06 October 2006

Unifying Theory

A few years back, Scott and I were in Taupo the day after Ironman New Zealand. If you scan the results over the years then you'll see that the year I was 7th (I think) there was a South African guy that was 2nd or 3rd. His name escapes me but he's an accomplished Ultrarunner -- does the Comrades Marathon.

That evening, Scott leaned over to me and said, "hey, let's go see what we can learn from that guy". We sauntered over and I had a practical demonstration of Molina's view that every successful person has something to teach us. Over the years, I've tried to carry this view with me -- some days I do better than others.

An openness to new ideas is a trait that characterizes many of the best Kiwi coaches. Staying open to new concepts is really tough due to our minds constantly trying to impose a Consistency Bias on us -- as well as -- our tendency to filter all input in a manner that supports pre-existing beliefs. Fire up any (and every) forum the internet and you'll see many experts demonstrating both consistency bias and pro-active filtering. It's something that we all need to watch if we want to make effective decisions with imperfect and uncertain information. As an aside, when I think I have certain and perfect information, I get a bit nervous. Life, as opposed to death, is more probabilities than certainties.

So that's the Molina bit of this story. Now Physics... first up, I have a grade eleven physics education so don't take _anything_ that I write as accurate on the science itself.

When I was reading The Quantum World I noticed that the author (Ford, I think) had a deeper desire that underlay his explanation of the technical detail. He had a desire for a unifying theory that could bridge between Newtonian and Quantum mechanics. A grand theory that would bring harmony to discussion in his field by fitting everything within a new framework.

Ford also ran through what physicists like in a theory -- simplicity, broad application, able to test, robust... these were a few things that I remember. His chapter does this subject a lot more justice and is a worthwhile read simply to understand (one view) of the components of an effective summary of knowledge.

Now what's this have to do with Molina. Well, whether it is: (a) endurance training; (b) property investing; (c) choosing life partners; (d) personal satisfaction & happiness; (e) a life with meaning; (f) raising kids; or (g) anything that is important to you...

In all these areas...there are a multitude of theories, protocols and methods for achieving an end goal. Some of these are stated explicityly and others are implied through our implicit actions, statements and beliefs.

Personally, I have the same end goal for everything in my life (My Prime Directive) but that's me. If you think about it then you'll likely have various end goals that are important to you and their importance will vary over time.

Time! Consider where you spend your time in your life. Depth of knowledge, over time -- perhaps that's a form of wisdom. Perhaps it is depth of self-knowledge independent of time? Perhaps wisdom is consistency of right action -- treat others as we wish to be treated.

I was on my run this morning and backing off from 147 bpm each time I got excited on this topic. On my run I came up with an exercise in the Unification of Knowledge. I'm writing it here so that I can come back next September when considering what to do for my retreat!

Choose any topic that's important to you.

How do you know that something is important to you?

Choose the topic upon which you spend the most time each week. If this isn't the most important thing in your life then you should probably re-prioritize before you unify your knowledge.

Another aside... don't be fooled by words or thoughts -- the items that we do consistently are the ones that are most important to us. Overlooking actions can be a fundamental mistake in business, especially unethical actions. The best lesson I learned in my early career was never back a "crook" and always be willing to make less money in order to retain your personal ethical standards.

I've known many people that spend the bulk of their week on actively feeding a sense of victimization; worrying; or being fearful. Know that you WILL get what you most focus on -- choose wisely!

Back to our topic -- let's choose Endurance Training because that was the context that I was thinking about.

1 -- Start a little book and in it write down statements and beliefs on your topic. Spent a month simply noting these items -- try to get as many different views as possible, don't classify them.

The internet is a great for sourcing a wide range of views -- someone once asked me if I was worried that reducing the amount of media input I receive would reduce the availability of good information for decision making. Here I would answer that one needs to separate "noise" from "signal". Most of the input from modern media is merely noise designed to attract our attention (through fear, envy or entertainment). In order to give myself a chance to process information on subjects that are important to me I try to actively reduce the noise in my head. I spend very little effort remembering things that aren't important to me.

2 -- So... after a few weeks of building the Statement List -- review it and beside each "fact" note: (a) I agree; (b) I'm unsure; (c) I disagree.

3 -- Once you've got all your beliefs down on paper -- sort them into their categories (yes, unsure, no).

4 -- Spend some time on each belief figuring out under what conditions it would be appropriate in the "other" camp. In other words, under what conditions would your true beliefs become false & false beliefs become true. A great reality check for an investor that doesn't want to sell is to ask him under what conditions he would be willing to sell.

5 -- On your unsure beliefs consider the sources (written, verbal, practical, theoretical, other...) that can help you learn more about them.

I often remind myself that most of my best lessons came from learning what was _not_ appropriate for me. When I blow it -- that's when I really learn. It's also something that I bear in mind with my coaching. We need to have a willingness to let ourselves, and our clients, make their own mistakes -- the lessons learned are far more powerful and longer lasting.

6 -- Then consider the various philosophies that are present in your field.

For example, a great swim coach once presented his philosophy to me as "build power; recover; repeat". That was his over-riding objective in working with all his elite athletes. Its simplicity had an immediate appeal to me. If you were an athlete in his squad, you would always know the overall objective. There can be a lot of power in simplicity.

List out all the various philosophies that you've studied in your area. For example, if your topic is "success in the workplace" then think about the most successful people that you've worked with. How did they approach the task? Which of your beliefs are consistent/contray to their own.

By the way we generalize all the time...
...Friel Training, Molina Training, Gordo Training...
...Buffet Investing, Value Investing, Momentum Trading...
...Yield Play, Arbitrage Play, Capital Growth Play...

What I want to do here is look at the assumptions that underpin the generalization. Spend more time on seeing the similarities than the differences -- our brians prefer it the other way.

So after all this... we come to what I've been thinking about over the last little while...

The most powerful philosphies are the ones that are: simple; inclusive and effective.

If we are seeking to build a successful personal protocol then we want to spend the most of our time studying under teachers that excel in these areas. We also want to study under (ethical & effective) teachers that have approaches different than our closest mentors. We probably want to study a few heretics as well but not so closely that our ethics are diluted. Within my own life, there are a few very successful teachers that I don't want to study under because I find their ethics lacking.

Phew, that sounds like a lot of work. Well, it's a good summary of what happened to me in my 20s (through luck more than choice) in Finance. In my 30s, it is an reasonable summary of my conscious and unconscious approach to learning about sport.

Most people are not willing to invest the work (effort over time) required to become masters in their fields. Ultimately, success (at one level) derives from undertaking (and absorbing) the most work in a given field.

Anyhow, I know that many of us spend a ton of mental mindpower on the areas in which we have a passion. Within my own life, I think that this exercise would help me redirect a portion of my effort from strengthening my biases towards identifying, and broadening, my decision making framework.


One final thought that has been shown to me in September is that to receive we must learn how to successfully give.

If you are finding that your sponsors/clients/customers are not as forthcoming as you'd like then consider what you have been offering them over the last little while.

Effective people spend as much time figuring out our needs as they do in satisfying their own.

Happy Fall,

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