Limited life

Our lives are limited in many ways but more so by our perspectives than anything else. Time is one perspective by which we limit our lives. In some ways, it is sombering and perks us up but the urgency to accomplish things doesn’t always help. In that sense, the perspective of time as a resource otherwise wasted rather than an input to possibilities, limits us.

Then there is the dimension of money. Because money can buy more and more things, we become increasingly overwhelmed by our limited ability to generate income and wealth. The reason why get-rich-quick scheme works and why greed is pervasive is that we fear that material needs catches up with us. In the market system, money is our vote of some kind, the power we have to grab our share of possessions and material in this world. If we don’t get hold of enough money, we also lose our share of the society’s production. So then life gets caught up with that, with trying to get our share of production by trying to produce or to divert. And in the process we limit our lives to the material, even as we pursue experiences that money can buy.

Money, time and numbers/metrics were gifts to our lives, meant to be additions and blessings but instead they end up limiting our lives. Because of the way we have come to perceive them.

Serving the user

Following my observations on Google’s mutated identity, there’s more news of the company’s “decay”. The focus here this time is something else; about the shift in the company culture that results in a bureacracy that plays it safe. There’s a common strand around the fact that Google has changed. And part of the change involves becoming removed from the needs of the user and a bit less grounded on realities.

Indeed, reality is about what the market wants when your company is small and just leading parts of a large market – usually a small part. Yet when a company grows, the insides of the company and the decisions of the management often can be more real than the user. In fact, your boss is likely going to have way more influence over your fate than the users have over the fate of the company. At least in the short term.

So should we have a cultural metric that is about how much a company revolves around serving the user? Maybe. But it is only possible from the top-down. The management have to model and lead that. Yet the management is usually selected by shareholders and at some point when the company grows big. At some point, the short term interests of the shareholders can conflict with that of the user. Moreover, the business model of Internet companies like Google is “ads” – which means users don’t even contribute directly to the revenues of the company!

Identity forgotten

When Google sort of botched their launch of Bard AI integration into search, a smart commentator reminds everyone that Google may have well forgot their identity. The analysis was crisp and contrasted Google and Apple’s product launches to reflect the kind of audience they appealed to and should focus on.

It begs the question if a company or a brand’s identity is meant to hang around and if so, what kind of values should persist as it grows. Or as the market changes. The idea that Google can quietly push out something and slap a Beta sticker to insulate themselves is attractive when their market share is still not exactly dominant in a new space they are trying to enter. Moreover, the pool of audience they had targeted; the ones who would try something new or be eager to take the tech guinea pig role might no longer be enough to feed the company’s need for growth and scale.

So certain aspects of the company changes and one could say the identity is forgotten but it could also mean they have allowed it to be forsaken in order to pursue something else.

The question is what defines the company’s identity? Is it a way of doing things? That’d be too dynamic. Is it the targeted group of customer it serves? Then it’s growth is constrained to the size of that group. Or the pursuit of the company? But surely the world changes and that pursuit gets altered.

In any case Google is long past their “original identity”; and practically all of those dimensions I mentioned above have changed for them. It is up to them to tell the story of their identity’s evolution and redefine what they really want to keep or discard.

Being entertained

After sharing David Foster Wallace’s speech, I looked a bit more into the things he said about the kind of themes he tend to think and write about. One of the really big theme is some kind of cultural addiction to entertainment, and in some sense, the growing feebleness of the mind – especially the part that deals with deeper thinking and autonomy.

We have in some sense, replaced that powerful autonomy that Victor Frankl described about the choice of our response to external environment/circumstances, with a kind of superficial sense of choice: which shampoo to buy, what clothes to wear, the jobs to desire, etc. We become weaker at assessing which politician deserves our vote, which friends deserve more of our attention, what character and values we want to truly establish for ourselves and kids.

The sheer noise and pervasiveness of entertainment, and the values of banal, basic type of stuff that gains our attention comes to dominate our lives. Intellectual domains becomes devolved to just what is considered professional and sophisticated at work, or some kind of aristocratic indulgences. Ordinary lives, which is often much more transcendental than we care to recognise, becomes just ordinary for the lack of exercising that deeper bits of our minds.

Use of talents

I wrote about finding talents; but what do you do after finding them? Do you leverage them? Do you beat them into conforming with the system and structures you’ve created? The use of talents is more important than finding them because you’re not going to keep them if you think that the transaction is just about remuneration in exchange for them applying their abilities to your problems.

Conditions need to be created to leverage on our talents better and that can come from remuneration but it also involves the structure of work, processes and the environment created by managers and prevailing cultures.

If you don’t have them, then finding talents might be a waste of time and resources.

Managing cuts

There will be a time cuts come when excesses are deemed to have gone overboard. This applies to overstocking, overhiring, and having the wrong structure to deal with a problem. At some point, what is deemed as a correction occurs. Question is how did things get derailed or misaligned? Why do we not know? Should we think something is amiss when governance mistakes can be buffered by growth?

Maybe something to think about as we go through a period of layoffs, cuts and sense of rising prices and real rates trying to make a comeback. As we manage the cuts that has taken place, it would be useful to ask ourselves to what extent do we want to enable growth irresponsibly.

Fast and mindless growth can hurt twice. First when they forsake and leave some behind. Second when they end up with cutbacks that might leave some folks worse off than if it hadn’t happened.

Feedback and aspirations

I had some time thinking about feedback; and those who read my writings more regularly would see that I’ve previously championed “giving and receiving feedback” as key skills to be taught in schools.

And it probably take a lifetime to properly master this because both giving and receiving feedback are really hard. Most people can go on defensive when you offer to give some feedback. And the praise sandwich is kind of yucky an approach for some to adopt. There are those who advocate “giving advice” instead.

One of the best way for behavioural change is actually to ask the person who needs improvement for advice on the problem you observed. Surprisingly most people knows the solution to overcoming their weaknesses. So once they discover that they actually have certain problems they’ll get to work fixing it.

Either way I think a large part of the equation is also on receiving feedback; how we are able to process feedback and deal with it matters. That’s why I personally like the approach of making it an encouragement rather than a feedback. An encouragement toward particular aspiration. That way, it is not something you lack but more about moving towards a destination.

Slow fashion

Lululemon had a “We made too much” sale ongoing. It is nothing new. All fast fashion brands tend to make too much. Because the strategy for fast fashion and the culture we created is to push out the latest design into the market, make it as widely available as possible in the shortest time pricing with markups that makes construction contractor mouth water and then just deal with the leftovers later.

So how do they deal with leftovers? Sometimes they discount, which is not the most common approach because discounting damages their relationship with customers. Customers would begin to expect cheaper price later and most of them would learn to wait. That is bad for margins and future profit. So the fast fashion brands dump their clothes into other markets which don’t carry their first-to-market goods, and then eventually just dispose of the clothes.

Precious cotton and fabrics that can be used to clothe someone else goes to waste. The world is not better for it but certainly there are people made richer by this model. And so it goes on. The focus on sustainability within the fashion industry is just beginning and hopefully gets to a level when it can start snowballing properly.

So what is the alternative? How about slow fashion that focuses on classic, proven designs, that uses materials in a sustainable way? Where the cost is towards improving material traceability, better sourcing and exploration of newer, shorter supply chains? Instead of fattening corporate wallets and perpetuating the fast fashion culture?

Layoffs and humanity

There’s been loads of news of layoffs in tech and it coincided with huge investments made in Artificial Intelligence as well as the launch of a beta version of ChatGPT that somehow took the world by storm. The recency effect led people to think that the layoffs somehow might have something to do with the fact that AI might be taking away more jobs and so on.

For a long time, human labour have been relied upon to move good around, help with loading and unloading from transportation, stock-take and do records by hand. These jobs have gradually been replaced by machines though in rare instances, having a human do the job is still more efficient or effective. Switching human labour for machines is nothing new. And it has been a good thing because machines free up human to take on more challenging kinds of problems.

This is how the ratchet of progress takes place. We invest time and effort in developing machine solutions which would eventually be able to replace human effort. And once the solution is adopted across the board, there are so many people who are freed up to work on further solutions and the ball keeps rolling. From a fundamental perspective, the world is progressing and civilization advances.

It is strange that our economic system, the market system that we have lauded and embraced do not exactly work in the same way. It creates incentives and competition towards progress but the result is a lot of stress, anxiety, and pain when new solutions are adopted and manpower is freed up. This is because firms and businesses are not adapted in our system to focus on innovation for progress but simply innovation for profits. And when this is the case, unemployment is a logical approach towards the adoption of new solutions.

When firms and businesses cannot think broadly enough to embrace what is fundamentally beneficial to society and mankind, then individuals, talents and smart people like you and I, will have to develop the courage to step out and do the work that the world needs. Because in many ways, that is what makes us human. That’s what AI cannot replace.

The slow start

As I grow older I begin to appreciate the value of a slow start. I’ve written about my bad memory contributing to my better learning. And more importantly perhaps, the people who actually keep reaching only for low hanging fruits fail to develop the skills and expertise needed to reach for the higher ones.

Ultimately, there is some degree of trade off between getting results fast and actually taking the time and effort to get genuinely better at something for the longer term. It’s almost the different between cramming for an examination as opposed to learning for mastery. Examinations were never to encourage or cultivate mastery – it’s just an industrialised version of education, of applying the principles of manufacturing line quality check on people instead.

The problem solvers we need in the future are not the ones who would invest into deeper learning and desire to gain mastery over merely getting good grades. And we need to start building systems and hiring habits that ultimately reflects that.