Gnothi seauton

Getting to know yourself can be joyful and distressing. We are complex creatures and of course have strengths and weaknesses. Facing these can be an eye-opening experience. As a part of this life-long journey, I went to Understand Myself – a personality test developed by Dr. Jordan B Peterson and his team. They have constructed the Big Five Aspects scale based on thousands of people cross-culturally. Their test contains 10 pages with statements you either agree or disagree with on a scale. This is how they describe the dimensions:

“Extraversion (associated with positive emotion), Neuroticism (negative emotion), Agreeableness (the primary dimension of care for others), Conscientiousness (associated with duty, precision and responsibility) and Openness (interest in ideas and aesthetics)”

I took the test as recommended – in a calm state of mind where I am not disturbed. These were my results:

  • Agreeableness: Compassion and Politeness: (65) Moderately High.
  • Industriousness and Orderliness: (31) Moderately Low
  • Extraversion: Enthusiasm and Assertiveness: (89) Very High
  • Neuroticism: Withdrawal and Volatility (56): Average
  • Openness to Experience: Openness and Intellect: (96) Exceptionally High

On the positive note, thanks to my Extraversion and Openness to Experience, I should engage in work that aims to revolutionize the way we work and think, preferably close to top management. I should also use my energy to talk and write about this, based in my interest in philosophy and new ways of working and learning. This is also where I am at work today, given the projects I have initiated and the talks I give at conferences. I just can’t wait to see where the next step will take us.

On another note, my conscientiousness is moderately low, and this could be my Achilles heel if I don’t pay attention. Since I so easily can drift away in my thinking or reading or music, I must use lists, routines, and plans to get things done in time without missing any details. This also works for me at work, since I follow meticulous plans where others can see my progress. Such project plans stop me from thinking about the next big thing and instead do the next thing on the plan. But during the projects, there is always something in me that longs for the detailed project phase to be over, so the philosophizing can start again. I do not grow especially well when given detailed routine work for too long.

Remember that a test that shows your strengths and weaknesses can be one of many tools for building a stable personality and knowing what kind of work is best suited for you. Remember also, that if you have a hard time accepting a weakness, read these words of Arthur Schopenhauer:

“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident”

So, even if you think “that is not me!”, after some time you might see it as self-evident and see what activities and tools and people can help you balance your weaknesses. We also have different kinds of strengths and weaknesses, where a balanced team can do wonderful things. Just look at the current digital workplace project I am involved in: The external project manager helps me keep track of all the details, after I have sold the idea to top management, recommended the vendor, and have grand plans for where this will land. A weakness can be turned to something good with the help of tools and people around you.

Photo by Hans Reniers on Unsplash

Objective judgement, unselfish action, and a willing acceptance

“Our actions may be impeded, but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” Marcus Aurelius

Stoicism is about turning problems upside down. Instead of treating problems as things that hinder your progress, you treat them as tools that can potentially elevate you. Remember, we don´t control what happens to us, but we do control how we respond to it. An excellent book that covers this is Ryan Holiday´s The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph. I have mentioned this book in an earlier post on books for personal transformation, but it is worth mentioning again since it can change your life. Objective judgement, unselfish action, and a willing acceptance to all external events are central to the book. It might not sound like great fun at first, but this is not a book about instant happiness. It is a book that teaches to you stand up again when life throws you over, and that is what can make all the difference.

Ryan teaches us that it is easy to find excuses for not acting on the problems we know are there. He attacks this in three central steps:

  1. Perception, how you see the problem. This is the story that runs in our heads, and that frames how we view the problem. Change your perception of it, and you change how you handle it.
  2. Act on your problem. Without acting on your changed perception, problems will not change for real. And without acting, you can never build new habits.
  3. Discipline and will. Acting once or twice is easy but making it a habit is harder and more fruitful. The changed perceptions and actions become your normal way of acting in the world. To stay disciplined it can also help to find bigger causes to embrace. This way, if you ever ask why you need to be disciplined, the bigger cause will tell you why over and over.

When I read this, I came to think about a step that precedes the above three steps: Inversion or premortems. Charlie Munger said it best: “Just tell me where I´m going to die so I can never go there”. Start imagining what can go wrong with your plans in life and then see how you can avoid these. Once such problems enter your life, you know how to tackle them and keep standing. Life is not just about new habits. By avoiding the things we know are bad for us, we have built a great foundation.

There will always be problems. Always. Therefore, we must learn to accept that there are problems, and act to solve them, instead of whining and complaining. Yes, sometimes we simply don´t have the energy to pick ourselves up, but when we do, we should know that there is always a road ahead. Can´t see the way? Just keep walking – it will appear again.

Ryan Holiday is right when pointing out that this is not a philosophy book not just for thinkers. It is a philosophy book for people who want to act. Read it and be ready to act.




Photo by Heyhellowhatsup Jannes on Unsplash

On reading Jordan B. Peterson´s 12 rules for life

There seemed to be nearly no end to the writing about Jordan B. Peterson´s book 12 Rules for Life: An antidote to chaos, that I decided to read it. I mean, if the Spectator writes “One of the most important thinkers to emerge on the world stage for many years”, there had to be something to it. For sure, I was ready to highlight and underline and write stars in the margins.

But the strange thing is that the 12 rules did not have a wow effect on me, and I have wondered why. One reason could be that I have read quite the number of self-helf books during the years, coupled with Dostoyevsky, Goethe, Kierkegaard, and Jung. Another reason could be that Jordan´s heavy emphasis on order made me miss the slightly chaotic side that brings the arts and the humanity forward as well. A third reason could be that his book is like the things a wise grandparent would tell you, but backed up with a massive number of links to psychology, religion, and philosophy. We have heard it before, but perhaps not in that context.

An interesting thing that stood out is “Start to stop doing what you know to be wrong”, which made me think of mental models and the Munger saying “All I Want To Know Is Where I’m Going To Die So I’ll Never Go There”. This means, that if you want to progress in life, a good way to start is by avoiding doing the wrong things (like walk on hot sand if you are a Stormtrooper – it will get awfully hot inside your armor). That will take you far and serve as a ground for advancing even more.

It also made me think of a trait that will be increasingly important when the world grows even more complex – adjusting your actions and thinking to how your surroundings change. So perhaps you should stop the awfully detailed planning of your life and look up to where the winds are blowing:

Bion of Borysthenes

Jordan B. Peterson´s book was an interesting read, since it is seldom one book encompasses so many references to research on the human psyche. Whether you will apply his rules or not depends on who you are and where you are heading.


Don’t extinguish your bad habits – change them

Any given day, we base about 40 percent of what we do on habits. Habits send us into routines where we don’t need active thinking. Some such habits save us from always thinking about to do each day. This way we don’ waste mental energy getting ready in the morning, having lunch at work, and more. But they can also, slowly but surely, send us in the wrong direction one small step per day if they are the wrong habits.

Charles Duhigg has researched habit changes thoroughly and presented his findings in the book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. His basic idea after seeing what work and not can be summarized in:

“Rather, to change a habit, you must keep the old cue, and deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine.”

So, there are three parts to all habits:

  1. A cue that tells you to do something. For example, it can be a time (when you wake up, or in the afternoon), settings (work meetings, grocery shopping), a feeling (loneliness) or social event (when you meet your parents).
  2. A routine you kick in as a result of the cue. For example, as an answer to waking up, your routine is to make coffee, and when you are hungry in the afternoon, you eat a snack.
  3. A reward that sets in as a result of the routine. For example, you feel more awake after the coffee, and the snack makes you less hungry.

The key to changing your outcome of any habit is to focus on the routine. Don’ try to change all parts of the habit right away since you risk being exhausted and the good results might not remain. The cue might be hard to erase since we wake up, can feel hungry, meet others, and face different times of the day. For example, the time cue can tell you it is afternoon. But instead of taking a snack automatically, you can learn to point the cue in another direction, such as eating an apple. The reward can stay the same – you feel less hungry.

It is no surprise that many insightful people describe Charles’ book as revolutionary. Once we map the cues, routines, and rewards for any behavior in our lives, we can also change them into something better. I have started to apply this, and it surely works. Therefore, I ask you to do the same and see what happens. Once you build a healthy habit based on outcomes you want, Charles’ method might do wonders.

Back in black, and loving it

Last week, I did something rewarding and simple. I booked two meetings with very knowledgeable and nice people, Hanna from TetraPak and Fredrik from IKEA. We sat down on two separate mornings, had our black coffee, and enjoyed the sheer pleasure of talking uninterrupted for an hour or two about our work challenges and potential roads ahead. It doesn’t matter if our companies employ 2.000, 20.000, or 200.000 people – we all have challenges and headaches and win from talking about them.

My advice this week is don’t believe the hype: Spend less time reading about “grand strategies of implementing digital disruption” (what? be much more concrete please), “the intranet is dead” (no it isn’t, be quiet), and “our digital workplace solution will solve all your problems” (no it won’t since you don’t know even 1% of how our company functions). Instead, sit down with people you respect and from who you can learn. And drink coffee.

Big ideas require deep work

“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

The productivity paradox states that even if we give workers new tools from the rapidly developing IT sector, their productivity slows down instead of speeding up. Some argue that we are way past this today, or that we are moving towards a split between GDP and gains in human welfare, but Dan Nixon at the Bank of England shows that 2007 (the year of the iPhone) was a major breaking point:

Of course, it is not the iPhone or any other smartphone that causes this decline. Rather, it is how we are using them: We check them about 150 times a day and not only to be productive. All kinds of social media and semi-interesting apps are causing big-time distractions, stealing time from the valuable work we can do. After each distraction, it can take us 20-25 minutes to regain our focus, just to be met by another distraction. As stated by Cal Newport in his book Deep Work, a “2012 McKinsey study found that the average knowledge worker now spends more than 60 percent of the workweek engaged in electronic communication and Internet searching, with close to 30 percent of a worker’s time dedicated to reading and answering e-mail alone.”

The answer to all this disturbance could very well be Deep Work, described by Cal as:

Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.

This should be viewed side-by-side with the opposite shallow work:

Non-cognitively demanding logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.

We can combine this with the Eisenhower matrix where two axels outline if things are Urgent/Not urgent and Important/Not important:

A problem we all meet is that being productive today often equals getting things done such as reaching inbox zero. This might feel great but can also fool us into believing such work is important per se. But given the enormous amount of ill-structured e-mails flying around, you might just have spent two hours in square 4 above while thinking you were in square 2. Yes, your inbox is empty, but you weren’t pushing your cognitive capabilities to their limits at all and you didn’t improve skills that are hard to replicate. Answering e-mails is very easy to do and is easy to replicate, but is it worth it compared to what you could have done instead?

A better start to the day might have been to quietly think through what is most important. And to do this while not being connected to e-mail, social media, or even other people. Cal Newport offers four rules to break our stressful and shattered work days:

  1. Work Deeply, meaning you shut off everything that can disturb you from performing your most valuable work.
  2. Embrace Boredom. Learn to put away the distractions and do nothing.
  3. Quit Social Media. Perhaps not completely, since it can be good for knowledge-building and more, but at least in periods.
  4. Drain the Shallows. Identify the areas that are most shallow in your life and cut those to a minimum.

To many, the above steps could be hard to put in practice and some might even say others shouldn’t dictate how to live one’s life, but here I agree with Cal:

A commitment to deep work is not a moral stance and it’s not a philosophical statement—it is instead a pragmatic recognition that the ability to concentrate is a skill that gets valuable things done.

This means that if you are interested in producing truly valuable work, you need to learn to switch off and tune out from the busy work. And the opposite is true: If you are not interested in being truly productive, then check your phone 200 times a day and keep thinking trivia, busy work and time wasters are important. Just don’t send those e-mails to the people who want to take valuable breaks to find out what is truly important.



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Ray Dalio’s ‘Principles’ – a reading and some reflections

After I was recommended Ray Dalio’s book ‘Principles’ by many others, I decided to read it. After all, I should not miss an author that people refer to as having written a revolutionary book. One one hand I share the enthusiasm for Ray’s way of turning simple to-dos into principles and algorithms. Once you start doing this your life can change. On the other hand, I think we should complement Ray’s principles with the work of others, to create a fuller picture of what it means to be a human and what it means to work.

My biggest gain from reading Principles is that we can escape the often egocentric and rather flimsy decision models we have created through life, and instead use principles as “a good collection of recipes for success.” On every page, Ray focuses on the absolute ownership we have over our decisions. We must face hardships straight on and be radically open-minded and radically transparent towards ourselves and others. We should dream big but also stay firmly grounded, leading up to algorithms like “Dreams + Reality + Determination = A Successful Life.” To be successful in any area, you need to set big goals, plan what is needed to get there, and then act without giving up. Yes, we have heard this before, but Ray’s algorithms helped me remember this more easily. The same goes for the deceivingly simple algorithm “Pain + Reflection = Progress.” We all meet pain in life, but if you learn from reflecting on it, you are moving forward.

Ray also has a view that organizations should be hierarchical, and that people should adjust to the organization and not the other way around in quotes like:

“Create an organizational chart to look like a pyramid, with straight lines down that don’t cross.” […] “Don’t build the organization to fit the people.”

Towards the end of the book, Ray covers the idea of idea meritocracy and some interesting tools they use at Bridgewater during meetings and as daily follow-ups. Meritocracy is a philosophy which holds that certain things, such as economic goods or power, should be vested in individuals by the talent they bring. At Bridgewater, the best ideas should win, and Ray shows us how they succeed in building such a workplace. My impression is that this can also happen under rather tough situations, and some passages in the book had me relate to military principles.

This led me to some reflections that could complement Ray’s ideas. Instead of only focusing on strict hierarchical business models, we should also investigate how well we could work in networks and wirearchies, as stated by Valdis Krebs and Jon Husband (pdf file). Combine this with the proven value of open, collaborative social enterprise networks as described by people like Rita Zonius, plus knowledge catalysts as described by Harold Harche, and we can find new ways of collaborating outside the formal structures.

Connected to the wirearchies, we can also reflect on the work of the future in networks, as done by Stowe Boyd and Esko Kilpi in “Perspectives on new work” (pdf file):

What form, then, will companies take? Kilpi tells us that businesses will be transitioning from Coase-style corporations with clearly defined ‘insides’ and ‘outsides’ to semi-permeable platforms, on which ‘architectures of participation and choice’ will be devised, and they will be fast-and-loose: “Work systems differ in the degree to which their components are loosely or tightly coupled. Coupling is a measure of the degree to which communication and power relations between the components are predetermined and fixed or not. Hierarchies and processes were based on tight couplings. The new post-industrial platforms are based on loose couplings following the logic of the Internet. Some people will work on one platform every now and then, while others will work simultaneously and continuously on many different platforms. The worker makes the decision about where, with whom and how much to work. The old dichotomy of employers and employees is a thing of the past.”

Reading Ray’s book was rewarding, and I will revisit my Kindle notes from this book for years to come. Above all, Ray’s idea of moving from busy to-do lists, over to principles, and finally algorithms can truly change people’s lives. I also like his daily updates with colleagues – something many companies miss. Meanwhile, we should remember that Ray runs an American investment fund and that the rules set up for this business automatically don’t suit all other companies in all markets. Ray often describes his company as a machine, but running a company is as if it is a living organism can also be very rewarding.


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How to invest smarter thanks to the liberal arts

We all want to make smart investments, and there are many ways of doing so. One, for many probably a surprising way, is by knowing your liberal arts too. Yes, of course, traders can make money without knowing the companies and just act at Buy and Sell. But to see your money grow big time thanks to compound interest, it can take more. An interesting perspective on this is presented in “Investing: The Last Liberal Art” by Robert G Hagstrom. It is not a traditional how-to book on investing. Instead, it is more about “stock picking as a subdivision of the art of worldly wisdom.”

How the does the author suggest that we obtain this worldly wisdom? It happens in two broad steps:

To state the matter concisely, it is an ongoing process of, first, acquiring significant concepts—the models—from many areas of knowledge and then, second, learning to recognize patterns of similarity among them. The first is a matter of educating yourself; the second is a matter of learning to think and see differently.

To help us obtain this blissful state, Robert guides us through a set of major mental models created within physics, biology, sociology, psychology, philosophy, literature, and mathematics. They help us move into step one where we learn about everything from our biases and miscalculations, via evolutionary biology and information overload causing an illusion of knowledge, over to Kahneman’s two types of thinking, and William James’ pragmatism. Also, we should never ignore the classic books such as the Brothers Karamazov, The Great Gatsby, or To the lighthouse:

“The great works of literature have enormous power to touch our hearts and expand our minds.”

The second step, which is harder than the first but which also has a tremendous potential, lies in building a model where all these parts fit together. Based on the models you have chosen, you create a way of looking at the world and then investing accordingly. We aim to avoid Charlie Munger’s classic trap: “To a man with only a hammer, every problem looks pretty much like a nail.”

I must say I loved this book, for several reasons. One is that it shows how investing in companies can be enhanced by improving our worldly wisdom. Of course, such worldly wisdom is a gift in itself since you understand more about your place in the universe. Another reason I love this book is since it also got me to think about the lines between robot investors and people. The book didn’t mention this but given how the financial tools evolve I came to think of it.

Surely, someone will state that the machines can do all the investing for us. For me, that will not be true in a long time. The reason the machines will need us? Humans are also deeply illogical, lazy, and can suffer from “dysrationalia”— which is the “inability to think and behave rationally despite having high intelligence.” Many business decisions are done based on fear, revenge, or vanity and then covered in the latest business lingo. We also base many decisions on older models such as regression to the means – what goes up must go down. This can be true in several areas but the stock market is more complex:

Stocks that are thought to be high in price can still move higher; stocks that are low in price can continue to decline. It is important to remain flexible in your thinking.

So I guess that the investment robots will do a much better job when they work alongside humans. The robots can present their investment suggestions, and then we can add a human side of it. To avoid mindware gaps, we should strive for a broad education and for checking our egos and their limitations at the door also when investing. Think you have no biases, assumptions, and always act based on reason? Don’t fool yourself. We humans are much more complex than we allow ourselves to realize, but knowing we can be both rational and illogical can be an important knowledge not only when investing, but when living. As Robert says:

What all investors need to internalize is that they are often unaware of their bad decisions. To fully understand the markets and investing, we now know we have to understand our own irrationalities.”

So let’s accept our limitations while striving to build wordly wisdom. Not only can we invest smarter. We can also be better parents, lovers, and friends. I will let Warren Buffett end this post:

“The formula we use for evaluating stocks and businesses is identical. Indeed, the formula for valuing all assets that are purchased for financial gain has been unchanged since it was first laid out by a very smart man in about 600 B.C.E. The oracle was Aesop and his enduring, though somewhat incomplete, insight was ‘a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.’ To flesh out this principle, you must answer only three questions. How certain are you that there are indeed birds in the bush? When will they emerge and how many will there be? What is the risk-free interest rate? If you can answer these three questions, you will know the maximum value of the bush—and the maximum number of birds you now possess that should be offered for it. And, of course, don’t literally think birds. Think dollars.”


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Confused by Bitcoin? Me too. Here’s some guidance.

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have me confused mostly. If someone asked me what it is, I would probably say something like: “It is a modern currency, distributed among people instead of banks and institutions, and people can get rich by investing in it”. But this, of course, doesn’t mean I understand what I am talking about.

Therefore, I started looking for other sources of guidance and found the following very helpful:

The ABC’S of Bitcoin and Everything You Need To Know About “Forks”, by James Altucher. A long article with all the ins and outs of what cryptocurrencies are.

Bitcoin makes even smart people feel dumb, by Scott Rosenberg at Wired. “Warren Buffett famously advised us never to invest in anything that we don’t understand. Bitcoin investors are paying Buffett no mind.”

Bitcoin vs Ethereum with Tuur Demeester, by Preston Pysh and Stig Brodersen at the Investors Podcast (We Study Billionaires). Preston and Stig talk to the cryptocurrency expert Tuur about how it really works.

So now, next time someone starts a conversation about Bitcoin, we all know a bit more about this mysterious complex mix of finance, engineering, and philosophy.

Remember to also not give a f*ck

Back from the holidays, it is far too easy to jump at any anything and everything that lies before you at work and at home. Everything you postponed until after the holidays just lays there and is waiting for you to Get Things Done and be awesome. But wait. Before you dive into a full schedule of to-dos, remember that you don’t need to give a f*ck about everything before you. Why the swearing, you might wonder? I just read Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life.

First, question your goals and beliefs to make sure you are on the right path. Don’t wait for others to take responsibility for your life – it is up to you. Remove the tasks, meetings, and to-dos that don’t add value to the bigger goals in your personal and professional life. As Stephen Covey would say, put First Things First – if you pour in the sand first, the bigger and more important rocks won’t fit. Then prepare to meet hardships, since this is how you grow. At the end of the hardships you might find happiness and freedom, but more importantly you have grown as a human. No, not everything is in your control, but make sure that you are in charge of the things you can control and stop blaming others.

So, if you need a push in the right direction, I advise you to read Mark’s book. Then run off and make the world a better place, and prepare for some struggling. As he says: “Who you are is defined by what you’re willing to struggle for.”