The Early Steps Of A Thousand Mile Journey

I continue to share a majority of my thoughts these days on Facebook, since the conversations are better there, and it is just the way the internet is evolving. The only downside is there is no exposure there beyond my immediate network and those subscribed to me, so I will try to re-post a few my more formalized posts like this one, here on my blog. But feel free to subscribe to me on Facebook. Almost everything I post on Facebook is public.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step

- Lao-tzu

The Way of Lao-tzu
Chinese philosopher (604 BC – 531 BC)

Today I saw this video shared on Facebook, which was an introduction to the Institute For The Future where I had my first internship as a senior in high school.

Watching this video struck me in a way that compelled me to begin retelling some of my story the last few years:

It was that summer that I realized I wouldn’t not be leaving Silicon Valley or the Bay Area anytime soon.

I realized that the Bay Area was leading the most important edge of societal development.

It was then that I made a commitment to myself to strive to always live in the region that best embodies the most important societal edge. It won’t always be the Bay Area, but it is now. And looks to continue to be for at least the next decade.

Previously, I had been intent on, bordering on obsessed with getting into the Management & Technology program at UPenn. But with the insight that the Bay Area was the leading societal edge I realized that UPenn no longer made sense. I proceeded to throw away all my applications to colleges on the East Coast, much to the discontent of my family, planned to gap a year to explore Silicon Valley free from the educational shackles that had been clasped around my ankles since Kindergarten, and apply essentially only to UC Berkeley and Stanford.

I later got deferred early admission from Stanford, got accepted into Berkeley and then was rejected from Stanford a few months later. I accepted Berkley’s offer then applied again to Stanford on my gap year and got in Early Admission on my second try.  I relinquished my Berkeley acceptance before an official day of class ever took place and prepared for a year on the Farm.

I intentionally took a light load my first quarter, intending to put most of my focus on a entrepreneurship research project that evolved during my gap year and was captured in my fall quarter Stanford schedule by an Independent Study with startup thought leader Steve Blank. A few weeks into the semester I made some big breakthroughs applying Evo Devo Systems Theory to Steve’s work and started dating a few previous friends as potential cofounders in Palo Alto.  A few weeks later after Freshman Orientation I decided to drop out of Stanford in order to pursue full time what became the Startup Genome.

It’s been a thrilling ride so far, and yet just the early chapters of this journey have been written. The amplitude of both the highs and lows looks only to increase from here, so I know I better buckle up.

Thanks to the Institute for the Future for providing me with an extremely formative internship just a little over 4 years ago, which seems to be a pivotal turning point in my life.

Here are few posts I’ve written about the journey along the way.

We all are living out our own Monomyth, with some individuals getting farther down the road in one lifetime than others.


It is fascinating to revisit my thinking and see how much my mind has changed but also how much has stayed constant throughout:

1) Post on getting rejected from Stanford the first time (April, 2009) :

2) An update on my Gap Year (January, 2010):

3) A story about how I got into Stanford when I applied the second time, covered on Ramit Sethi’s IWillTeachYouToBeRich blog (December, 2010)

4) My post about deciding to drop out of Stanford (December, 2010) :

5) Steve Blank telling the story of how our relationship began and an announcement of the Launch of the Startup Genome Project (May, 2011) :

The GOP Must Adapt or Die. I Predict Death

(It may be helpful to read a related post I wrote yesterday on this subject: Why does the arc of the moral universe bend towards justice?)

It is truly fascinating to see the response of the GOP to their loss.

At many times in history nature will deliver species with an ultimatum:

Change or Die.

Interestingly the response of most species is not to change, but to redouble the same efforts that failed and just try harder!

Amazingly, the GOP seems unable to adapt.

Rather than actually looking at themselves in the mirror and questioning their failed positions, policies and strategies, they make excuses for their loss and plan to do more of the same.

Here are their excuses for the loss:

1) It was Hurricane Sandy’s fault!

2) Obama lied! And the liberal media fact checkers didn’t do their job!

Interestingly the article shows Republicans strayed far more frequently from the facts than the Democrats:

3) Karl Rove said “Obama won by suppressing the vote!”

Interestingly that was Karl Rove’s strategy. He appears to just think Obama stole his playbook and was better at using it. “There is no other explanation!”

Furthermore Rove gave no evidence for how Obama suppressed the vote, other than complaining about the truth of Obama’s attack ads.

And there’s plenty of evidence the GOP did suppress the vote, with VoterID laws and cutting the time period for early voting.

We humans are not adaptable as we proclaim to be.

I argue that no human truly has “free will” to adapt until they have transcended their ego and reached the beginning stages of enlightenment.

Until then, we are quite predictable. And I predict the death of the GOP.

Why Does The Arc Of The Moral Universe Bend Towards Justice?

Tuesday was a historic victory for the Democratic Party and the Moral Universe:

Sexual Equality:

“For the first time, after more than 30 losses, gay marriage won approval at the ballot box,”"

“Maine, Maryland, and Washington became the first states in U.S. history to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote, while Minnesotans rejected a state constitutional amendment that would have made same-sex marriage illegal.”

“Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat from Wisconsin, became the first openly gay politician to win election to the Senate, defeating former Gov. Tommy Thompson.”

Gender Equality:

In the Senate, women made historic gains, now holding 19 seats.

New Hampshire also added another coup; they have the only state in history with an all female delegation.

Racial Equality:

The first Asian American women was elected to the Senate.

Religious Equality:

A Buddhist Senator and a Hindhu Represenative will join Congress for the first time.

Reproductive Liberty:

On reproductive rights, voters sent a powerful message to pro-lifers, [defeating] Todd Akin and Richard Mourdoch, after being appalled by sentiments that rape victims shouldn’t be entitled to abort a rape related pregnancy.

Cognitive Liberty:

Colorado and Washington both voted to legalize recreational marijuana.

The Arc of the Moral Universe

At the the peak of the last great expansion in civil liberties, Martin Luther King Jr. famously said:
“The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice”.

But I think most people don’t understand why this is the case.

Why does it bend rather than stay straight?This is an important question.It is what any philosophically inclined person must ask.

“Why does something happen rather than nothing?”

To understand why the moral arc of the universe does indeed bend, you must understand how to apply evolutionary and developmental systems to moral development.

You must understand that natural selection plays out on the field of memes.

You must recognize that genetic evolution is no longer relevant. The process is so slow so as to be irrelevant.

Evolution and development now occur “memetically”.

Not genetically.

It occurs in the economic and socio-political realms, rather than the jungle or the savannah.

And development’s forward driving mechanism is “adaptation”.

More evolved states of conscious and expanding spheres of moral awareness win because they are able to access behaviors that are more adaptive than their less enlightened predecessors.

What adaptive behavior did the more morally developed Democratic party have in this election?

Trust in data rather than trust in opinion.

The scientific method over hubris.

Modernity over pre-modernity.

Natural Selection in Political Punditry:

Data and science trumped gut and experience in the world of political punditry:

“The New York Times election statistician Nate Silver perfectly predicted all 50 states last night for President Obama, while every single major pundit was wrong – some comically wrong. Despite being derided by TV talking heads as a liberal hack, Silver definitively proved that geeks with mathematical models were superior to the gut feelings and pseudo-statistics of so-called political experts. The big question is, will the overwhelming success of statistical models make pundit forecasting obsolete, or will producers stubbornly keep them on the air?”

Natural Selection Electoral Politics:

And the Democrats used the same advantage of science over gut informed experience to turn out the vote and by the standard of electoral college, win the election by a landslide.

Here is your case study on how the Obama campaign used data to create a turnout machine that the GOP themselves decried in a public memo was,


Slate explains: Why Obama Is Better at Getting Out the Vote

Darley-Emerson’s rounds—and those of hundreds of thousands of other canvassers and callers in the closing hours of the election—may look like the basic work of campaigns, the slog of door knocks and repetitive phone calls. But as is the case with much of Obama’s campaign, the dutiful fieldwork is undergirded by sophisticated analytics unmatched by his Republican opponents. The houses on Darley-Emerson’s list were not only likely to contain supporters, but supporters for whom a visit from a canvasser could make all the difference.”

Over a two-week stretch starting at the end of July, the Obama campaign’s analytics department contacted 54,739 voters from paid call centers and asked them how they planned to vote. Obama’s databases already knew a lot about the approximately 180 million registered voters in the United States (and even a bit about those who weren’t registered, in a way that could help guide the campaign’s efforts to enroll them). The goal was to collect intelligence about potential voters’ 2012 intentions and distill that down to a series of individual-level predictions. The most important of these scores, on a range from 0 to 100, assessed an individual’s likelihood of supporting Barack Obama and of casting a ballot altogether.”

Campaigns tend to focus their mobilization efforts on voters who have been assigned high support and mid-range turnout scores. Those with turnout scores outside a span of, say, 30 to 80 are not worth the effort: Those above it are self-motivated enough to vote already, and those beneath it unlikely to do so under any circumstances. Democrats approach the question of prioritizing voters for turnout in much the same way as Republicans. Obama, however, goes a step farther.

Since 2008, Democrats have administered randomized-control experiments to test the impact of  Get Out The Vote [GOTV] contact on voters with different score combinations, with the goal of quantifying where those contacts are most likely to produce a net vote. The most fruitful terrain turned out to surround voters with turnout scores centered around 45. Delivering a GOTV contact to a voter with a 100 support score and a 45 turnout score increased the likelihood of netting a Democratic vote by 4.5 percent; delivering a GOTV contact to a voter with a 75 support score and a 45 turnout score increased the likelihood of netting a vote by 2.7 percent.

Obama’s analytics department synthesized all of this research into a new GOTV score that combines predictions about one’s likelihood of voting and supporting Obama. It, too, ranks voters from zero to 100, but this one doesn’t assess voters’ characteristics so much as prioritize them based on their susceptibility to the campaign’s efforts to modify their behavior. When canvassers like Darley-Emerson get a list of names, it has been edited according to the one criterion that matters: how likely her visit is to generate a new vote towards the president’s re-election—whether the canvasser remembers to ask who the voter is supporting or not.

The consequence of the Democrats adapting the new ability to use science and data to more effectively campaign for elections may result in nothing short of the collapse of the Republican party.

John Stewart and Rachel Maddow put the nails in the coffin:

“Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative.”
– H. G. Wells

No I’m Not Voting In Tomorrows Election, I’d Rather See Creative Destruction

Government is broken. The only thing at stake tomorrow is how much more it breaks.

Do we choose the lesser of two evils?

The consensus is yes.

But I often wonder whether the world would be better in the long run if the broken system brakes completely sooner rather than later.

If we turn to history, we will see that broken systems almost never fix themselves. This is true for human systems and natural systems alike.Nature has a tool for dealing with this situation.It is called death.Creative destruction.Out with the old. In the with the new.So, no:I AM NOT VOTING.Yes there are important measures on the ballot besides the Presidential Election between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, but I refuse to put any more energy into a broken system.

Civic Responsibilities be damned.

I am conserving my energy for building new systems suited the realities of our time.

I will not support anachronisms, except by facilitating their removal.

When a viable long term solution for Governance in the 21st century is feasible I will whole-heartedly participate.

What would that government look like?

A government not ridden by obstructionist partisan politics and corrupted by the special interests of the country’s wealthiest individuals and corporations. A government where corporations are not recognized as people. A government where elections can’t be bought by the ruling elite, altered with voter suppression or stolen with manipulatable electronic voting machines.

A government that doesn’t let the financial sector rape our economy and then foot the American Public with the bankruptcy bill and the psychiatry bill. A government that isn’t so full of industrial complexes (Military Industrial Complex, Prison Industrial Complex, Government Industrial Complex) it makes the world’s most obese nation look like it is has only anorexic supermodels. A government where all elected officials believe in evolution and the scientific method.

A government that doesn’t continue to bailout the past and strangle the future. A government that runs towards the future, not away from it. A government not built on a constitution designed to change slowly when the world is changing faster than ever.

A government that is efficient. That doesn’t take months to make a decision. A government whose representatives are both trustworthy and intelligent.  A government whose leaders don’t feel like “average joes” but are the brightest our society has to offer. A government that understands the kind of education we needed in the 20th century is not the kind we need in the 21st. A government that allows us to control our own bodies and mind. Whether it’s an abortion or a puff of marijuana.  A government that understands that our era will be driven by systems that are organic, network driven and decentralized, not top-down bureaucratic, command and control hierarchies.

A government that understands technology. That knows “The Internets aren’t just a bunch of tubes”.  A government where voting is as seamlessly as updating a Twitter Status. A government whose tax code is legible by an ordinary humans and painless to complete.

A government that is a platform. That has an AppStore just like Apple and Facebook. Where creative entrepreneurs can use government data to create hundreds, if not thousands of useful applications. A government that knows what infrastructure to build and what not to build. A government that invests in the information highway instead of the concrete highway.

A government that experiments with it’s own form of governance. Testing out alternative methods like Dynamic Democracy, Distributed Democracy and Deliberative Democracy. And if they work better, actually adopting those methods.

A government that gives more autonomy to creative, entrepreneurial cities where the real 21st century economy is being forged. A government that embraces the globalized world we now live in, and welcomes highly skilled immigrants as the saviors of our economy rather than as enemies.

A government built to thrive in a world of accelerating change.

Until then, beyond being voyeuristically fascinated by the misguided passions of others…

I. Don’t. Care.

Both sides, Democrats and Republicans, let me know how much you think things break tomorrow….


I received a lot of backlash on the first draft of this post, so I thought I would update some of the reasoning behind its incendiary nature:
Most of the backlash revolved around how not participating in the election means harming the expansion of human rights for Women, the LGBT community and other civil liberties.

While technically, I believe we should make as much progress as we can with the broken system we have expanding human rights and other similar noble measures. There is the very real dilemma that spending all our energy on slow, incremental, inefficient improvements of the broken systems sucks all of our energy away from creating a new better system, that will bring the freedom and openness we all want, at a much faster pace.

I’m being incendiary here, because I think most people are spending zero energy thinking about and working on what a new system would look like, and all their energy fighting this inefficient, broken system, which ultimately will work against their aims, even if they don’t realize it.

Now to clarify my own position, I said I will be disengaged from “this” broken system. I didn’t say I would be disengaged from all politics or political systems forever.

Personal energy is finite. I will not spend my energy on broken systems when I can spend my energy on creating new systems that can thrive over the long term and bring the freedom and openness we all know and want, but won’t achieve and maintain, unless we change strategy.

And as I said, “When a viable long term solution for Governance in the 21st century is feasible I will whole-heartedly participate.”

Right now though, I don’t see a movement for a real 21st century government having sufficient momentum, nor do I have the time to work on creating this alternative system right now. But I will at some point. And when I do hopefully there are an increasing number of people who have begun working on this new system for 21st century governance because of calls to action like these, which show that there is actual demand for real, revolutionary change.

Furthermore, I don’t think people realize that broken systems eventually collapse. And when they do both the economy and the culture of civil liberties they support, go bankrupt.

So ultimately while many are nobly fighting for one more human rights victory, we could lose most of the ones we’ve already gained, if we don’t also focus on creating a new system of governance designed for the 21st century.

Such is this world, where our actions often betray out intentions.

As mentioned in the comments, our government is nowhere near as broken as Russia, China or Nigeria, but America could end up that way if we don’t make major change.

The reasoning is complicated and nuanced and I don’t have time right now to do the full story justice but here’s the short of it:

Basically, culture and economics are inextricably intertwined, and our progress on human rights will matter little if the economy collapses. Freedom of expression or marriage is something you only think about if your basic needs of food, water and shelter are taken of. Otherwise you’re concerned about survival. This is the case in most communist countries where their biggest problem was ultimately that their policies caused economic growth to stall. When economic growth stalls so does growth in culture and human rights. That is a complicated dynamic but it is basically what happens.

The US economy for the last 45 years has been declining, but has hidden this fact through cost cutting and the illusory growth of debt — this fueled the financial crises, the housing bubble and much more. The economic strategies that worked last century dont won’t work anymore. We’ve reached the end of the line. Most businesses in the US knew how to create wealth the industrial era but really have no idea how to create wealth in the information age. Government is holding back this transition to the information age with bad policies and corruption from the ruling elite, also known as the 1%. If this economic transition isn’t properly made the economy collapses and so do our human rights.

Thus not transitioning to a new system of governance designed for the 21st century could very well strangle our economic potential, sending us into a downward spiral and sending much of our human rights progress down the abyss.

So, friends, that is why I’m being incendiary. We want the same things, we just have very different views of how we will get there. And I would like to see that we do.


Distractions and The Good Life

This post originally appeared on facebook here:
Distraction and procrastination are contextually relative terms. From one perspective intellectual discussions are “distractions” from work and execution. But work and execution can also be seen as “distractions” from our intellectual development and fulfillment.

And in a good life, the two are not separate. They inform one another. Our intellectual development inspires us to work on new problems and see them in different ways. And our work and execution tests and refines our intellectual and theoretical knowledge against reality. This lets us find out where we are strong and where we need to do more work.

We need to commit to both paths of development to actualize our potential. We just have to get good at balancing our time allocation. But this varies throughout our life. Sometimes intellectual development is leading the dance and work is following along. But then circumstances enable a partner switch.

It is humbling, and can be overwhelming when we awaken to the fact that life is a juggling act of developing not just these 2 dimensions but dozens of them.

We must prioritize.

With long view as our guide and eyes focused on the horizons of our becoming.

Wise Up: 12 Lessons Learned From a 2011 Entrepreneurial Journey

Yesterday I posted a long commemoration of my entrepreneurial journey in 2011. Buried at the bottom of the post were 12 lessons learned from the last year. A few friends recommended I repost them as a separate post in order to properly highlight them. Here they are in case you didn’t catch them.

Every experience holds both positive and negative. The last year had many successes but also many tough times. At some point over the last year, around May or June, I reached a point of stability and confidence in my own ability and identity that even the negatives times started to be seen as opportunities for growth, rather than maladies to be avoided. Setbacks were simply feedback on my performance, fodder to improve next time, not an indicator of self-efficacy or self-worth. But even when I learned my lessons, the new performances were always less then perfect. This fallibility needs to be accepted.The cycle never stops. There is always more to learn.

Before I close, I wanted to share a few more lessons learned from the experiences of the past year.

Lesson 1: What are you going to be when you grow up?

We experimented with so many different ideas and approaches over the last year. I feel like I learned the discovery process inside out. It’s a very important and valuable process, but I think the possibility space is a lot more constrained than people’s intuition lead them to believe. When starting something new the possibilities for what the project could become seem infinite, but ultimately there are a limited number of models that can scale into something with high impact. However, if you’re willing to entertain building something niche, there is access to the much wider possibility space along the long tail. Given our mission of finding a scalable way to increase the success rate of startups, there were really only 4 viable, scalable ideas that we uncovered: A Software Company, an Investment Fund, an Educational Media Company and a Research Institute. Bjoern and I decided to the Software Company.

When I see nascent ideas now I almost always ask myself, “from the viable models I’m aware of, which one could this project be when it grows up?

Lesson 2: Patience—Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can Chew

It’s important to have a big vision, but it’s equally important to get started right away. Creating something from nothing is really, really hard. When you have as little resources and as limited time has startups do, it  requires extreme focus. All of the big things you want to do can be done eventually as you get more momentum and resources. But that will only happen if you focus successfully first.  If you do it right eventually, your baby will eventually grow into the world as an organism with a life of its own, with the power and energy to pursue crazy ideas like Space Elevators and Autonomous Driving Cars. But that takes time.

“A man who is a master of patience is master of everything else”

“Patience is not about how long one waits; patience is about how well one behaves while they wait”

Lesson 3: Entrepreneurship as a means of Self Expression

Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart. It is a life encompassing sport full of trials and tribulations. But if you dare to embark on the perilous journey you will find an opportunity like little else for authentic self expression, self discovery, and world altering impact. Commit to preparation, commit to learning, and when the time is right, don’t forget to leap.

Lesson 4: The Power of Ideals and Vision

Blackbox as an idea and ideal was something that was very powerful and resonated with a lot of people. Its descendant projects possess the common thread of passion for empowering entrepreneurs, belief in the power of data to improve decision making, and a desire to maximize human potential.

Lesson 5: Startups Are Not Efficient

Startups do not run like a well oiled machine. They stop. They start. They break. You have to find new parts. Those parts end up being out of stock and you have to make them yourself.

This requires a lot of patience, perseverance and expectation management. If you expect to hit cruising altitude right away you will just become frustrated and demoralized.  It’s rare a founding team has everything they need to start firing on all cylinders right away. The process is much more like jumping off a cliff and assembling your parachute on the way down. Despite all this inefficiency startups can be very effective, because they have something other organizations don’t: Freedom.

Freedom from conventional thought. Freedom from bureaucracy. Freedom to explore and create their iconoclastic vision of the world. And the vision doesn’t need to be perfectly realized right away, just getting something working is often enough to begin drumming up the support, momentum and resources necessary to accelerate into maturity.

Lesson 6: Don’t Project Your Ambitions on to other People

Founders have to be irrationally optimistic and their enthusiasm often inspires other people to want to join them, and for them to want to include many people in their vision. They need to be careful not to project idyllic views on other people, and expect them to live up to unrealistic expectations. There will just be hurt and disappointment on both sides.

Lesson 7: Select The People You Want To Work With Carefully

Only select people who you believe are great now and have potential to be even better in the future. Don’t hope that a B or C player will grow into an A player. You only want A players who can become A+ players.

Lesson 8: If Your Startup Is Done Right Your Cofounders Will Become Your Best Friends

You don’t have to start out as best friends but it should emerge over the first year of working full time. If you’re doing your startup right you will inevitably create a stronger bond with your cofounders than any of your friends. You have to put everything on the line to succeed. Not only do you burn all your boats at the shore, but you are dependent on high performance from your cofounders to survive. This requires an enormous amount of trust to be able to march ahead confidently. Over the last year Bjoern and I lived in the same house and spent almost every waking hour together and discussed nearly everything on our minds, from personal to professional. I wouldn’t recommend it any other way.

Lesson 9: Don’t Work with People Who Can’t Evaluate Their Own Value

If they can’t evaluate their own value they won’t be able to evaluate your value or anyone else’s. Whenever pies are split or credit is taken, there will inevitably be conflict.

Lesson 10: The Learning Curve For New People is Longer than You Expect

Expanding the team can accelerate growth, but there are very high initial costs. When you add someone you will probably move slower for the first weeks, maybe even first few months. It takes time for them to get acclimated with the project and your working style. Take on your first few people slowly, and know you will lose more than you gain if they don’t stay long term.

Lesson 11: Success Carries a Burden of Responsibility

The more momentum you gather and the more success you have, the more responsibility you carry for others. People put their faith in you, users rely on you, and employees depend on you. This burden of responsibility should not be underestimated. Living with integrity is all the more important.

Lesson 12: Having the Flexibility to Let Go

In the course of starting a company many projects and directions are explored. It is as important to have the ability to let go as it is to be able to persevere.

In Finale… I Would Stand In Line For This

I write this from The Glint looking out over the expansive San Francisco skyline and can’t help but get excited about what 2012 has in store for us all. It’s going to be a big year. Happy New Year my friends, stay hungry and make the most of it. This is just the beginning.

A Divine Becoming

This post is a reaction to reading Ken Wilber’s Developmental Sequence of Meditation that flows through the states of Psychic, Subtle, Casual, and finally Non Dual. I encourage you to read it first and have faith that if you can quiet the “monkey mind”, you can avoid the distractions that will try to prevent you from making it back to my post.

I really like parts of this. I want to like all of it, but I can’t.

The metaphysics just don’t resonate with me. I feel glimpses. I agree with the direction. But then when the statements crystallize it feels wrong and empty. It feels like it is searching for something that is not there.

It is more evolved than “Magic“, but I feel Magic Residue.

I can quiet my monkey mind. I can rest in emptiness and death. I can close my eyes and feel absolute silence. But I just don’t see the Divine there.

I have felt ecstatic feelings of oneness and wholeness before, but they fade. The emotional rushes seem to only occur for me when I discover something new. It’s the reward and excitement of a new developmental wave crashing to the shore of my awareness. But if I try to recreate the wave, to surf it again, the feeling is not as intense. I like that I cannot return. It makes sense. A reward for progress that is ephemeral removes the temptation of complacency, aligning the whole system for further growth and expansion. Happiness and bliss are not the destination. Rather they serve as feedback mechanisms that journeyer is journeying down the right path.

I think as I explore, what I don’t like here is an implied sense of Pre-Determinism. A sense that we are expanding into shapes that already exist. Potentials already fully incarnated, just waiting for us.

There’s an attribution of Divinity, of Spirit, of Self, of Wholeness to the past. There’s an implication that these things have always been whole and full. And it seems the mental models here often rest on conceptions of the infinity, totality, and purity of the Big Bang. But it feels like this model begins to crumble if the assumption that there was nothing before the big bang is wrong. And I believe that to have a significant probability after diving deeply this past year into John Smart’s work on developmental cosmology and developmental cosmic intelligence. It is one of the most beautiful synthesis I’ve seen of the Lower Right and integrates well with many other dimensions or lines I have been exploring in the Lower Right Quadrant and in the other three.

I believe the implications of this collapsing belief is that ideals like Spirit, Self and God are no longer seen as if they already exist. Instead they are seen as ideals unfolding into existence. God comes at the end, not the beginning. It is a process of asymptotical becoming.

All we can awaken to are the potentials that have already arisen. To go further we must create. We must build. We must transcend. We must continue to evolve and develop. Awakening just to where we are and where we have been is beautiful at first, but becomes stale if it is not seen in the perspective of what we can become. When I see how much room we have to grow and I feel that growth happening, the edge being pushed, that is what gives me a new ecstatic rush of the Divine, The Spirit and The Self. I am not tapping into a “whole” or an “infinity” that already exists, I am approaching wholeness. We all are. Our consciousness, our body, our community, our ecosystem approaching wholeness together.

They did not start out whole. They started out with the potential for wholeness. With the Big Bang a seed was planted. But the seed was not the tree of life. The seed was the potential for the tree of life. And now that tree blossoms. Expanding at an accelerating rate into the unknown. That dance, that movement forward, is the expression and the becoming of the Divine.

Meta-Cognitive Prowess And The Danger of Meta-Cognitive Frameworks

After my last post, “Mapmakers, Toolmakers and Complex Developmental Systems” I was encouraged by a friend to read about Robert Keegan’s Constructive Developmental Theory as an alternative model to Spiral Dynamics for how human’s consciousness, thought and values evolve. Here was the best quick overview I found.

I thought I would post this quick take on how I think people increase their meta-cognitive ability and some of the dangers of I’ve seen with falling in love with meta-cognitive frameworks.

After reading about Constructive Development Theory I’m pretty sure I’m in the process, over the last 6 months, of making the jump from thinking in systems to thinking in “systems of systems”. I’m not sure what triggers this jump for most people, but it seems my jump was both a combination of realizing the limitations of just one system, expanding my own self-awareness through interior practices and specifically learning new systems that would allow me to concretely think in multiple perspectives, not just have an intuitive feel that multiple perspective are better.

What I’m getting at, is that I’m not sure “5th order” thinking will just “emerge” on its own, unless people specifically commit to learning the intricacies of new systems, like Constructive Developmental Theory, Integral Theory, EvoDevoUniverse etc. People don’t just learn new systems intuitively, it requires deliberate action to seek them out.

I think it’s also important to differentiate high order meta-frameworks from more practical frameworks. CDT is very meta-cognitive. Moving up the developmental hierarchy of CDT won’t directly improve any hard skill. Hard skills still require a lot of practice, although increases in meta-cognitive ability should lead to more effective and efficient practice, and thus an overall faster rate of practical skill acquisition.

I want to clarify this because it seems that many people who learn about these meta-frameworks never apply their increased freedom and complexity of thought to anything practical because they get obsessed with “leveling up” and mistake meta-cognitive expansion as a means rather than an end.

Mapmakers, Toolmakers and Complex Developmental Systems

My belief in the power of complex developmental systems as one of the most accurate lens to view reality continues to intensify. The shift to this worldview, (in combination with an upshift from egocentrism to kosmocentrism), is truly transformational and guides nearly every (fully) conscious moment of my life (as most people’s worldviews do, they just aren’t aware of it). A natural consequence of this worldview is a gift of clarity, a sense of purpose and dissolution of the egocentric torments that so many individuals in the western world spend most of their life fighting. But this worldview also comes with a striking moral obligation to get off your ass and do something important rather than wandering to a distant mountaintop in an enlightened, ecstatic bliss.

The question then becomes what is important? What is worth thinking about? What is worth building? What is not just “worth it” but the highest leverage, most important thing that can be done to unlock greater systemic potential in order to evolve life itself at an ever faster rate?

At this point in universal history most of evolution roughly falls into two groups: Better Maps and Better Tools. (Another core group not discussed here is Deliberate Practice, of both the interior and the exterior. This is what creates movement along developmental maps).

Better Maps

1) We can gain a better understanding of the principles how complex developmental systems work. This will have cascading effects on all areas of knowledge.

2) We can apply the abstract framework of complex developmental systems to more tangible areas of knowledge such as Politics, Psychology, Innovation, Spirituality etc. This will increase the precision of each of these areas of knowledge and guide the direction they should evolve in. Integral Theory has tried to do this with adaptations like Integral Psychology, Integral Politics and Integral Spirituality.

3) We can create ever more integrated theories of knowledge, that sparkle with increasing fluidity, beauty and symmetry. One of the defining properties of complex developmental systems is emergence.  Emergence continues to spiral upwardly, inexhaustibly, indefatigably, with accelerating momentum due to a powerful self-propagating, auto-poetic force that synthesizes parts into greater wholes and then proceeds to use those new wholes as a platform for an expanding set of ever more complex parts.

In the realm of map making I’ve been recently enamored with the expansive breath and depth of Ken Wilber’s Integral theory. While Integral Theory’s professed goal is to do something similar to what I describe above, and increasingly encompass and weave together all of reality, Integral theory is an evolving “whole” that is itself not complete; and needs to “integrate” many new “parts” to reach its next developmental stage of “wholeness”.

Recently, I’ve felt a growing intuition towards what this next stage of wholeness would look like. Since greater wholes, emerge from newly available, innovative parts, I’ve been trying to catalogue the new parts that seem to describe a part of reality more accurately than anything else, and thus need to be integrated into the next level of wholeness. I call these “frameworks” and have been listing the parts I discover here.

I’m still in the information intake phase of this process so I’m very far away from the destination. But I’m happy to have at least recently found some clarity on what the destination is. I also will personally be working towards this destination very slowly because I believe given the stage of societal and universal evolution that we are currently in, better tools are more important for forward progress than better maps.

Why do I believe tools are more important than maps right now?

Too much important research (i.e. map making) is not being funded and the mapmakers lack many of the resources they need to progress rapidly. Therefore the people with resources in the world today, must not value the creation of these maps. Since resources centralize around the people with the best tools, rather than begging rich people to fund maps they don’t understand, we just need to create better tools and get the resources ourselves. Remember the scene from 2001 A Space Odyssey where the apes figured out how to use tools, and then used that advantage to kill large beasts and take back their drinking well? We need to develop better tools, ideally inspired by our cutting edge maps, so that the toolmakers can create a new gravity-well for the world’s resource to centralize around. Then a new generation of mapmakers turned toolmakers can fund the next generation of maps with their new found wealth, perpetuating the cycle.

This is my intention with the Startup Genome, the company I have been working on for the last year. At the Startup Genome we are building predictive models of how businesses evolve (i.e. making maps of complex developmental systems) in order to help businesses make better decisions. We package the map in a Software as a Service, business analytics tool. What is beautiful about this marriage between mapmaking and toolmaking is it can leverage the enormously powerful economic engine of capitalism and the business world to advance the breadth and depth of the map, as long as advances in the map continues to produce incremental value to the tool’s customers. Many mapmaking endeavors stall out once they reach a certain level of complexity because they can’t figure out the right economic or social engine to centralize the resources necessary to continue to advance the complexity and precision of their map.

As I thought about this, I realized only recently has technology progressed to a point where the creation of tools and maps can be pursued somewhat simultaneously, because now almost any developmental map worth creating can be packaged as a predictive model delivered as a software as a service tool that can deliver automatic assessment and orientation value to some potential customer.  If there are no customers interested, it is likely the map is not worth creating or at least the timing is not right. Models often require a lot of data to work properly so another enabling factor is the abundance of data we are all now swimming in.

This synergy will propel maps to progress even further. Due the grandeur of the theoretical landscape mapmakers are exploring they can often get lost in obscurity and irrelevance. The marriage of maps to tools makes sure maps stay practical and gives them the resources and energy to continue to progress.

This also gets us over the hurdle of trying to get most of the world to see the world the way we do. I’ve recently been studying Spiral Dynamics and think it is one of the best lenses to interpret questions such as, “How do we get people to care about the things we care about? “Why don’t people value the things we are talking about? Do they just not understand it? Are we off base? Are we crazy? Or do they have other issues they have to deal with first before they can even begin to be receptive to this type of thinking? In the language of Spiral Dynamics these are fundamentally vMeme (value meme) questions. The holistic, system, universal worldview implicitly being articulated here, is considered level 8 Turquoise on the Spiral Dynamic spectrum. The world’s current center of gravity is stuck around Orange (level 5), with Blue (level 4) slowly fading and Green(level 6) slowly emerging. People can’t be expected to just immediately jump to level 8. Once people adapt to a certain worldview and get complacent it takes a lot of energy to break free.

In terms of integrating theoretical “parts” into greater “wholes”, I believe Spiral Dynamics sits inside the larger Evo Compu Devo Telos, inheriting many parent properties and pertaining only to Upper Left Quadrant (Integral theory) at the time when consciousness emerges in universal history.

In Spiral Dynamics, Turquoise is the most advanced and complex value system that has evolved to date. Level 9 is called Coral and I’ve only seen very vague hypotheses about what it actually represents. I believe this synthesis of mapmaking and toolmaking is a major part of Coral, the next level on the Spiral.

Coral is an odd number and the odd numbers in the Spiral Dynamics model are “individual” levels, that centralize resources. Between the odd and even levels there is an oscillating “i/we” force and an oscillating “individual/community” force. The collective levels usually promote new insight and understanding, while the individual levels promote action. So there’s an “action/understanding” oscillation, as well.

One time I quipped that “Coral = Turquoise + Money”. I don’t think that’s technically accurate but it points in the right direction. Right now there are a number of turquoise thinkers sitting on the edge of society, but are largely irrelevant. They have world changing ideas but have been unable to impact world affairs with them. It’s very difficult to identify any Turquoise thinkers who are in prominent positions of power. Name one billionaire or political leader who is a Turquoise thinker? Of the world’s most powerful people, I think the most Spiral Dynamically evolved people appear to be entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs, Peter Thiel and Jeff Bezos. There’s a lot of yellow systemic flow in what they do and how they work.

I think it’s generally pretty futile to try to convince more people to think like you and care about the things you do. At least it’s a very slow process that is usually not the best option to achieve the desired objective. It’s better to try to find and gather all the people who already have a similar value system to you. Rather than trying to convince people to start thinking holistically in systems, Turquoise mapmakers need to take the world’s fate into their own hands, build a team with a number of toolmakers and start creating the future they are spending all their time thinking about. At least that’s what I’m doing and what I concluded makes sense after studying enough maps.

For the world to continue to evolve we need entrepreneurs to build companies founded on Turquoise ideals. As those companies succeed and accumulate more power and resources the Coral vMeme will emerge. Put another way, Coral emerges, when Turquoise ideals leave the theoretical plane and become embodied in tools that achieve societal ubiquity. I am doing everything in my power to make that happen with the Startup Genome in order to set an example that evolutionarily inspired mapmakers and toolmakers can follow.

This post is in written in a dense systematic language that won’t resonate with many. But one purpose of my blog is to send a signal out into the world in hopes of attracting like minds. I write this in ‘untranslated’ form to find people who can speak similar tongues. My thoughts increasingly only occur in mind in the language of systems and “normal conversations” require an act of translation of these concepts into terms other people can understand.


Conversational Incompetency: The Root Of All Ignorance

Dan Pallotta wrote a post the other day on the Harvard Business Review blog called: I Don’t Understand What Anyone Is Saying Anymore. Dan laments that in more than 50% of business conversations he has no idea what the other person is saying. He used to think he was stupid when he couldn’t understand what someone was saying, but now he has changed his mind and shifted the blame to the other person for poor communication.

Dan identifies 4 different “strains of this epidemic” of poor communication.

People using…

1) Abstractions instead of concrete terms. “A new idea for a doorknob becomes ‘an innovation in residential access’.”

2) Acronyms that other people aren’t familiar with.

3) Long winded sentences with no content interspersed with plenty of “likes”, “ums”, “sort of’s”.

4) Meaningless Expressions like “Thinking outside the Box” and “Exceeding Customer Expectations”.

I agree with Dan that the responsibility for clear communication falls mostly on the Sender not the Receiver, which is also consistent with a central tenet of NLP, that says, “the meaning of a communication is the response it gets.” But I believe Dan is giving too big a pass to Receivers, and is missing a huge part of the equation: the Receiver’s inability to ask good questions and identify their own points of confusion.

This is actually a pretty serious deficiency that results in an enormous number of lost learning opportunities. The ability to ask good questions I would bet is one of the single biggest differences between “intelligent” and “ignorant” people. Most people have the fundamental mental capacity to become intelligent, but they fail to realize much of their potential because they never develop their ability to ask good questions.

Why don’t people ask good questions?

1) The biggest reason is probably that people are afraid of looking stupid.

It’s amazing how much this fear, and the fear of failure inhibits people from being successful and fulfilled in their life. Almost any successful person, in business, athletics or science, has found a way to overcome their fear of failure and fear of looking stupid. To learn, improve and eventually make a big impact you have to be willing to take risks and make mistakes.

One of the reasons people find the fear of looking stupid so gut wrenching is because they identify way too strongly with their current competency, lifestyle and past life decisions. When people tie their identity to their past and present, any fault or deficiency that other people point out can emotionally destroy them because they have to interpret their deficiency as, “something is wrong with me that I cannot change.”

Usually people are able to stop just short of having to make that statement to themselves by using some sort of defense mechanism: yelling, vilifying, fighting, running away etc, because it is this type of negative explanatory style, with the use of global, permanent statements that end up making people seriously depressed and suicidal. Almost everyone has experienced one of these ego-defensive mechanisms kicking in, even if they aren’t consciously aware of what they are defending or why. Rather than continuing to put themselves in these ego destroying situations, people end up just developing an experiential avoidance to ever putting themselves out there, in order to avoid their fear of failure or looking stupid. As a result, they “play it safe” their whole life, unaware of the subconscious mental script that confines them to zones of mediocrity.

How then does one get out of the trap, where being successful and making progress requires risking failure, but failing creates a depressive ego destroying tailspin?

I don’t want to go into too much more detail on this pervasive psychological roadblock right now, but I will offer one mental trick to resolve this dilemma. Although it is simple in theory, it is difficult in practice. (I discuss related psychological concepts in much more detail in the 3 posts I wrote on mental health in September).

The key is a subtle change in how you relate to your ego and identity. If you can stop tying yourself to your present competency and instead tie most of your sense of identity to your potential, what you can achieve in the future and who you can become, than you can free yourself from the bonds that are created by trying to protect the deficiencies in your present identity.

2) Overcoming the fear of looking stupid is a necessary but not sufficient for being able to ask good questions. Asking good questions is a skill that takes time and practice to develop with specific trainable components.

The basis of asking good questions is being able to clearly identity what you understand and what you don’t. To do this isn’t easy, and requires a considerable amount of self-awareness and mindfulness. (This is probably yet another area where a meditation practice is able to increase performance). When you read or listen to a sentence and get confused, there are particular concepts that trip you up. Since most people are either afraid of looking stupid or unable to identify what confused them, they will just smile and nod instead of alerting the Sender to their confusion. As a result, a huge portion of everything said thereafter goes over their head, and they don’t get any value from the conversation, because concepts they didn’t understand were either referenced multiple times or used as foundational components for new concepts. And then both people’s time are wasted.

In my opinion, just bumbling “I don’t have any idea what you just said to me”, as Dan Pallotta advocates, is a tremendous resignation of conversational responsibility. The listener has an obligation to identify their points of confusion. However, I’m not saying the blame then falls solely on the listener either. Conversational dynamics aren’t so black and white and we should, in general, avoid swinging from one extreme to another. So let’s a dive a bit deeper…

Dan does do a good job of enumerating some of the most common ways people confuse their listeners: Abstractions, Acronyms, Fillers, and Meaningless Phrases, but is wrong to imply each of these maladies are equally bad. Fillers and Meaningless Phrases should probably be eradicated as a general principle; they create negative conversational value in almost all instances, but the misuse of Abstractions and Acronyms is a bit more nuanced.

The Value of Abstractions

Abstractions and Acronyms are not inherently bad. The blogosphere is in the middle of a long love affair with simplicity, but the world is complex, and undeniably increasing in complexity. Therefore, we actually need dense, specialized terms to be able to communicate more complex ideas, lest the time it takes to communicate expand exponentially. Furthermore, I’m afraid the simplicity movement is giving people justification for avoiding learning complex terms and this is literally robbing people of developing greater intellect. Ever greater abstractions enable us to perceive the world with more granularity and precision. Instead of just seeing a collection of dots, I can perceive higher level patterns like lines, shapes and derivatives. Or in more everyday terminology, instead of seeing a collection of people I can perceive communities, cultures and societies. As a result, I can think and talk about the interaction between societies, which would be impossible if I only had the language to talk about individual people. My point here is to stress that we shouldn’t avoid abstractions, as Dan and many others regularly suggest. Conversational mastery entails learning how to move fluidly up and down layers of abstraction and being able to pick the right concept for the context of the present moment.

However, problems are created when we use abstractions that other people don’t understand, because this creates confusion and miscommunication almost 100% of the time. When this happens the Sender deserves a significant portion of conversational blame.

But why does this happen? Why do people use abstractions that other people don’t understand?

A) The most forgivable error is when people use concepts the other person doesn’t understand because they inappropriately assumed the other person possessed the same knowledge and background.

B) Sometimes people will use concepts other people don’t understand because it makes them feel superior that they know something the other person doesn’t. They lord their expertise over others with a smug smile.

C) But probably the most common reason for the offense is that people don’t understand themselves the concepts they are using. They don’t really understand what they are trying to describe, so they hide in the altitude of abstractions because it gives the appearance they said something meaningful or intelligent.

But as I said, all the blame does not fall with the Sender. If someone uses an acronym you don’t understand, ask them what it stands for. If someone uses an abstraction you don’t understand, like an “innovation in residential access”, ask them what they mean by that, ask them to explain it in a different way, or ask them to give a more concrete example, in which case they would tell you that they were trying to describe “a doorknob”. If you challenge them you’ll either find out that they were either full of shit or just were unable to simplify their expertise. In both cases, you learn something valuable. (It is worth noting the same dynamics apply for reading written content. If you read a sentence that you don’t understand, don’t keep going! Figure out what words or concepts are tripping you up, and use a dictionary, google or a friend to resolve your confusion).

When both sender and receiver have attained conversational mastery they have robust error correcting conversational methodologies to make sure miscommunication doesn’t happen. This process happens to be fairly similar to the error reduction methods Claude Shannon invented that ended up forming the foundation of information theory and enabled digital technology to transmit information without errors. Shannon’s key idea was to add extra information and redundancy to make sure all the information was properly communicated. Perhaps there is a corollary here for conversational theory that could form the foundation for a revolution as big as the digital technology revolution. Human miscommunication, after all is a pretty big deal. It is at the root of most major personal and societal conflicts, from broken marriages to wars. But humans evolve and adapt slowly, so if there were any implications here, it would be for when machines start communicating with each other in natural human language, which is closer than you think. Hello, Siri. Hello, Internet of Things.

I may have just used an abstraction you didn’t understand, so let me give you a concrete example of what I mean by “conversational error correction methods” *smug smile* *kidding*

Primary sender error correction method: After the Sender talks they can ask questions to the Receiver to check the listener’s comprehension. “Did that make sense to you?” “Did you get what I meant by error correction method?” “Can you repeat back to me what you think I just said?”

Primary receiver error correction method: The listener can ask good questions that identify specifically what they didn’t understand, and ask the Sender to reiterate or elaborate on that point. “No, can you reiterate what you meant by error correction method?” “Explain to me again, how you connected the idea about Claude Shannon’s error correction methods to Conversational Theory?”

Bottom Line: Conversation is the primary way ideas are created and transferred in today’s society and we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard, and strive to develop conversational mastery, instead of letting our eyes glaze over when people say things we don’t understand or uttering simpleton phrases like “I have no idea what you just said to me.”