be wondering exactly what kind of serendipity am I referring to.

The simple kind. No doubt you know the feeling of finding a long lost bit of cash in a pocket, or if you’re anything like me, under your car seat. I had a similar experience some weeks back when I stumbled on an interview of Seth Godin hosted by Tim Ferriss on ”The Tim Ferriss Show”.

What ensued over the roughly two hour long podcast was frantic note-taking as I encountered gem after absolute gem. Once the interview was done I sat back and recall feeling something akin to the example of serendipity I described above. I did not expect to find the value I did, needless to say I strongly recommend setting the time aside to listen to the podcast episode yourself, but in the meantime I’d like to share the points that stood out most to me.

Meaningful specifics

“There’s nothing wrong with being a wandering generality rather than a meaningful specific. But don’t expect to make the change you seek to make if that’s your approach” — Seth Godin

It’s interesting how social commentators, motivational speakers and “self help” literature are seemingly united in their mission to encourage us to dream big and set goals, figure out effective ways to execute on them and live happily ever after. In all this feel-good-go-getting we often overlook the critical step of taking the time to figure out exactly who this go-getter is.

Seth’s argument that a worthy contribution is unlikely to be made by a wandering generality struck a chord: I for one have so often found myself saying “yes” to so many distractions dressed in opportunity’s clothing over the years.

So I ask you, dear reader, what do you care about and what contribution do you ultimately hope to make? Are you a meaningful specific? Wait, don’t answer that just yet. More to read below.

Useless cogs

I’m a parent, and recently my teenage son questioned the relevance of school as an institution and academic instruction as a means to an end. Admittedly I floundered as I offered canned explanations designed to convince my son of the merits of his high school education.

“Sooner or later parents have to take responsibility for putting their kids into a system that is indebting them and teaching them to be cogs in an economy that doesn’t need cogs anymore” — Seth Godin

On the back of my inadequate and woefully unprepared explanation, my son remains unconvinced, and to be honest, so do I. While I place an enormous amount of value in education, as an entrepreneur, I’m reminded of a quote I’ve recited all too often.

“In academics you need to know, in order to do. In entrepreneurship you need to do, in order to know” — Source unknown

In a world which is changing rapidly through ever-expanding information-based economies, we still look to an educational framework that arose out of the industrial age. Maths and sciences at the top, humanities in the middle and art at the bottom. Few would argue that creative ideas are the relevant human capital resource of the modern age, yet are we equipping our kids to solve interesting problems?

A house of cards

My son’s challenge gave perspective to another highlight from the podcast:

“Most people live their life in defence versus offence. They resolve to play with the cards they have rather than move to another table with different cards” — Seth Godin

Those of us fortunate enough to have found our meaningful specificity are faced with the stark choice of living our life in defence versus offence. Sadly I’ve encountered more people who seem to have chosen the well worn path of defence. This is understandable: popular wisdom suggests that there is virtue in persistence, grit and “staying with it”. This holds true, but Seth’s point hints at the price we often pay for our “grit” and that is alignment with our mission. The moment we say yes to something that does not align with our mission, we become a part of someone’s else’s.

There is a clarifying truth that stands in defence of those, who like me, have made choices to play with the cards they have. Resolving to play with the hand you’ve been dealt is not necessarily wrong. It may simply be wrong for you. Deciding whether to play your hand or to move to another table must be informed by criteria you’ve determined. Your criteria are an expression of your meaningful specific, and a marker on your road to joie de vivre.