The Importance of Strength

An excerpt from Mark Rippetoe’s “Starting Strength” to begin the discussion. I disagree that physical strength is the most important thing in life. I believe that knowledge is more important than strength. With knowledge, one can find strength, and realize that strength is critical as well. But it’s not as if you have to chose one or the other. Unfortunately they are both virtues that are difficult to achieve.

The value of physical fitness is immeasurable. Without good physical condition, your life is more challenging than it needs to be. Being physically fit affects every area of your life whether you realize it or not. If you are not in a “healthy” condition you jeopardize your ability to earn money, make a living, raise a family, and to be around long enough for any of that other stuff to matter. Here’s the rub, being healthy is hard and it is not expedient. It is a daily battle filled with daily big and small decisions. And tomorrow, it doesn’t get any easier, just different.

“Physical strength is the most important thing in life. This is true whether we want it to be or not. As humanity has developed throughout history, physical strength has become less critical to our daily existence, but no less important to our lives. Our strength, more than any other thing we possess, still determines the quality and quantity of our time here in these bodies. Whereas previously our physical strength determined how much food we ate and how warm and dry we stayed, it now merely determines how well we function in these new surroundings we have crafted for ourselves as our culture has accumulated. But we are still animals- our physical existence is, in the final analysis, the only one that actually matters. A weak man is not as happy as that same man would be if he were strong. This reality is offensive to some people who would like the intellectual or spiritual to take precedence. It is instructive to see what happens to these very people as their squat strength goes up.”

“As the nature of our culture has changed, our relationship with physical activity has changed along with it. We previously were physically strong as a function of our continued existence in a simply physical world. We were adapted to this existence well, since we had no other choice. Those whose strength was adequate to the task of staying alive continued doing so. This shaped our basic physiology, and that of all our vertebrate associates on the bushy tree of life. It remains with us today. The relatively recent innovation known as the Division of Labor is not so remote that our genetic composition has had time to adapt again. Since most of us now have been freed from the necessity of personally obtaining our subsistence, physical activity is regarded as optional. Indeed it is, from the standpoint of immediate necessity, but the reality of millions of years of adaptation to a ruggedly physical existence will not just go away because desks were invented.”

“Like it or not, we remain the possessors of potentially strong muscle, bone, sinew, and nerve, and these hard-won commodities demand our attention. They were too long in the making to just be ignored, and we do so at our peril. They are the very components of our existence, the quality of which now depends on our conscious, directed effort at giving them the stimulus they need to stay in the condition that is normal to them. Exercise is that stimulus.”

“Over and above any considerations of performance for sports, exercise is the stimulus that returns our bodies to the conditions for which they were designed. Humans are not physically normal in the absence of hard physical effort. Exercise is not a thing we do to fix a problem- it is a thing we must do anyway, a thing without which there will always be problems. Exercise is the thing we must do to replicate the conditions under which our physiology was- and still is- adapted, the conditions under which we are physically normal. In other words, exercise is substitute cave-man activity, the thing we need to make our bodies, and in fact our minds, normal in the 21st century. And merely normal, for most worthwhile humans, is not good enough.”


Posted in Thoughts | Tagged , | Leave a comment

“The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield

Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art” was an interesting look into the creative mindset. The decision to follow a calling is undoubtedly difficult. The safety, security, and stability of most jobs is one of the sources of resistance most people feel when choosing to pursue a passion or not. One striking point that I did not fully consider until after reading this book was that those with a talent have an obligation to suffer with that talent. The daily grind and the behind-the-scenes struggle that most professionals, especially those in a creative field, must endure is mostly unseen by the beneficiaries of their art. It is similiar to the professional athlete that dedicates themself to early morning workouts but only gets to display their labors on the competition floor.

The other area of this book that I found very useful was the discussion on amateurs versus professionals. I write more about it in the post “What is a professional.” “The War of Art” focuses mostly on authors, the analogy I used when thinking about professionals was in the culinary arts. While there are many talented and inspired professional chefs, there are also innumerable professional cooks that battle daily with the machinations that make a professional kitchen run. Anthony Bourdain provides a brief glimpse into the world of the kitchen professional in “Kitchen Confidential.” The reason I think about cooking when it comes to amateurs versus professionals is that I personally enjoy cooking. I enjoy the processes, systems, and results to a degree that I find joy in the prodcution of food. However, I do not have what it takes to be success in the restaurant industry, because I am just an amateur. As Pressfield says, “The amateur plays for fun. The professional plays for keeps. To the amateur, the game is his avocation. To the pro it’s his vocation. The amateur plays part-time, the professional full-time.”

There are countless other lessons throughout this book. Most importantly, I take away the importance of being honest with yourself. After you are honest with yourself, the most difficult step is the first one. Committing to the unknown, and then honing your craft, day in and day out, no matter what.

  • The enemy of creativity Resistance, his all-encompassing term for what Freud called the Death Wish — that destructive force inside human nature that rises whenever we consider a tough, long-term course of action that might do for us or others something that’s actually good.
  • The day-by-day, step-by-step campaign of the professional: preparation, order, patience, endurance, acting in the face of fear and failure — no excuses, no bullshit.
  • When inspiration touches talent, she gives birth to truth and beauty.
  • Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.
  • Yielding to Resistance deforms our spirit. It stunts us and makes us less than we are and were born to be.
  • Resistance is not a peripheral opponent. Resistance arises from within. It is self-generated and self-perpetuated. Resistance is the enemy within.
  • Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work. It will perjure, fabricate, falsify; seduce, bully, cajole. Resistance is protean. It will assume any form, if that’s what it takes to deceive you. It will reason with you like a lawyer or jam a nine-millimeter in your face like a stickup man. Resistance has no conscience. It will pledge anything to get a deal, then double-cross you as soon as your back is turned. If you take Resistance at its word, you deserve everything you get. Resistance is always lying and always full of shit.
  • Resistance has no strength of its own. Every ounce of juice it possesses comes from us. We feed it with power by our fear of it. Master that fear and we conquer Resistance.
  • Often couples or close friends, even entire families, will enter into tacit compacts whereby each individual pledges (unconsciously) to remain mired in the same slough in which she and all her cronies have become so comfortable. The highest treason a crab can commit is to make a leap for the rim of the bucket.
  • Procrastination is the most common manifestation of Resistance because it’s the easiest to rationalize. We don’t tell ourselves, “I’m never going to write my symphony.” Instead we say, “I am going to write my symphony; I’m just going to start tomorrow.”
  • The most pernicious aspect of procrastination is that it can become a habit. We don’t just put off our lives today; we put them off till our deathbed. Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives. There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny. This second, we can turn the tables on Resistance.
  • The acquisition of a condition lends significance to one’s existence. An illness, a cross to bear. Some people go from condition to condition; they cure one, and another pops up to take its place. The condition becomes a work of art in itself, a shadow version of the real creative act the victim is avoiding by expending so much care cultivating his condition.
  • We unplug ourselves from the grid by recognizing that we will never cure our restlessness by contributing our disposable income to the bottom line of Bullshit, Inc., but only by doing our work.
  • The paradox seems to be, as Socrates demonstrated long ago, that the truly free individual is free only to the extent of his own self-mastery. While those who will not govern themselves are condemned to find masters to govern over them.
  • Self-doubt can be an ally. This is because it serves as an indicator of aspiration. It reflects love, love of something we dream of doing, and desire, desire to do it.
  • The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.
  • Resistance is directly proportional to love. If you’re feeling massive Resistance, the good news is, it means there’s tremendous love there too. If you didn’t love the project that is terrifying you, you wouldn’t feel anything. The opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s indifference.
  • Grandiose fantasies are a symptom of Resistance. They’re the sign of an amateur. The professional has learned that success, like happiness, comes as a by-product of work. The professional concentrates on the work and allows rewards to come or not come, whatever they like.
  • The amateur is a weekend warrior. The professional is there seven days a week.
  • The Principle of Priority
    • (a) you must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and
    • (b) you must do what’s important first.
  • The professional conducts his business in the real world. Adversity, injustice, bad hops and rotten calls, even good breaks and lucky bounces all comprise the ground over which the campaign must be waged. The field is level, the professional understands, only in heaven.
  • The professional respects his craft. He does not consider himself superior to it. He recognizes the contributions of those who have gone before him. He apprentices himself to them. The professional dedicates himself to mastering technique not because he believes technique is a substitute for inspiration but because he wants to be in possession of the full arsenal of skills when inspiration does come. The professional is sly. He knows that by toiling beside the front door of technique, he leaves room for genius to enter by the back.
  • When people say an artist has a thick skin, what they mean is not that the person is dense or numb, but that he has seated his professional consciousness in a place other than his personal ego. It takes tremendous strength of character to do this, because our deepest instincts run counter to it. Evolution has programmed us to feel rejection in our guts. This is how the tribe enforced obedience, by wielding the threat of expulsion. Fear of rejection isn’t just psychological; it’s biological. It’s in our cells.
  • The professional self-validates. She is tough-minded. In the face of indifference or adulation, she assesses her stuff coldly and objectively. Where it fell short, she’ll improve it. Where it triumphed, she’ll make it better still. She’ll work harder. She’ll be back tomorrow.
  • The professional learns to recognize envy-driven criticism and to take it for what it is: the supreme compliment. The critic hates most that which he would have done himself if he had had the guts.
  • The instinct that pulls us toward art is the impulse to evolve, to learn, to heighten and elevate our consciousness. The Ego hates this. Because the more awake we become, the less we need the Ego.
  • The artist is the servant of that intention, those angels, that Muse. The enemy of the artist is the small-time Ego, which begets Resistance, which is the dragon that guards the gold. That’s why an artist must be a warrior and, like all warriors, artists over time acquire modesty and humility. They may, some of them, conduct themselves flamboyantly in public. But alone with the work they are chaste and humble. They know they are not the source of the creations they bring into being. They only facilitate. They carry. They are the willing and skilled instruments of the gods and goddesses they serve.
  • Do it or don’t do it.
  • You shame the angels who watch over you and you spite the Almighty, who created you and only you with your unique gifts, for the sole purpose of nudging the human race one millimeter farther along its path back to God.
  • Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.
Posted in Books, Non-Fiction | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

What Is a Professional?

I recently started reading Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art” coincidentally around the same time I was learning more about Clausewitz and friction. Pressfield dedicates the first chapter of his book to “resistance.” Similar to the resistance detailed by Clausewitz, Pressfield describes “resistance” as the most toxic force on the planet and the force that makes all of us achieve less than we were born to be or achieve.

I intend on capturing many notes from “The War of Art” including Pressfield’s notes on Resistance but the subject that caught my eye the most today was his description of a professional. I personally have always felt that a professional is someone that doesn’t stop being whatever they are at the end of the day. Even when the professional finishes their work day, they still answer the phone when it rings with duty calling. Additionally, a professional’s job is never done because part of their job is continuously learning. Whether in response to their own personal desire to know more and do more in that profession, or because of the changing dynamics of that occupation, there is always something more to learn. However, Pressfield eloquently describes ten traits of a professional versus an amateur. In his words, here are the principles that professionals follow every day.

  1. We show up every day. We might do it only because we have to, to keep from getting fired. But we do it. We show up every day.
  2. We show up no matter what. In sickness and in health, come hell or high water, we stagger in to the factory. We might do it only so as not to let down our co-workers, or for other, less noble reasons. But we do it. We show up no matter what.
  3. We stay on the job all day. Our mind may wander, but our bodies remain at the wheel. We pick up the phone when it rings, we assist the customer when he seeks our help. We don’t go home till the whistle blows.
  4. We are committed over the long haul. Next year we may go to another job, another company, another country. But we’ll still be working. Until we hit the lottery, we are part of the labor force.
  5. The stakes for us are high and real. This is about survival, feeding our families, educating our children. It’s about eating.
  6. We accept remuneration for our labor. We’re not here for fun. We work for money.
  7. We do not overidentify with our jobs. We may take pride in our work, we may stay late and come in on weekends, but recognize that we are not our job descriptions. The amateur, on the other hand, overidentifies with his avocation, his artistic aspiration. He defines himself by it. He is a musician, a painter, a playwright. Resistance love this. Resistance knows that the amateur composer will never write his symphony because he is overly invested in its success and overterrified of its failure. The amateur takes it so seriously it paralyzes him.
  8. We master the techniques of our jobs.
  9. We have a sense of humor about our jobs.
  10. We receive praise or blame in the real world.
Posted in Thoughts | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Friction in War & Life

In “On War,” Clausewitz discusses friction extensively. The small difficulties experienced on the battlefield, Clausewitz successfully argued, cannot be entirely conceived. And while many of these difficulties are not that impactful on their own, combined with the myriad of other challenges one will likely face, even the easiest of tasks becomes challenging. One of the Laws of Combat espoused by Jocko Willink in “Extreme Ownership” is the concept of Simple.  However, simple does not imply easy. By relating the concepts of simple and friction, in War especially, plans, orders, actions must be kept simple because as Clausewitz states, “everything is very simple in War, but the simplest thing is difficult.” Such as in life.

War is an extreme example of these friction forces and their impact on the most extreme environment an individual can experience. But in life, we feel these frictions everyday. The small, compounding factors in our lives can easily take us to a place where it feels as though we cannot accomplish even the simplest of tasks. In “Essentialism” a major part of the challenge we all face in life is determining how we spend our limited time and who we invite into our lives. Unfortunately, Clausewitz also points out that “through the influence of an infinity of petty circumstances, which cannot properly be described on paper, things disappoint us, and we fall short of the mark.”

How do we overcome these frictions. Here Clausewitz also provides some suggestions. Here, a strong will and unwavering discipline can overcome friction, but at a cost. “A powerful iron will overcomes this friction; it crushes the obstacles, but certainly the machine along with them.” The effort expending to overcome the friction comes at a cost. Sometimes the cost of that effort results in accomplishing the mission or achieving your desired end state but with the complete destruction of the machine itself.

So how do we deal with the consequences of overcoming this friction? First, keep things simple. Second, get comfortable being uncomfortable. That means you will not and cannot know everything or plan for every conceivable contingency. Accept that the fate of chance will rear its ugly head and that you must deal with it. Finally, realize that reality and life are going to be the greatest teachers. Theory and study will only take you so far meaning that “War is movement in a resistant medium. Just as a man immersed in water is unable to perform with ease and regularity the most natural and simplest movement, that of walking, so in War, with ordinary powers, one cannot keep even the line of mediocrity. This is the reason that the correct theorist is like a swimming master, who teaches on dry land movements which are required in the water, which must appear grotesque and ludicrous to those who forget about the water.”

Posted in Thoughts | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Dreams and Success

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

Henry David Thoreau

Quote | Posted on by | Leave a comment

The Cynefin Framework

Ordered Contexts: Simple (known knowns) and Complicated (known unknowns)

  • Simple: Sense, Categorize, Respond
  • Complicated: Sense, Analyze, Respond

Unordered Contexts: Complex (unknown unknowns) and Chaotic (unknowables)

  • Complex: Probe, Sense, Respond
  • Chaotic: Act, Sense, Respond



Posted in Thoughts | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

“A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making” by David Snowden and Mary Boone

I’ve seen leadership employed at a number of levels with varying levels of success. The most successful leaders I have encountered are the ones that are able to adapt to changing circumstances and that are receptive to innovative ideas from unlikely sources. Although the “wisdom of the crowd” is not great for making long-term decisions, it has it’s place in coming up with new solutions to old problems. In the military context, leadership is heavily hierarchal. That being the case, the military hierarchy is slow to react to quick changes wrought by the information age. Many senior leaders become stuck on “best practices”, confusing that approach with a one-size-fits-all solution to every problem the may encounter. As this article explains, the complex environments that are encountered in today’s technically advanced world, do not adhere to basic cause-and-effect relationships. The sum of all parts does not always equal the outcome, and a combination of simple, perhaps benign, interactions, can have unpredictable and wild results. Adept leaders must be able to operate in all environments, whether they be simple, complicated, complex, or chaotic. More importantly, that same leader must be humble enough to know when they are not the best-equipped individual to make decisions in every one of these environments.

Following are some of the notes from the article published by the Harvard Business Review:

  1. Cynefin (the conceptual framework), pronounced ku-nev-in, is a Welsh word that signifies the multiple factors in our environment and our experience that influence us in ways we can never understand.
  2. The framework sorts the issues facing leaders into five contexts defined by the nature of the relationship between cause and effect. Four of these- simple, complicated, complex, and chaotic- require leaders to diagnose situations to act in contextually appropriate ways. The fifth- disorder- applies when it is unclear which of the other four contexts is predominant.
  3. Leaders who understand that the world is often irrational and unpredictable will find the Cynefin framework particularly useful.
  4. Simple Contexts are characterized by stability and clear cause-and-effect relationships that are easily discernible by everyone. often, the right answer is self-evident and undisputed. In this realm of “known knowns,” decisions are unquestioned because all parties share an understanding.
  5. Simple contexts, properly assessed, require straightforward management and monitoring. Here, leaders sense, categorize, and respond. that is, they assess the facts of the situation, categorize them, and then base their response on established practice.
  6. In simple contexts, issues may be incorrectly classified within this domain because they have been oversimplified. Leaders who constantly ask for condensed information, regardless of the complexity of the situation, particularly run this risk. Leaders are susceptible to “entrained thinking,” a conditioned response that occurs when people are blinded to new ways of thinking by the perspectives they acquired through past experience, training, and success. When things appear to be going smoothly, leaders often become complacent.
  7. The simple domain lies adjacent to the chaotic. The most frequent collapses into chaos occur because success has bred complacency.
  8. It’s important to remember that best practice is, by definition, past practice.
  9. Complicated context, unlike simple ones, may contain multiple right answers, and though there is a clear relationship between cause and effect, not everyone can see it. This is the realm of “known unknowns.” While leaders in a simple context must sense, categorize, and respond to a situation, those in a complicated context must sense, analyze, and respond.
  10. Entrained thinking is a danger in complicated contexts, too, but it is the experts (rather than the leaders) who are prone to it, and they tend to dominate the domain. When this problem occurs, innovative suggestions by non-experts may be overlooked or dismissed, resulting in lost opportunities.
  11. Another potential obstacle is “analysis paralysis,” where a group of experts hits a stalemate, unable to agree on any answers because of each individual’s entrained thinking- or ego.
  12. Reaching decisions in the complicated domain can often take a lot of time, and there is always a trade-off between finding the right answer and simply making a decision.
  13. In a complicated context, at least one right answer exists. In a complex context, however, right answers can’t be ferreted out. In a complicated context, the whole is the sum of its parts. In a complex context, the whole is far more than the sum of its parts. The is the realm of the “unknown unknowns,” and it is the domain to which much of contemporary business has shifted.
  14. Most situations and decisions in organizations are complex because some major change introduces unpredictability and flux. Instead of attempting to impose a course of action, leaders must patiently allow the path forward to reveal itself. They need to probe first, then sense, and then respond.
  15. Conditions of scarcity often produce more creative results than conditions of abundance.
  16. Leaders face several challenges in the complex domain. Of primary concern is the temptation to fall back into traditional command-and-control management styles- to demand fail-safe business plans with defined outcomes. Leaders who don’t recognize that a complex domain requires a more experimental mode of management may become impatient when they don’t seem to be achieving the results they were aiming for. They may also find it difficult to tolerate failure, which is an essential aspect of experimental understanding. If they try to overcontrol the organization, they will preempt the opportunity for informative patterns to emerge. Leaders who try to impose order in a complex context will fail, but those who set the stage, step back a bit, allow patterns to emerge, and determine which ones are desirable will succeed.
  17. In a Chaotic context, searching for right answers would be pointless: The relationships between cause and effect are impossible to determine because they shift constantly and no manageable patterns exist- only turbulence. This is the realm of the unknowables.
  18. In the chaotic domain, a leader’s immediate job is not to discover patterns but to stanch the bleeding. A leader must first act to establish order, then sense where stability is present and from where it is absent, and then respond by working to transform the situation from chaos to complexity, where the identification of emerging patterns can both help prevent future crises and discern new opportunities. Communication of the most direct top-down or broadcast kind is imperative; there’s simply no time to ask for input.
  19. One excellent technique is to manage chaos and innovation in parallel: The minute you encounter a crisis, appoint a reliable manager or crisis management team to resolve the issue.
  20. Good leadership requires openness to change on an individual level. Truly adept leaders will know not only how to identify the context they’re working in at any given time but also how to change their behavior and their decisions to match that context.
  21. Business schools and organizations equip leaders to operate in ordered domains (simple and complicated), but most leaders usually must rely on their natural capabilities when operating in unordered contexts (complex and chaotic).
  22. Leaders often will be called upon to act against their instincts. They will need to now when to share power and when to wield it alone, when to look to the wisdom of the group and when to take their own counsel. A deep understanding of context, the ability to embrace complexity and paradox, and a willingness to flexibly change leadership style will be required for leaders who want to make things happen in a time of increasing uncertainty.


Posted in Thoughts | Tagged , | Leave a comment